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Teens, young adults with brain cancer need comprehensive cancer centers

September 10, 2014 | by   

Older teenagers and young adults traditionally face worse outcomes than younger children when diagnosed with brain cancer and other central nervous system tumors. A first-of-its-kind study shows why.

Teens with brain cancer have better outcomes at NCI-designated cancer centers.

Older adolescents and young adults with brain and spinal cord tumors have better outcomes when treated at National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers, research finds.

A team of researchers from the departments of Population Sciences and Pathology at City of Hope recently examined the cancer registry, looking at the entire Los Angeles County population of older adolescents and young adults — collectively known as AYAs — and children diagnosed with central nervous system (CNS) cancers, which include tumors of the brain and spinal cord.

The study included nearly 1,350 patients: children 14 years old and under and AYAs, who fall between the ages of 15 and 39. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has determined that AYA patients form a special group because of unique challenges they face in cancer treatment, and this study was the first to assess the impact on survival of where an AYA patient receives care.

The scientists, led by Julie Wolfson, M.D., M.S.H.S., assistant professor, and Smita Bhatia, M.D., M.P.H., the Ruth Ziegler Chair in Population Sciences, found that both children and AYAs with a select group of CNS tumors who were treated at NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers such as City of Hope fared better than those seeking care at adult community facilities. In some cases, the difference in five-year survival rates was more than 10 percent. Of special note, the AYAs with these cancers fared worse than the children, but by receiving care at an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, this difference was wiped away.

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Diet during cancer treatment: Tips to ease dry mouth

September 8, 2014 | by   

Cancer treatment can take a toll on the mouth, even if a patient’s cancer has nothing to do with the head or throat, leading to a dry mouth, or a very sore mouth, and making it difficult to swallow or eat.

Here’s some advice from the National Cancer Institute (NCI)  on how to ease cancer-related discomfort of the mouth.

cancer treatment side effects

Popsicles can help cancer patients ease the dry mouth caused by some cancer treatments.

Dry mouth

Chemotherapy and radiation to the upper body can damage the salivary glands, reducing the production of saliva and making it harder to talk, chew and swallow food. Some medications can also be cause dry mouth. Try these tips to alleviate dry mouth: » Continue Reading

Meet our doctors: Jeffrey Wong on the future of radiation therapy

September 6, 2014 | by   

Radiation oncology is one of the three main specialties involved in the successful treatment of cancer, along with surgical oncology and medical oncology. Experts in this field, known as radiation oncologists, advise patients as to whether radiation therapy will be useful for their cancer – and how it can best be safely and effectively delivered.

Jeffrey Wong

Radiation is one of the three main treatments for cancer, with surgery and medication being the other two. Here, Jeffrey Wong explains the advances in radiation oncology and the importance of this type of treatment.

Here, Jeffrey Y.C. Wong, M.D., chair of radiation oncology at City of Hope, shares what he sees as the future of radiation oncology and the importance of this type of therapy in the treatment of cancer.

How and why did you decide to become a radiation oncologist?

I’ve always had an interest in the math, physics and engineering fields. I almost became an engineer, but decided to switch to oncology with a focus in medicine, and radiation oncology is a good blend of both. Radiation oncology is a blend of engineering, computer sciences, physics, biology and medicine, with the primary goal of helping people.

What inspires you daily to do the work you do?

I, along with my colleagues at City of Hope, have the opportunity to make a difference in patients” lives every day. For many patients, our therapies can help result in a cure of their cancer. We also have the opportunity to make a contribution to cancer research and advance the field of oncology. » Continue Reading

7 tips for managing cancer pain: First, control it early

September 4, 2014 | by   

There’s more to cancer care than simply helping patients survive. There’s more to cancer treatment than simple survival.

pain illustration

Cancer patients should report their pain to their caregivers, and enlist their doctors to help them manage it. Pain does not have to be part of daily life, even during cancer treatment, says City of Hope’s Betty Ferrell and other experts in palliative care.

Constant pain should not be part of conquering cancer,  insists Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., R.N., director of nursing research and education at City of Hope. She wants patients and caregivers alike to understand, and act on, this principle.

Ferrell, an international expert in palliative care, and her colleagues have spent years investigating pain management and the barriers that prevent patients from receiving the help and medication needed to manage their pain. Overcoming these barriers starts with understanding that pain management is vital. Even when people are fighting cancer, their day-to-day lives should not hampered by physical pain.

“Patients and caregivers need to understand that pain is important,” she said. “Pain has a tremendous impact on quality of life. There is an urgency. If pain is not controlled, their lives are out of control.”

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Bone marrow transplant may be answer to incurable, fatal blood disease

September 4, 2014 | by   

Even its name is daunting. Systemic mastocytosis is a fatal disease of the blood with no known cure. But a new study suggests a bone marrow transplant may be the answer for some patients.

Nakamura and Pullarkat

Systemic mastocytosis is currently considered a fatal blood disorder. City of Hope researchers Ryotaro Nakamura, left, and Vinod Pullarkat have found that bone marrow transplantation could offer a cure.

While rare, systemic mastocytosis is resistant to treatment with drugs and, when aggressive, can be fatal within four years of diagnosis. No standard therapy currently exists for the disease, which is caused by an overabundance of mast cells in the blood and bone marrow.

