At 29, Kommah McDowell was a successful young professional engaged to be married to her best friend. She worked in the financial services sector and kick-boxed to keep in shape and to relax. Then came the diagnosis of triple-negative inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and very aggressive form of breast cancer. She was told she had a 5 percent chance of living two years. Here’s her story …
For seven months, McDowell had been visiting her primary care doctor every other week complaining of pain, tenderness, swelling and a lump in her right breast. She was assured it was only a benign cyst that would go away – she was too young to have cancer. Finally, at McDowell’s insistence, the “cyst” was removed. During that surgery, the doctor found cancer.
“Unbelievably, the medical staff was not familiar with the type of cancer,” McDowell said. “They just knew it was cancer and the best course of action was to remove it immediately. Fortunately, I was able to go to City of Hope for a second opinion and treatment.” » Continue Reading
The well-known drug tamoxifen might not always be the best choice for premenopausal women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer and face a heightened risk of recurrence. A new study suggests that the aromatase inhibitor exemestane, or Aromasin, works slightly better than tamoxifen in preventing cancer recurrence.
Five years of tamoxifen is considered the standard of care for pre-menopausal women with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer; aromatase inhibitors are often used in post-menopausal women.
But in a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, nearly 93 percent of women on the aromatase inhibitor exemestane remained free of breast cancer after five years. About 89 percent of women on tamoxifen remained free of breast cancer over the same amount of time. » Continue Reading
At age 44, Bridget Hanchette, a mother of three from La Crosse, Wisconsin, was diagnosed with grade IV glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of malignant brain tumor.
The cancer grows and spreads quickly, making it difficult to treat. Most patients with this diagnosis are not given much hope, but Hanchette’s initial consult and even her second opinion came with more grim news: Surgery was off the table. Because of the location of the tumor, an operation would likely leave her paralyzed.
With surgery no longer an option, she was told that she only had about a year to live. That answer did not sit well with Hanchette and her family.
“After hearing that no one could touch my tumor, that it was inoperable, incurable and I’d only have a year to live supposedly, we decided to continue our quest to find a more hopeful path,” Hanchette said.
Survival rates for childhood cancer have improved tremendously over the past few decades, but postcancer care hasn’t always kept up. More children than ever are now coping with long-term complications and side effects caused by their disease and treatment — one of those being learning difficulties.
A new study, published last month in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology and led by City of Hope researchers, suggests that parents can reduce the impact of cancer and cancer treatment on their children’s academic performance.
“It is possible to improve the child’s adaptive functioning in his or her daily life,” said lead author and neuropsychologist Sunita Patel, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Population Sciences and Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope. “For the educational realm, parents can facilitate this by helping the child establish good study strategies and to teach the child that learning requires active engagement and effort.”
For the study, researchers analyzed the academic performance of childhood cancer survivors who had cancer treatment affecting their central nervous system. This group of survivors tends to experience long-term cognitive side effects, making it harder for them to retain information in school.
When Sheldon Querido, a retired manufacturer’s representative, was diagnosed with bladder cancer, his doctor told him that he’d need to have his bladder removed – and that he’d have to wear an external urine-collection bag for the rest of his life.
“My first response was ‘I don’t want to live like that,” Querido told ABC 7 in a recent interview. “That’s gonna be a terrible way to live.”
Querido simply couldn’t accept that collecting his urine externally was his only option. The Thousand Oaks resident and his wife decided to get a second opinion at City of Hope. There, they learned there was indeed another choice: an artificial bladder, called a neobladder, built by specialists at City of Hope. » Continue Reading
To stop smoking, two approaches might be better than one. A new study has found that using the medication varenicline, or Chantix – along with nicotine patches – was more effective than the medicine alone in helping people quit.
The study, conducted by Stellanbosch University in Cape Town, South Africa, and published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, included 446 generally healthy smokers. One half used a nicotine patch, and the other half used a placebo patch; both groups began using the patches two weeks before their target quit date, and continued for an additional 12 weeks. One week before the target quite date, participants in both groups began using the drug varenicline and continued to take it for 12 weeks, tapering off in week 13.
