LATEST POSTS

Many patients unaware that breast cancer reconstruction is an option

October 15, 2014 | by   

Most women who are treated for breast cancer with a mastectomy do not choose to undergo reconstructive surgery.

Breast implant

Only 42 percent of women opt for breast reconstruction after mastectomy, a new study finds. Lack of adequate insurance coverage is one reason, says City of Hope expert Laura Kruper.

The reasons for this, according to a recent JAMA Surgery study, vary. Nearly half say they do not want any additional surgery, while nearly 34 percent say breast cancer reconstruction simply isn’t important to them. Fear of implants is another oft-cited factor, including worries that the implants might interfere with detection of recurrence – a fear cancer experts say is not founded.

The study also identified lack of access as a troubling issue. About 18 percent of women said they were not aware that breast cancer reconstruction was an option. Despite federal laws requiring that most group insurance plans that cover mastectomies also cover reconstructive surgery, 12 percent of women cited lack of insurance.

Laura Kruper, M.D., director of the Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women’s Health Center, acknowledges that many women will opt out of reconstructive surgery. However, with her patients, she stresses the importance of evaluating their options and weighing those choices very carefully. » Continue Reading

Breast cancer risk: 6 things you can do to reduce (not eliminate) risk

October 14, 2014 | by   

The leading risk factor for breast cancer is simply being a woman. The second top risk factor is getting older.

Lacing up sneakers

Many breast cancer risk factors, such as gender and aging, cannot be controlled. But lacing up for a walk a few times a week can put a dent in breast cancer risk.

Obviously, these two factors cannot be controlled, which is why all women should be aware of their risk and how to minimize those risks. Many risk factors can be mitigated, and simple changes can lead to a reduction in risk.

1. Know your family history. Have genetic screening if appropriate: The overwhelming majority of breast cancers – about 85 percent – occur in women who have no family history of cancer. However, as many as 10 percent of cases are linked to inherited genetic mutations, such as those on the BRCA1, BRCA2 or PALB2 genes. An estimated 55 to 65 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation and 45 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70. Women with family histories of breast or ovarian cancer should discuss screening options with their doctor.

If women opt for screening, a cancer risk counselor with training in cancer genetics will be best equipped to interpret test results and guide patients through their options. Identifying a gene mutation will open up more insurance-covered options, including more frequent mammograms and MRI screening. » Continue Reading

Breast cancer among minorities: Access to care is critical to saving lives

October 13, 2014 | by   

All women are at some risk of developing the disease in their lifetimes, but breast cancer, like other cancers, has a disproportionate effect on minorities.

multi-ethnic women talk breast cancer

While breast cancer is most common among white women, minority women, especially African-American women, are more likely to die from the disease. Access to screening, quality care and follow-up care are crucial to bridging the gap.

Although white women have the highest incidence of breast cancer, African-American women have the highest breast cancer death rates of all racial and ethnic groups. They are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. The five-year survival rate for African-American breast cancer patients is 78 percent, compared to 90 percent for white women, according to the American Cancer Society. Many factors contribute to this disparity, including that black women tend to have cancers that are more aggressive and harder to treat.

But access to screening, prompt follow-up when a mammogram indicates something is not normal, and access to high quality medical care also play a significant role. In fact, City of Hope experts on breast cancer among minorities found that 15 percent of black women who have had breast cancer do not receive yearly follow-up mammograms – despite their increased risk of developing the disease. » Continue Reading

HIV/AIDS summit unites experts, activists. Their goal: Stop the disease

October 10, 2014 | by   
Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P.

Alexandra Levine, chief medical officer of City of Hope and deputy director for clinical programs of the cancer center, reflects on how far HIV/AIDS treatment has come. But more must be done, she says.

First, the good news: HIV infections have dropped dramatically over the past 30 years. Doctors, researchers and health officials have made great strides in preventing and treating the disease, turning what was once a death sentence into, for some, a chronic condition. Now, the reality check: HIV is still a worldwide health threat.

Worldwide, more than 34 million people are living with HIV or AIDs, and 1.1 million of those live in the United States.

City of Hope’s eighth annual San Gabriel Valley HIV/AIDS Action Summit brought together experts and activists to discuss, and help raise awareness of, the prevention, treatment and ultimate cure of HIV and AIDS.

Former State Assemblymember Anthony J. Portantino co-hosted the event, which included students from Duarte High School, Blair High School’s Health Careers Academy, CIS Academy in Pasadena, California, and the Applied Technology Center high school in Montebello.

Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P., chief medical officer of City of Hope and deputy director for clinical programs of the cancer center, reflected on how far HIV/AIDS treatment has come even as she offered a stark reminder of today’s reality. Even though HIV is no longer a death sentence, she said, the disease is not to be taken lightly. » Continue Reading

Sometimes, cancer has a warning sign; know the breast cancer symptoms

October 9, 2014 | by   

Screening for breast cancer has dramatically increased the number of cancers found before they cause symptoms – catching the disease when it is most treatable and curable.

mammogram

If you notice a change in your breast, such as a lump or clear discharge, check with your doctor immediately.

Mammograms, however, are not infallible.

It’s important to conduct self-exams, and know the signs and symptoms that should be checked by a health care professional.

