Liver cancer is increasing in the United States, with more than 30,000 new diagnoses expected this year. Although the outlook is often grim – more than 21,000 people will die of the disease in 2013 – treatments are becoming more effective.
Here, Byrne Lee, M.D., a surgical oncologist at City of Hope, gives an overview of the field, while explaining his personal motivations.
First, how and why did you decide to become a surgical oncologist?
The field of surgical oncology has only recently been recognized by the American Board of Surgery as its own surgical specialty. The additional training we endure teaches us that the knife does not cure everything, and that collaborating with other medical specialties is how we succeed in the treatment of cancer. This concept and the technically challenging nature of cancer surgery is what encouraged me to enter the field.
What inspires you daily to do the work you do?
On Dec. 24, 2005, my mother lost her fight against pancreatic cancer. The memories of her courage and strength during her treatments remain with me, and continue to inspire me to be a better cancer surgeon.
Has the prevalence of liver cancer changed?
Primary liver cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer related deaths worldwide. It is not as common in the United States. However, recent data suggests that the prevalence is rising. » Continue Reading
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Doctors and cancer researchers have known for decades that black women’s likelihood of surviving breast cancer is strikingly lower than white women’s likelihood. But they weren’t sure if the reason could be traced to characteristics of the disease at the time of diagnosis – or to treatment differences. Now they have some answers.
New research indicates that breast cancer may be killing black woman at a higher rate largely because their cancer is often more advanced when they first seek medical care and because they have poorer health at the time of diagnosis. There were treatment differences, the research found, but not ones that had a large impact on overall survival.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at women 65 and older who were covered by Medicare. Researchers compared 7,375 black women who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1991 and 2005 to 7,375 white women, divided into three groups. One group was matched on demographics, one on presentation (demographic variables, tumor characteristics and coexisting health problems) and the other on type of treatment.
Researchers found that white women with breast cancer lived, on average, three years longer than black women. Nearly 70 percent of white women lived at least five years after diagnosis and less than 56 percent of black woman were still alive five years later. » Continue Reading
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Ovarian cancer is complex, difficult to diagnose early and often fatal. If researchers could better understand what promotes progression of the disease, however, they might also understand how to better intervene, improving a patient’s chances of survival.
New research provides some clues. In a study published this week in the journal Gynecologic Oncology, researcher Linda Malkas, Ph.D., deputy director of basic research at City of Hope, and colleagues at Indiana University shed some light on the genetic instability of ovarian cancer itself.
Already they knew that high rates of genetic instability within ovarian cancer cells were linked to poor overall survival in patients. Now they’ve found that the DNA replication of ovarian cancer cells actually encourages other DNA errors, which could in turn lead to altered properties of these cancer cells.
We asked Malkas three key questions about her research: » Continue Reading
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Arti Hurria, M.D., director of the Cancer and Aging Research Program at City of Hope, feels strongly that too little attention has been paid to the needs of older people with cancer. She’s working to change that.
She recently presented an overview of her work – and the context for it – at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), where she was honored as the 2013 recipient of the B.J. Kennedy Award for her contributions to the research, diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the elderly. Here, we offer the fourth in a five-part series on the most important aspects of her work – and what doctors and others need to know about treatment of the elderly.
Part 4: Identifying at-risk patients
Because cancer is a disease associated with old age, it may be no surprise that older adults are at higher risk for toxicity to cancer therapy. But researchers such as Hurria are now working on a more thorough way to identify the factors contributing to this risk.
These geriatric assessments for oncologists represent the integration of geriatrics into the oncology field. Hurria’s model takes into account both the factors that increase the risk for chemotherapy-related toxicity, as well as factors other than chronological age that predict the risk of morbidity and mortality. Included in her model are assessments of functional ability, other medical conditions, nutritional status, cognitive function, mental health, social support and medications that could interfere with cancer treatment. » Continue Reading
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Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) can be difficult to treat, even with today’s powerful modern medicine.
Drugs can inhibit the disease’s signature damaging protein, BCR-ABL kinase, and they can be effective in eliminating mature leukemia cells. But they also can fail to eliminate leukemia stem cells. These stem cells can hide away in the bone marrow and re-emerge after treatment, leading to recurrence.
Ravi Bhatia, M.D., director of the Division of Hematopoietic Stem Cell and Leukemia Research at City of Hope, is researching new ways to target the leukemia stem cells in CML – and his work is gaining increasing attention.
The Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation recently awarded Bhatia a $100,000 grant to further his research. The foundation, dedicated to curing and preventing cancer, is especially interested in differentiation therapy, or the reprogramming of cancer cells. It has funded the work of more than 200 researchers across the globe and has supported Bhatia with $200,000 in grants already. » Continue Reading
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The Breakthroughs blog recently presented the story and advice of head and neck cancer survivor Kurt Deetz.
That post told of the helicopter pilot’s initial fears, his determination to remain positive through the difficulties of treatment and how he overcame cancer with help from City of Hope.
Now, in a Cancer Journeys podcast, Deetz talks more about the mindset that got him through treatment.
He also reflects on the importance of connecting with your medical team. He reveals how cancer changed his life for the better. And he expands on his previous advice for cancer patients.
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With summer well underway, the importance of using sunscreen might seem obvious by now. And it is – to those not suffering from misconceptions about skin cancer. Those misconceptions, or myths, can end up raising the risk of skin cancer for some people.
Understanding this, the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has deemed July to be Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Awareness Month. Such commitment is needed. Skin cancer continues to be the most common type of cancer in the United States – accounting for nearly half of all cancers – and UV rays from the sun are the main cause of it.
Both UVA and UVB rays can damage skin and cause skin cancer. Sunlight is the main source of UV rays, which can damage the DNA in skin cells. If the damage affects the DNA genes that control skin cell growth, skin cancer can develop.
Knowing the facts about sun exposure and skin cancer prevention is crucial in reducing the risk of skin cancer. But a number of misconceptions about skin cancer can make it difficult to separate fact from fiction.
City of Hope dermatologist Jae Jung, M.D., Ph.D, sets the record straight about several common skin cancer myths.
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Pediatric neuroblastomas are rare, but many children diagnosed never recover from the disease – and treatment options are few. Better options for these patients may now be a bit closer.
Linda Malkas, Ph.D., deputy director of basic research at City of Hope, has been awarded $100,000 by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for research on pediatric neuroblastomas. Already, her work has suggested that a certain peptide could hold the key to an effective treatment.
Neuroblastomas are rare tumors of the peripheral nervous system that affect about 600 U.S. children a year. Fewer than half of patients with the disease are cured, even with the use of high-dose chemotherapy followed by bone marrow transplant.
“These funds are allowing us to explore a new research avenue,” Malkas said. “Our laboratory is so grateful for this support, and we will do our best to ensure the people who donated to St. Baldrick’s see that we are committed to the completion of this research. It is our hope that this work points us toward a new path to treat children with neuroblastoma.”
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