Researchers found that patients who received the nicotine patch and varenicline were more likely to quit smoking and to have continued that abstinence at 12 weeks, 24 weeks and six months than the placebo group. In fact, at 6 months, 65.1 percent of the combination therapy group was still abstaining from smoking – confirmed by exhaled carbon monoxide measurements – versus 46.7 percent in the placebo group.
Brian Tiep, M.D., director of pulmonary rehabilitation at City of Hope, said the study not only points to a promising treatment option for smokers, but also underscores the importance of working with professionals who can create a tailored treatment plan for smokers wanting to quit the habit. Smoking is an addiction, and requires serious medical assistance, he says. » Continue Reading
John Cloer was three months shy of his third birthday in 2004 when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. For the next three and a half years, he received chemotherapy at City of Hope, finally obtaining long-term remission.
His parents Bill and Gina, along with John and his younger brother Steve, recently sat down to reflect on that experience, sharing tips for family members and friends of children with cancer, as well as advice for parents of children with cancer. Here, they and City of Hope pediatric nurse Karla Wilson, R.N., M.S.N., discuss the sometimes difficult transition from treatment to survivorship.
In this third of a three-part series, they describe the transition from patient to survivor.
Some of the cancer treatments that save children’s lives also may produce life-altering side effects that don’t materialize for years.
During the Cloers’ annual visit to City of Hope’s Childhood Cancer Survivorship Program, Wilson reviews John’s medical progress, and reminds his parents about conditions they’ll need to monitor.
When alerting patients that they may be prone to future therapy-related conditions, Wilson said she always tries to drive home one message above all: Just because survivors are at risk for a condition doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily develop it. » Continue Reading
News about the risks or benefits of widespread cancer screening seem to arrive daily – 3D mammography for breast cancer, CT scans for lung cancer, PSA tests for prostate cancer and now pelvic exams for some women’s cancers. Missing in the headlines is a reflection of how cancer detection is evolving.
Today’s cancer experts say screening advice shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. For most cancers, they advocate individual assessments based on each person’s history. This assessment may lead to more specialized screening – or to no screening at all.
An annual consultation with a primary physician, now standard in the wake of health care reform, should make patients aware of their individual risk. From there come more refined choices. » Continue Reading
Adults with sickle cell disease soon may have a new treatment option: bone marrow transplants.
Children with sickle cell disease have been treated successfully with transplantation of bone marrow, more officially known as hematopoietic stem cells, from other people. But the procedure has been less successful in adults, because the high-dose chemotherapy or radiation necessary to kill their own cells and allow the new cells to engraft has often been too toxic for adults to tolerate. A lower-density transplantation, however, might be the breakthrough that such patients have needed.
A new study has shown promising results for patients with severe sickle cell disease – including adults – who received a mix of a sibling’s cells and their own cells. The study, published July 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that adults receiving the lower-density transplant were able to avoid long-term mega-doses of chemotherapy or radiation. » Continue Reading
New pelvic exam recommendations or not, women shouldn’t give up those routine gynecological appointments. The revised guidelines from the American College of Physicians exempt most women from pelvic examinations, but a cancer specialist at City of Hope says women should still plan on regular visits with their gynecologist for cancer screening.
The guidelines were published July 1 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and call for routine pelvic exams to be skipped for women who are asymptomatic, of average risk for problems and not pregnant. No one is disputing the need, however, for regular Pap tests and cervical exams.
The study on which the recommendations are based found that routine pelvic exams were not beneficial to asymptomatic, average risk women who are not pregnant, as the exams rarely detect important disease and don’t reduce mortality, said Linda Humphrey, M.D., co-author of the guideline, in a news release.
The key to communicating this new guideline is making sure women understand that they should still receive Pap smear screening to detect cervical cancer. The incidence and death rates for cervical cancer have plummeted in the last 60 years, and continued to drop in the last decade, largely due to good screening, said Robert Morgan, M.D., co-director of the Gynecological Oncology/Peritoneal Malignancy Program at City of Hope. » Continue Reading