The most common symptom is a new lump or mass. Cancerous masses tend to be hard, painless and have irregular edges, but breast cancer can also be tender, rounded, soft and even painful. » Continue Reading

Advice from Rob: Have cancer? Depressed? Do these 3 things

October 8, 2014 | by   
Cancer survivor Rob Darakjian

Cancer survivor Rob Darakjian shares tips on how to overcome anxiety and depression while being treated for cancer.

Rob Darakjian was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at just 19 years old. He began chemotherapy and was in and out of the hospital for four months. After his fourth round of treatment, he received a bone marrow transplantation from an anonymous donor. Today, he’s cancer free.

 

In his previous post, he shared his story and explained what NOT to do when you’re depressed and have cancer. Here, he explains what TO do.

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Being in a hospital for a prolonged period of time is depressing. You may not get depressed or be as prone to depression as I am, but if you find yourself in the hospital with cancer, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll have at least a few depressive episodes.

You cannot think your way out of depression, this is a key thing to remember. Naturally, when you’re distraught, you want to solve the problem as soon as possible so you turn inward and start thinking. You believe that, by thinking, you’re going to find the “magic switch” that will bring the happy back.

Wrong. When you’re legitimately depressed, you’re unable to think rationally. Your brain isn’t working as it normally would. Here are some things to think about and, most important, DO when you’re feeling as if you’re trapped in a dark closet and you’ve suddenly forgotten how to turn the door handle to let yourself out.

What cancer patients should DO when they’re depressed:
» Continue Reading

Triathlete and breast cancer patient Lisa Birk: Take control (VIDEO)

October 7, 2014 | by   


In a single day, former professional triathlete Lisa Birk learned she couldn’t have children and that she had breast cancer.

“Where do you go from there?” she asks.

For Birk, who swims three miles, runs 10 miles and cycles every day, the answer  ultimately was a decision to take control of her cancer care. After receiving less-than-ideal treatment at a local hospital, Birk came to City of Hope.

Having cancer didn’t change her exercise routine, and it wasn’t going to change her ability to manage her life.

Learn more about her story – and why expert cancer care matters – in this video.

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Learn more about breast cancer treatment and research at City of Hope.

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion 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.

Four symptoms not to ignore if you’ve had cancer

October 6, 2014 | by   
Raul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D.

Neurosurgeon and scientist Rahul Jandial says some symptoms should never be ignored by former cancer patients.

More and more people are surviving cancer, thanks to advanced cancer treatments and screening tools. Today there are nearly 14.5 million cancer survivors in the United States.

But in up to 20 percent of cancer patients, the disease ultimately spreads to their brain. Each year, nearly 170,000 new cases of brain metastasis are diagnosed in the United States, sometimes years after an initial cancer diagnosis. The cancers most likely to spread to the brain are melanoma and cancers of the lung, breast and colon.

Neurosurgeon and scientist Rahul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Neurosurgery at City of Hope, says that recognizing symptoms and seeking medical attention as early as possible is vital.

“The warning signs are important not to ignore because it gives us the opportunity to catch potential complications. Early detection gives us a better chance to help patients recover the brain or nerve function that was affected by the cancer,” Jandial said.

Here, Jandial highlights four common symptoms of brain metastasis that are often ignored but that warrant immediate medical attention when occurring in cancer survivors. » Continue Reading

Cancer researcher’s work on STAT3 protein gets international recognition

October 4, 2014 | by   

Cancer cells are masters of survival. Despite excessive damage to their most basic workings and the constant vigilance of the body’s immune system, they manage to persevere.

Hua Yu, Ph.D.

Hua Yu was recently awarded with the prestigious Humboldt Research Award for her numerous breakthrough discoveries involving STAT3.

Much of this extraordinary ability to survive falls under the control of proteins bearing the name STAT, short for signal transducer and activator of transcription. Prominent among these is STAT3. This protein helps shield tumor cells from the immune system. It also shuts down apoptosis, the process that normally forces sick cells to die, and it can help cancers spread through the body.

Hua Yu, Ph.D., the Billy and Audrey L Wilder Professor in Tumor Immmunotherapy and chair of the Department of Cancer Immunotherapeutics and Tumor Immunology at City of Hope, has made STAT3 the focus of much of her research. The first scientist to show for certain that STAT3 could be a molecular target for cancer therapy in animal models of the disease, she is widely regarded as a leader in the field, with numerous breakthrough discoveries surrounding the protein. That global leadership position recently received further affirmation when the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation elected her to receive the Humboldt Research Award. » Continue Reading

Practical advice for couples confronting breast cancer

October 3, 2014 | by   

One person receives the breast cancer diagnosis, but the cancer affects the entire family.

couple therapy

The Couples Coping with Cancer Together program focuses on good communication and problem-solving skills for couples confronting breast cancer.

Couples, in particular, can find the diagnosis and treatment challenging, especially if they have traditional male/female communication styles.

“Though every individual is unique, men and women often respond differently during times of stress,”  said Courtney Bitz, L.C.S.W., a social worker in the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center at City of Hope. “This is where men and women can learn from and build upon the strengths of their partner and work together as a team. For many couples, the cancer experience can be an opportunity to grow closer to one another.”

Bitz offers these specific and practical behavior tips. They’ve emerged from the wisdom of past patients and partners, from research and from  clinical experience: » Continue Reading