Lung cancer isn’t just a smoker’s disease: Know the risk factors

November 3, 2014 | by   

The single largest risk factor for lung cancer is smoking, and it contributes to the overwhelming majority of lung cancer cases.


While smoking is the top risk factor for lung cancer, a growing number of patients never smoked. Here are other risk factors that are known and being studied.

That’s old news, of course. What might be news to many people is that, although smoking is a major cause of lung cancer, it’s not the only cause. In fact, a growing number of cases are occurring in patients who never smoked and who did not have significant exposure to secondhand smoke.

About 15 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed in people who do not smoke. Further, about 60 percent or more occur in nonsmokers, including people who never smoked and those who quit many years before their diagnosis.

Success in smoking education and cessation efforts means fewer smokers, but as the numbers of smokers developing lung cancer declines, scientists are recognizing how much we have to learn about the causes of this disease.

Other lung cancer risk factors: » Continue Reading

Walk for Hope: Thousands come together to help cure women’s cancers

November 2, 2014 | by   
Walk for Hope

Nearly 8,000 people walk to help end women’s cancers at the 18th annual Walk for Hope. (Photo by Dominique Grignetti)

Thousands gathered at City of Hope on Sunday, Nov. 2, to participate in the 18th annual Walk for Hope, a unique event that raises money for, and awareness of, women’s cancers.

Together participants cheered, supported, honored and commemorated those who have been affected by breast and gynecologic cancers. With more than 600 survivors in attendance, the impact of City of Hope’s research and care was evident to all.

Walk for Hope is the only walk series that benefits research, treatment and education programs for all cancers unique to women, and all funds raised support City of Hope’s Women’s Cancers Program.

Most special about the walk is that it celebrates the collaboration between researchers, patients and the community to end women’s cancers. Further, it’s the only walk held on the grounds of an institution where the research occurs and where the care is delivered. Participants not only walked by buildings where the breakthroughs of tomorrow will be discovered, they walked by City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital, waving to (and receiving waves from) patients watching from the windows.

“City of Hope’s specialized treatment of cancer, greater understanding of the causes of cancer and the research into survivorship after cancer have all been made possible by your support,” said Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P., chief medical officer at City of Hope,  addressing the crowd. “You help us with our research, and our research helps the world.”

Beverly Austin, a 16-year breast  cancer survivor, shared her story during the opening ceremony, highlighting the community’s support and City of Hope’s care. “Because of people like you, I’m here today,” she said.

And because of people like Austin, every year, City of Hope hosts Walk for Hope so that we can one day live in a world without women’s cancers.

Team name: Fight Like Mami Chela at City of Hope's Walk for Hope

The “Fight Like Mami Chela” team joins thousands of other Walk for Hope participants to help find cures for women’s cancers.  (Photo by Dominique Grignetti)

Walk for Hope

Breast cancer patient Becky Stokes, shown here at the 18th annual Walk for Hope, celebrates a milestone. (Photo by Dominique Grignetti)

For November, 30 facts (one a day) about lung cancer

November 1, 2014 | by   

Lung cancer is a men’s health issue. It’s a women’s health issue. The truth is, anyone can get lung cancer.

lung cancer

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death. Today 400,000 survivors live in the U.S. More research and screening is needed to keep that number on the rise.

Arriving on the calendar after month-long (and higher profile) awareness campaigns for prostate and breast cancers, Lung Cancer Awareness Month calls for more research, more breakthroughs, and more understanding of a disease that kills more Americans than prostate cancer and breast cancer combined.

Through breakthroughs in screening and diagnosis, targeted medications and more advanced surgeries, more people are surviving the disease than ever before. Screening for lung cancer with low-dose CT scans can prevent 20 percent of lung cancer deaths by identifying them early.

Among the discoveries in this growing body of research is that – as with all cancers – no one is immune from lung cancer risk. Lung cancer is often considered to be a disease that affects only the elderly, or a disease that affects only smokers. Smoking is indeed the top risk factor – so quitting smoking is a huge step toward reducing risk – but it’s not the only factor.

