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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Ask An Expert Your Nutrition Questions

by Dana Demas

Whether broccoli and sprouts, or grilled meat and fast food, making better choices about what we eat can boost our health.

Good nutrition can also fight the disease and manage side effects during cancer treatment.

A healthy diet is just one piece of the puzzle for cancer prevention and survival. But it’s something we can do today to take control of our lives.  Here are some quick tips for eating better, starting now:

Have more questions about nutrition and cancer? Ask gastroenterologist, Dr. Pankaj Vashi, and registered dietitian, Carolyn Lammersfeld, during a special webinar hosted by Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Submit a question and they will be back next week to answer them.

Visit the The Cancer Project for more information about nutrition and cancer.



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Baby Blues?

by Dana Demas

For young cancer patients, fertility concerns often loom large. Cancer treatment can - but doesn't always - take a toll on fertility for men and women.

And while it may seem like a lot to handle when you’re facing cancer, considering ways to "save" your eggs or sperm before cancer treatment gives you options if you want to have a baby in the future. Also, ask your oncologist about techniques to shield your fertility during treatment – such as protecting the reproductive organs during radiation treatment or choosing conservative surgical techniques. Keep in mind these options may not be appropriate for everyone:

  • Sperm banks – men can store their sperm for future use in a sperm bank.
  • Embryo or egg freezing – women can undergo an outpatient procedure to retrieve several eggs at once and freeze them for later use. Studies show that frozen embryos are more likely to result in a successful pregnancy than frozen eggs, which requires sperm from a partner or donor. 
  • Donor eggs or insemination – in the case that egg or sperm production are permanently damaged, donors can provide sperm or eggs. Many programs match pre-screened egg donors with parents and complete the embryo transfer, like Fertility Centers of Illinois
  • Surrogates – women who can’t carry a baby because of damage to the uterus or cervix, can use their own eggs and a partner’s sperm or donor sperm to culture an embryo, to be carried by someone else.
  • Adoption – many couples choose adoption, rather than trying to conceive with assisted reproductive technology.

Here are some additional resources:

Fertile Hope, a LIVESTRONG initiative, has an “Options Calculator” to help you understand which fertility options might be right for you if you wish to have a child.

The American Cancer Society’s Fertility & Cancer resource outlines comprehensive options for preserving fertility, as well as the risks associated with specific types of cancer treatment.



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A Connections Cure

by Dana Demas

A life-changing experience like cancer can make or break relationships. Some friends or family become supportive in ways you never imagined possible. Others are surprisingly absent or simply not comforting like they once were. Usually, it’s nothing personal. It’s just life, twisting and turning, and shaking up your relationships in the process.

As things change, you may discover that connecting with other cancer patients, families and caregivers is comforting.  You have something in common and building a new relationship can seem almost effortless.

Social media offers many opportunities for making these kinds of connections – helping you understand you don’t have to face cancer alone, and offering some unique benefits:

  • Share your experience with others – Many people with cancer share similar frustrations, fears and challenges.  An online community, like a message board or a Facebook group, can help you make sense of your experiences and transform your experience of cancer. These networks are available anytime, and they may feel less stressful than face-to-face interactions. You reach out for the support you need, when you need it.
  • Explore treatment optionsEddie Dwyer, a 28-year-old colon cancer survivor, travels from Florida to Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, where he feels he found better treatment options. He has taken to Facebook, Twitter and a daily blog to share his treatment experience – part of the hospital’s “real time” campaign to share their patients’ daily journeys through cancer.
  • Keep family and friends up to dateJenny Scott started a blog when her infant daughter, Allie, was diagnosed with leukemia. She shared her feelings, and also updates about her daughter’s treatment, which meant she didn’t have to return as many phone calls and emails. This can be a particularly draining part of cancer to manage. If you don’t have a blog, sites like allow you to set up a free webpage to keep family and friends informed.




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A "White Diet" to Combat Nausea

by Dana Demas

Chemotherapy can cause a variety of problems that interfere with a healthy appetite and – as a result – a healthy diet.

Nausea is a very common problem, especially the day of treatment. Many patients come to dread the treatment that is helping them, because it makes them feel so terrible. Some patients eat a “white meal” the day of chemotherapy. The soft, bland food can help reduce the risk of stomach discomfort and digestive upset.

Meals made of soft, white foods are also good to eat after chemotherapy – which can damage the fast-growing cells in the mouth and throat, leading to pain or increased sensitivity while eating.

Some white foods that are easy to eat include:

  • Cooked white rice
  • White bread or crackers
  • Pasta
  • Potatoes (mashed, baked, etc.)
  • Grits or other hot cereal
  • Yogurt (plain or vanilla)

And because it’s always good to have a well-rounded diet, when eating “non-white” foods, try incorporating real ginger at mealtime to ease digestion and combat nausea: track down some real ginger ale, brew some ginger tea, or freeze the tea into ginger ice cubes for a quick and soothing treat.



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Surviving Uncertainty

by Dana Demas

This week, my friend and colleague, Liz Hoffman, guest blogs at CancerCompass:

After battling cancer and coming out a survivor, you would expect the worry and stress to lessen.  But, sometimes emotions are just beginning to grow.  The fear of cancer recurrence is both natural and rational.  However, when the anxiety affects or interferes with everyday life, it is time to take action. 

