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

When a child has cancer: One family’s advice to other parents

January 30, 2014 | by   

Gavin Wolfrank was only 7 months old in 2006 when his mother noticed the “blueberry” bruises on his tiny hand. Her normally active, happy baby suddenly turned lethargic and inconsolable. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Wolfrank family

Ken and Diana Wolfrank, shown here with son Gavin and daughter Emma, have some advice for other parents whose child has been diagnosed with cancer.

That diagnosis was the start of a years-long ordeal, not just for Gavin, but for parents Ken and Diana, as well as sister Emma. Gavin soon began chemotherapy at a local hospital, ultimately going into remission. He stopped chemotherapy in June 2009, but by the following October, the disease was back.

For the fourth time, he underwent chemotherapy – this time to make him strong enough to endure his only chance at survival: a bone marrow transplant.

A donor was identified in February 2010 – a young woman from England named Catherine “Cat” Benson – and by the time Gavin walked into City of Hope in preparation for the bone marrow transplant in March 2010, he was as strong and healthy as he had ever been. But the family’s elation over finding a donor soon turned to fear, with Gavin forced to battle graft-versus-host disease. » Continue Reading

Meet our doctors: Surgeon Joseph Kim on stomach cancer

January 25, 2014 | by   

Stomach cancer (also called gastric cancer) can develop in any part of the stomach. If left undetected, it can penetrate the stomach wall, progress to adjacent lymph nodes and spread to nearby organs. The cause is unknown but has been associated with dietary factors, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, smoking and alcohol consumption.

Joseph Kim

Asian-Americans and Latinos are at greater risk for stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, says Joseph Kim. Screening, however, can save lives, he says.

Here Joseph Kim, M.D., a City of Hope surgical oncologist and head of upper gastrointestinal surgery, talks about how people can lower their risk for stomach cancer and why he, as a Korean-American, has a personal crusade in conquering this disease.

How common is stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death worldwide, with the highest incidence occurring in Asian and Latin American countries. Although less common here in the United States, there are still approximately 24,000 Americans who learn annually they have cancer of the stomach. Fortunately, for reasons not entirely known, U.S. incidence has been dropping steadily since the 1950s.

Who gets stomach cancer, and why?

Like most other forms of cancer, stomach cancer occurs more frequently in people age 55 or older. Researchers think the reasons for a higher incidence of stomach cancer in Asian and Latin American countries is because diets commonly consumed there include many foods preserved by drying, smoking, salting or pickling. Eating foods preserved in this way may raise someone’s risk for developing stomach cancer. Also, people who smoke cigarettes may be at higher risk of developing stomach cancer. » Continue Reading

Don’t wait for a doctor to suggest lung cancer screening

January 24, 2014 | by   

Nearly 160,000 Americans die of lung cancer each year.

New U.S. Preventive Service Task Force recommendations for lung cancer mean most insurance will begin covering the screening within a year.

New lung cancer screening recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force mean that most insurance plans will begin covering the screening within a year.

New lung cancer screening guidelines recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in the last month could make a considerable dent in that number. The panel, which determines what therapies and tests must be covered by insurers under the Affordable Care Act, made final its July recommendation that current and former smokers between 55 and 80 years old who have smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years be screened with a low-dose CT scan.

Longtime smokers who are still smokers or who recently quit in the last 15 years should weigh their lung cancer  screening options now, says Dan Raz, M.D., co-director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope.

“Even people who see their primary care doctor regularly need to be aware of this new screening,” Raz said. “Don’t wait for your doctor to suggest lung cancer screening. Ask yourself – or seek out a screening center that already screens for lung cancer.”

Raz said patients should seek these qualities in a lung cancer screening program: » Continue Reading

Asian community at greater risk from stomach cancer; H. pylori blamed

January 22, 2014 | by   

Stomach cancer is often considered a relatively rare cancer that affects predominantly older people.

H. pylori

Infection with Helicobacter pylori is a common precursor to gastric cancer, which disproportionately affects the Asian community.

However, what’s true for the majority of people in the United States is not true for the Asian population. Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, is much more common among that community and tends to affect younger people. In fact, gastric cancer is twice as common among Asians and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles County as it is among people nationwide.

“In most Asian countries, they have screening programs for gastric cancer,” said Joseph Kim, a surgical oncologist at City of Hope who specializes in gastrointestinal cancers.  “By age 40, most people are receiving regular endoscopies.” » Continue Reading

7 guidelines for people diagnosed with cancer

January 21, 2014 | by   

A cancer diagnosis can leave patients overwhelmed, not only afraid for themselves and their loved ones but also confused about what to do next.

Cy Stein, M.D., Ph.D., the Arthur & Rosalie Kaplan Chair in Medical Oncology at City of Hope, offers this advice to people confronting a cancer diagnosis:

What to do after a cancer diagnosis

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. City of Hope’s Cy Stein offers some basic advice to those confronting cancer. The first rule: Don’t panic.

1. If you receive a cancer diagnosis, the first thing to remember is not to panic.

2. Do some research, but don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

3. Remember that prognoses are actuarial; they apply to large numbers of patients but not to you as a single individual.

4. Find a doctor who knows your type of cancer well, and who is knowledgeable about recent developments – for some types of cancer, treatments have changed dramatically over the past very few years. » Continue Reading

50 years of tobacco control: Impact measured in lives saved

January 20, 2014 | by   

From warning labels to taxes to banning advertising, the U.S. has taken serious steps over the past 50 years to diminish the effects of tobacco on American health.

