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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Good News for the New Year

by: cancercompass

We’ve made it through one month of 2013! I hope your year has started off well. And, if there are any road bumps, I hope you’ve been able to think positively and push through to the other side.

Some good news on the health front: The American Cancer Society reports that the death rate from cancer in the U.S. has fallen 20 percent from its peak in 1991. This is an appropriate day to note this news, considering February 4 marks World Cancer Day.

The report also notes that between 1990/91 and 2009 (the most recent year for which data is available) the overall death rates decreased 16 percent in women, 24 percent in men and 20 percent overall. This means that 1.2 million deaths were avoided in the last 19 years. That number is more than triple the population of Iceland, double the population of Luxembourg and 282,000 more than the population of Delaware.

Death rates continue to go down for lung, colon, breast and prostate cancers. While these are the cancers that are responsible for the most deaths, they are also the cancers that get the most attention. This drop in numbers can be partly attributed to the fact that people are more aware of symptoms, and going in for help earlier.

Unfortunately, for a few cancers, the death rates are actually going up: melanoma, liver and thyroid cancer. So while we’ve come a really long way since 1991, it seems that there is a lot more that can be done.

In an effort to continue to help these number continue to drop, and also in observance of World Cancer Day, take the opportunity to spread the word and raise awareness about your cancer, or the cancer that may be currently affecting a loved one. World Cancer Day also represents a chance to dispel any misconceptions or myths about the disease. Encourage your friends, family and loved ones to ask questions, and find out the facts.

One important note gleaned from the report is that the drop in death rates for many of the cancers was due to a reduction in smoking rates. So just in case your New Year’s resolution wasn’t enough to get you to kick the habit, perhaps the numerical evidence will change your tune?

Find out five ways to make a difference on World Cancer Day.



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Cancer-Detecting Furry Friends?

by: cancercompass

While the war against cancer is continuing full force, it is fascinating to see the latest technologies that are being introduced in an effort to win this battle. There is still a long way to go, but it is amazing to think of how far we have come in terms of both detecting and treating various forms of the disease.

A few months ago I wrote about a breast-cancer detecting sports bra, and now I’ve seen numerous reports that dogs are being trained to sniff out ovarian cancer, as well as other types of cancer. This is certainly a brilliant idea, if it works.

A dog trainer, Dina Zaphiris, is working with the Pine Street Foundation in San Anselmo, California, to teach rescue dogs how to detect ovarian cancer by sniffing it on a person’s breath. You can watch some of these dogs in action, here.

According to various news stories, cancer causes the body to release certain organic compounds that humans can’t detect, but dogs sure can smell.  In fact, it isn’t just ovarian cancer that dogs can detect, but breast cancer and colorectal cancer have also been sniffed out by specially trained dogs throughout the world (read the amazing stories here and here).

It will be very interesting to see how this research develops, and how accurate these doggie doctors can really be. Perhaps in 10 years a visit to the doctor will include a quick puff of air blown into the face of a trusty canine.



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Seeing Pink

by: cancercompass

Everywhere you turn this month, people, businesses and communities are displaying their support for breast cancer by sporting pink. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and everyone from football players to garbage collectors are wearing pink with pride. 

These days, the pink ribbon is easily associated with breast cancer awareness, but that hasn’t always been the case. This got me thinking about the history of the ribbon and color, so I decided to do a little research.

According to Wikipedia, the first known use of the pink ribbon was in the fall of 1991, when the Susan G. Komen Foundation handed them out to participants in a New York City race for breast cancer survivors. The ribbon was inspired by the red ribbon for AIDS awareness, but the pink color was used because of its association with femininity.

In 1992, the ribbon was adopted as the official symbol of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Sometimes, a blue and pink ribbon is used to symbolize male breast cancer, which was designed in 1996.

This means the famous ribbon has been around for over 20 years, which makes sense as to why it’s such a familiar image these days. And, it seems like every year the pink extends to further reaching locations (such as the aforementioned garbage trucks), bringing awareness to the attention of more and more people every year.

Despite the positive message behind the pink ribbon, unfortunately some see it as a distraction, and say that it represents the commercialization of the disease. Most often, when corporations showcase the pink ribbon or color their products pink, they are not just bringing awareness to the cause, but actually donating money to research and support as well.

Those that highlight the pink color without actually fulfilling the promise of support are considered to be“pinkwashing,” a term derived from “whitewashing.”  If you see someone sporting the pink color, don’t be afraid to ask them how they are supporting the cause! While awareness is certainly a plus, it’s good to have an action behind the message as well, especially if that’s the claim.