With the battle against cancer behind you, it can often be hard to find new ways to occupy your time (and mind).  A flood of emotions may come pouring in now that your free time is increased, without appointments and treatments to fill your day.  Going “back to normal” may not be as easy as it sounds.   

No matter the stage of cancer diagnosis, many cancer survivors face the uncertainty that the cancer may come back.  Sometimes an event or conversation may trigger unpleasant thoughts.  Or perhaps the fear of recurrence is always lingering.  These feelings of fear and uncertainty are common and normal if kept under control. 

Follow these tips to help manage your fears:

  • Listen to your body – if you sense or experience changes in your body, contact your health care team. 
  • Keep open communication – talk to your physician about any concerns.
  • See your doctor regularly – don’t delay appointments or skip visits.
  • Find support – contact a local support group and talk to others in situations like yours. 

It is important to recognize the signs of anxiety and emotional distress related to recurrence uncertainty.  If your fear is causing panic attacks, stress or changes to living your life, it’s time to talk to someone.  Let your physician know your situation and find help.        

In the end, it is important to remember that you cannot prevent cancer from recurring.  Take good care of yourself and enjoy your life after cancer.



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What’s A Gynecologic Oncologist and Why Is It Important?

by Dana Demas

Multiple studies have suggested that women who have their initial ovarian cancer surgery done by a gynecologic oncologist are likely to have the right surgery. They're also likely to have fewer side effects from the surgery, such as a colostomy (the ovaries sit close to the intestines).

The trouble with ovarian cancer is there's no screening test for it. As a result, ovarian cancer tends to be diagnosed later in its course, once a pelvic mass has been discovered. In most cases, a woman has surgery to remove the mass and diagnose the cancer if it's present. A gynecologic oncologist specializes in performing these surgeries and in caring for a woman throughout ovarian cancer treatment.

We can all hope that earlier detection of ovarian cancer, coupled with the right treatment, will help us beat this disease. Symptoms women should be aware of include any of the following, which persist for a couple of weeks or more: bloating, changes in appetite, feeling full early, increase in abdominal girth, feelings of pelvic pressure in the lower abdomen and changes in urination.

If a woman is experiencing these symptoms, she should speak with her doctor about ovarian cancer being part of the problem - in addition to a gastrointestinal issue or other benign cause. As with any health issue, if the doctor isn't bringing it up, the patient should!



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Counseling Helps Breast Cancer Survivors

by Dana Demas

A new study finds that regular counseling benefits breast cancer survivors in more ways than one.

Researchers followed more than 227 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer. The women who attended weekly, then monthly, stress-reduction counseling had a lower risk of recurrence and a lower risk of death if the cancer came back, when compared to women who received no counseling.

Women who went to counseling also had better quality sleep and fewer chemotherapy-related symptoms than those who didn’t.

However, researchers caution that the study was small and the role of stress reduction in breast cancer remains to be understood.

Visit Cancer Care for support resources for cancer patients.



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Dog Sniffs Out Prostate Cancer

by Dana Demas

Is dog man’s best friend – and cancer’s worst enemy?

Researchers in Paris, France, trained a dog to distinguish between urine samples from healthy men and those with prostate cancer. The dog, a shepherd breed, was correct 63 out of 66 times at identifying samples.

This is impressive because researchers don’t know how the dog is making his “diagnosis.” Current prostate cancer screening has a high rate of false-positives, often leading to unnecessary biopsies or even treatment.

The results of this study could be used to develop an “electronic nose” once the chemical the dog is sniffing out is identified.

However, experts caution that the study was small and would have to be replicated on a larger scale.



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Picture Perfect

by Dana Demas

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. There is a wonderful collage of pictures at The New York Times online. Hundreds of cancer survivors share their thoughts about life during and after cancer.

The way I see it: 100s of pictures x 1,000 words = infinite shared experience about the ups, downs and in-betweens of cancer.

Check it out and add your own picture.

Better yet – have you posted a picture to your profile here at CancerCompass? It can be silly, symbolic or whatever feels right. It doesn’t even have to be you! Why not choose your favorite flower, something artistic or a memorable shot from your last vacation?



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Sex Ed for Prostate Cancer Survivors and Their Partners

by Dana Demas

Many men and women know all too well that prostate cancer treatment often takes a toll on sexual function. It can be a downside after the great relief of beating cancer.

Surgery and radiation therapy both affect erectile function, by damaging important nerves and blood vessels inside or close to the prostate. Some men regain their erectile ability with time, while others need help for the rest of their lives.

Fortunately, men have many options for boosting erectile function after prostate cancer:

  • The ED medications available, like Viagra®, Cialis® and Levitra®, meet different needs. Some work immediately, while others give you the flexibility of acting when the moment feels right.
  • For men who can’t take ED medications because of high blood pressure and other drug interactions, there are vacuum devices and drugs delivered via pellet or injection that many couples have success with.
  • When other methods don’t work, surgical alternatives are available. Your doctor permanently implants a device inside the penis, under general anesthesia.

What’s most important is to talk about these changes with each other, and your doctor. If your partner can’t perform like he usually does, try another something else, focus on you or just give it a rest.

Good communication – and a healthy dose of patience – is the key.

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