Cancer Insights: Surgeon Dawn Hills on how to reduce breast cancer risk

October 29, 2014 | by   

When it comes to breast cancer, women aren’t limited to getting screened and, if diagnosed, making appropriate treatment choices. They can also take a proactive stance in the fight against breast cancer by understanding key risk factors and practicing lifestyle habits that can help reduce their own breast cancer risk. Dawn M. Hills, M.D., director of breast surgical oncology at City of Hope | South Pasadena, explains. 

Dawn Hills, M.D.

Women can be proactive in the fight against breast cancer. Dawn Hills explains how.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women.  Today, there are an estimated 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.  This month, through increased awareness, we create hope – hope needed to ultimately win our fight against breast cancer one woman at a time.

The causes of breast cancer are complex, but early detection has greatly improved breast cancer survivorship, which has tripled over the past 60 years. As we become more informed about breast cancer, its risk factors and, more important, how to reduce and ultimately prevent those risks, we get closer to making this a disease of the past.

Several factors contribute to breast cancer, including:

Estrogen exposure: Breast tissue development is highly sensitive to estrogen, so the more exposure a woman has to estrogen over her lifetime, the higher her risk for breast cancer. Menarche (first menstrual period) at an early age, or later-age menopause, may contribute to higher breast cancer risk. » Continue Reading

City of Hope launches institute focused on hematologic malignancies

October 28, 2014 | by   

Cancers of the blood and immune system are considered to be among the most difficult-to-treat cancers. A world leader in the treatment of blood cancers, City of Hope is now launching an institute specifically focused on treating people with lymphoma, leukemia and myeloma, as well as other serious blood and bone marrow diseases.

hematopoietic cell transplantation survivors

City of Hope’s success in treating blood and bone marrow cancers is just the beginning. The institution is launching the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute to speed cures to patients even more efficiently and quickly. Here, survivors of hematopoietic cell transplantation celebrate at City of Hope’s 2014 Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion.

Through this institute, laboratory and physician investigators will expand their work and develop new therapies and possible cures for leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. The Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute at City of Hope is built upon a foundation that was created by City of Hope’s Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope, and the leader of the institution’s Hematologic Malignancies Program, and Steven T. Rosen, M.D., the provost and chief scientific officer at City of Hope.

Both are known worldwide for the vision, discipline and compassion with which they approach some of the most complex and difficult diseases that afflict men, women and children. Both are committed to continuing to make scientific breakthroughs while caring for patients in the uniquely patient-centered environment for which City of Hope is known.

“Over the years we have seen the development of therapies that, had we known then what we know now, could have saved more lives. The institute will create a collaborative culture of research and individualized care that will accelerate our research breakthroughs for the patients and families who come to us for help,” Forman said. » Continue Reading

What are my genes telling me about my cancer risk?

October 27, 2014 | by   

Genetics, genes, genome, genetic risk … Such terms are becoming increasingly familiar to even nonresearchers as studies and information about the human make-up become more extensive and more critical. At City of Hope, these words have long been part of our vocabulary. Researchers and physicians are studying patients’ personal cancer risks, taking into account family history and genetics, along with environmental and lifestyle factors, and then helping patients understand those risks.

cancer risks and genes

Genes play a crucial role in cancer risk. Get more information on Nov. 11, as four City of Hope experts dive into the connection between genes and disease.

To further explain the connection between genes and cancer, City of Hope will host an Ask the Experts program, “Cancer: Is it in my genes?” on Nov. 11 at the Duarte, California, campus. Moderator Linda H. Malkas, Ph.D., deputy director of basic research and a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, will lead the panel discussion.

The featured City of Hope speakers are Joseph Alvarnas, M.D., director of medical quality; Sofia Wang, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Population Sciences; and Susan Neuhausen, Ph.D., The Morris & Horowitz Families Professor in Cancer Etiology & Outcomes Research in the Department of Population Sciences.

Here, Neuhausen, who has an extensive background in genetics research, explains genes’ role in cancer – and gives a preview of the Nov. 11 event.


» Continue Reading

Meet our doctors: Radiologist Lusi Tumyan on breast cancer screening

October 25, 2014 | by   

Mammograms are currently the best method to detect breast cancer early, when it’s easier to treat and before it’s big enough to feel or cause symptoms. But recent mammogram screening guidelines may have left some women confused about when to undergo annual testing.


Lusi Tumyan says women should work with their physicians on a personalized screening program.

Here Lusi Tumyan, M.D., chief of the Breast Imaging Section at City of Hope, explains some of the current and new breast imaging tools, and encourages women to work with their physician to decide on a personalized plan, based on individual breast cancer risk, of when to get screened.

What are the current technologies available for breast cancer screening?

The best and gold standard breast cancer screening test for women with low or average risk for breast cancer is a mammogram. It’s readily available and does not require special preparation other than washing off deodorants prior to the exam. For women who are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer (for example, women who have a family history of breast cancer, or possess the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations), a breast ultrasound and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be recommended for screening, in addition to mammogram. » Continue Reading

Made in City of Hope: Cancer vaccine with a two-pronged approach

October 24, 2014 | by   

Although chemotherapy can be effective in treating cancer, it can also exact a heavy toll on a patient’s health. One impressive alternative researchers have found is in the form of a vaccine. A type of immunotherapy, one part of the vaccine primes the body to react strongly against a tumor; the second part directly attacks the tumor itself. This double-pronged approach could be both more powerful against cancer and far less toxic to the body than traditional chemotherapy.

Don Dimond, Ph.D. and Vincent Chung, M.D.

City of Hope researchers Don Diamond, left, and Vincent Chung have developed a cancer vaccine and are now testing its effectiveness in clinical trials.

