Why a secondary cancer after transplant? Grant may help find clues

December 11, 2013 | by   

Myelodysplastic syndrome, once known as “preleukemia,” is a disease of the blood and bone marrow that often attacks people who have survived initial cancer treatment. “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts, for example, was diagnosed with the syndrome, known as MDS, in June 2012, five years after successfully undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She’s one of an estimated 12,000 Americans who are diagnosed with the syndrome each year.

DNA analysis

Smita Bhatia and Ravia Bhatia, researchers at City of Hope, have received a grant from the V Foundation for Cancer Research to study MDS. They’ll be using genomic tools to analyze mutations in DNA, as well as gene expression.

Two City of Hope researchers in particular are probing why patients who have undergone bone marrow transplants for lymphoma and other diseases are also vulnerable to being diagnosed with this deadly secondary cancer: Ravi Bhatia, M.D., director of the Division of Hematopoietic Stem Cell and Leukemia Research at City of Hope, and Smita Bhatia, M.D., M.P.H., the Ruth Ziegler Chair in Population Sciences and the co-leader of the Cancer Control and Population Sciences Program.

Now, the Bhatias have received a $600,000 grant over a three-year period from the V Foundation for Cancer Research to study why the disease develops and devise ways to treat and prevent this lethal complication.

“We are trying to understand the underlying mechanisms of how patients who have undergone successful treatment for lymphoma develop therapy-related leukemia,” Smita Bhatia explained.

“This is a brand-new cancer that develops in patients who have been treated for lymphoma or other diseases after getting an autologous transplant [in which a patient receives an infusion of his or her own purified stem cells]. And unfortunately,” she added, “unless it is treated with yet another transplant, such as an allogeneic transplant from another sibling or some unrelated donor, it can be fatal.” » Continue Reading

Jaylon Fong is a Sports Illustrated Kids ‘Sportskid of the Year’

December 10, 2013 | by   

Five years ago this month, Jaylon Fong was diagnosed with leukemia. He underwent chemotherapy and a rigorous treatment plan before going into remission. But that proved to be only his first battle with the disease. He was rediagnosed in 2012 and suffered a central nervous system relapse. Today, he is a two-time cancer survivor – at age 13.

Sportskid Jaylon Fong

Jaylon Fong is featured in the December 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated Kids. Photo credit: Kohjiro Kinno for Sports Illustrated.

Jaylon’s courage and perseverance, especially at such a young age, have been inspiring. He has endured procedures, infusions and countless hospital stays for almost half of his childhood. He even managed to play baseball during treatment; a feat some would think is impossible. But not even cancer could take away his favorite sport.

He recently described a Little League District 19 championship win to Sports Illustrated Kids saying: “All I was thinking was to get the next batter out and move on …” This calm focus is not only his approach on the pitching mound, but also to fighting cancer.

Now on the path to recovery, Jaylon is charging ahead. In August, the Little League World Series awarded him with a national honor, the 2013 Good Sport Award. He’s even featured in the December issue of Sports Illustrated Kids as a “Sportskid of the Year” honoree.

Off the field, Jaylon has even more to celebrate. Because he’s graduated to what’s known as a “maintenance” treatment plan, Jaylon has no more overnight hospital stays in his future. For Jaylon, that means he can focus solely on what he truly loves to do: playing baseball.



How to give back: Choose a gift that supports cancer research

December 10, 2013 | by   

shop for good

The third in a series about how to give, and give back, during the holiday season …

Giving back this holiday season is easier than ever.

Retailers are increasingly embracing the spirit of the holiday season by partnering with charities and nonprofit organizations to benefit the greater good. These relationships offer a variety of ways for shoppers to purchase gifts that also help people in need.

City of Hope, for example, partners with a variety of respected brands that support the institution’s groundbreaking research. Shoppers who purchase gifts from City of Hope’s partnered retailers — such as Staples and 3M — are also helping fight cancer, because a percentage of the sales goes to research, treatment and education programs.