More cases of the disease are found in nonsmokers every year. About 15 percent of all cases are in never-smokers. About 60 percent of cases are patients who quit many years ago or who never smoked at all.

Although lung cancer is by far the top cause of cancer death for both men and women, many don’t seem to realize this fact. This spring, the American Lung Association released the results of its first Women’s Lung Health Barometer, a survey of more than 1,000 women. Only 1 percent of women named lung cancer as a top-of-mind cancer. Further, 78 percent did not know the disease has killed more women than breast cancer since 1987.

Together, we can raise awareness of, and reduce deaths attributed to, lung cancer. To that end, we offer 30 facts (one for each day of November) about lung cancer.

» Continue Reading

Ryan Chavira was determined to beat ovarian cancer – and to Walk for Hope

October 31, 2014 | by   

Ryan Chavira was a senior in high school when she began feeling sluggish, fatigued and, well, “down.” Trips to the doctor ended in “you’re fine” pronouncements; blood tests results showed nothing of real concern.

Ryan Chavira, ovarian cancer survivor

Ovarian cancer survivor Ryan Chavira holds her team’s sign at the 2013 Walk for Hope. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Chavira)

But Chavira’s grandmother had passed away from ovarian cancer when she was in eighth grade, and the distended stomach and bloated feeling that Chavira was experiencing reminded her of her grandmother’s symptoms.

When the bloating gave way to pain, then excruciating pain, Chavira went to a hospital emergency room. A CT scan revealed a tumor the size of a watermelon engulfing her ovaries. Emergency surgery was the only option.

Chavira, now 22, describes the diagnosis and decision on a course of action in this way: “They come in, say ‘You have cancer and we’ll be right back to operate.’” There was no time for the diagnosis to sink in. » Continue Reading

Made in City of Hope: Neural stem cells could stop brain tumor recurrence

October 31, 2014 | by   

Brain tumors are exceptionally difficult to treat. They can be removed surgically, but individual cancer cells may have already spread elsewhere in the brain and can escape the effects of both radiation and chemotherapy. To prevent tumors from recurring, doctors need a way to find and stop those invasive cancer cells. Researchers at City of Hope think a special type of cell, known as a neural stem cell, could be the answer. Neural stem cells – known for their ability to become any type of cell in the nervous system — not only are attracted to cancer cells, they have the ability to deliver drugs directly to the tumor sites, sparing healthy tissues and minimizing side effects.

Karen Aboody of City of Hope

Karen S. Aboody and her colleagues are using stem cells to prevent brain tumor recurrence.

A drive to bring discovery to patients

As a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital and Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Karen Aboody, M.D., discovered the natural ability of neural stem cells to target cancer cells in the brain. Her pioneering work helped to establish a new field of cancer treatment, one that uses neural stem cells to deliver drugs or other therapies directly to tumor sites. » Continue Reading

Have breast cancer in family? Need to know risk? There’s an app for that

October 30, 2014 | by   

Breast cancer risk is personal; breast cancer risk assessment should be, too. To that end, City of Hope researchers have developed a starting point to help women (and their doctors) with a family history of the disease begin that risk assessment process.

breast cancer risk app

An app developed at City of Hope helps women with a family history of breast cancer assess their breast cancer risk by age. Doctors find it useful, too.

The result is an iPhone app, called BRISK, for Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Application. It’s the work of City of Hope’s Division of Research Informatics, in collaboration with the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics.

For women with a family history of the disease, the app walks them through their age-specific risk of developing the disease, beginning with a question about whether the family history involved a first-degree relative, a second-degree relative, a mother and paternal aunt, and so on.

The app clearly cautions that it is not fail-safe. It is not a substitution for a formal cancer risk assessment by a skilled physician. It doesn’t include risk factors other than family history, and it’s not to be used by women who are carriers of gene mutations making them more susceptible to breast cancer.

But it does help women and their physicians gain some perspective.

Here, Bita Nehoray, a genetic counselor in the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics, answers questions about the app, its purpose and how it should be used: » Continue Reading

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