SupportScreen: Digital confidante expands to new languages and all ages

May 10, 2015 | by   
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The tablet-based program SupportScreen prompts patients to share personal concerns about their health and helps them jump-start their care.

Many City of Hope cancer patients are opening their hearts to an electronic confidante. The tablet-based program, called SupportScreen, prompts them to share deeply personal concerns about their health — and helps jump-start their care.

“We’ve found that people will reveal more to a machine than to a person. Technology provides distance and seems to make it easier for them to ask for assistance,” said Matthew Loscalzo, L.C.S.W., the Liliane Elkins Endowed Professor in Supportive Care Programs, and co-creator of SupportScreen.

Developed at City of Hope, the touch-screen application asks patients a wide range of questions that address physical and psychosocial concerns common to their diagnosis. Sample questions include, “Are you worried about pain?” “Do you need help with an advance directive?” “Do you want clergy support?” The moment a patient completes the questionnaire, an appropriate member of their health care team is alerted by email. If a patient has requested written information on a topic, educational information prints out at a nearby station and is quickly handed over. » Continue Reading

UniHealth Foundation grant will help transform geriatric cancer care

May 9, 2015 | by   
Photo of Arti Hurria

City of Hope researcher Arti Hurria was awarded a $733,951 grant from UniHealth Foundation to help transform geriatric cancer care.

Older adults, by far, represent the largest population of cancer patients globally. With the median age of U.S. citizens projected to increase sharply in the next few years, the incidence of cancer is expected to rise higher, as well. City of Hope is at the forefront of geriatric cancer care, and an important new grant will help transform how these older adult patients are treated.

Arti Hurria, M.D., director of City of Hope’s Cancer and Aging Research Program, garnered a $733,951 award from UniHealth Foundation. The grant is the largest ever obtained from the foundation by a City of Hope investigator.

Through previous research, Hurria and her team have developed a method to assess older adult patients’ risk of chemotherapy side effects and other complications. They will use the UniHealth Foundation award to integrate that assessment method into everyday care. In addition, they will establish a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals to rapidly address each patient’s needs, as indicated by the assessments.

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Head and neck cancers: Get the stats

May 8, 2015 | by   

Treatment of cancers of the head and neck requires not just skill, but consummate skill. After all, consider their location: the lip, mouth, tongue, throat and nasal cavity – and that’s just for starters.

head and neck cancers treatment

Treatment for head and neck cancers is complex. Get the stats on the diseases.

Such treatment can include chemotherapy and radiation, but surgery is often the primary approach, with today’s robotic and minimally invasive techniques opening up the door to better outcomes than ever before. The smaller incisions inherent in such surgery mean patients experience less pain, faster recovery and fewer complications.

These minimally invasive techniques are a specialty of City of Hope’s surgeons. In fact, they can treat and remove cancers that in many other places would be considered inoperable. If you’ve been diagnosed with a cancer of the head and neck, that’s the kind of skill you need.

Learn more about one of the surgeons in that program, Robert Kang, M.D., who understands the artistry of surgery (and music), and read about one of his patients, 10-year-old Jackie Garcia, who has a newly reconstructed jaw thanks to his skill.

Then read about City of Hope’s overall head and neck cancer program.

Also, check out these stats, courtesy of the American Cancer Society. They drive home the importance of expertise in head and neck cancers treatment. » Continue Reading

After surgery, a renewed childhood for fourth-grader with cancer in jaw

May 7, 2015 | by   

On a spring day in 2013, 10-year-old Jackie Garcia of Whittier, California, noticed a lump in her jaw. Her mother suspected it was a minor problem, perhaps due to a fall, but made an appointment with a pediatrician, just to be on the safe side.

Ewing's sarcoma survivor Jackie Garcia

Ewing’s sarcoma didn’t slow Jackie Garcia for long. After top-notch care from the head and neck cancer team at City of Hope, she’s returned to normal kid stuff, such as riding her bike and visiting scenic sights.

“He thought it was an infection that was dental-related, and told us to see the dentist,” said Norma Zavalza, Jackie’s mom. “The dentist said he hadn’t seen anything like it before, and sent us to an oral surgeon.” There, a biopsy showed that the then fourth-grader had cancer.

