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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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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Don’t Ignore the Signs

by: cancercompass

Whether you choose to listen or not, your body is often talking to you. Sometimes it is letting you know that everything is working properly (like being in a great mood after a solid workout), while other times your body might be sending warning signals.

A recent study concluded that when it comes to gynecologic cancers, there are five symptoms women ignore that could be important. Early detection can help lead to a more positive prognosis for many types of cancer, and therefore, it is always a good idea to take note of anything strange going on in your body, especially if it persists for more than two weeks.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there will be nearly 90,000 cases of gynecological cancers diagnosed in the U.S. in 2012. There are five main types of genealogical cancers – ovarian, uterine, cervical, vaginal and vulvar. Screenings are recommended for cervical cancer, but detecting the others might come down to listening to your body and making an appointment if you notice certain symptoms, or anything out of the ordinary.

In this study, 132 women ages 40-60 in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New York City were given a list of eight symptoms of gynecological cancers. The list was not identified, and the participants had to simply take note of which symptoms would concern them the most. There were five symptoms that most women did not identify as possibly being due to cancer: vaginal itching or burning, back or abdominal pain, being tired all the time, having to urinate very badly or more often than usual, and bloating.

Since these signs are common, the women didn’t think they were a big deal. And, in many instances, these symptoms could be caused by something other than cancer. However, if you’re noticing these symptoms more than two weeks, it is a good idea to get checked out. Even if the explanation isn’t cancer, there could be something else going on that needs a remedy.

Cynthia Gelb, a health communication specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made one really excellent point: “One key to recognizing when a common symptom might actually indicate cancer is for women to know what is normal for them.”

If something is going on that is uncommon for your body, then pay attention to what your body is telling you! Don’t be afraid to make an appointment with your doctor if anything seems amiss. And, if your body is speaking to you for more than two weeks, it might be time to listen.



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Take it Easy

by: cancercompass

While some have believed for decades that addressing a patient’s emotional state is an important part of cancer care, others are just starting to get on board. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, starting in 2015, the Commission on Cancer will require cancer treatment providers to meet a new standard to evaluate patients for distress and find them help if necessary.

After a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to give yourself the space you need to relax, rejuvenate and heal. Preparing for everything that follows – from deciding on a treatment plan to adjusting schedules at home and at work – can feel overwhelming. While relaxing may be the last thing on your mind during this time in your life, finding a moment to unwind and alleviate stress benefits both your mind and body throughout your fight against cancer.

"During cancer treatment, relaxation is a tool that can reduce the side effects of treatment-related symptoms and pain,” says Diane Schaab, MS, LPC, a mind-body therapist with Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Newnan, GA. “Feeling relaxed can reduce the heart rate, lower blood pressure and lessen anxiety, providing a positively enhanced experience for both patients and caregivers.”

There are many ways to seek professional help when it comes to de-stressing, from guided imagery to laughter therapy to individual counseling, but there are also many ways to find relaxation on your own. Taking the time to relax can provide both physical and emotional benefits when it comes to your cancer treatment journey, and don’t forget it can also just feel great.

Here are nine ways to relieve stress on your own, which can help you remain strong and focused your during cancer treatment:

1. Take a Deep Breath
2. Exercise/Yoga
3. Meditate
4. Take a Bath
5. Read a Book
6. Keep a Journal
7. Listen to Music
8. Find a Hobby
9. Disconnect

For more on the healing powers of relaxation, visit this month's Cancer Center Newsletter on relaxation.



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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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Antioxidants: Cancer-Fighting Foods

by: cancercompass

For both cancer prevention and cancer treatment, what you eat is important to your health.  According to the National Cancer Institute, antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. This damage can increase your risk for cancer, which is why experts sing the praises of antioxidants when it comes to preventing cancer.

As for fighting cancer, antioxidants are still thought to be important to your health. The evidence of cancer-fighting properties is less conclusive, but a recent study from Thomas Jefferson University suggests that antioxidants in your diet can actually be quite beneficial as you go through treatment.

In addition to cancer-fighting goodness, antioxidants can also boost your immune system, reduce cardiovascular disease, help with eyesight and more! While antioxidant supplements are available, researchers believe that it is more beneficial to simply incorporate antioxidant-rich foods into your diet.

So where you can you get these antioxidants? Try the foods below for that extra boost:

Legumes – All beans are good for you, but the more colorful beans are even better. Peanuts, pinto beans and soybeans are also high in antioxidants.

Berries – Whether you prefer blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or blackberries, scientists have determined that berries have some of the highest antioxidant levels of any fresh fruits.

Other Fresh Fruits – Other fresh fruits, such as pomegranates, grapes, oranges, plum, prunes, pineapples and grapefruits also contain antioxidants.

Dark, Leafy Greens – Dark greens such as kale and spinach are loaded with protein, as well as antioxidants like vitamin C, lutein (helps protect your eyes and skin from UV damage) and zeaxanthin (prevents free-radical damage to the retina and the lens of the eye).

Other Veggies – Leafy greens aren’t your only key to antioxidants, also try brussels sprouts, broccoli flowers, red bell peppers, eggplant, onions, beets and artichokes. 

Nuts – Walnuts have the most antioxidants of the bunch, but almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, cashews and pecans are also a great snack.

