Cancer Insights: What I’ll be looking for in Chicago – an ASCO 2015 preview

May 27, 2015 | by   

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is a U.S.-based organization that ties together oncology health care professionals (doctors, nurses and pharmacists) from around the world. The organization’s annual meeting represents a key forum in which scientific breakthroughs in oncology are unveiled. Attendance is nothing short of spectacular – last year, the meeting drew 34,000 attendees with just over half coming from outside of the U.S.

ASCO 2015: What's hot

ASCO 2015 preview: For a medical oncologist specializing in prostate, kidney and bladder cancer, the annual meeting of the nation’s top oncologists is a learning opportunity that can’t be missed. One of the most promising topics is about a clinical trial using gene therapy.

This year’s meeting begins Thursday in Chicago. After a busy clinic today, I’m going to hop on a red-eye and make my way there. As a medical oncologist focused on prostate, kidney and bladder cancer, I’ll be focused on the following research in particular:

1. “Gene therapy” for bladder cancer: The BOREALIS-1 trial: For years we have longed for new therapies for advanced bladder cancer. It’s been three decades since cisplatin (a standard chemotherapy agent) was introduced for the disease, and since that time, we’ve had virtually no effective drugs developed. This appears to be changing dramatically.

My friend and colleague Przemyslaw Twardowski, M.D., was involved in an international study evaluating a novel drug called apatorsen. Apatorsen represents a sort of “gene therapy” – a short strand of DNA that enters the cancer cell and shuts down its defense mechanisms. At this meeting, we will see data suggesting that when added to chemotherapy, apatorsen led to an impressive improvement in survival.

That data is a real glimmer of hope for patients with advanced bladder cancer. » Continue Reading

Free app lets blood donors schedule appointments and see impact

May 27, 2015 | by   

Traditionally, blood donation comes with perks – tokens such as a gift certificate, swag emblazoned with the donor center’s logo or the occasional movie ticket.

blood donor

Carlos Morgan, a regular blood donor at City of Hope, checks the new COH Donate app on his smartphone. Morgan had just given three units of platelets.

Kasie Uyeno, manager of Blood Donor Recruitment for City of Hope, knows that’s not what brings donors back to the center again and again. They come for the ability to help others. That understanding sparked her idea for COH Donate: a free app that, in addition to offering practical applications like scheduling and reminders, aims to connect donors with examples of how they’re helping.

“Think of it as a feel-good corner on your phone,” she said in a recent interview with ABC7. “We want to help connect those dots for our donors and show them patients whose lives were saved because of their generosity – let them see the magnitude of what they’ve done.”

Blood products are especially important at City of Hope, where patients who have received bone marrow and stem cell transplants rely on transfusions and platelets while their body rebuilds its immune system. » Continue Reading

ASCO 2015: Cancer research brings new and better therapies to patients

May 26, 2015 | by   

Anyone who tours City of Hope will almost certainly be taken by two key buildings: City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital and the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Cancer Immunotherapeutics & Tumor Immunology.

cancer research

City of Hope scientists will share their cancer research breakthroughs at the ASCO 2015 annual meeting in Chicago.

The heart of the campus, in more ways than one, the two buildings are a stone’s throw from each other. The hospital is dedicated to treating cancer patients who are currently fighting their disease, and the research institute to finding the treatments and cures these patients need – and efficiently bringing those innovations to the clinic.

That drive to help patients is what inspires so many City of Hope physicians and scientists to attend, and present research at, medical conferences. There, they can share their discoveries with their peers worldwide, as well as learn about new advances and developments in cancer research and care. One of the most notable of those conferences will take place this week in Chicago.

Thousands of researchers and physicians will convene in Chicago May 29 through June 2 for the 2015 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, including a delegation from City of Hope who will share findings about a number of cancers and treatment approaches, including assessments of potential new therapies and comparisons of current therapies.  » Continue Reading

Lung cancer patient can ‘finally push play on my life again’

May 26, 2015 | by   
Emily Taylor

Lung cancer patient Emily Bennett Taylor with her husband, Miles. Taylor has had “No Evidence of Disease (NED)” for two years.

