The facts about spinal tumors (w/PODCAST)

June 25, 2015 | by   

Spine tumors

Surgeon Mike Chen discusses spinal tumors, their diagnosis and how City of Hope is leading the way in less-invasive spine tumor surgery.

The spine can be affected by many different kinds of tumors.

Malignant, or cancerous, tumors can arise within the spine itself. Secondary spinal tumors, which are actually much more common, begin as cancers in another part of the body, such as the breast and prostate, and then spread, or metastasize, to the spine.

Because the spinal cord is enclosed within the rigid, bony spinal column, any abnormal growth can cause problems by compressing the spinal cord and nerves, or compromising the structural integrity of the spine.

Here, City of Hope’s Mike Chen, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of neurosurgery, discusses spinal tumors, their diagnosis and how City of Hope is leading the way in less-invasive spine tumor surgery.


For other interviews with City of Hope experts,  go to our list of City of Hope podcasts.


Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling800-826-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.

City of Hope nurse receives Oncology Nursing Society’s 2015 Cancer Award

June 24, 2015 | by   
Oncology Nursing Society's 2015 Cancer Award

Peggy Burhenn, center, a professional practice leader at City of Hope, receives the Oncology Nursing Society’s 2015 Excellence in Care of the Older Adult with Cancer Award.

Although most cancer occurs in older adults, the bulk of cancer research doesn’t focus on this vulnerable and fast-growing population.

City of Hope and its Cancer and Aging Research Team aim to change that, and they’re getting a significant boost from Professional Practice Leader Peggy Burhenn, R.N., M.S., C.N.S. As the 2015 recipient of the Oncology Nursing Society’s Excellence in Care of the Older Adult with Cancer Award, Burhenn is calling attention to the overarching need for such care, as well as to City of Hope’s efforts and its progress.

The Oncology Nursing Society is a national organization for oncology nurses that supports education, research and certification. It is the largest organization of its kind in the U.S. and sets standards for oncology care. It gives this particular award each year “to recognize and support an oncology nurse who demonstrates age-sensitive health interventions, quality care, and symptom management to older adult patients with cancer.” Burhenn received a similar award from the Los Angeles chapter of the organization in fall 2014.

“It is truly an honor for me to receive this award,” Burhenn said. “I accept it not only for me but for my colleagues who are taking the journey with me to improve care for older adults, specifically the geriatric resource nurses, geriatric patient care assistants and other members of the Geriatric Resource Interdisciplinary Team, which I like to call GRIT.” » Continue Reading

Brain tumor patient: ‘I am enjoying my life for the first time in years’

June 23, 2015 | by   

Liz Graef-Larcher’s first brain tumor was discovered by accident six years ago.

Former brain tumor patient Liz Graef-Larcher

Brain tumor patient Liz Graef-Larcher, right, with husband Doug and daughters Madelyne Joyce and Milly, received surgery for two tumors at City of Hope.

The then-48-year-old with a long history of sinus problems and headaches had been sent for an MRI, and the scan found a lesion in her brain called a meningioma – a tumor that arises in the meninges, the layers of tissue that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord.

Meningiomas compress the nerve tissues near them, and can cause a variety of problems including seizures, headaches, blurred vision. and personality or memory changes. They’re the most common type of brain tumor in adults, according to the American Cancer Society, and occur twice as often in women.

The tumors occur in approximately seven to eight of every 100,000 people and about 80 percent are noncancerous. They can be removed by surgery, but unless the meningioma is causing symptoms, most doctors, including Graef-Larcher’s, usually advise monitoring over time.

Then, in 2009, Graef-Larcher was given a series of follow-up MRIs, and this time the scans found another brain tumor – one that had metastasized from her lung. “Although I had no symptoms, my doctor told me that I had cancer in my pelvis, abdomen, lungs and brain,” she said. » Continue Reading

Colon cancer: Why screening absolutely saves lives (w/PODCAST)

June 22, 2015 | by   
Colon Cancer

Stephen M. Sentovich is a clinical professor in the Department of Surgery with extensive experience in the surgical treatment and management of colon and rectal cancers.

The colon and rectum are parts of the body’s gastrointestinal system, also called the digestive tract.

