Meet our doctors: Hematologist Amrita Krishnan on multiple myeloma

February 8, 2014 | by   

Multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood plasma cells, is the second most common hematological malignancy in the U.S. (after non-Hodgkin lymphoma), and accounts for 1 percent of all cancers. It is generally thought to be incurable but highly treatable.

Photo of Amrita Krishnan

Amrita Krishnan says new myeloma treatments can help patients lead active, productive lives.

Amrita Krishnan, M.D., director of City of Hope’s Multiple Myeloma Program, says City of Hope is at the forefront of transforming the way myeloma is treated and that, as a result, more myeloma patients are able to live active, productive lives.

What is multiple myeloma and are there any symptoms?

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells. Plasma cells are white blood cells that normally produce antibodies to fight infection.

In myeloma, abnormal plasma cells build up in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells. The abnormal plasma cells also can overproduce defective antibodies, which can deposit in the kidneys and damage them.

Kidney damage often can be the first sign of myeloma. Other symptoms include bone thinning and fractures. The abnormal plasma cells also can send signals to the bones and boost the activity of osteoclasts, the cells that absorb or eat bone. » Continue Reading

Vitamin C may help fight ovarian cancer, expert says, but who will pay?

February 7, 2014 | by   

Despite vitamin C’s well-known antioxidant properties, multiple clinical trials since the 1970s have found it ineffective as a cancer treatment. Thus, vitamin C has been largely ignored by conventional oncology and is usually offered only in alternative/complementary practices.

A glass of OJ a day may not help against cancer, but researchers found that high-doses of intravenous vitamin C can enhance chemotherapy's effectiveness against ovarian cancer.

A glass of OJ a day may not help against cancer, but researchers found that high-doses of intravenous vitamin C can enhance chemotherapy’s effectiveness against ovarian cancer.

However, an article published in the Feb. 5 issue of Science Translational Medicine may reinvigorate research for this nutrient. The study found that vitamin C, when administered intravenously, induces cancer cell death without harming normal tissues. And in animal models, vitamin C made ovarian cancer cells more sensitive to the chemotherapy drugs carboplatin and paclitaxel.

Additionally, in an early-phase clinical trial involving 27 patients, those receiving vitamin C in addition to standard chemotherapy were less likely to experience toxic side effects. The finding suggests that vitamin C may have potential in helping patients tolerate higher and more powerful doses of chemotherapy.

“With enhanced understanding of [vitamin C's] anticancer action presented here, plus a clear safety profile, biological and clinical plausibility have a firm foundation,” the study’s authors wrote, adding that these findings justify larger clinical trials to investigate vitamin C’s effectiveness in enhancing conventional chemotherapy for ovarian cancer.

However, actual further study of this nutrient is another matter, according to Robert Morgan, M.D., co-director of City of Hope’s gynecological oncology program. » Continue Reading

When a child has cancer: What friends and visitors should know

February 6, 2014 | by   

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, friends and relatives of the family often don’t know what to say, what to do, how to react. Some visitors linger for hours in the child’s hospital room, further exhausting already weary parents. Others pose grotesquely rhetorical questions: “Don’t you wish this wasn’t happening?”

Children with cancer

Ken and Diana Wolfrank share their advice on what to say, and what not to say, to parents whose child has cancer. Here, they pose for a photo at City of Hope with daughter Emma and son Gavin.

Ken and Diana Wolfrank have seen and heard it all. Their son, Gavin, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia before his first birthday. The Wolfranks recently shared their family’s story, as well as their advice for other parents in similar situations, via Breakthroughs.

Now, the couple has some advice for friends, loved ones and visitors wondering what to do for, or say to, the family of a child with cancer. » Continue Reading

More breast abnormalities may require surgery, new study suggests

February 5, 2014 | by   

Two breast tissue abnormalities — known as atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH) and atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH) — have long been a source of concern to physicians, specifically as the conditions relate to breast cancer risk.

A new study suggest the abnormal breast cell, atypical lobular hyperplasia, is a precursor to breast cancer.

A new study suggests that an abnormal breast condition known as atypical lobular hyperplasia is just as much a precursor to breast cancer as the generally more worrisome atypical ductal hyperplasia.

ADH, marked by abnormal cells in a breast duct, has been considered a precursor to breast cancer in the breast where it occurs, and doctors usually recommend surgical excision.

ALH, marked by abnormal cells in a breast lobule, has been considered a less alarming condition, even though it suggests a heightened risk of breast cancer in both breasts. For this condition, many doctors have simply recommended monitoring.

A new study suggests both breast abnormalities are equally worrisome. The research, conducted at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and published in Cancer Prevention Research, suggests that both conditions are just as likely to lead to breast cancer.

“ADH and ALH behave similarly in terms of later breast cancer endpoints,” the authors wrote.

Women who have either condition should consult a surgeon, Steven Chen, M.D., associate professor of surgery at City of Hope, told HealthDay“This is a diagnosis you should pay attention to,” he said.

» Continue Reading

T cell research for prostate cancer gets boost from $1 million gift

February 4, 2014 | by   

Although prostate cancer is often highly treatable, the prognosis for men with metastatic disease remains grim. According to the American Cancer Society, men with distant prostate cancer metastases have a five-year survival rate of 28 percent, and almost 30,000 men die from the disease each year in the United States.

A $1 million challenge award from Movember and Prostate Cancer Foundation will fuel City of Hope's T-cell research to treat prostate cancer.

A $1 million challenge award from Movember and Prostate Cancer Foundation will fuel City of Hope’s T cell research to treat prostate cancer.

Researchers hope to turn that tide by using two novel agents developed at City of Hope that will attack cancerous cells with the patient’s own immune system. And thanks to a $1 million Movember-Prostate Cancer Foundation Challenge Award, this immunotherapy project can continue its preclinical progress for the next two years, with in-human trials beginning in early 2016.