In June 2012, 28-year-old Emily Bennett Taylor was getting ready to celebrate her second wedding anniversary with her college sweetheart when she discovered that she had Stage 4 lung cancer. Taylor was a former college athlete, had led a healthy and active lifestyle and had never smoked. She quickly began treatment at City of Hope and vowed from Day 1 that she would do whatever it took to survive. After eight rounds of chemotherapy, surgery to remove her right lung and radiation, Taylor is now in remission. Here, Taylor shares how it felt to find out her scans no longer showed evidence of the disease.


It was the first scan that I was nervous about … I mean really nervous. So much was riding on this.

Statistically, two years of clean scans showing No Evidence of Disease (NED) represents a significant milestone and increase in survival for lung cancer patients like myself. But to be honest, I’ve never been one to be too hung up on the statistics.

Rather, the two-year mark was so nerve-wracking because it signified something even bigger – something that cancer so cruelly pauses upon diagnosis – it presented me with the opportunity to finally push play on my life again.

Since my diagnosis in June of 2012 at the age of 28 with Stage 4 lung cancer, I’ve been the cause of so much stress and pain on my family. Of course, they all never complain, but I can easily see the effects. It’s not hard when my husband, Miles, is continually gripping his chest and trying to beat the ulcer out of his stomach. Or, when I call my grandparents and my grandmother cries each time she says goodbye to me. I hate seeing my loved ones hurting over me.

I once asked Miles to just relax and breathe easy, and he told me, “I’ll breathe normally when you’re two years NED.” So, I internalized his comment and earmarked that two-year date. Each night, I’ve prayed and hoped for it to come sooner, as with it, I hoped it would finally bring peace to my family.

» Continue Reading

23-year-old gave scant thought to skin cancer, then he noticed dark mole

May 25, 2015 | by   

“Skin cancer” was pretty much the last thing on the mind of a healthy, outdoorsy kid like Tanner Harbin.

Tanner Harbin, skin cancer patient

College student and skin cancer patient Tanner Harbin now gives much more thought to sun safety. That wasn’t the case before his diagnosis with a rare form of cancer.

“I like hockey – playing it and watching it,” the 23-year-old from San Dimas said. “I like to go off-roading with my dad – we have a Jeep and we have a cabin up in Big Bear, so we go up there and do stuff like that.”

When he’s not palling around with his dad, Harbin works at an Ace Hardware and goes to Mt. San Antonio College, where he’s studying to become a welder. “I’m pretty much always at work or at school,” he said.

Other than a bout with teen acne, Harbin had never given a lot of thought to the health of his skin. “I don’t think most people my age ever even think of going to the dermatologist,” he said. “They don’t even think about using sunblock. They just stand out there getting burned. They go to tanning booths. My sister used to do that. She stopped when I started having problems with my skin.”

Those “problems” began with a dark black mole Harbin first noticed on his back last December. » Continue Reading

Meet our doctors: Surgeon Laleh Melstrom on rewards of fighting melanoma

May 24, 2015 | by   
Laleh Melstrom, M.D. , the newest skin cancer surgeon at City of Hope.

Meet Laleh Melstrom, an expert in  surgery for skin cancer.

Skin cancer is an enticing field to be in these days. Just ask Laleh Melstrom, M.D. M.S., one of City of Hope’s newest surgeons. “In the last few years, melanoma has been the type of cancer that has really shown the most progress in terms of treatments,” Melstrom said. “It’s the one cancer in 2015 that is probably the most exciting in terms of survival.”

The new melanoma treatments that have recently emerged “delay recurrences and progression,” said Melstrom, an assistant clinical professor of surgery who joined City of Hope in March from a similar role at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey/Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “And there are more forthcoming. They’re targeting aspects of the immune system to stimulate its response to melanoma” – the most deadly form of skin cancer.

However, although melanoma has seen “a lot of progress in the development of targeted therapies to treat for systemic disease, early surgical intervention remains the most effective strategy for preventing metastatic disease and prolonging survival,” Melstrom said.

Melstrom enjoys the challenges that skin cancer presents. “There are a multitude of treatment options for almost every cancer,” she said. “And tailoring the plan for each individual and their family and their value system is what makes this an art and not just a technical practice. The modalities of treatment cross all different disciplines. To be knowledgeable about all the different practices, as well as the person’s value system, really makes it a rewarding job.”