Regardless, raising awareness and highlighting the cause is always a good thing. According to the American Cancer Society, the percentage of women getting annual breast mammograms and clinical breast exams has doubled over the last decade. So even if you’re just wearing pink to remind people of the cause or in memory of a loved one, kudos to you!

You can learn even more about the internationally famous pink ribbon here.  In the meantime, show your support as often as possible this October!



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September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

by: cancercompass

September is almost over, but there is still plenty of time to spread the word to the men in your life about the details of prostate cancer.

Aside from skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in American men. In fact, about one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. Receiving any cancer diagnosis is very serious, but the great news is that most men diagnosed with prostate cancer make a full recovery and return to their normal lives after treatment.

According to the American Cancer Society, the 10-year survival rate for prostate cancer diagnosed at an early stage is 98 percent. Even for men with advanced-stage prostate cancers that haven’t spread to distant parts of the body, the five-year survival rate is still close to 100 percent.

Take note or share the risk factors and symptoms for prostate cancer listed below, so that you and your loved ones are aware of what to look for.

Risk Factors

Here are the main risk factors for prostate cancer:

  • Age: The risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age.
  • Race: Studies show that African-American men are approximately 60 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer in their lifetime than Caucasian or Hispanic men.
  • Family History of Prostate Cancer: Men with an immediate blood relative, such as a father or brother, who has experienced prostate cancer are twice as likely to  develop the disease. If another family member is diagnosed with the disease, the chances of getting prostate cancer increase.
  • Diet: A diet high in saturated fat, as well as obesity, increases the risk of prostate cancer.
  • High Testosterone Levels: Men who use testosterone therapy are more likely to develop prostate cancer, as an increase in testosterone stimulates the growth of the prostate gland.


  • If you experience any of the symptoms below for more than two weeks, consult your doctor:
  • Burning or pain during urination
  • Difficulty urinating, or trouble starting and stopping while urinating
  • More frequent urges to urinate at night
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Decreased flow or velocity of urine stream
  • Blood in urine (hematuria) or in semen
  • Difficulty getting an erection (erectile dysfunction)
  • Painful ejaculation
  • Swelling in legs or pelvic area
  • Numbness or pain in the hips, legs or feet
  • Bone pain that doesn't go away, or leads to fractures

Reducing your Risk

In honor of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, take note of some of the suggestions below on how to reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer with the men in your life.

  • Increase exercise
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat more fish
  • Eat more fruits and veggies
  • Perform prostate self-exams
  • Speak with your doctor about creating an appropriate screening schedule for your needs




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An Aspirin a Day…

by: cancercompass

In the future, aspirin may no longer just be for headaches and other aches and pains. In fact, it might even be considered a cancer-fighting drug.

A new study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that those who reported daily aspirin use were 16 percent less likely to die from cancer, when compared to those who don’t take aspirin every day.

The study, published in August, looked at 100,000 people, many of whom were at an advanced age. The subjects who participated in the study were non-smokers, and the data was collected over a decade. The study found that aspirin had the strongest effect for GI cancers, such as colon or stomach cancer. Also, it didn’t seem to make a difference if the subjects had been taking a daily aspirin for more or less than five years.

To the same effect, another study published in May found that painkillers such as aspirin, Advil and Aleve may reduce a person’s chances of developing skin cancer as well. Additionally, taking aspirin daily has already been noted as a positive step in order to prevent heart disease.

It is tempting to jump right in and buy a jumbo-sized bottle of aspirin, but it might not be time for that just yet. The doctors who completed the study aren’t ready to actually recommend that people start taking aspirin on a daily basis. One drawback to the study is that it was not a clinical trial, and thus the individual health habits of the people were not considered. However, experts will still be convening to assess the risk/benefits analysis of daily aspirin intake.

This new study is causing a lot of debate, and it is a topic to certainly keep your eye on. Also, feel free to discuss the findings with your doctor, and see if based on your health needs, he/she would recommend you start including aspirin into your daily routine.



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Melanoma Can Strike Anyone

by: cancercompass

Since I have red hair and fair skin, I’ve always been extra cautious when it comes to being in the sun. I wear sunscreen daily, and even with that protection I rarely lounge around in the sun without some sort of shade. My husband, on the other hand, is three-quarters African American, and convincing him to put on sunscreen is always a challenge.

Skin cancer is more common among Caucasians, but dermatologists warn that people with darker skin are still at risk. In a recent article from HealthyDay News, Dr. Valencia Thomas of the Harris County Hospital District in Texas notes that while the skin pigment melanin does offer people with darker skin some natural protection against ultra violet rays and sunburns, too much sun exposure can still increase the risk of skin cancer.