After food is digested in the stomach and nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine, the remaining material moves down into the lower large intestine (colon) where water and nutrients are absorbed. The lower parts of the digestive tract include the rectum and anus, through which stool (solid waste) travels as it passes from the body.

Possible signs of colon cancer and/or rectum cancer include a change in bowel habits or blood in the stool. These and other symptoms may be caused by colon and/or rectum cancer.

Here, Stephen Sentovich, M.D., M.B.A., discusses colon cancer and how early screening can save lives.


For other interviews with City of Hope experts,  go to our list of City of Hope podcasts.


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). 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.

To lower readmissions, City of Hope trains others in postdischarge care

June 19, 2015 | by   

If there is one truism about hospital stays it is that patients want to get out. For many, however, the joy of being discharged is tempered by the unexpected challenges that recovery in a new setting may pose.

training to reduce hospital readmission

Leaving the hospital is but one step on the road to recovery. To ensure that recovery continues, at-home and professional care workers need to be properly trained. That’s where City of Hope’s Transition of Care program comes in. It aims to reduce hospital readmissions.

Even with professional help, the quality of care and treatment that patients receive at City of Hope is hard to replicate in the home or even in a professional care facility. Readmission to the hospital may be required to attend to issues that might have been resolved had the original posthospital care been more thoughtful; the training a bit more comprehensive.

That was the situation that Brenda Thomson, City of Hope’s director of case management and village operations, observed about two years ago when she began looking at patient readmissions.

“What City of Hope does far exceeds what [patients] get at other places,” Thomson said. “[Patients] may leave with quite extensive drains, wounds and medication regimens.”

She looked at the situation and found that some care providers had gaps in their procedures when it came to treating patients with specialized needs. And these were not just in-home care providers. She found this was also the case at long-term acute facilities, skilled nursing facilities, acute rehab and hospice care.

So Thomson began developing a training program to remedy the situation. Led by City of Hope, the program is now called the Transition of Care Community Coalition and includes 35 of the leading transitional health care organizations, with 90 individual participants, from Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange County counties.

» Continue Reading

Brain tumor expert Jana Portnow: ‘I want to help … as much as I can’

June 18, 2015 | by   

Jana Portnow, M.D., associate director of the Brain Tumor Program at City of Hope, didn’t expect to specialize in treating brain tumors. But, early in her career, she undertook a year of research on pain management and palliative care and, in that program, got to know many patients with brain tumors. After that, there was no going back.

Jana Portnow, brain tumor expert

Jana Portnow feels a special affinity for brain cancer patients. That’s part of the reason she’s helping create new options for them.

Portnow said she feels a special affinity for patients with brain cancer, even though she often seems to be giving them bad news. “They are grateful for what I do for them and surprisingly not resentful that their prognosis is not good,” she said. “I think that I would feel very angry if I had an illness that took away my ability to communicate or walk.”

That capacity to put herself in her patients’ place may be one reason her patients feel that same affinity for her, understanding that Portnow is trying everything she can to give them more time.

“Brain tumors affect the organ that is the key to our humanity,” Portnow said. “Our sense of self comes from our brain. And because brain tumors are so invasive and deadly, I want to help people battling brain cancer as much as I can.”

A great deal of Portnow’s work is focused on developing new treatments for brain tumors, specifically for glioblastoma, the most common type of malignant primary brain tumor in adults (“primary” means that it originated in the brain) and the most aggressive. » Continue Reading

New scholarship for nurses pays special tribute to exceptional care

June 17, 2015 | by   
Scholarship-for-nurses winner Lauryn Elffers

Lauryn Elffers, left, is one of four recipients of a scholarships for nurses. At right is Anne Bourque, clinical nursing director in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.

Ask any patient: Nurses are as pivotal in their care as doctors. They answer the call of a patient in the middle of the night, they hold the patient’s hand as he or she takes on yet another round of treatment and, in the best-case scenario, they wave goodbye as the patient leaves the hospital, healthy and happy.

When everyone has gone home for the day and the family is finally sleeping, nurses remain. No matter what road a patient takes, nurses are the constant, supporting them along the ride.

Now, the spouse of one former City of Hope patient is giving back to the institution’s nurses in a big way. » Continue Reading

Mathematical oncology: Where math modeling meets cancer research

June 16, 2015 | by   
Russell Rockne, Ph.D.

