Measles and cancer: What you should know

February 13, 2015 | by   

With measles, what starts at a theme park in California definitely doesn’t stay at a theme park in California. Since the beginning of the current measles outbreak – traced to an initial exposure at Disneyland or Disney California Adventure during December – more than 100 people have been diagnosed with a disease wrongly considered to have been vanquished.

Measles and cancer

Cancer patients can’t be vaccinated against the measles virus (depicted in illustration). They must rely on members of their community to keep them safe.

The all-but-forgotten hallmark of childhood is now rippling across the country – with people from New York to Washington, Arizona to Georgia, affected. Beyond fever, cough, red eyes, runny nose and the signature red rash, the disease can lead to ear infections, diarrhea and, in more severe cases, pneumonia, encephalitis and death. One or two of every 1,000 children who develop the disease die from it.

To say the disease is highly contagious would be an understatement. Every new diagnosis makes clear what can happen in a population largely unexposed to measles, with a spotty vaccination record against it. But much remains unknown, including how worried cancer patients should be.

Bernard Tegtmeier, Ph.D., a clinical microbiologist and an expert in the spread of infectious diseases, offered some perspective in this interview. » Continue Reading

Couples cope best with breast cancer when they cope together

February 12, 2015 | by   

Even the most loving and secure relationship can be rattled by a life-threatening illness.

breast cancer

Couples Coping with Cancer Together integrates couples counseling as a standard part of breast cancer treatment.

When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, research shows one of the most important factors in helping her cope is having a supportive partner. But that partner can struggle with knowing what to say or how to best support their loved one.

Through research and clinical experience with breast cancer and relationships, City of Hope has found that specific skills and behaviors can help a couple grow closer despite the stress of cancer. That’s why City of Hope created the Couples Coping with Cancer Together program, which is solely funded by private donations.

“We are the only program of our kind,” said Courtney Bitz, L.C.S.W., a social worker in the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center and head of the Couples Coping with Cancer Together program. “We make this support and counseling a standard part of the care. We normalize it, and take away the stigma. Even the healthiest of couples can struggle – it’s not only couples who were already having difficulties who struggle with a cancer diagnosis.” » Continue Reading

Small string of amino acids could have a big impact on cancer

February 11, 2015 | by   

It’s been more than a century since Nobel Laureate Paul Ehrlich popularized the idea of a “magic bullet” targeting disease. Cancer researchers ever since have remained in hot pursuit of targeted therapies that home in on cancer cells while leaving normal cells unaffected.

Linda Malkas, Ph.D.

Linda Malkas is studying a peptide that may target cancer in a whole new way.

Linda Malkas, Ph.D., associate chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and her team are making strong headway in that quest. In a study recently published in Molecular Pharmacology, the researchers created a small peptide — a short string of amino acids — that interferes with an altered version of a protein that cancers need to survive.

That protein, called PCNA, normally plays a major role in the process cells use to duplicate their DNA when they divide. It arranges various proteins and enzymes involved with DNA replication so they can do their jobs.

In cancer cells, the part of PCNA that arranges proteins is altered, making it different from normal cells’ PCNA. Malkas’ team created their peptide to mimic the altered region of cancer’s PCNA.

The scientists theorized that the mimic would compete with the cancer’s PCNA, interfering with its function. The tumor cells would then have difficulty replicating their DNA, blocking their ability to multiply. Instead, they would stagnate, eventually shriveling and dying.

» Continue Reading

A better treatment for graft-versus-host disease? It’s possible

February 10, 2015 | by   

Cancer patients face a daunting journey marked by challenges and uncertainties. For those undergoing bone marrow, or stem cell, transplantation, one complication poses a particular threat — chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). Now, one researcher may have found a better way to control that threat.

Alex Herrera, M.D.

Alex Herrera received the George Santos Award from the journal Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation for an article on his study of a new treatment for graft versus host disease.