» Continue Reading

Study inflates risk of lung cancer screening, COH expert says

December 9, 2013 | by   

Cancer screening always carries risks and benefits – usually trading a degree of “overdiagnoses” for finding cancers at early stages, when they are least lethal and most treatable.

City of Hope expert says study inflates risks of lung cancer screening.

From mammography to PSA testing, what to screen, how to screen and when to screen remains a source of debate and discussion among the medical community. A study in today’s JAMA Internal Medicine stokes debate about lung cancer screening. The study out of Duke University finds that as many as 18 percent of lung cancers found by the low-dose CT scans suggested by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for screening may lead to “overdiagnosis” because the cancers are slow-growing or clinically insignificant.

Dan Raz, M.D., co-director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope, is skeptical of the findings, saying that the  study should not deter patients or the medical community from proceeding with screening if a person meets the guidelines. » Continue Reading

4 ways that cancer patients can reduce holiday stress (w/VIDEO)

December 9, 2013 | by   

For many people, the holidays are a time of joy and celebration. However, for patients with cancer and other serious illnesses — and for survivors — the season can be a time of overwhelming stress.

“For a number of different reasons, [the holiday season] is stressful for a lot of people, and adding an illness or treatment to that can be a real challenge,” said Natalie Schnaitmann, L.C.S.W., director of operations at City of Hope’s Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center, in the video above.

The holidays come with the time- and energy-consuming tasks of shopping, decorating and cooking, Schnaitmann said, and cancer patients and survivors may feel pressured into trying to seem festive as well.

But this can further exacerbate stress’ impact on their lives, interfering with the healing process and leading to actual physical symptoms. These can include the inability to fall or stay asleep, physical aches and pains, and an elevated pulse or blood pressure.

Thankfully, Schnaitmann said, many tools and strategies can reduce stress — and its impact — during the holidays.  She suggested:

  1. First, gauge one’s stress level. One of the first things a patient or survivor should do is recognize when he or she is becoming stressed so that the burden of stress can be controlled. Although stress’ impact will vary among individuals, Schnaitmann said, common symptoms include trouble sleeping, unexplained aches and pains, and increased feelings of irritability, anxiety or depression.
  2. Prioritize holiday rituals. Patients and survivors should consider forgoing some of the less-important holiday traditions and events to avoid becoming overburdened. “To reduce the impact of stress during the holidays, patients and survivors should look at the holidays in a more realistic way,” Schnaitmann said.
  3. Delegate tasks. “Cancer treatment might be a full-time job for [patients] … and an incredibly important thing for them may be to share the responsibilities,” Schnaitmann said. This includes enlisting family and friends to help with holiday shopping, gift wrapping, preparing food or putting up the decorations.
  4. Take a breath. When overwhelmed with stress, Schnaitmann said, patients and survivors should take a moment for deep, slow, concentrated breathing. “What we learned from behavioral scientists is that the brain cannot be anxious if the body is calm,” Schnaitmann said.

Finally, Schnaitmann encourages patients and survivors to contact their health-care providers for support in handling holiday stress. The Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center offers a variety of resources to help patients reduce or cope with stress, including reading materials, literature, support groups and professional services.



‘My cancer diagnosis: What I wish I’d known’ – Debbie Brooks

December 9, 2013 | by   

In April of 2012, Debbie Brooks received her regular mammogram – and it turned up no signs of cancer.

Debbie Brooks, a breast cancer survivor, shares her advice for other facing a cancer diagnosis.

Debbie Brooks, a breast cancer survivor, shares her advice for others facing a cancer diagnosis.

As all women are recommended to do, Brooks remained vigilant, performing regular self-exams. That’s when she found a lump – sometimes she could detect it, sometimes not. She followed up with her doctor to have it checked out.

An almond-sized tumor had formed in her breast, and the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Brooks, 52, explored several options for treatment, and then the Bellflower woman came to City of Hope.