Spices – Some spices are rich with antioxidants, so reach for cloves, cinnamon and oregano when you’re cooking, but maybe not at the same time.



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Male Breast Cancer is No Laughing Matter

by: cancercompass

Though breast cancer is 100 times more likely to occur in women than in men, recent studies have found that the disease may be more dangerous for men. No matter how rare, male breast cancer is a serious matter and certainly nothing to be embarrassed about.

According to the study, the overall survival rates for men with breast cancer are lower than those for women when it is diagnosed in an early stage. To make matters worse, many men don’t even know male breast cancer exists, and thus do not consult their doctors about any issues that may be a result of breast cancer. Therefore, the diagnosis can come at a much later stage.

Men have breast tissue that develops in the same way as breast tissue in women, and that tissue is susceptible to cancer cells in the same way. Breast cancer is less common for men because male breasts have ducts that are less developed and are not exposed to growth-promoting female hormones.

Any man can develop male breast cancer, but here are some factors that may increase the risk:

•    Male breast cancer is most common among men age 60–70.
•    Excessive alcohol use.
•    Radiation treatment to the chest.
•    High estrogen levels.
•    Having several female relatives who have had breast cancer, especially those with a mutation of the BRCA2 gene, can be a risk factor.
•    Obesity.

Women are encouraged to perform breast self-exams and also have regular mammograms at an advanced age. Experts agree this isn’t necessary for men, but it doesn’t hurt to know what to look out for. Male breast cancer symptoms can be similar to those experienced by women and may include:

•    Lumps in the breast, usually painless
•    Thickening of the breast
•    Changes to the nipple or breast skin, such as dimpling, puckering or redness
•    Discharge of fluid from the nipples

If you notice any of these symptoms, do not be afraid to inform your doctor. Some men might be embarrassed to think that they might have what’s considered a “women’s disease,” but it is simply just another form of cancer. Seeking help from your doctor could save your life, so put the bravado aside if you notice any changes in your chest or any other alarming symptoms.



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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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Lose Weight to Feel Great – And Fight Cancer

by: cancercompass

Even though obesity can lead to numerous health problems, the number of Americans who are obese continues to grow each year. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2010 more than 35.7 percent of U.S. adults were considered obese, up from 33.9 percent in 2008.

Most are aware that obesity can cause heart disease, diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure, but did you know that it can also increase your risk of getting cancer? Not to mention that an unhealthy weight can have a negative effect on your condition if you already have cancer.

The most common way to measure obesity is by calculating your body max index or BMI. If your BMI is over 30, then you could be at risk for the health problems listed above. Click here to calculate your BMI.

In terms of cancer, obesity is associated with increased risks of cancers of the breast, gallbladder, uterus, colon, rectum, kidney, pancreas, gallbladder and thyroid – and possibly more. Also, obesity can make treatment more difficult. According to one study in breast cancer patients, obesity was linked to shorter time to recurrence, disease-free survival and overall survival.

These facts, figures and studies aren't meant to scare you, but demonstrates how important it is to get your weight under control as soon as possible, as it may save your life in more ways than one. Fighting obesity is an important step to take for those without a cancer diagnosis, but it is just as vital – if not more so – for those who have already begun treatment.

Losing weight is somewhat of a national obsession in America, and it is never easy. If your BMI is over 30 – or if you simply want to get into better shape - there is no time like the present to get started! Even if you’ve never felt sick a day in your life, losing those extra pounds can simply help you feel more alert and active on a daily basis.

Here are a few tips to help you get started!

1. Talk to Your Doctor – If you are serious about beginning a major weight loss program, speak with your doctor first! Not only can he/she provide advice and help you create a plan, but your doctor can also make sure that your body is ready for what’s coming and recommend experts, such as a nutritionist, who can help you along.

2. Join a Group – There is a reason Weight Watchers has been around since 1963 – they know what they’re doing. Fad diets rarely work, and if they do it’s not for long. Organizations like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig have easy-to-follow weight loss plans, and make the process easier with support groups to help motivate you along the way.

3. Set Realistic Goals – Weight loss takes time, and unreasonable goals will only make you frustrated. If your goal is to lose 30 pounds in a month, you are setting yourself up to fail. Create reasonable, attainable goals that take into account your personal fitness level, health concerns and available time. Achievable goals will also help you feel confident and successful along the way.

4. Get Moving – The basic keys to weight loss are simple: exercise and eating well. If you aren't active, take small steps to get moving. Park your car as far away from your destination as possible, or opt for the stairs instead of the elevator. These tiny steps add up to slowly increase your activity level. Start small with your activities, and slowly build them up.

5. Keep a Journal – This will help you keep track of your goals, as well as your thoughts and feelings during the process. Some weeks you’re going to lose a few pounds, and other weeks you’ll have setbacks. You can also keep track of your exercise and eating habits, and take note of what works and what does not.

6. Try to Enjoy the Process – Losing weight doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. Seek out ways to make the process more fun by getting others involved. Invite friends and family to try out a healthy recipe, or go on a long walk on a nice day. Also, remember that losing weight doesn’t mean that you have to stop eating all the foods you love and change your life completely, but you will need to adjust your habits and lifestyle. If you’re having some fun along the way, then the road to weight loss will be much smoother.




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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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