GVHD results when immune system cells from a donor cause inflammation in the patient receiving them. The donor’s cells, now strangers in a strange land, react to the patient as they would a foreign invader, attacking the body’s cells. Chronic GVHD can affect a number of organs, causing a wide range of symptoms, and can ultimately result in life-threatening organ damage or infection due to the medications used to treat it.

Standard therapy for chronic GVHD uses drugs called corticosteroids, such as prednisone and dexamethasone. These medicines suppress the immune system, keeping the donor’s aggressive immune system cells at bay. However, the medicines bring their own set of concerns, such as toxicity, reduced immunity to infections and limited effectiveness that may diminish further over time.

Alex Herrera, M.D., of City of Hope has been studying a new strategy to help patients conquer chronic GVHD and recently published his findings in the journal Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation. » Continue Reading

#LastChemo: ‘It takes a village,’ says breast cancer survivor

February 9, 2015 | by   

Michele Dahlstein, a 50-year-old breast cancer survivor from Upland, California, celebrated her last day of chemotherapy on Dec. 30. She shares her story in her own words:

breast cancer survivor

Breast cancer survivor Michele Dahlstein proudly shows off the medal commemorating her last chemo treatment.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer (invasive ductal carcinoma stage 2) on Aug. 11, 2014, after my yearly mammogram at City of Hope’s Women’s Health Center, followed by a screening mammogram and biopsy. After consultations with Dr. Laura Kruper and Dr. James Andersen, I underwent a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction on Sept. 15, 2014.

Because I had two positive lymph nodes, I also underwent four rounds of chemo (after consulting with Dr. James Waisman).  I began my chemo on Oct. 30, 2014, and had my last one Dec. 30, 2014. My first chemo was the roughest. I experienced many side effects. Now that I’m finished with my treatment, I’m looking forward to getting back to my “normal” life ( having more energy, teaching, exercising, traveling and tasting food).

It takes a village! Thank you my family, friends, everyone at City of Hope’s Women’s Health Center, Dr. Kruper, Dr. Andersen, Liz Yates, Dr. Wasiman and Lori Rezanek-Kells. You’re the best!!!


Have a #LastChemo photo or story to share? Share with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or by email at

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what’s required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

Meet our doctors: Surgeon Donald Hannoun on urology and bladder cancer

February 7, 2015 | by   

The treatment of urologic cancers, including bladder cancer, is rapidly evolving. Here, urologic oncologic surgeon and kidney stone specialist Donald Hannoun, M.D., an assistant clinical professor in the Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology at City of Hope | Antelope Valley, explains the changes in his field, as well as his approach to medicine.

Urologist Donald Hannoun

Donald Hannoun shares his approach to urology and patient care.

Did someone or something from your early experience in life motivate you to go into medicine?

I’ve always loved working with people.  I couldn’t think of a more altruistic field than medicine. What motivated me to get into urology was my late grandfather’s struggle with bladder stones, which are hard masses of minerals in the bladder. He was completely miserable before his surgery, and was then transformed into a new man after having them removed. To see such immediate results made me seriously consider urology. Now, I treat all types of genitourinary cancers, including kidney, bladder, prostate and testicular cancer.

» Continue Reading

Avon grant will benefit metastatic breast cancer patients’ unique needs

February 6, 2015 | by   

A woman confronting metastatic breast cancer faces challenges that, at the outset, seem overwhelming. Research tells us these patients are especially vulnerable to anxiety, depression, hopelessness and other sources of distress. At the same time, they are asked to make complicated choices about their medical care — such as whether to participate in a clinical trial, choosing between available therapies and weighing a treatment’s effectiveness against quality-of-life issues.

metastatic breast cancer

City of Hope is launching a program to address the needs of couples confronting metastatic breast cancer.

The good news is, supportive care has been shown to successfully help these women through this difficult time. Even the healthiest of relationships or couples may struggle with knowing how to best support one another and maintain an emotional connection when women are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and they need it the most.

Despite the fact that a woman’s partner is a crucial source of support through her cancer treatment, few programs explicitly seek to promote strong relationships between couples facing this diagnosis together and strong communication with their doctors.