In July 2012, she underwent a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. She wrapped up her last treatment in December of last year, and continues to come to City of Hope for follow-up.

“I’m fortunate that my experience was a positive one every step of the way with my company and with City of Hope,” said Brooks, a longtime employee of Delta Airlines.

We recently asked Brooks to look back at the time of her diagnosis and ask herself, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then? What wisdom, soothing words or practical tips would you give your newly diagnosed self?

Face your diagnosis without fear. She acknowledges that confronting cancer can be a scary prospect. “It’s a matter of understanding that no matter what, it’s happening,” she said. Focusing on the immediate tasks at hand, and not worrying too far into the future, helps.

Be engaged in your life every day and stay positive. It’s easy to tune out when you’re exhausted, managing treatments and appointments and not feeling well, Brooks said. “Being positive and being in the moment was critical, and made a difference.”

Listen to your body. Don’t feel guilty if you need to rest. “I gave myself not just the freedom, but the responsibility to rest when I needed to,” she said. “I’m actually proud of how I handled that.”

Trust in the care that you get. Within 48 hours, a nurse from her insurance company contacted Brooks to review her options. Brooks praised the care she received and attested to her confidence in her doctors in nurses. She also said the caring treatment she received door to door made a difference: from the valets who parked her car to the staff who scheduled her appointments.

Do your self-exam. No technology is flawless, and a tumor that was undetectable during a mammogram could be discovered during a self-exam even a few months after a scheduled screening. Know your body, and if you think there is something unusual, follow up with your physician. (Laura Kruper, M.D., head of breast surgery service, offers step-by-step instructs for conducting a proper self-exam in this video.)

Brooks shares her thoughts in the video below.



Rose Parade float: Stephanie Hosford and the dreams she thought were lost

December 8, 2013 | by   
Within three days in 2007, Stephanie Hosford learned she was pregnant – and that she had triple-negative breast cancer. (Credit: City of Hope)

Within three days in 2007, Stephanie Hosford learned she was pregnant – and that she had triple-negative breast cancer. (Credit: City of Hope)

For those who have battled cancer, each tomorrow is, in reality, a dream come true. On Jan. 1,  former City of Hope patients will see another dream come true: They’ll be riding atop City of Hope’s float in the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade.

The theme of this year’s float is “Turning Hope and Dreams into Reality”; the theme of the parade is “Dreams Come True.” Here is the story of one rider: Stephanie Hosford.



In the summer of 2007, I was 37 years old, a happily married mother of one, living a relaxed and healthy lifestyle in Southern California. We were in the final months of the waiting period for an international adoption. We were so excited for our little girl’s arrival. I knew things were about to change. I assumed they would only be for the better.

I was wrong.

On September 21, one week after feeling a small lump in my left breast, I was told what no woman wants to hear – “You have breast cancer.”

But that wasn’t all.

A mere three days later, I discovered I was also pregnant. What was I supposed to do? Four cancer specialists from different institutions around Los Angeles strongly advised abortion. And what was to become of the adoption?

I was heartbroken. Cancer was about to take two babies from me – the one growing in my belly, and the one that had been growing in my heart for years. The thought that I would never hold either of them was tearing me apart.

My husband, Grant, found me on our bedroom floor in a depressed, defeated heap. He lifted me up and told me he had made one more appointment for us … at City of Hope.

I didn’t want to go.

» Continue Reading

Meet our doctors: Surgeon Jennifer Linehan on prostate cancer

December 7, 2013 | by   

City of Hope surgeon Jennifer Linehan, M.D.

Jennifer Linehan, M.D., says exercising and eating a healthy diet are key in lowering the risk for prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer affecting men, with one in six American men receiving the diagnosis in their lifetime. In most cases, the disease grows slowly and causes no problems. But some prostate cancers are fast-moving and lethal, causing more than 29,000 deaths annually because the disease wasn’t detected and treated in time. 

