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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Reconsider a Second Opinion

by: cancercompass

I had never really considered going for a second opinion for any reason, until someone very close to me had an experience that opened my eyes. Even when I wasn’t a huge fan of my doctor, it seemed like a lot of trouble to transfer medical records, research insurance, find a new office and also go through the uncomfortable process of revealing to my original doctor that I’m moving on.

Recently, a dermatologist discovered melanoma on my mother’s leg. After she had surgery to remove the growth, she was extremely depressed. She was unhappy with her experience, her questions went unanswered, and my mother felt lost and alone. I told her not to worry, because if next steps are necessary, then she has every right to find a new doctor that is more suited to what she needs and wants. Luckily, the disease did not spread, and there wasn’t a need for further action. However, as she waited for results, knowing she had options made her feel more relaxed and in control. After our conversation, I realized I needed to start taking my own advice.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, or you’re dealing with another serious medical diagnosis, you may want to consider the benefits of seeking a second opinion. Though it may be awkward telling your original doctor that you won’t be returning, he/she should understand that finding another opinion is a common practice. And if your doctor doesn’t understand, then maybe it’s not someone you want to visit again anyway. While it may take some effort to seek out a second opinion, it could be worth those extra steps. If nothing else, at least you’ll feel comfortable and confident that you are heading down the right treatment path.

Here are six reasons why you might want to consider a second opinion for your cancer diagnosis:

1. Feel empowered and take control – By proactively seeking a second opinion, you and your loved ones become more informed about all of the available treatment options. Learning about your cancer and treatment options can also help you feel more in control of your health.

2. Confidence and peace of mind – A second opinion can help you feel more confident that you are choosing the right treatment plan. A misdiagnosis is always a possibility, and a second opinion can help determine whether your diagnosis is correct. If the results are the same, your second opinion may provide you with more treatment options that you hadn’t considered before.

3. Discover advanced treatment options – Some hospitals have technology that is not available at another facility. Seeking a second opinion from a doctor in another health system could provide more cancer treatment options, including treatments that are more advanced or more tailored to your individual needs.

For example, CyberKnife® VSI™ Robotic Radiosurgery is an innovative treatment that delivers high doses of radiation with pinpoint accuracy to a broad range of tumors throughout the body. Benefits may include no incision, no pain, no anesthesia or hospitalization, greater comfort and faster return to normal activities.
4. Find a doctor you really like – Working with a doctor you really like and trust could make a huge difference in your healing process. It can help you feel more relaxed, which could lead to a better outcome. And, you will be more likely to express how you are honestly feeling, so that your doctor can help alleviate any pain or address issues immediately. As you look for a new doctor, take note of the nurses and office staff, to make sure you choose to treat with the best team and/or hospital for your needs.

5. You have a rare cancer – A rare cancer could mean a greater chance of misdiagnosis, since it may be a disease that the pathologist has rarely encountered. If you’ve been diagnosed with a rare cancer, a second opinion may be beneficial to confirm the disease type and stage.

6. You’ve been told there is no hope – In every situation, there is always hope. One doctor may say that your cancer is untreatable, while another will explore treatment options that hadn’t been presented before. Whether the goal is to simply alleviate pain or if it is to prolong life, the decision is up to you. If your doctor doesn’t listen to how you want to proceed, then you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by getting a second opinion.

Learn more about the benefits of a second opinion. Or, view this handy infographic to visualize what a second opinion may look like.



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New Year’s Resolutions

by: cancercompass

Happy New Year, everyone! Now that the calendar has turned to 2013, many people will make lists of Near Year’s resolutions. Some will be kept, while others may be discarded as early as Jan. 2. The most common resolutions may include losing weight, getting a new job or drinking less, but when you’re fighting cancer, priorities tend to change. 

Now that the year is fresh, why not focus on resolutions that make more sense for your needs, if you decide to make any at all. Also, think about resolutions that are achievable, because it's always nice to look back at the end of the year and feel great about what you accomplished.

If you or anyone you know is going through cancer treatment in 2013, here are some suggestions for uplifting, achievable New Year’s resolutions.

1.    Spend more time with friends and family – This is an easy resolution to follow through on, and one that can make everyone involved happy. Treasure your family and friendships, and spend time doing the things you want to do.

2.    Eat healthy foods – Losing weight can be difficult for everyone, and for some going through cancer treatment, it’s the wrong approach altogether. Instead, focus on better eating habits and taking in foods that are healthy and nourishing. Take small steps, like limiting sweets or fattening foods like fries and pizza to once a week. Maintaining a healthy diet and a healthy weight can be important for those going through cancer treatment, so consider speaking with a nutritionist before you begin.

3.    Keep moving – Making a resolution to go to the gym every day just isn’t feasible, and for many it’s not fun. Rather than feeling guilty for skipping the gym, focus on adding more movement into your day. Take the stairs, go for walks or participate in sporting activities to keep moving.

4.    Beat stress – Stress can have a negative effect on cancer treatment, so focus on staying relaxed and calm as much as possible this year. Try some stress-busting activities like music therapy, Qi gong, Yoga or Pilates.