A partnership

Don J. Diamond, Ph.D., director of the Division of Translational Vaccine Research, developed the anti-cancer vaccine in his lab with former colleague Joshua D.I. Ellenhorn, M.D. The vaccine consists of two parts: a vector, or carrier, virus, and an active agent that does the work. The carrier is a well-known, modified smallpox virus often used in research. The active agent — the real powerhouse in the vaccine — is the gene p53. Normally, p53 suppresses tumor growth. But in many cancer patients, the gene is mutated, allowing cancers to grow. The vaccine is designed to deliver normal, nonmutated versions of the gene to the body. » Continue Reading

With breast cancer treatment, expertise – and research – matter

October 23, 2014 | by   

The breast cancer statistic is attention-getting: One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. That doesn’t mean that, if you’re one of eight women at a dinner table, one of you is fated to have breast cancer (read more on that breast cancer statistic), but it does mean that the risk of developing breast cancer is not to be taken lightly. Neither is the decision on where to get breast cancer treatment.

Breast cancer treatment and research

In breast cancer treatment, location matters. That location should also be the home of research. City of Hope understands this.

As a nationally known biomedical research institution and as one of the nation’s few comprehensive cancer centers, City of Hope can provide access to therapies, research and clinical trials that other hospitals can’t.

Let’s start with clinical trials and research. The clinical trials available to City of Hope patients often stem from the research conducted on the City of Hope campus, where breast cancer specialists and researchers work together on therapies to improve survival and quality of life. Those clinical trials include assessments of new chemotherapy drugs, targeted therapies, hormone therapies, new surgical techniques and new radiation approaches — all focused on improving breast cancer treatment, detection and prevention. » Continue Reading

Advice from Rob: How to overcome anxiety during a hospital stay

October 22, 2014 | by   
Cancer survivor Rob Darakjian

Cancer survivor Rob Darakjian shares tips on how to overcome anxiety and depression while being treated for cancer.

Rob Darakjian was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at just 19 years old. He began chemotherapy and was in and out of the hospital for four months. After his fourth round of treatment, he received a bone marrow transplantation from an anonymous donor. Today, he’s cancer free.

In his first post, he shared his story and explained what NOT to do when you’re depressed and have cancer. In his second post, he explained what cancer patients SHOULD do if they’re depressed. Here, he offers seven tips on how patients can confront cancer and anxiety.


How to ease anxiety: 

Listen, watch: I find this technique to be particularly helpful when I’m experiencing anxiety at almost any level. I call it “listen, watch” because that’s what I do: I try and place myself in the present moment by paying attention to what I can see and what I can hear. Try to pick up on everything you can hear, from your own breathing, to the faint sound of conversation somewhere outside. Then, after awhile turn to a different sense, say sight, and just look around your physical environment. » Continue Reading

2 researchers (one on aging, one on genetics) get breast cancer grants

October 21, 2014 | by   

Advanced age tops the list among breast cancer risk factor for women. Not far behind is family history and genetics. Two City of Hope researchers delving deep into these issues recently received important grants to advance their studies.

Arti Hurria, M.D., director of the Cancer and Aging Research Program, and Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., chief of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics, recently each received $240,000 in breast cancer grants from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). The studies aim to improve treatment and outcomes for older women and for Latino women at risk of hereditary breast cancer.

Cancer researchers Arti Hurria and Jeffrey Weitzel receive breast cancer grants

City of Hope researchers Arti Hurria and Jeffrey Weitzel each received breast cancer grants of $240,000 from the BCRF.

Breast cancer and age

Hurria’s renewal grant supports her efforts to understand how chemotherapy affects older adults with breast cancer. Even though women age 65 and older account for nearly half of all new U.S. breast cancer cases, little information is available to guide clinicians in their choices of chemotherapy for these women. » Continue Reading

International Medicine Program launches with Chinese outreach

October 20, 2014 | by   
International Medicine Program

Our International Medicine Program is extending our expertise to patients abroad.

City of Hope is extending the reach of its lifesaving mission well beyond U.S. borders. To that end, three distinguished City of Hope leaders visited China earlier this year to lay the foundation for the institution’s new International Medicine Program.

The program is part of City of Hope’s strategic efforts to grow its clinical programs and find innovative ways to expand access to its high-quality care to patients worldwide. The program is designed to attract and support international patients coming to City of Hope for care, with the initial focus on China.

Outreach abroad and locally

The trio of City of Hope ambassadors — Steven Rosen, M.D., provost, chief scientific officer, director of Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope and director of the comprehensive cancer center; Yuman Fong, M.D., chair of the Department of Surgery and director of the International Medicine Program; and David Horne, Ph.D., vice provost and associate director of Beckman Research Institute — journeyed to major Chinese research and treatment institutions to build relationships with physicians and researchers and educate them about the institution’s cancer expertise. » Continue Reading

Brain metastasis from breast cancer: Our research means better treatments (w/VIDEO)

October 17, 2014 | by   

A hallmark of cancer is that it doesn’t always limit itself to a primary location. It spreads. Breast cancer and lung cancer in particular are prone to spread, or metastasize, to the brain. Often the brain metastasis isn’t discovered until years after the initial diagnosis, just when patients were beginning to regain some sense of normalcy and control over their lives.

Like many patients, Joan Rose-Hall thought she had completely recovered from breast cancer. She thought she was past the treatment, past the fear. Then she begin to experience changes, small things really, in her daily routine.

“I noticed that I had difficulty concentrating, difficulty finding my words. I became slow on the keyboard,” she says in the video above. “I actually thought I was cracking up.”

Rose-Hall didn’t associate the changes with her previous diagnosis of breast cancer. Many people wouldn’t.

Instead, she went to see a psychiatrist. That psychiatrist referred her to City of Hope.

» Continue Reading