According to the hospital news release, malignant melanoma in African American and Asian populations is most commonly located on hands and feet, while among Caucasians and Hispanics, it's found on the legs and back.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer for Hispanics and Asians, and second-most common among blacks and South Asian Indians. A symptom of basal cell carcinoma is a growing bump with blood vessels that tends to bleed easily, which could be dark brown or black for those with darker skin.

For South Asians and blacks, squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. The disease appears as firm bumps, sometimes with a thick scale. Among South Asian Indians and blacks, this type of skin cancer is found on the legs or the genital areas, and is strongly linked to sun exposure.

So while my husband’s risk of sun cancer may be slightly lower since he has a lot more melanin, he still needs to be careful to avoid too much sun exposure. Like everything else, moderation is the key. And next time he refuses to wear sunscreen, I will direct his attention to this very blog!



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Happy Oncology Nursing Month!

by: cancercompass

I have known for a while that May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and every news outlet has been reporting on the topic as well. However, what I learned today is that May is also Oncology Nursing Month! Luckily, there is still a day and a half to show your oncology nurses your appreciation, if you haven’t already.

Though May is the “official” time to honor your oncology nurses, really these men and women deserve praise and gratitude all year long. They are there with you through the ups and downs of your treatment, always available to listen to your needs and help out in any way possible.

This year, the theme for the month is “Oncology Nursing: Lifting Spirits, Touching Lives.” I couldn’t think of a more appropriate statement, even though it may be hard to describe all that they do in mere words.

There are many ways to show your oncology nurse that you appreciate him/her this month, and the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) has a few additional options, such as awards and a foundation. They also offer the Honor Someone Special program, which presents a “simple yet meaningful way to say ‘thank you’ to a cancer nurse who, in their own practice, promotes excellence in oncology nursing and quality cancer care.”

I happened to discover the importance of this month when I stumbled across a lovely article posted on the Mesothelioma Alliance Cancer Blog. On the blog, I found heartwarming stories contributed by cancer patients, survivors and nurses themselves who have been touched by the important relationship that exists between cancer patients and their nurses. If you do nothing else to celebrate Oncology Nursing Month, read through these beautiful stories. I dare you to get through them with dry eyes, because I sure needed to keep a fresh tissue handy.

May is over in just a couple of days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show your oncology nurse appreciation year-round. A card, some flowers or a small gift is a lovely gesture, but a smile, a thank you or a hug costs nothing and has a priceless result.

Here’s to the oncology nurses out there on behalf of the Cancer Compass Blog! Thanks for all that you do.



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Don’t Neglect Your Skin This Summer

by: cancercompass

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and to celebrate, I paid a visit to my dermatologist. I am a fair-skinned redhead, and skin cancer runs in my family. Therefore, sunscreen is a close friend of mine, and since I exhibit multiple skin cancer risk factors, experts recommend that I visit my dermatologist every year.

It’s been almost two years since my last visit, when my dermatologist removed a mole on my arm, just in case. It is always hard to find time to make those visits, but I figured I would celebrate Skin Cancer Awareness Month the right way, by getting myself checked out.

According to the American Cancer Society, each year about 2 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. Although the survival rates for these types of skin cancers are very high, damage can still be done. As for malignant melanoma, the most dangerous of skin cancers, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 76,250 new cases in 2012, and 9,180 deaths.

These are scary stats, but the great news is that skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer, and one of the most treatable, when it is caught early. Skin cancer occurs when mutations form in the DNA of skin cells, causing them to grow out of control. Usually, the damage results from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which comes from the sun and artificial rays (tanning beds, sunlamps).

Summer is right around the corner, which means you’re going to be spending more and more time outdoors. There is no need to hide in a corner inside whenever the sun is out. Take the proper precautions and you can still have fun in the sun.

Though your risk factor for skin cancer may be higher if you’re a fair-haired, fair-skinned person like me, skin cancer can happen to anyone. Here are some tips to protect your skin this summer:

Stay in the shade. This is the best way to enjoy the great outdoors without getting burned.

Wear protective clothing/hats. When you do spend time in the sun, wear protective clothing and hats to prevent sunburns.

Wear sunscreen. Always wear sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher to protect exposed skin. Reapply every two hours and don’t forget to get your lips, ears and hairline.

Skip the tanning salons all together. If you really want to look tan, try self-tanners or spray tans instead.

Protect your eyes with sunglasses. More than just a fashion statement, sunglasses can protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays. See how to choose the right pair.