Mast cells are a type of white blood cell that normally helps in wound healing and in defending against infectious disease agents. The cells also are involved in allergic reactions including anaphylaxis, a severe reaction that can sometimes lead to death.

Patients with mastocytosis tend to develop hives and itching and are prone to anaphylactic shock. They also can develop other blood cancers such as leukemia and myelodysplasia together with systemic mastocytosis. » Continue Reading

High-fat diet? You are what you eat, right down to your DNA

September 3, 2014 | by   

Could what you eat affect the health of your chromosomes? The short answer is, “Yes.”

Rama Natarajan and Dustin Schones

A high-fat diet may lead to detrimental changes to your chromosomes say Rama Natarajan, left, and Dustin Schones.

Researchers led by Dustin Schones, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Cancer Biology, and Rama Natarajan, Ph.D., director of the Division of Molecular Diabetes Research and the National Business Products Industry Professor in Diabetes Research, have found that a high-fat diet can lead to chemical changes in chromatin, the bundles of DNA and protein that form chromosomes. Further, the team found that those changes to chromatin structure can, in fact, alter the way genes are expressed in cells.

Researchers have long known that diet is a key factor leading to metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. These disorders result in abnormal processing of fats, proteins, sugars and other important molecules in the body.

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Cancer insights: Urologist Bertram Yuh on prostate cancer risk

September 2, 2014 | by   

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Here, Bertram Yuh, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology at City of Hope, explains the importance of understanding the risk factors for the disease and ways to reduce those risks, as well as overall prostate health.

Prostate cancer expert Bertram Yuh

Bertram Yuh, a urologic cancer expert at City of Hope, explains prostate cancer risk factors and how to reduce them.

“What are my prostate cancer risks?” That’s becoming a more common, and increasingly important, question.

A lot of men wonder what can be done to prevent or reduce their risk of prostate cancer. The good news is, there’s a lot of research being conducted in this area regarding risks and influencing factors.

We already know there are racial predilections, such as that African-American men are more likely to get prostate cancer and that, when they’re diagnosed, the cancer tends to be more aggressive. We also know that prostate cancer is less common in Asian-American and Hispanic men.

Further, while prostate cancer is certainly more common in older men, there is some recent clinical literature that states prostate cancer in younger men can be more aggressive. It is quite possible for a 47-year-old and a 77-year-old to have prostate cancers that behave differently.

I can’t treat every patient the same way just because their prostate-specific antigen (PSA) or Gleason grades look the same. In my role as a urology oncologist, I need to look at the whole patient.

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Prostate cancer infographic: How to reduce prostate cancer risk

September 1, 2014 | by   

Prostate Health**
Learn more about prostate health, plus prostate cancer research and treatment, at City of Hope.

**

Learn more about getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting us online 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.

 

Childhood cancer: Know the 12 warning signs

September 1, 2014 | by   

Childhood cancer survival rates have increased dramatically over the past 40 years. More than 80 percent of children with cancer now survive five years or more, which is a tremendous feat.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Knowing the warning signs of childhood cancer is the first step in getting a diagnosis.

Despite the survival rate increase, cancer continues to be the No. 1 disease killer and second-leading cause of death in children. In 2014, nearly 1,400 children under the age of 15 are expected to die from cancer in the United States and about 10,450 children will be diagnosed with some form of cancer.

Although there are no widely recommended screening tests for childhood cancers, many cancers can be found early. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms for some of the most common childhood cancers, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, neuroblastoma and Wilm’s tumor. » Continue Reading

‘Mini’ stem cell transplant: What is it and how does it treat cancer?

August 29, 2014 | by   

Although a stem cell transplant can be a lifesaving procedure for people diagnosed with a blood cancer or blood disorder, the standard transplant may not be appropriate for all patients. This is because the conditioning regimen (the intensive chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments preceding the transplant) is very taxing on the body, and certain patients — such as those who are older — cannot tolerate the toxicity associated with the process.

Because non-myeloablative transplants rely on the anti-tumor effects of the donor cells, patients can be treated with a lower dose of chemotherapy and/or radiation—resulting in an easier-to-tolerate treatment regimen with fewer side effects.

Because nonmyeloablative, or “mini,” transplants rely on the anti-tumor effects of the donor cells, patients can be given a lower dose of chemotherapy — resulting in an easier-to-tolerate treatment regimen with fewer side effects.

But at City of Hope, this does not rule them out of a potentially curative transplant, thanks to our care team’s specialization in nonmyeloablative transplants (also known as a reduced intensity, or “mini,” transplant.)

Here, Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, explains how this relatively new procedure works.

What is a nonmyeloablative stem cell transplant and how does it work to treat cancer?

Nonmyeloablative stem cell transplant is a way of doing a transplant that is not as intensive as traditional transplant regimens. It uses lower doses of drugs than a standard transplant but still enables us to engraft stem cells from a donor. It then works through utilizing the donor stem cells, which builds an immune reaction against the residual cancer cells — hopefully eliminating the disease and preventing it from returning.

Because it is less intensive, nonmyeloablative transplants are generally used for patients who are older or otherwise too frail to tolerate a traditional transplant, and this procedure has allowed us to perform curative transplants in a greater range of people. » Continue Reading