Cancer Blog

Here's our collection of cancer-related stories. We sift through a variety of stories and share the issues that we think matter to cancer patients, caregivers, healthcare providers and survivors. Learn about current events in the cancer community, human interest stories, and promising technology and treatment advances. Tell us what you think in the Comments section at the bottom of each post.

Note: The information contained in this service is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in the service is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment of any illness, condition or disease.



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Tanning Bed Tax Has Little Impact

by: cancercompass

In 2010, a 10 percent federal tax was imposed upon tanning salons as part of the U.S. Affordable Care Act. The tax officially went into effect on July 1, 2010, and a new study has found that it had little impact in terms of keeping away from tanning beds, which the World Health Organization officially classifies as a human carcinogen.

The point of the tax was to make money while highlighting the notion that tanning can lead to skin cancer, similarly to the tax on tobacco products. According to a study printed in the Archives of Dermatology, the tax hasn’t been successful at deterring people from visiting tanning salons. Dr. June Robinson, a research professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, found that 80 percent of the salons do not absorb the price of the tax, and despite this the same amount of customers visit salons now as did before the tax was enacted.

As someone who grew up with red hair and a history of skin cancer in the family, the mere thought of visiting a tanning salon is ludicrous. I wear sunscreen in my daily moisturizer, and happily spent a trip to the Dominican Republic hiding under an umbrella in a long-sleeved shirt while enjoying the beach. Some may think that tanning indoors is safer than lounging under the sun, but it has become abundantly clear that this isn’t the case. Additionally, it's remarkable that in Los Angeles, where residents enjoy an average of 329 days of sunshine a year, there is a tanning salon on every block.

I am all for imposing a small tax on tanning salons to make money for government initiatives, but I don’t believe that we need to spend money or energy proposing a full on war against tanning salons. With cigarettes, the negative effects reach much further, as second-hand smoke is dangerous to outside observers. However, people who tan regularly are only hurting themselves. Perhaps a pamphlet should be passed out to everyone who enters the salon informing them of the risks, after which if the patron still wants to push forward then what business of it is mine?

In case you or a loved one still isn’t sure if visiting tanning beds is a good idea, here are some important facts from the Skin Cancer Foundation:

  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer includes ultraviolet (UV) tanning devices in a list of the most dangerous cancer-causing substances, along with plutonium, cigarettes and solar UV radiation.
  • Ten minutes in a sunbed matches the cancer-causing effects of 10 minutes in the Mediterranean summer sun.
  • Indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors.
  • People who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.
  • Frequent tanners using new high-pressure sunlamps may receive as much as 12 times the annual UVA dose compared to the dose they receive from sun exposure.
  • Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.

If you really want to alter the beautiful natural tone of your skin, how about looking into some sunless self tanner?



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HPV and Boys

by Dana Demas

HPV and women get a lot of attention for two reasons: HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer and, currently, there is no way to test for HPV in men. (Women can be screened for HPV with Pap smears and the HPV Test.) 

Because of this, the vaccine to protect against HPV infection, Gardasil®, was approved for girls back in 2006.

However, we now know that HPV matters for boys, too. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 7,000 cancers related to HPV could be prevented in men each year with the vaccine, including many head & neck and anal cancers.

In 2009, the HPV vaccine was approved for boys and men ages 9 to 26. The new vaccine recommendations benefit women too, since fewer men with HPV lowers the risk of passing it on to women (and vice versa).

Like many other vaccines, the CDC recommends the vaccine be given at age 11 or 12, so the immune system can develop antibodies before exposure to HPV.

Here are some additional facts about HPV:

  • HPV is a skin infection, spread through skin-to-skin contact with a person who has the virus.
  • There are more than 150 types of HPV. Of these, at least 15 are high-risk HPV strains that can cause cancer. The others cause no symptoms or warts on the skin.
  • Up to 80 percent of women will contract HPV in their lifetime. Men get HPV, too, but there is no test for them.
  • In most cases, the immune system will clear the HPV virus before there is a symptom, including the high-risk types of HPV.
  • Only a small percentage of people with high-risk HPV go on to develop cancer.


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Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

by: cancercompass

Recently, a friend of mine visited her dermatologist, and left the office with one less freckle. I asked her why it was removed and she simply shrugged. “I wanted to ask, but it all happened so fast!” she told me.

I completely understand how she feels, as there are plenty of times that I have left the doctor’s office kicking myself for not asking any questions about what I was told – including a few years ago when I had a mysterious freckle of my own removed.

Why is it that we are so afraid to ask questions when we are in the doctor’s office? Is it because we’re afraid to hear the answers, or is it because we don’t want to waste our doctor’s time with something we deem trivial? For some, it could simply be because they find their doctor intimidating. It’s almost like those moments three hours after an insult when you finally come up with a witty retort. However, in that instance your pride may have been hurt, but not your health.