5.    Quit smoking – This resolution is a good one to have on your list whether you’re fighting cancer or not. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. Also, in the U.S. cigarette smoking causes about 90% of lung cancers. Quitting smoking at any time will lower your risk.

6.    Stay positive – This may be a hard one from time to time, but in 2013, try to focus on staying positive as much as possible. There are much better ways to spend your time than worrying about things that may be out of your control. Instead, focus on the great things that life can bring, whether that’s new friends, a beautiful painting or a great movie. Whatever makes you happy is what you should be doing this year.

What are your New Year’s resolutions? Please let us know, and have a happy and healthy New Year!



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Happy Holidays!

by: cancercompass

The holiday season can be difficult, especially if you or someone you love is currently being treated with cancer. No matter where you are spending the holidays - whether it is at the hospital, at home alone or with family members - try to take just a few minutes to remember what hoilday cheer is really about.  It's also an excuse to forget your worries for just a few days, and enjoy spending time with friends, family and loved ones. Or, you can reflect alone, and concentrate only on doing the things that make you happy.

No one can know for sure what the new year will bring, and it's a great time to start anew with renewed feelings of joy, hope and happiness.

I'd like to wish everyone a healthy and happy holiday season, as well as a happy new year!



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Healthy Eating Over the Holidays

by: cancercompass

The holidays have arrived! Sunday marked the last night of Hanukkah, and Christmas is right around the corner. Then, just a couple of weeks away it will be time to celebrate the New Year. One thing is for certain, winter holidays often revolve around friends, family and food.

If you’re currently going through cancer treatment, eating might not be the first thing on your mind. However, staying nourished during treatment is extremely important to your overall health, as the right foods food can give you the strength necessary to fight your cancer.

During this time, your body is going to need more fuel than normal, in order to repair rapidly from the effects of treatments such as surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. Therefore, you’ll want to give your body a constant supply of nutrients, including calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals.

Here are some tips about what to include – and what to avoid – in your diet over the holidays to help you stay strong and healthy.

Carbohydrates (carbs) provide fuel for your body and brain. Carbohydrates are found in dozens of holiday foods from mashed potatoes to apple pie. Load up more on complex carbs and limit the simple kind.

Simple carbs include processed flour and sugar products, like you’ll find in pies, holiday cookies and cakes.

Complex carbs can be found in whole grains, whole fruits, beans and vegetables. Add a fresh fruit salad for desert and a salad course to fit these complex carbs into your holiday plans. Also, serve brown rice instead of white rice, as it contains cancer-fighting properties and dietary fiber.

Fats are another vital part of your diet. There is a common misconception that all fats are bad, but unsaturated fats are actually good for you. Focus on limiting or avoiding saturated fats and trans fatty acids, but feel free to enjoy goodies that have unsaturated fats.

Saturated Fats – These can be found in animal products – such as beef and poultry with the skin – which might be the centerpiece of your festive meal. No need to cut out meat altogether, just serve lean cuts of beef, skinless poultry and reduced fat or fat-free dairy products.

Trans Fatty Acids – These are found in products that have been hydrogenated, such as shortening, some margarines and butter, baked goods and snack items. Your desert table is going to have a number of trans fatty culprits. Adding the aforementioned fruit salad option is one solution, and you can also try out some low-fat baking recipes.

Unsaturated Fats – This is what we call the “good fat.” Cook with olive oil and canola oil whenever possible, and also fill a bowl with almonds and nuts for a pre-meal snack. Adding an avocado to the salad can also add more good fats to your meal. Be careful not to go overboard, and make sure that you are still adhering to your recommended daily dose of fat and calories.

Protein is essential to your health, and is responsible for building your immune system, muscles, hormones and enzymes, and can also repair tissue. Work with a dietitian to estimate how much protein your body will need on a daily basis, especially if you are currently going through cancer treatment. Nuts, eggs, meat, fish, beans and legumes are all great sources of protein. Be sure to include some of these items in your holiday meal!

Happy holidays!



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Hollywood’s Portrayal of Cancer

by: cancercompass

As the year winds down, Hollywood studios will release their heavy-hitter movies designed to attract Oscar attention. Many times, this involves a serious subject matter, or perhaps there is a central character who is battling cancer.

The subject of cancer hits close to home for almost everyone, and watching movies that involve a patient’s struggle can be upsetting to watch. Case in point, I’ve had the film 50/50 sitting on my DVR for months now, partly because I’ve never been quite in the right mood to watch it.

It turns out that what Hollywood has been showing on the big screen regarding cancer just isn’t accurate. In fact, a new study suggests that movies do not show a cancer patient’s chances of survival accurately, and they do not show audiences that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t always mean death will soon follow.

For the study, researchers watched 82 movies that center on a person with cancer. In 63 percent of the movies viewed, the patients died. Cancer symptoms were mentioned in 72 percent of the movies and diagnostic tests were mentioned in 65 percent.

In many cases, a patient dying served merely as a device to further the plot. What’s more disappointing is that while cancer treatments have advanced over the years, the film industry’s depiction of cancer still has not changed.