Prior research at City of Hope and other institutions found that numerous cancer cells — including those of prostate cancer — activate a protein called STAT3 to evade the immune system and to promote their own growth and spread. In one arm of the new project, Marcin Kortylewski, Ph.D., assistant professor at City of Hope’s Department of Cancer Immunotherapeutics and Tumor Immunology, will be designing a unique agent — a nucleotide-based drug that delivers a small, interfering RNA called CpG-STAT3 — to inhibit STAT3 activity, thus stripping the cancer’s ability to grow and dodge the immune system, while simultaneously bolstering the patient’s own anti-tumor immunity. » Continue Reading

New CMV vaccine targets virus affecting third of transplant patients

February 3, 2014 | by   

In most healthy adults, the immune system wages a winning battle against a virus that infects up to 80 percent of the population by age 40. Most never even know they have cytomegalovirus, or CMV.

Vaccine expert John Zaia

John Zaia, chair of the Department of Virology, checks on Jasson Duran, the first volunteer enrolled in a study of a new CMV vaccine developed and manufactured at City of Hope.

However, the virus is a leading cause of complications and serious illness in patients who have compromised immune systems, including those receiving hematopoietic cell transplants to treat leukemia or lymphoma.

CMV is life-threatening to these patients, and treatments can be expensive. For decades, City of Hope has been studying the best way to prevent the virus from becoming a complication for transplant patients.

A new CMV vaccine developed and manufactured at City of Hope could ultimately do that. The vaccine has just started its first safety trial, funded by the National Cancer Institute. » Continue Reading

Black History Month calls attention to disparity in cancer rates

February 1, 2014 | by   

This year, Black History Month converges with the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, and the nation’s notable gains in equality give us much to celebrate. But equality in health and access to care continue to be areas of serious concern.

Half of African American men and a third of African American women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. Access to diagnostic screening and high quality care are among the measures necessary to address the high cancer burden on the black community, experts say.

Half of African-American men and a third of African-American women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. Access to diagnostic screening and high-quality care are among the measures needed to address the high cancer burden on the black community, experts say.

“Across most illnesses including cancer, African-Americans have the worst outcomes,” said Kimlin Tam Ashing, Ph.D., director of City of Hope’s Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education. “African-Americans get cancer at younger ages, have more aggressive cancers, have more treatment-resistant cancers and lower five-year survival than the general population.”

Half of African-American men and a third of African-American women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. The causes of cancer health disparities are complex, stemming from such factors as genetic susceptibility, stress and immune function, and family history.

In her research, Ashing has pinpointed several health care system factors that feed into the disparity, including limited access and use of preventive care, limited access to high-quality care, and delays in diagnosing and treating disease. Other studies point to a higher incidence of chronic conditions and illnesses among African-Americans with cancer. Lifestyle factors including smoking, diet and sedentary routines also play a role. » Continue Reading

This February, aka Heart Month, learn what smoking does to your heart

February 1, 2014 | by   

February may be popularly known as the month of love, but it also holds the title of American Heart Month, aiding as a reminder to take care of your heart. One way is to quit smoking.

Heart disease and cigarettes

Take care of your heart by giving up cigarettes. It will lower your risk of heart disease.

Not only do cigarettes cause 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States, they also contribute to America’s biggest killer: heart disease.

Nearly 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, with almost 20 percent of those deaths directly related to cigarette smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Brian Tiep, M.D., director of pulmonary rehabilitation and smoking cessation at City of Hope, said smoking affects the heart by:

  • Increasing blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increasing blood clotting
  • Decreasing oxygen to the heart
  • Damaging cells that line coronary arteries and other blood vessels
  • Lowering HDL, the “good” cholesterol
  • Damaging heart muscle

All of these factors increase the risk of coronary heart disease, which over time, can lead to chest pain, heart failure, arrhythmias, heart attack and even death.

» Continue Reading

Cancer and cuisine: Tips for leading a healthier life

January 31, 2014 | by   

City of Hope recently hosted two free Ask the Experts events, titled “Cancer and Cuisine,” focusing on the benefits of healthy eating, physical activity and weight management, as well as easy-to-make healthy recipes.

Here are some quick tips from both programs:

  • Select a rainbow of fruits and vegetables for nutrient diversity.
  • Do not focus on single nutrients, because the nutrients in food work together to create health and fight off disease.
  • Dark, leafy green vegetables are the most nutrient-rich food on the planet.
  • Exercise regularly, and try to exercise three to four hours a week.
  • Watch your weight.

The first Ask the Experts event was held at the newly opened City of Hope | Antelope Valley practice. The video above features Vijay Trisal, M.D., medical director of community practices for the City of Hope Medical Foundation, and guest speaker, Katja Wargin, certified holistic health counselor.

Wargin prepared a healthy and easy-to-make green smoothie: » Continue Reading

On World Cancer Day, save a life – dispel a cancer myth

January 31, 2014 | by   

Cancer myths should be debunked at every chance possible, not just on World Cancer Day 2014. But with this year’s observance devoted specifically to dispelling misconceptions about the disease, it’s a fine place to start.

Cancer treatment

“There’s nothing I can do about cancer” is one of the most persistent cancer myths. In fact, the right treatment matters.

First, let’s dispense with four of the most-common cancer myths.

  • We don’t need to talk about cancer.
  • Cancer … There are no signs or symptoms.
  • There is nothing I can do about cancer.
  • I don’t have the right to cancer care.

These statements – all patently untrue – are firmly held beliefs for many people. They interfere with cancer detection and cancer treatment and, in doing so, shorten the duration and quality of life for those ultimately diagnosed with the disease. » Continue Reading