Russell Rockne joins Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope to build the new Division of Mathematical Oncology.

Many oncologists, not to mention their patients, might think that there’s no place for mathematical analysis in the treatment of cancer. They might think that all treatment decisions are based on unique factors affecting individual patients, with no connection to other patients and their treatment regimens. Russell Rockne, Ph.D., is determined to change that misconception.

Rockne is a mathematical oncologist, which means he uses mathematics as the means of discovery in cancer research.

In addition to investigating questions of cancer biology, Rockne uses outcomes data from large groups of patients to create predictive mathematical models, or algorithms, in the hope of generating effective stand-alone or combination therapies for individual patients. The algorithms loaded with clinical data essentially create a more precise treatment map for individuals experiencing similar cancers.

He joins City of Hope as an assistant professor in the Department of Research Information Sciences, bringing with him a background in both science and art. Formerly, a postdoctoral researcher in mathematical oncology at Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Rockne received his doctorate in mathematical biology, and masters in applied mathematics from the University of Washington, Seattle, and his bachelor’s in mathematics and fine art from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

In this interview, he explains the potential for a mathematical oncologist to – if not change the world – at least improve cancer treatment.

» Continue Reading

Book excerpt: ‘Bald, Fat & Crazy: How I Beat Cancer While Pregnant’

June 15, 2015 | by   

Within three days in 2007, Stephanie Hosford, then 37, learned that she was pregnant with her long-awaited second child – and that she had triple-negative breast cancer. Soon afterward, Hosford discovered that she and her husband, Grant, had been approved to adopt a little girl from China. 

"Bald, Fat & Crazy," by former City of Hope patient Stephanie Hosford

“Bald, Fat & Crazy: How I Beat Cancer While Pregnant With One Daughter and Adopting Another,” by former City of Hope breast cancer patient Stephanie Hosford, lands in bookstores June 15, 2015.

After encountering many physicians who advised them to terminate the pregnancy, the Hosfords found doctors at City of Hope who were confident they could successfully treat Stephanie without harming the baby. 

The Hosfords proceeded with both plans to expand their family, even while Hosford herself was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. In a previous Breakthroughs post, Hosford shared some advice with other patients, based on what she learned from her treatment experience.

Now Hosford has written a book about that experience, titled “Bald, Fat & Crazy: How I Beat Cancer While Pregnant With One Daughter and Adopting Another.” 

Here, Hosford shares an excerpt from her new book.



“Livin’ on the Edge” — Aerosmith
I need a wig.  An exceptionally fantastic wig, that doesn’t look at all like a wig.  I don’t know if anything like that exists, especially in my non-pop star price range, but it’s time to get serious.  I’m running out of time if I want to be prepared before chemo begins next week.

A couple of days later, Mom, Jenn and I pull into the tiny parking lot in the back of BigWigs, a small wig shop in Hollywood.  We wander up and down the aisles, studying the mannequin heads that look back at us with frozen faces.

“How long should I go?”  I ask Jenn, sounding stoic as I try to hold in my emotions. » Continue Reading

Obesity and breast cancer: The risk is real. Now we must help reduce it

June 14, 2015 | by   

That’s not an echo you hear, it’s another study linking weight to breast cancer risk. It’s also another reason to improve the health of our overall community.

Obesity and breast cancer risk

Obesity and breast cancer risk: The link is real. Now we must reduce the risk.

In a report published online June 11 in the journal JAMA Oncology, researchers have concluded that women who are both obese and postmenopausal face a substantially higher risk of invasive breast cancer than their normal-weight counterparts.

They based their findings on data from more than 67,000 postmenopausal participants in the Women’s Health Initiative, which measured height, weight, frequency of mammograms and incidence of breast cancer.

The risk of invasive breast cancer was greatest for women with a body mass index greater than 35, the researchers found; they had a 58 percent higher risk than normal-weight women. A normal body mass index for women is considered to be 25. If you’re wondering what a “greater than 35 BMI” looks like, the BMI calculator from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute calculates that a woman who is 5’6″ and weighs 220 pounds would have a BMI of 35.5. » Continue Reading