With the help of a $55,000 grant from the Avon Foundation, City of Hope is creating the most comprehensive program for metastatic breast cancer patients in Southern California. The program marries City of Hope’s existing leading-edge, innovative care and access to clinical trials with enhanced support services to serve the patient’s needs beyond the clinic and operating room. The grant will help establish the Supporting Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients and Partners Program, the first of its kind for metastatic breast cancer patients in the region.

“Data show that the two most important sources of support for women with metastatic breast cancer are a supportive partner and a physician who connects with them through open and honest communication,” said Matthew J. Loscalzo, L.C.S.W., the Liliane Elkins Endowed Professor in Supportive Care Programs and director of the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center at City of Hope. “This is a new approach to patient- and family-centered care.” » Continue Reading

E-cigarettes could face stiffer regulation. Good thing, says expert

February 5, 2015 | by   

California health officials are opting to be safe rather than sorry when it comes to e-cigarettes.


What’s in an e-cigarette? Without labeling and ingredient list regulations, no one can be sure. California is considering regulation of e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

The increasingly popular devices are a public health threat, according to a California Department of Health report released Jan. 28. The department is seeking statewide regulation of e-cigarettes, saying they  emit cancer-causing chemicals and increase the likelihood of nicotine addiction.

Though more research must be done to ascertain the exact risks of e-cigarettes, the devices are not currently regulated and their ingredients can vary from product to product, said Brian Tiep, M.D., director of the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at City of Hope.

“One of the ingredients is proplyeneglycol — a food substance,” Tiep said in an interview with ABC7. “However, when it’s heated up high enough, it becomes ethylene glycol. That’s antifreeze.” » Continue Reading

World Cancer Day: Access for all is not beyond us

February 4, 2015 | by   

“Not beyond us.” On World Cancer Day, researchers and caregivers around the globe are embracing this refrain.

world cancer day

On World Cancer Day, healthy lifestyles, early detection of cancers, better quality of life and access to cancer care for all are not beyond us.

Specifically, the day calls for action to support healthier lifestyles, early cancer detection, quality of life and access to care. In a time of impressive scientific discovery and narrowing health care networks, City of Hope experts say, its access that will help us achieve the other goals.

Joseph Alvarnas, M.D., director of Medical Quality and Quality, Risk and Regulatory Management at City of Hope, is a clinician and researcher in the field of hematology, and has also studied issues of health care access.

“On World Cancer Day, which comes just days after President Obama’s public commitment to precision medicine, it is worth considering how far we have come in the struggle against cancer – and how far we have to go in terms of ensuring access to ever-improving treatments,” he said. “This extraordinary time of discovery and new treatments is threatened by a strange set of political and economic circumstances that may undermine our ability to bring innovative care to our patients: The dual threats of cuts to funding for the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute, and a narrowing of health care networks that has limited patient access to care at academic medical centers.”

» Continue Reading

Palliative care should begin on Day 1 of cancer care

February 3, 2015 | by   

With more advanced cancer treatments and therapies saving lives every day, it’s safe to say cancer is “Not beyond us,” the official tagline for this year’s World Cancer Day.

palliative care

Palliative care is crucial in cancer – from Day 1 of treatment. Learn why.

This year’s World Cancer Day observance takes place on Wednesday, Feb. 4, and focuses on cancer prevention, detection and treatments. The awareness campaign highlights four key areas: healthy lifestyle, early detection, treatment for all and maximizing quality of life.

To explain the importance of quality of life, including pain management and palliative care, Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., R.N., director of the Division of Nursing Research and Education at City of Hope, answers questions about how providers, caregivers and patients can maximize the quality of life for themselves and loved ones.

Why is it important to incorporate palliative care at Day 1 of cancer treatment?

Palliative care is intended to address quality of life concerns from the time of diagnosis. There is strong recognition that attending to symptoms and psychosocial concerns and focusing on goals of care for each patient is vital throughout the course of the disease.

» Continue Reading