Powered by philanthropy: Bold science, better cancer treatments

February 17, 2015 | by   
Impact of cancer research

At City of Hope, the breakthroughs discovered here are shared with cancer researchers, clinicians and patients worldwide.

At City of Hope, innovative scientific research, important clinical studies and vital construction projects are all powered by philanthropy. Generous supporters fuel a powerful and diverse range of progress in science and medicine, enabling researchers and clinicians to improve cancer treatments and create cures not just for cancer, but also for diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses.

Take a look at what City of Hope supporters have helped build, launch and create over the past year:

Improving care through science

Innovative approaches: In 2014, John Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular medicine, pushed ahead in his research on meditope technology. As described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, these engineered peptides “fit” into antibodies, much like a lock and key, making it possible to selectively deliver material to cancer cells.

This research has already earned funding from the prestigious W. M. Keck Foundation, which is helping Williams’ team advance its applications. Those include the recent development of several new meditopes that can be attached to therapeutic antibodies targeting several different forms of cancer, including breast cancer. » Continue Reading

#LastChemo: ‘Attitude is everything,’ says 21-year-old cancer survivor

February 16, 2015 | by   
#lastchemo: young cancer survivor

Rhabdomyosarcoma survivor Trevor Hoffman, 21, celebrates his #LastChemo with a solid plan for 2015.

Trevor Hoffman was only 21 when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, but not even cancer could keep him off his motorcycles. (He has one for racing, and a couple just for fun.) Now a cancer survivor, Hoffman, who lives in La Verne, California, wrapped up his treatment Jan. 19 – just one day after his 21st birthday.

What was your diagnosis?

I was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma. [Also known as RMS, rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common soft tissue tumor in children, leading to tumors in muscles attached to bones. Although it can occur in many places in the body, the most common areas are the head, neck, arms, legs and urogenital tract.]

What would you tell other patients about to undergo chemotherapy? In other words, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?

It’s definitely going to be a tough road no matter what. But attitude is everything. Try to keep the best focus on the outcome in the end. Keep a positive attitude. Even though it was a year of craziness, that was one of the things I felt I had the entire time. » Continue Reading

Valentine’s Day advice for couples facing cancer: Ignore expectations

February 13, 2015 | by   

Valentine’s Day is synonymous with dinner reservations, red roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and — more often than not — unrealistically high expectations.

Valentine's Day

On Valentine’s Day, couples coping with cancer should drop the expectations that come with the holiday, and focus on what’s important to them as a couple.

Managing those expectations is great advice for all couples on Feb. 14 — and is especially important for couples confronting a cancer diagnosis. Focus on the opportunity to connect as a couple in a way that is most meaningful for you, and not what others think Valentine’s Day is about, advises Courtney Bitz, L.C.S.W., head of the Couples Coping with Cancer Together program, offered through the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center.

“During Valentine’s Day, couples may feel pressure to do what they did prior to the cancer diagnosis or what everyone else is doing,” Bitz says. “I encourage couples to openly communicate about these external and internal expectations so they can work together on how they can best feel connected to one another.”

Couples Coping with Cancer Together provides couples therapy to couples confronting a breast cancer diagnosis as part of their standard medical care. Bitz’s advice can be applied to all couples who are dealing with cancer. The support of a spouse or partner is especially important during cancer care, but keeping a close and intimate connection can be challenging when one or both members of a couple are feeling emotionally and physically taxed.

Bitz offers this Valentine’s Day advice: » Continue Reading

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