This month marks 50 years of tobacco control efforts, which have reaped rewards in lives saved.

This month marks 50 years of tobacco control efforts, which have reaped rewards in lives saved.

The surgeon general took the first step 50 years ago this month, issuing a report based on 7,000 scientific articles and concluding that smoking causes lung cancer and other lung disease. Between the powerfully addictive nature of cigarettes and other tobacco products and the economic forces promoting them, the battle against smoking has been a challenging one that continues today. However, the success of anti-smoking campaigns can be measured in lives saved.

Researchers at Yale University recently reported that the anti-smoking efforts have avoided 8 million smoking-related deaths.

“Lung cancer, which accounts for more deaths than breast, colon, prostate and pancreatic cancers combined, has the largest impact on these statistics,” said Dan Raz, M.D., co-director of the Lung and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope. “The reason for the decline in lung cancer deaths is unequivocally related to tobacco control. We have the opportunity to further reduce deaths from lung cancer with even tighter tobacco control measures, such as increasing cigarette taxes, which have been shown to lead to increased quit rates.” » Continue Reading

9 questions and answers about cervical cancer

January 18, 2014 | by   

Cervical cancer, once one of the leading cancer killers in women, is now one of the nation’s most treatable cancers — thanks in large part to early detection, preventive measures and increased knowledge about the human papillomavirus, which can lead to the disease.

In fact, cervical cancer is almost 100 percent preventable. Regular gynecologic care and pap smears can detect precancerous changes before they develop into cancer, and the precancerous changes themselves can often be prevented as well.  

Ernest Han, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor and surgeon in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at City of Hope.

One of the most common questions that City of Hope surgeon Ernest Han gets about cervical cancer is: What causes it? His answer: HPV.

But much progress is needed in the treatment of patients with advanced disease, a fact especially relevant during January, which Congress has designated as Cervical Health Awareness Month. Annually, almost 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and almost 4,000 die from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ernest Han, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor and surgeon in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at City of Hope, discusses some of the confusion and concerns about cervical cancer.

What is the most common question you get about cervical cancer?

One of the most common questions from patients is: “What’s the cause of cervix cancer?”

We know that the primary cause is the human papillomavirus (HPV), and we say that it causes almost 100 percent of cases. We don’t say that it causes 100 percent, because there are probably some cervix cancers that are very rare that are caused by other unknown factors or maybe other viruses or other things that are not as well understood. But those are rare, and predominantly everyone here has a cervical cancer that is HPV-related. That is really where the focus for our cancer prevention lies. » Continue Reading

Physician’s advice to other doctors: Love your patients (w/VIDEO)

January 17, 2014 | by   

Just like the many people who make New Year’s resolutions to get fit, become financially sound and do more worthwhile activities, physicians have their own aspirations for the new year. This might include doing more research to improve treatments, maintaining a healthy work-life balance or, obviously, striving to provide better care for their patients.

Cy Stein of City of Hope

Cy Stein’s advice to doctors: Don’t compromise your standards, love your patients and foster intellectual curiosity

To help doctors do just that, Cy Stein, M.D., Ph.D., Arthur & Rosalie Kaplan Chair in Medical Oncology at City of Hope, recently shared some advice and lessons he has learned over his career.

Here are some highlights from the interview with MedPageToday:

What is the most important piece of advice for med students or doctors just starting out today?

Love your patients as yourself, be intellectually honest to a fault, don’t compromise your standards, and don’t let your life be directed only by money.

What is your “elevator” pitch to persuade someone to pursue a career in medicine?

The relief of human suffering and anxiety may be the most satisfying long-term thing a human being can do.

What is your advice to other physicians on how to avoid burnout?

Have a passion outside of medicine. Don’t be a workaholic, and don’t take your work home with you. Rest your brain by doing something else you love doing. And when dealing with patients, never think about yourself. It’s only about the patient. It’s amazing how refreshing that thought can be.

Although the U.S. health care system can be frustrating for doctors, Stein told MedPageToday that practicing medicine is still rewarding because of the “true appreciation you receive when patients know they are in good hands and you have helped them.”

The full article, along with video, is available here.

Wellness Wednesday: Rising to the challenge of maintaining momentum

January 15, 2014 | by   

Three months ago, City of Hope issued a fitness challenge to its neighbors in surrounding communities.

City of Hope's Foothill Fitness Challenge wraps up Saturday at 10 a.m. iin Heritage Park on the medical center's campus.

City of Hope’s Foothill Fitness Challenge concludes Saturday, with participants measuring the progress made toward their personal fitness goals and, just maybe, setting new ones.

More than 1,600 participants answered that call, pledging to commit to healthy changes intended to reduce their risk of cancer and diabetes.

Saturday marks the conclusion of what’s been known as the Foothill Fitness Challenge, with participants assessing the progress made toward their personal goals, which ranged from dropping pounds to training for marathons.

Whatever the fitness goals, momentum and consistency are key in reducing disease risk.

“People who exercise three to four hours a week – these women had a lower risk of breast cancer,” said Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., R.N., professor and director of City of Hope’s Division of Cancer Etiology. “Physical activity is stronger in its ability to reduce your risk than even maintaining a healthy body weight. So, I always tell women to exercise.” » Continue Reading