A recent study from the University of North Carolina found that women with early stage breast cancer have not been properly informed of their options in terms of surgery and treatment. While the article seems to put a fair amount of blame on the doctors, I have to wonder if part of the fault should fall on the patient.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is much more stressful than your regular doctor’s visit, and though most doctors will try to provide you with as much information as possible, there will still be questions remaining. Though some would like to leave the decision-making in the hands of the doctor, it is important to remember that the ultimate decision as to how to move forward should come from the patient.

I am certainly one of those people who blindly trust whatever doctors say, so moving forward I will attempt to follow my own advice. Regardless of how small or insignificant you may think your question is, don’t ever be afraid to ask! Also, if you leave the doctor’s office and realize that you have a million more questions, you have every right to phone your doctor the next day and ask. Some doctors even allow email correspondence, but that’s a whole different story.

Whether you are discussing the numerous options available for cancer treatment or simply concerned about a joint that feels a little stiff, never be afraid to ask a question! You never know, your questions might lead to answers that could help the doctor get a firmer grasp on what is actually ailing you.



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Would You Want a Peek?

by: cancercompass

Going to the doctor for a regular appointment is nerve-wracking enough, but how do you feel when your doctor looks down and scribbles furiously on his/her notepad? If you had a chance to look at all of those notes, would you jump at the opportunity, or warily refuse a glance?

A new project, called Open Notes, has been allowing some patients to see electronic versions of their doctors’ notes after a routine visit, email or phone call. There are certainly positives and negatives to this new initiative, assuming of course that these doctors don’t edit themselves now that they know their patients could be reading every little piece of information that is recorded.

For one thing, when patients see what doctors are really saying, they might change some of their bad habits. However, if the language in the notes is more assertive or negative than what the doctor said in person, will patients be less trusting?

According to a study, while patients thought the notes would be helpful, doctors felt that revealing these notes would simply cause problems. If it were up to me, I’d love to see what my doctor is writing as I rattle off my ailments, but then again, maybe some things should be left between the doctor and his notepad?

In the end, I’d hope anything that I needed to hear would be relayed to me during, or soon after, the visit.



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Raise Your Glass!

by: cancercompass

A new study from the Journal of Women's Health has discovered that drinking red wine could help prevent breast cancer! Usually, drinking is rumored to cause numerous health problems, so it’s quite a twist when an alcoholic beverage could actually be good for your health.

Red wine has always been touted to have more positive impact than its white companion, thanks to the antioxidants that help to boost the immune system. However, it is extremely important to note that while a glass of red wine per day can have a positive impact, downing a bottle or two a night probably isn’t the best idea.

According to the Los Angeles Times, this specific study discovered that women who drank just under two servings of red wine daily experienced hormonal changes that bring about the same effects that came from a drug used prevent malignant breast tumors from returning.

Previously, women were told to avoid all alcoholic beverages all together, as a study in November found that it could increase chances of developing breast cancer. However, red wine seems to have a completely different affect. The report found that it probably isn’t due to the alcohol in the wine, but the grapes that are used.

The fact that the beverage contains alcohol could just be a coincidence, or an added benefit for some.

While this study was only conducted with a small group of women, it certainly led to some interesting conclusions. I would love to know how to get my name on the list for the next time a study like this comes up – all in the name of science of course.

So if you’re getting together with some girlfriends this weekend to kick back and relax, maybe skip the chardonnay and reach for the malbec instead.



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Get the Facts: HPV

by Dana Demas

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month.   

Each year, more than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. The good news is that cervical cancer is a highly preventable and treatable disease. 

Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) – a skin infection that can cause warts on hands, feet and genitals. HPV is passed through skin-to-skin contact and more than 150 strains of the virus exist. 

Some strains of HPV can cause abnormal cells in the cervix. If left untreated, over time these abnormal cells may develop into cancer. In the majority of cases, HPV infection causes no symptoms and the virus is cleared from the body before a woman knows she has it. Even if abnormal cervical cells are detected, the risk of cervical cancer is small with regular monitoring by a doctor. 

So how can every woman protect her cervical health?

Women Under Age 26

Talk with your doctor about the HPV vaccine, which prevents about 70% of cervical cancers. The best time to get the vaccine is before beginning sexual activity, though it is approved for women up to age 26. Even if you get the vaccine, routine Pap smears are important to monitor for the 30% of cervical cancers not prevented by the vaccine.

Women Age 30 and Older

Talk with your doctor about the HPV Test, which can detect 90% of HPV infections. In comparison, routine Pap testing detects 50%-80% of HPV infections and often requires additional testing. The HPV test also identifies high-risk infections that have a greater chance of turning cancerous.




