Meet our doctors: Karen Reckamp on lung cancer’s mystery risks

October 26, 2013 | by   

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States, causing more deaths than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined. Health professionals agree that tobacco use is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer, but people who don’t smoke get lung cancer, too.

Karen Reckamp, M.D., says City of Hope experts have made significant strides forward in helping lung cancer patients.

Karen Reckamp says City of Hope experts have made significant strides forward in helping lung cancer patients.

Here Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S., co-director of City of Hope’s Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program, sorts out facts about lung cancer and smoking, what current treatments are available, and simple ways to reduce lung cancer risk.

What causes lung cancer and who is most at risk?

The most common cause of lung cancer is tobacco smoke, and the risk increases with the quantity and duration of smoking. Yet nearly 15 percent of those who develop lung cancer have never smoked, so there are other factors clearly involved such as the environment and genetics. Although these causes are not well outlined, research is ongoing to improve our understanding of nonsmoking related lung cancers.

What can people do to limit their risk for lung cancer?

The best way to limit a person’s risk for lung cancer is never start smoking. But for those who smoke, it is never too late to stop. The risk for lung cancer does not return to normal, but can decline over time following smoking cessation. In people who have a history of smoking, low-dose computed tomography screening of the chest can improve survival for those at high risk for lung cancer. » Continue Reading

HIV/AIDS Action Summit: ‘This epidemic is far from over’

October 25, 2013 | by   
City of Hope's chief medical officer Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P., explains how HIV infects the body and becomes AIDS if left untreated to attendees of the 7th Annual San Gabriel Valley HIV/AIDS Action Summit

City of Hope Chief Medical Officer Alexandra Levine explains how HIV infects the body and becomes AIDS if left untreated. She made her presentation to attendees of the seventh annual San Gabriel Valley HIV/AIDS Action Summit.

Thanks to better screening programs and education about safer sex practices, the number of new HIV infections has dropped dramatically from the height of the epidemic — from more than 130,000 new annual cases in the mid-1980s to approximately 50,000 new annual cases today. But that number, combined with the fact that more than 1 million Americans are currently living with HIV, mean that the disease is far from eradicated.

“And that’s why we are all here,” said City of Hope Chief Medical Officer Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P., at the seventh annual San Gabriel Valley Action Summit co-hosted with former Assemblymember Anthony Portantino. The Oct. 22 event at City of Hope had more than 300 attendees, including students from Duarte High School, Montebello High School and Blair High School’s Health Careers Academy.

To highlight that this epidemic is still very much alive, Levine drew upon these grim statistics during her presentation:

  • Each year, more than 18,000 Americans die from HIV/AIDS-related complications.
  • For every two patients who begin treatment for HIV, five people are newly infected.
  • A total of 39 percent of new HIV cases are among young adults (19 to 29 years old). » Continue Reading

Beverly Hill hairstylist Jose Eber transforms cancer patients

October 24, 2013 | by   

Celebrity hairstylist Jose Eber transforms women every day in his Beverly Hills salon. But on Oct. 22, he took his team of professional stylists with him to City of Hope to help transform cancer patients with customized wigs donated by actress Jaclyn Smith.

Celebrity hair stylist Jose Eber helps customize wigs for cancer patients at City of Hope on Oct. 22.

Celebrity hairstylist Jose Eber helps customize wigs for cancer patients at City of Hope on Oct. 22.

Eber, an advocate in the fight against women’s cancers, knows the effects cancer treatment can have on a woman’s confidence. With the help of City of Hope’s Positive Image CenterSM, Eber and his team of stylists helped patients feel empowered, whole and confident once again.

“I brought in my team from Beverly Hills to make today a day of giving,” Eber told Beauty Launchpad in a recent interview. “All the patients are very excited about it, and so are we.”

Marking the second year Eber has hosted the event at City of Hope, Eber and his team provided patients with wig fittings, hair consultations and styling and cosmetology tips. The women in attendance had either lost their hair or were in the process of growing it back.

Susan Davis, who was being treated for breast cancer at City of Hope, said she thought the Jose Eber event was wonderful. “I’m really excited for them to pick out a wig for me,” she said. “It’s hard for me to do this on my own.”

For patients who were not able leave their rooms to attend the event, Eber visited them inside the hospital.

Cheryl Shepherd, who was battling her second round of cancer at City of Hope, called her new hairstyle perfect. It made her look almost exactly as she did before she lost her hair to treatment.

“The first time I was afraid of a wig, and this time I was afraid of a wig also,” Shepherd told the Los Angeles Times in a video interview. “But thanks to Jose Eber and his team, I’m here today and I have a whole new look. My husband won’t recognize me when I go home, and I doubt if my friends will either. They’re used to seeing me in just a scarf, and now I feel alive again. It’s wonderful and I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart.”