The tumor was diagnosed as Ewing’s sarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer that mainly strikes children and adolescents, but only accounts for about 1 percent of childhood cancers. In Jackie’s case, it affected the entire right half of her jawbone, extending into the soft tissue around it.

Her pediatrician immediately referred her to City of Hope, known for its expertise in highly complex tumors. » Continue Reading

Head and neck surgeon Robert Kang is in tune with patients and doctors

May 6, 2015 | by   

Creative expression comes in two very different forms for Robert Kang, M.D., M.P.H., assistant clinical professor of otolaryngology and a plastic surgeon at City of Hope.

Robert Kang, M.D.

For Robert Kang, creative artistry takes two primary forms. By day, he’s a reconstructive plastic surgeon at City of Hope. By night, he plays guitar with Help the Doctors.

In his day job, Kang performs surgeries on patients with complex head and neck cancers, specializing in advanced facial reconstructions and related procedures.

On some evenings and weekends, he performs on stage, playing guitar and keyboard and singing in the indie rock band Help the Doctor. With a style similar to Smashing Pumpkins, the band has performed its original music at the House of Blues, the Roxy and other celebrated venues, and offers songs on iTunes and Spotify. It also raises money for charities ─ primarily two overseas organizations that work with children who have craniofacial deformities.

“Music is definitely a way to relax,” said Kang, whose band includes an oral surgeon on drums, another plastic surgeon on bass and a craniofacial fellow on guitar and lead vocals. Kang and two of the musicians formed the band when he was a fellow in microvascular facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at UCLA several years ago, and it continues to be a way to unwind from their high-pressure jobs.

Kang’s work as a plastic surgeon involves another kind of artistry. “I need to use creative reconstructive techniques because surgery can be very disfiguring in areas that are visible, like the face,” he said. » Continue Reading

Head and neck cancer treatment: Where technology is about the patient

May 5, 2015 | by   

Surgery for head and neck cancers is unarguably complex, requiring extremely controlled movements and exceptional training.

head and neck cancers

Surgery for head and neck cancers is complex, requiring extreme skill, extensive knowledge and experience with the latest technology. City of Hope’s head and neck surgeons have all three characteristics, combined with a compassionate approach to patients.

“Given where we are operating, our primary concern is maintaining speaking, swallowing and breathing,” said Ellie Maghami, M.D., chief of head and neck surgery, who recently teamed with Robert Kang, assistant clinical professor of otolaryngology and surgery, to perform a supraglottic laryngectomy, removal of a portion of a patient’s cancerous larynx, or voice box, above the vocal chords. “We want to treat disease and maintain the anatomy to have safe functioning.”

Maghami and Kang used a robot to help them perform that surgery.

They avoided the traditional operation, which splits open the jawbone, and instead performed the procedure through the patient’s mouth, using tiny robotic instruments to reach the back of the throat. That approach minimizes invasiveness, complications and scarring, and significantly reduces or eliminates the need for additional reconstructive surgery, while maximizing function.

Robotic operations require intensive training and extreme skill – and are only offered at large or highly specialized medical centers, such as City of Hope. They’re also only done in cases in which the cancer can be exposed completely and is not too extensive.

Complex though robotic procedures are, they’re only one of the many leading-edge technologies at City of Hope used in head and neck cancer treatment. Transoral laser microsurgery, which uses a laser beam viewed through a microscope to remove cancers at the back of the throat and voice box without external incisions, is another.

Where high-tech care meets compassionate care

But what truly sets the head and neck program apart is not only its physicians’ abilities to perform complex, leading-edge procedures with the latest technology, but their comprehensive and compassionate approach to patients.

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Helmsley Charitable Trust supports work of islet cell researchers

May 4, 2015 | by   

Henry Ford said it well: “Working together is success.” For biomedical researchers, this is especially true. The challenges they face often require expertise from multiple fields to find answers and solutions.

Joyce Niland

Joyce Niland has received City of Hope’s first-ever grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, supporting diabetes research.