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Keeping Memories Alive

by: cancercompass

Last weekend, the husband of my mother’s best friend lost his battle with brain cancer. About a year and a half ago, doctors gave him about six months to live, and he fought as hard as he could and ended up tripling the length of the prognosis.

Of course my parents knew him much better than I did, but he was a devoted husband, father of two and a respected ophthalmologist. He also recently became a grandfather, and we are all thankful that he held on long enough to see both his children get married, as well as give birth.

It’s certainly a sad way to start the New Year for his family, but at the very least they will know that he is no longer in pain. His diagnosis came rather suddenly, and it was at the point where there was nothing that his doctors could do.

A few months after our friend began his journey, a tumor was also found in the foot of his newborn grandchild. Luckily, the tumor was benign and easily removed, and the newborn child would not have to go through the same pain that was afflicting his grandfather at the same time. Also, our friend had lived a full and successful life, while the baby was just coming into the world.

I don’t mean to bring the mood down on CancerCompass today, but it is moments like these that really make you want to hug someone you love and hold on tight. My parents are currently on their way to Cleveland for their friend’s funeral, while my husband and I are caring for their dog. It’s always an adjustment to spend the weekend as a two-canine house, but it allows us to not be alone with our thoughts, as well as make ourselves useful in some small way.

To all those who are still fighting the fight, I wish you well in 2012 and hope that you win. While I don’t want to mention our friend's name in an effort to respect his family's privacy, my thoughts are with his family - and every other family that is currently mourning - as they move on to the next chapter of their lives and keep the loved one's memory alive.



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Cancer Rates Continue to Drop

by: cancercompass

A new report from the American Cancer Society this week had some positive news: cancer incidences and deaths in the United States are continuing to drop.

According to an article in USA Today, between 2004 and 2008, death rates for cancer went down by 1.8 percent a year in men and 1.6 percent a year in women. Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, the senior author of the new report, discovered that death rates in the U.S. have been going down since the early 90s, and therefore about a million cancer deaths were averted.

Just pause for a moment and think about that. One million people is a huge number, especially if you’re just thinking about the population of the United States alone. While the war on cancer is far from over, statistics like this are encouraging as we head into 2012.

Jemel attributed the decrease to improvements in prevention, early detection and treatment. Doctors know so much more about cancer than they did 20 years ago, but there is still a whole lot to learn.

I have to say I was surprised by the facts gleaned from the report, as it always seems to me that cancer incidences are growing as more and more people I know are fighting the battle every day. Unfortunately, it may just be in my own circle of friend and family that this is happening, but it is reassuring to know that on the whole prevention efforts are working and that technology is become more advanced. Also, I think that cancer is discussed more openly now than in the past, which is why it may feel like cancer is still on the rise, when in fact the opposite is true.

A cure for cancer may still be decades away, but every year that the numbers go down is a year that hope can go up.

If you’d like to read all of the results, you can view the complete abstract here.




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Happy New Year!

by: cancercompass

I’ve never really been into New Year’s resolutions. Part of the reason is that many of the resolutions I propose are things that I try to focus on at all times throughout the year. Additionally, creating strict resolutions makes the process of following them feel like a chore, making it more difficult to stick with those resolutions past February.

After being diagnosed with cancer, celebrating the New Year has a whole different meaning. It can be a milestone that maybe wasn’t expected, or it can present a clean slate for hope in the upcoming year. From those who are newly diagnosed to survivors 10 years in, now is the perfect time to reflect on the year that has passed, and focus on the beauty of the new year that lies ahead.

Below are a few suggestions to help ring in the New Year, and instead of thinking of them as cumbersome resolutions, treat the points on the list as ways to continue to enjoy life each and every day.

Reconnect with someone you haven’t seen in a long time – It’s never easy to get in touch with someone who may not know that you have cancer and what you have had to go through, but speaking with them about your situation can be a healing process in and of itself. Also, after the awkwardness passes, you will probably remember why you were close to this person in the first place.

Try a new recipe – Though eating may be the last thing on your mind right now, there are many foods that can actually help you deal with nausea. Even if you have lost your appetite, nutrition is extremely important for cancer survivors and those dealing with treatment right now. You might discover a recipe that still tastes great and makes you feel good, while also receiving important nutrients.

Join a community – If you haven’t already created a CancerCompass profile and visited the message boards, then give it a try! You might find someone in a similar situation who can help provide the additional support and understanding you’ve been seeking.

Do something new you’ve always wanted to try – Be reasonable on this one and take your current health status into consideration, but why not try a new activity that you’ve been curious about. Whether it’s a hip-hop dance class or a horror movie marathon at the local independent theater you always walk by, now’s the time to give it a go.

Research alternative wellness treatments
– In addition to the standard cancer treatments, many believe that serving your mind and spirit are just as important as healing your body. Explore alternative treatments to boost your recovery such as yoga, acupuncture or meditation.


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