This would indicate that the Hollywood focus probably won’t change anytime soon, unless of course there is a major breakthrough in the fight. The study noted that the treatments most often mentioned were chemotherapy and pain relief, even though there are many, many more options available out there for each unique type and stage of cancer. 

There is nothing wrong with heading to the movies for a good cry from time to time; that’s why I will watch Steel Magnolias any time it’s on TV. However, it’s important to remember that movies often bend the facts in order to serve their own purposes of entertainment. The depiction of someone with cancer usually isn’t going to be accurate, so try not to feel discouraged.

Another solution is that until Hollywood really gets it right, just go ahead and boycott any movies about cancer that don’t present the truth.

I’ve heard many positive things about 50/50, and I know that it is based on a true story of a young man who battled cancer and then wrote this amazing, almost-Oscar-nominated screenplay (many insist the lack of nomination was a snub). I will take a look soon and report back, as I would imagine that it takes a much more accurate look at the truths behind fighting cancer, rather than using it as a plot device.



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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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A Thankful Thanksgiving

by: cancercompass

After receiving a cancer diagnosis, it might be difficult to get into the spirit of Thanksgiving. However, this is actually the perfect time to step back and remember that despite the difficult experiences you may be going through right now, there are always things to be thankful for.

A recent article on the Huffington Post highlighted five things to be thankful for this holiday season, but I’m guessing that if you put your mind to it, you can come up with more. Whether it is being thankful for the caregiver who has stood by your side or acknowledging a nurse who truly listens, there are always many reasons to be thankful, all the time.

The holiday season can often be a stressful time for everyone – with or without a cancer diagnosis. However, you have the perfect excuse to sit back, relax and let everyone else stress about the little things, because there are more important things to think about.

There is scientific evidence that says relaxation and stress-management can be helpful when going through cancer treatment. Therefore, use the upcoming holidays as a way to get in touch with yourself, and find ways to relax. Focus on the positive, and think of all of the wonderful reasons to be thankful.

Here are some suggestions to get your started on your list of things to be thankful for. Let us know if we missed anything!

Friends and Family – Near and far, it’s always a blessing to have friends and family around you, during Thanksgiving and beyond.

That You’re in Treatment – Going through cancer treatment can be really tough at times, but take comfort in the fact that you are actively fighting the disease. Chemotherapy and radiation may sometimes seem like the enemy, but for many, these treatments are vital.

Doctors and Nurses – Find your favorite nurse and let him/her know this holiday season how they have touched you during your fight.

Holiday Activities – You’re probably going to get a lot of holiday invitations, which might be overwhelming. However, it’s nice to be invited places, and it can also be great to have something fun to look forward to in the near future.

The Holiday Spirit – All around you, people are starting to get into the holiday spirit; they’re laughing more, acting friendlier and letting the holiday cheer envelope them. Try to do the same, and be thankful for the focus on good tidings and positive energy this time of year.

These are just a few things to be thankful for, and I’m sure you can come up with many, many more. Happy Thanksgiving!!



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Finding Financial Assistance for Treatment

by: cancercompass

When faced with a cancer diagnosis, there are a lot of thoughts and emotions that will may run through your mind. Unfortunately, one thing you may be concerned about is paying for treatment. Even if some aspects of your treatment are covered by insurance, there still might be out-of-pocket expenses that can make you nervous. As daunting as it may seem, money concerns do not have to stop you from seeking the treatment you need.

Financial assistance is available for cancer treatment and other services to people at various income levels and in many situations. First and foremost, let your doctor know if you’re worried about being able to afford treatment. He/she might have some suggestions as to what steps you can take immediately, and inform you of assistance available at your hospital or other nearby hospitals.

Here are a few other organizations that may be able to help:

Cancer Care: This organization has professional oncology social workers on staff that can provide free emotional and practical support for people with cancer and their caregivers. They also offer support groups, community programs and financial assistance. Financial assistance is only available to low-income individuals and families (view guidelines), but the other services are available to anyone.  

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: This organization’s Patient Financial Aid Program provides a limited amount of financial assistance to help patients who have significant financial need and are under a doctor's care for a confirmed blood cancer diagnosis. The LLS's Co-Pay Assistance Program offers financial support toward the cost of insurance co-payments and/or insurance premium costs for prescription drugs. Patients must qualify both medically and financially for this program.

Veterans Administration:
If you served in the active military, naval or air service and are separated under any condition other than dishonorable, you may qualify for Veterans Administration health care benefits.

Assistance in Healthcare: This charitable organization was founded to assist patients and their families who have become financially distressed as a result of fighting cancer and other illnesses. Assistance in Healthcare provides funds to patients and their families to help defray their non-medical bills, including utilities, rent, transportation and living expenses for immediate family members.

Give Forward: GiveForward provides free online fundraising pages allowing friends and family to raise money directly for a loved one who is in need of financial assistance for cancer treatment, or any other serious illness. Users can easily set up their own page and share it with friends and instantly create a community of support.

To find more resources and support services, visit the National Cancer Institute for a list of organizations nationwide that provide emotional, practical and financial support services for people with cancer and their families.



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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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