University of Pennsylvania Health System

Focus on Cancer

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

TREATMiNT Box: Gifting Cancer Patients with Comfort and Inspiration

In 2011, Kimberly Fink was treated at the Abramson Cancer Center for uterine cancer. Once her treatment ended, Kimberly came up with the idea for TREATMiNT Box: a subscription based gift box for supporting patients during and after treatment.

Four years ago, Kimberly Fink traveled to Alabama to help her family clean up and rebuild after tornadoes had ripped apart her hometown.

She hadn't been feeling well, and had spent the previous months getting tests, visiting doctors and asking for second opinions to figure out what was wrong.

But it was on this trip when her symptoms couldn’t be silenced.

“I was admitted to the emergency room, and they performed a battery of tests,” remembers Fink. The diagnosis was uterine cancer. At the time, she was only 33 years old.

“I asked the physician if he could recommend a cancer treatment center in Philadelphia, and he said that the Abramson Cancer Center was the best place to go,” says Fink. “He was right. As soon as I walked through the doors, I felt a sense of relief. I knew I was in the right place.”

Over the next full year, Fink received treatment, which included radiation and chemotherapy.

“Cancer treatment is a very isolating experience. Even though you are always surrounded by so many people, you can still feel very alone.”

Fink says that many people with cancer receive a lot of support and encouragement in the beginning of their treatment or when they are first diagnosed. But as weeks and months pass, support can wane – even though loved ones and friends have the best intentions.

It was this realization that inspired Fink to create TREATMiNT Box three years later.

Gifts that Keep On Giving

TREATMiNT Box is a subscription gift box service for both people with cancer, as well as survivors,” says Fink. It is the first-ever subscription service specifically designed with this population in mind.

Each gift box is covered in inspirational messages and is sturdy enough to keep and hold mementos, cards or anything else. The boxes include a mix of practical gifts and inspirational items: gorgeous art prints, all-natural beauty products, cozy socks, organic scarves, tech goodies and fine paper products. There are boxes with separate gifts in mind for men as well as women, with gift boxes for boys and girls coming soon.

You can purchase a one-time gift box delivery or a monthly subscription for three, six or 12 months.

“TREATMiNT Box is a way you can send support love to someone with cancer and know they will be treated to special products to both comfort and inspire,” she says. “We want to provide a rock-solid way for friends and family to show their support and stay connected when it’s hard to relate.”

TREATMiNT Box is young – not even a year old - but has almost 300 subscribers so far. Fink says she plans to expand her services to include TREATMiNT boxes for kids and caregivers, as well as introduce a “Buy a box, donate a box” service. For every box purchased, Fink hopes to donate a box to someone in treatment.

“I want to continue to create a community of patients and survivors that help us curate products for our boxes,” says Fink. “Connecting with patients and survivors can be an extraordinary healing experience.”

Fink adds her own encouragement for those currently undergoing cancer treatment and therapy: “Stop Googling your cancer type and focusing on survival rates. Instead, focus on what you can do today to stay positive. Take things one day at a time.”

Hear Fink talk about TREATMiNT Box in the short video below.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Understanding Personalized Diagnostics

Each cancer can respond differently to treatment based on a patient's genes. With the help of Penn's Center for Personalized Diagnostics (CPD), patients and their oncologists can work together to better understand their situation and aim towards a safer, more effective treatment path.

No Two Cancers Are the Same

We understand that cancer is incredibly personal, affecting you or your loved ones on a variety of levels. That's why our approach to your care is equally precise and personal. We look at individual risk factors, symptoms and treatment decisions that have already been made or considered; then we determine the most effective and least invasive form of treatment.

Cancer is also personal on another level—all the way down to our individual DNA.

Sometimes referred to as “the building blocks of life,” combinations of these 25,000 genes tell our cells which functions to perform and how to interact with one another. Genetic mutations can occur when there are errors, or imperfections, in our genes.

These mutations tell our cells to behave differently than they normally would, possibly causing tumors to grow and thrive. Additionally, they may cause abnormal reactions to traditional treatments like chemotherapy or radiation.

Oftentimes cancer patients are only aware that they carry a mutation once they have been diagnosed and have responded poorly to a common treatment. Penn’s Center for Personalized Diagnostics (CPD) aims to help patients and their doctors understand their genetic makeup early on, to make the most of their treatment.

The Benefits of a Personalized Genetic Profile

Rapid advances in technology and personalized diagnostics have made it possible to understand the genetic make-up of an individual tumor and the biochemical instructions it follows. Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, a regular biopsy or blood sample may be all your doctor needs to help.

Armed with this information, physicians, oncologists and genetic counselors have a much clearer picture of how your body and cancer interact.

An Ability to Customize Treatment 

A genetic profile of cancer cells can show which specific mutations are causing a person's individual cancer to spread.

Studying these genes allows pathologists, scientists and oncologists to better understand the intricate ways our bodies may react to different treatments.

Most important perhaps, a genetic profile can significantly reduce the time that conventional treatment approaches impose on the patient.

A Life-Changing Decision

Personalized diagnostics made a major difference for Mark and Kim. When he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, Mark thought he had no choice but to receive chemotherapy.