» Continue Reading

Skin cancer treatment: Research combined with a comprehensive approach

May 23, 2015 | by   

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States today, and its incidence is on the rise. Forty to 50 percent of light-skinned Americans who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least once in their lives.

skin cancer treatment

Skin cancer treatment is improving, especially for melanoma (shown here). Clinical trials and ongoing research have fueled the advances.

Most of these skin cancers – about 3.5 million cases – are the basal cell and squamous cell types, which are highly treatable if caught early. “A lot of people get basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, but not a lot of people die of them,” said City of Hope board-certified skin cancer surgeon Laleh Melstrom, M.D., of the lesions that typically appear on the face, the tops of the ears and the scalp.

Added City of Hope dermatologist and assistant professor Jae Jung, M.D., Ph.D.: “For most small, nonmelanoma skin cancers, surgical incision is curative 95 percent to 99 percent of the time.”

In contrast, there are just 79,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed in the United States each year – and 10,000 deaths.

Despite its relative rarity compared to these other forms of skin cancer, melanoma makes up about 50 to 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths, according to Melstrom. “Melanoma has seen a lot of progress in the development of targeted therapies to treat for systemic disease, but early surgical intervention remains the most effective strategy for preventing metastatic disease and prolonging survival,” she said.

If doctors can catch it at Stage 1, “melanoma has a five-year-survival rate approaching 98 percent,” Melstrom said, adding that “the vast majority of melanomas are early stage and curable. Just 12 percent or so present late and have a mortality risk.”

But, with leading-edge research and skin cancer treatment, the City of Hope skin-cancer team is at the forefront of the attack on even later stages of this most-deadly form of skin cancer. » Continue Reading

Lifestyle and cancer: What cancer experts say (w/VIDEO)

May 22, 2015 | by   

The connection between lifestyle and cancer is real. Knowing that, what can individuals do to lower their risk?

City of Hope physicians recently came together to answer that precise question, explaining the links between cancer and the choices we make that affect our health.

Moderator Vijay Trisal M.D., medical director of City of Hope’s community practices and an associate clinical professor of surgical oncology, led the discussion. The featured panelists were Suzy Melkonian, M.D., assistant clinical professor at City of Hope | Santa Clarita and Mission Hills; Elizabeth Lynn Meyering, M.D., assistant clinical professor at City of Hope | Simi Valley; and Wei-Chien Michael Lin, M.D., associate clinical professor at City of Hope | Mission Hills.

Below are a couple of questions and responses addressed by the panelists. » Continue Reading

Mushroom powder linked to lower PSA levels in prostate cancer patients

May 22, 2015 | by   

White button mushrooms seem fairly innocuous as fungi go. Unlike portabellas, they don’t center stage at the dinner table, and unlike truffles, they’re not the subject of gourmand fervor. But appearances can be deceiving when it comes to these mild-mannered Clark Kents of the food world.

white button mushrooms and prostate cancer

Powder made from white button mushrooms appears able to lower PSA levels in men previously treated for prostate cancer.

In a study led by City of Hope researchers, a powder made of white button mushrooms was found to reduce the levels of prostate specific antigen, or PSA, in prostate cancer patients whose PSA levels had been rising. And, even better, the powder caused no ill effects.

Here’s why that matters. A rise in PSA levels in men already treated for prostate cancer can be a harbinger of disease recurrence. So when those levels rise – and continue to rise – men know that further treatment is likely necessary. Men need a way to keep those PSA levels down or, more to the point, help prevent cancer’s recurrence.

White button mushrooms could be it. » Continue Reading

10 facts about brain tumors that you might not know

May 22, 2015 | by   
brain tumor awareness

May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month. Help spread awareness of this disease by sharing these facts with family and friends.

Doctors often recommend preventive screenings for several cancers, based on hereditary or genetic factors, but brain tumors aren’t one of them.

Primary brain tumors, which originate in the brain rather than spreading from another location, seem to develop at random, and doctors have little insight into who might develop one. Further, such tumors don’t even have obvious symptoms until the disease is already advanced.

In fact, most people know little about brain tumors. So here we shed some light on, and raise awareness of, a disease that is rarely discussed, but should be. » Continue Reading