Scientists seeking cures for type 1 diabetes in particular must overcome biological, medical and technological barriers that make the disease particularly difficult to address. A breakthrough grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust will help.

Joyce Niland, Ph.D., the Edward and Estelle Alexander Chair in Information Sciences, is principal investigator on the three-year, $228,000 grant — the first obtained from the Helmsley Charitable Trust by a City of Hope investigator. It will support and encourage the attendance of diabetes researchers at annual Human Islet Cell Research Network (HIRN) conferences.

The HIRN was recently launched by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to understand how human beta cells — the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin — are lost in people with type 1 diabetes. Chief among the network’s objectives is to find innovative strategies to protect or replace functional beta cells in those living with the disease.

The network focuses on research that will lead to a greater understanding of the early stages of the type 1 diabetes disease process in humans. The grant from the trust will help make it easier for members to learn, collaborate and advance their work by providing opportunities for exchange of scientific ideas, fostering collaborations, generating additional joint projects and supporting junior investigators who may not otherwise be able to attend.

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9-year-old Amanda, a bone marrow transplant patient, meets her superhero

May 3, 2015 | by   

Superheroes are making plenty of headlines as the summer blockbuster season opens. At City of Hope, a 9-year-old girl wept as she hugged her own superhero: someone who had the superpower of healing her cancer.

bone marrow transplant

Bone marrow transplant patient Amanda Cooper, 9, meets her donor and hero, Lars Nijland.

He didn’t wear flashy armor or a cape, but rather a plaid shirt. He doesn’t have a secret hideout, a signal that blazes across the sky when he’s needed or a funny catch phrase. He did travel all the way from Germany, and over and over said he was just doing the right thing.

Bone marrow transplant patient Amanda Cooper, who was treated for acute myeloid leukemia at age 7, finally met Lars Nijland, the 24-year-old man who donated the bone marrow making her transplant and cure possible. They met at City of Hope’s 39th annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion. Amanda, standing tall in red patent leather shoes – her companion Honey Buns the bear just out of sight – faced a crowd of her fellow cancer survivors and TV cameras to deliver the speech she wrote to welcome her donor. » Continue Reading

Physician researcher Larry Kwak’s passion? Moving discoveries to clinic

May 2, 2015 | by   
Dr. Larry Kwak

Renowned physician researcher Larry Kwak takes the helm of City of Hope’s new Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center.

Known for his ability to bring together, and lead, effective research teams, world-renowned translational research scientist and physician Larry W. Kwak, M.D., Ph.D., has joined City of Hope in a key leadership role within the institution’s new Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute.

As director of the Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center, Kwak will shape the next generation of research and treatments for all types of lymphoma. Kwak also will serve as the inaugural associate director for developmental therapeutics and translational research for the comprehensive cancer center, and he is the first holder of the title of Dr. Michael Friedman Professor for Translational Medicine.

In other words, Kwak will integrate basic scientific discoveries into clinical use.

“What makes me excited to come to work every morning — my passion — is moving lab discoveries to clinic,” he said. “One of my key roles will be to help our faculty develop their ideas and bring them to first-in-human clinical trials.”

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Melanoma: The ABCDE guide to potentially cancerous moles

May 1, 2015 | by   

To detect melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, at its earliest, most treatable stage, conduct a head-to-toe skin self-examination once a month to check for suspicious moles.


ABCDE Guide for Skin Cancer Self-exam for cancerous moles

Unusual, or atypical, moles can ultimately develop into skin cancer. Here is the ABCDE guide to potentially cancerous moles:

A = Asymmetry
The two halves of the mole do not match when you draw a line through the middle.

B = Border
The mole has an uneven border.

C = Color
The mole has multiple shades of tan, brown or black or has unusual colors such as red, purple or blue.

D = Diameter
The mole is larger than 6mm in diameter (or the size of a pencil eraser).

E = Evolution
The mole has changed in size, shape or color over time.

If you have a suspicious mole, contact your primary care doctor or a dermatologist for further evaluation. For more information about melanoma and other types of skin cancer, visit

Sources: American Cancer Society and Skin Cancer Foundation


Feel free to reproduce our skin cancer infographic for health and education purposes. Download the PDF.


Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. 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.