Breast cancer: Reducing risk – it’s not the same as ‘prevention’

October 23, 2013 | by   

There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. That’s true. But there are some ways women can reduce their risk of the disease. That’s also true.

Those risk-reducing measures were discussed during City of Hope’s Ask the Experts session earlier this month. The session, titled “The A to Z’s of Breast Cancer Prevention,” featured two of City of Hope’s physician experts on breast cancer as well as an expert with a different perspective – a former patient. (More on this notion of “prevention” later.)

Joanne Mortimer, M.D., director of the Women’s Cancers Program, began the seminar by discussing lifestyle modifications that can decrease the risk of breast cancer. In the video above, Mortimer highlights some common ways to lower that risk, including: » Continue Reading

Betty Ferrell: A visionary in care that focuses on quality of life

October 23, 2013 | by   

When Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., R.N., began her career in 1977, the nation had fewer than 10 hospices, and the words “palliative care” were not part of the medical vocabulary.

The field and Ferrell have come a long way. Ferrell was recently named one of the 30 most influential leaders in hospice and palliative care medicine, the medical specialty focused on relieving suffering and improving quality of life for people with serious illnesses. The honor came from the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

“I count my life as one of enormous opportunity and blessing – to have been part of dedicated and passionate colleagues who have changed the culture of care and created hospice and palliative care as an essential component of health care,” said Ferrell, director of the Division of Nursing Research and Education at City of Hope, praising her colleagues for advocating for such care as a human right.

» Continue Reading

Diabetes: Discovery could make growing islet cells easier

October 22, 2013 | by   

Transplantation of insulin-producing islet cells is a potentially powerful tool for treating type 1 diabetes, but coming up with enough healthy donor cells for the procedure is difficult – at least for now.

Certain islet cells within the pancreas are crucial for producing insulin. Now diabetes researchers have found a key to growing them more effectively in the lab.

Certain islet cells within the pancreas are crucial for producing insulin. Now diabetes researchers have found a key to growing them more effectively in the lab.

Currently, one transplant can require cells from two donor pancreases, and the precious organs are in short supply. Of the approximately 200,000 patients with advanced diabetes that can no longer be sufficiently managed with insulin shots, only 1 percent will be able to receive a transplant.

H. Teresa Ku, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases Research at City of Hope, and her team have been exploring how to supplement islet cells harvested from donated organs with islet cells grown from stem cells. A new discovery in her lab may help expedite that process. As described in a paper published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that overexpressing a specific small RNA molecule enhances the differentiation of pancreatic cells growing from stem cells.

» Continue Reading

Chinese medicine compound could block liver cancer

October 18, 2013 | by   

Liver cancer is tough to treat, and it’s on the rise. Now among the top 10 cancers diagnosed in the U.S. each year, it’s the third-deadliest cancer in the world. But a compound found in a traditional Chinese medicine may one day help halt the disease’s advance.

Photo of Wendong Huang, Ph.D., in lab

Wendong Huang strives for new insights into metabolism and liver cancer. What he discovers could help tame the disease. Photo credit: Walter Urie

Wendong Huang, Ph.D., associate professor in City of Hope’s Division of Molecular Diabetes Research, and his colleagues recently published the findings in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. They found that berbamine and one of its derivatives, called bbd24, blocked the growth of liver cancer cells and drove them to their deaths.

Berbamine comes from a plant that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to treat inflammation. In recent years, however, the anticancer potential of berbamine and some of its chemical cousins has come to scientists’ attention.

Spurred by the compounds’ anticancer potential, Huang and his team of researchers looked to see what, if any, effect berbamine and bbd24 might have on liver cancer cells, one of Huang’s chief research interests. They found in laboratory studies that the compounds did kill liver cancer cells, and at doses that would be reasonable for humans to receive. » Continue Reading

Walk for Hope: Hear their stories, tell us yours

October 17, 2013 | by   

Walk for Hope graphic

One in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in her lifetime. And each year, this reality unites thousands of survivors, families and friends in a truly one-of-a-kind event: City of Hope’s Walk for Hope.

The walk not only raises funds for research into women’s cancers, it’s actually held where new treatments are found and where they save lives: on the City of Hope campus in Duarte, Calif., with cancer patients watching from the windows of the nationally known City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital. With more than 8,000 walkers participating, Walk for Hope celebrates the collaboration between researchers, patients and the community to bring an end to breast and gynecologic cancers.

The annual event benefits City of Hope’s multidisciplinary Women’s Cancers Program. Most special about the event is the location. Walkers feel the power of their contribution as they walk by renowned Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, where promising scientific discoveries are made. That power is amplified as they pass the clinic and the hospital, where women undergo treatment.

The walk is a tribute to those women who have been, and will be, affected by women’s cancers. Participants walk for loved ones and friends, for support, for collaboration, for hope, for cures.