Check your moles. While this isn’t necessarily a way to prevent skin cancer, observing your skin and taking stock of your moles is a great way to detect skin cancer early. If you see anything suspicious, consult your dermatologist. See the specific symptoms to look out for.

As for my visit to the dermatologist this week? All clear! I may not ever have a tan, but wearing sunscreen daily and lounging under an umbrella all these years has certainly paid off. I look forward to visiting my dermatologist again next May. Join me in celebrating Skin Cancer Awareness Month the right way and protect your skin!



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ACS Confirms Diet, Exercise, and Weight Control Important for Cancer Survivors

by: cancercompass

It’s becoming standard knowledge that diet and exercise are important when it comes to staying healthy. Though this is accepted among individuals who have never faced cancer, questions can arise among those who have been recently diagnosed, as well as people who have completed treatment years ago.

New information from the American Cancer Society (ACS) has confirmed our suspicions that diet and exercise are truly important for everyone!

According to a new study released by ACS published today, scientific evidence demonstrates that “healthy nutrition and physical activity behavior after a diagnosis can lower the chances of the cancer coming back, and can improve the chances of disease-free survival.”

Here are some of the key findings of the report:

-After treatment, it is important to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

-After being diagnosed, avoid inactivity and return to your normal daily activities as soon as possible.

-Aim to exercise at least 150 minutes per week.

-Be aware of food safety issues, which can be a bigger concern for cancer survivors who are susceptible to infections.

-Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  

These are just a few of the recommendations brought forth by ACS, and the study also includes answers to numerous recurring questions, such as “does sugar feed cancer?” By the way, the answer to that question is “no.”

If you have a moment, take the time to read the entire abstract. The report was written specifically for health care providers, but also includes short summaries and recommendations for survivors and caregivers.



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Caregivers, Don’t Ignore Your Own Health

by: cancercompass

A few months ago, I dedicated a post to singing the praises of the sometimes underappreciated caregiver. It’s a tough job, and, at times, it can be thankless. As much as you want to devote all of your time to helping a loved one get through a cancer treatment, a recent study emphasizes the reasons you have to remember to pay attention to your own health along the way. 

By using the national Swedish cancer registry and the Swedish inpatient registry, researchers discovered that for people whose partners have cancer, the risk for heart disease and stroke increased by 13 to 29 percent. The study found that in most cases, stress was the key culprit. 

Constantly caring for a loved one whose health may or may not be in continual decline can take a toll on anyone. Not only is stress a problem for you as a caregiver, but if you’re spending all your time tending to someone else’s needs, you don’t have the time or energy to take care of your own health needs.  

One problem is that many caregivers feel guilty pausing to do anything for themselves. However, if you’re not in tip-top shape, how can you successfully care for your loved one? Remember, your loved one would never want you to completely give up on your own happiness. As a caregiver, it is important to push that guilt aside, and take a few moments for yourself. If nothing else, make sure to take care of any health issues of your own that may arise.

Here are a few tips for caregivers to stay healthy.

1. Talk to a Counselor/Psychologist – Let’s face it, at times you are going to be angry at the cards that you and your loved one were dealt. Even if the illness isn’t happening directly to you, watching a loved one go through treatment is a painful experience. You don’t want to burden that person with your feelings of anger or frustration, because the patient has his/her own feelings to deal with. Schedule time to talk with a counselor on your own, and just let everything out. You’ll feel a lot better after that release.

2. Practice Relaxation Exercises with Your Partner – Both you and your partner need to relax. It seems nearly impossible to relax when going through such a tough time, but it’s going to help both of you through the process. Take a yoga class together, or practice relaxation exercises on your own. A couple’s massage is also a great way to help both of you de-stress, without feeling guilty for taking time for yourself.

3. Spend Time Together Without Discussing Cancer –Carve out some time every day where you don’t even utter the “c” word. Go to a silly movie together, or cook a nutritious meal, light candles and just enjoy each other without worrying about when the next treatment will come.

4. Find a Support Group – Whether you find your own caregiver support group or attend a group with your loved one, talking to others in a similar situation is always helpful.

5. Pay Attention to Your Health – If you don’t feel well, find out what’s wrong! While your loved one’s health may seem more pressing at the time, your own ailment could be a sign of a bigger problem. Go get yourself checked out so that you can stay healthy.

As much as you want to spend all of your time caring for your loved one, don’t forget that you have to live your life as well! Your partner would certainly want this for you, and it is the best way to make sure both of you get to the other side of this difficult time, together.

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