Here Jennifer Linehan, M.D., a surgeon on City of Hope’s renowned urology and urologic oncology program team, clears up confusion about using prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests to screen for the disease, and how technology plays a role in some of the newest advanced prostate cancer treatment options available.   

» Continue Reading

Rose Parade float: Kommah McDowell celebrates her family with faith and strength

December 6, 2013 | by   
Kommah McDowell will celebrate with her family on New Year's Day. Photo credit: Kommah McDowell

Kommah McDowell will celebrate with her family on New Year’s Day. Photo credit: Kommah McDowell

For those who have battled cancer, each tomorrow is, in reality, a dream come true. On Jan. 1,  former City of Hope patients will see another dream come true: They’ll be riding atop City of Hope’s float in the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade.

The theme of this year’s float is “Turning Hope and Dreams into Reality”; the theme of the parade is “Dreams Come True.” Here is the story of one rider: Kommah McDowell.



In March of 2005, one month after my 29th birthday, my best friend proposed to me and we were set to be married on Oct. 29, 2005. Three months later, I was diagnosed with triple negative inflammatory breast cancer and was given a 5 percent chance to live beyond two years. Not to mention if I did survive, I would not be able to have children.

Prior to this unbelievable diagnosis, I was going to my primary care physician every other week for seven months complaining of various pains, tenderness, swelling and growth in my right breast. For seven months, I was told it was a cyst and it would go away in time because I was too young to have breast cancer. Then, after months of going back and forth to my doctor, I requested the “cyst” be removed. It was then that the surgeon stumbled upon cancer, when they were supposed to be removing a cyst. Unbelievably, the medical staff was not familiar with the type of cancer they found. They just knew it was cancer and felt the best course of action was to remove it immediately. Fortunately, I was able to go to City of Hope for a second opinion and treatment.

Within days of my diagnosis, I had my first appointment at City of Hope. It was during this appointment that I was advised that I not only had breast cancer, but it was late stage and it was one of the rarest and deadliest forms: inflammatory breast cancer.

For four months, I underwent chemotherapy, which left me bedridden. I had several surgeries and weeks of radiation therapy. Fortunately, I had wonderful doctors orchestrating my treatment process. With God’s guidance, my medical team was awesome and words cannot express how grateful my family and I are for my second chance at life.

After my diagnosis, I told my fiancé, Charles McDowell Jr., I would understand if he decided not to marry me and I gave him permission to leave. With his support, I survived treatment, surgeries, mastectomies and reconstruction. I am humbled to say, we celebrated eight years of survival in July, eight years of marriage in October and we are proud parents of a wonderful 4-year-old little boy, Christian McDowell.

My life is a “Dream Come True.” Eight years ago, I did not know if I would see 30 years old.

Look at me now: a wife and a mother riding on a Rose Parade float, imagine that. God knew what He was doing when He sent me to City of Hope. My life has never been the same!

This wonderful opportunity is just an example of how far my family and I have come since July 2005.

Learn more about City of Hope’s Rose Parade float »



Science Week at City of Hope: Become a scientist for the day

December 5, 2013 | by   

Science doesn’t have to be intimidating. On Sunday, our researchers will explain their leading-edge work in inviting – even fun – ways at City of Hope’s Community Science Festival. The event, which features hands-on science activities and educational lectures, is open to the public and, better yet, completely free.


Bacteria can be bad for you. It can be good for you. Learn more about germs, and many other topics, at City of Hope’s Community Science Festival.

So drop by City of Hope at 1500 E. Duarte Road, Duarte, Calif., to learn some interesting scientific facts, create a DNA bracelet, take in a few lectures and then impress your friends and family with knowledge of the newest frontiers in medicine.

The sessions include:

Take Control of Your Health: City of Hope researchers are investigating the various causes for disease, including genetics, lifestyle and environment. In this session, you’ll learn about some of these factors and how they affect your disease risk. You can draw your family pedigree and think about things that are good for your health – and other things that are not so good. » Continue Reading