Hear below why these participants are walking on Nov. 3. And then tell us why you walk.

Post a video or photo with the hashtag #whyIwalk to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Vine. The collection of #whyIwalk videos can be found on City of Hope’s You Tube and Pinterest pages.

Mary Sadeghy walks for RESEARCH “so no one ever has to hear that they have cancer.”

Fran Rizzi walks for a CURE “because the list of women I adore that have been touched by this disease is far too long.”

Olga Rosas walks for RESEARCH “to help raise funds for the research that has kept me cancer free for 10 years.”

Cancer treatments without side effects? Meditopes could be answer

October 17, 2013 | by   

“Identification and grafting of a unique peptide-binding site in the Fab framework of monoclonal antibodies.” That’s the title of a study published online recently ahead of print in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers will understand the implications; the average person may not. The key word, however, is the one most understandable to the lay reader or cancer patient: unique.


Meditopes, newly discovered sites on monoclonal antibodies into which specific peptides fit neatly, have the potential to treat cancer and many other diseases in an efficient, side effect-free manner.

In short, researchers at City of Hope have hit upon a revolutionary avenue to combat cancer – and potentially many other diseases.

“This discovery provides a new way to aim cancer treatments to avoid side effects. Like the laser target designator that guides a smart bomb, this technology can be used to ensure that medicines make their way specifically to cancers,” said study co-author Joshua M. Donaldson. “The pretargeting can be applied to any antibody, and the cargo (bomb) is anything that can be attached to the guidance system.”

Monoclonal antibodies are  proteins that the body produces to fight invaders. Researchers have long wanted to use these proteins to fight cancer efficiently and effectively, but with limited success. Genetic engineering is less than practical, and chemically attaching cancer drugs to the proteins leads to reduced efficacy and increased side effects.

But “efficiently and effectively” now appears possible.

The City of Hope team, led by John Williams, found that monoclonal antibodies have a hole in the middle, one in which a specific peptide (a kind of molecule) fits neatly. Think of a lock and key or, as Williams describes it, a tractor and trailer.

“With this specific hitch, you can take any tractor and hook up any trailer, effectively allowing you to mix-and-match the appropriate equipment for a specific job,” Williams said.

However you describe the connection, it now has a name: a meditope. And perhaps the most obvious use of the meditope is to fight cancer.

“The next steps are to determine the specific antibody and chemotherapy (cancer medicine) combinations to direct against various cancers,” Donaldson said. “We hope to improve on the gains that have been made in moving from nondirected toxic drugs to more cancer-specific drugs. This allows patients to receive cancer treatments without debilitating side effects like low blood counts, infections and dehydration.”

The possibilities are so extraordinary that the team was recently awarded a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, a well-known – and extremely prestigious – name in scientific circles.

So remember the term “meditope.” You’ll be hearing it again.


As listed in the study, the authors were Joshua M. Donaldson, Cindy Zer, Kendra N. Avery, Krzysztof P. Bzymek, David A. Horne and John C. Williams.

The research reported in this article was supported by, among others,  the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under grant number P30 CA033572 and R21 CA135216. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.




‘My cancer diagnosis: What I wish I’d known’ – Roshen Tikari (w/PODCAST)

October 16, 2013 | by   

One in a series of stories asking former patients to reflect upon their experience …

Three-time lymphoma survivor Roshen Tikari made it through by keeping her family and friends close.

Three-time lymphoma survivor Roshen Tikari made it through by keeping her family and friends close.

When Roshen Tikari received her first lymphoma diagnosis, 30 years ago, she experienced a flood of fear and anxiety.

When she received her third diagnosis, last year, that deluge of emotion was replaced with a calm sense of purpose.

“When it came back for the third time, I didn’t freak out. There was no fear,” said Tikari, a resident of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. “‘OK. It’s come back. Just deal with it; attend to it; get rid of it.’”

It helped that she had City of Hope on her side. From the chemotherapy that drove away lymphoma in 1983 to the bone marrow transplant that conquered a recurrence seven years later to the clinical trial that led to complete remission earlier this year, the medical team at City of Hope has rewarded Tikari’s faith with a return to health.

Along the way, her experiences with cancer propelled her to a kind of hard-won personal growth.

PODCAST: Roshen Tikari talks about her story, her perspective and her advice in City of Hope’s Cancer Journeys podcast. Download and listen >>>

“Before that, I was just existing. And then, after going through all my treatments and I came out of it, I started to live,” she said.

The latest good news — complete remission — arrived this year at a meaningful time for the proud mother and grandmother.

“It was the greatest Mother’s Day gift I’ve ever received,” she said.

We asked Tikari to look back at the time of her diagnosis and to ask herself what she knows now that she wishes she’d known then. What wisdom, soothing words, practical tips or just old-fashioned advice would she give her newly diagnosed self? » Continue Reading