A genetic screening at Penn showed Mark that he actually carried a rare mutation that less than four percent of lung cancer patients carry. Thanks to his test, Mark and his oncologist found a clinical drug being tested specifically for that mutation. It quickly shrunk 80 percent of his tumor and turned his life around.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

E-Cigarettes: Safe Alternative to Smoking?

The Abramson Cancer Center is proud to recognize November as Lung Cancer Awareness Month. As smoking is one of the leading causes of lung cancer, we discussed e-cigarettes as an alternative to or cessation method for smoking with the Director of the Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Programs at Penn Medicine, Frank Leone, MD, MS.

You’ve probably seen them out and about: ads for electronic, or “E” cigarettes that say they are an alternative to traditional tobacco products. But are they safer? Do they pose other risks?

We sat with Frank Leone, MD, MS, Director, Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Programs at Penn Medicine to talk about the trend in e-cigarettes.

What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes as a class have been around for about 10 years, though individual brands have not been around that long. They are battery-powered devices that simulate tobacco smoking. An internal heating element vaporizes a liquid solution, which is inhaled and exhaled. Some vapor solutions contain a flavored solution, others have added nicotine in various concentrations.

It sounds safer than tobacco, is it?

In the short term, it probably isn’t that bad. Think about it. When you go see a theater performance, or a band perform, you might be exposed to “smoke” from a smoke machine. That smoke machine is using the same, or similar vapor as e-cigarettes. The vapor in e-cigarettes contains propylene glycol, a substance that is probably not best inhaled over long periods of time.

Short term effects of that smoke machine in a theater are probably okay, but what about the next 10, 15, 20 or 30 years? It might not accumulate in the lungs, but maybe the bladder or liver. It might do different harm than regular cigarettes.

Can e-cigarettes help people quit smoking?

E-cigarettes have the potential to be an effective alternative, if they really help people stop smoking. The problem is, it’s not really a guaranteed way to quit smoking entirely. For many, it’s simply substituting one smoking behavior for another.

In fact, in a recent study, researchers found that teens who used e-cigarettes were more likely to smoke real cigarettes, and less likely to quit than those that never used e-cigarettes.

Nicotine addiction is complex. People addicted to nicotine know it’s bad for them, yet they can’t stop. And those not addicted to nicotine can’t understand why smokers can’t quit. Even family members and friends have a hard time understanding nicotine addiction.

Quit Smoking with Penn

Penn Medicine’s Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program works hard to help smokers and their families understand why they feel trapped and powerless to change. Our team tries to understand the specific needs of every smoker, whether it relates to health, family, work, or other aspects of their lives.

Our program is based on the belief that smokers deserve to quit comfortably, so the treatment tends to be aggressive with medications in a way that helps keep that “devil inside” quiet. Most of all, the team respects the problem for what it is, an addiction. And they respect the people struggling to find a way out from under it.

Specialists in Penn’s Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program have been fortunate to help thousands of patients overcome nicotine addiction over the years, and it’s amazingly rewarding. Patients keep in touch with the program throughout the years. Our staff answers their questions, provides them with support during difficult times, and helps them to get right back on track if they relapse.

The  Penn Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program can help you with your nicotine addiction, even if you don’t feel ready to quit. The staff is happy to answer your questions and discuss your options. No hassle. No pressure. Just help. 800-789-PENN (7366).

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Life of Philanthropy. A Commitment to Cure Lung Cancer.

When Patrick McNichol signed up to participate in Penn State’s THON as a senior, he unwittingly committed to a life of philanthropy. Penn State’s year-long student run fundraiser culminates with a forty-eight hour dance marathon in support of research for pediatric cancer patients, their families, and, in Patrick’s case, a cause near to his heart.

“I got involved with THON a little late in my college career, and felt that I could have done more,” Patrick says. “The summer after graduation, a few friends and I started a fundraiser down the shore in Avalon, NJ called 'War on the Shore.'”

War on the Shore, which supports The Four Diamonds Fund, just held its 10th annual event—and has successfully raised over $250,000 since 2004.

Uniting around the common goal of building a strong philanthropic network in support of cancer research and care, Vice President Erik T. Christian, Secretary James D. Krugh, and Treasurer Corey M. Talone, started the Elpis Foundation.

The foundation was named after the Greek goddess of hope who was the last deity to be released from Pandora’s Box. Elpis personifies the promise of a world without despair.

And that is the Elpis Foundation’s intention: to build a community that inspires hope, raises awareness, and offers unwavering emotional and financial support for cancer research, treatments, and care.

“War on the Shore expanded into other events, golf outings and bowling tournaments that support different cancer research,” Patrick says. “This isn’t our day job—we keep Elpis going in our free time, and are motivated by our shared vision of a world without cancer.”

One Father’s Fight Inspires a New Era of Hope

In September 2011, Patrick’s connection to cancer became even more personal. His father, Joseph F. McNichol, was diagnosed with Stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer— sadly losing his battle only a year later, in July 2012.

“Lung cancer is incredibly hard to detect and diagnosis often comes too late. It kills more people than breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined yet continues to be one of the lowest funded forms of cancer, in terms of research and treatment,” Patrick explains.

“There is such a negative stigma as well, that people deserve [their condition], when some of the worst lung cancers are not caused by tobacco use.”

The Elpis Foundation wants to change that. In February 2013, they held their inaugural JFM Memorial Gala to honor his father’s life, share the treatment he received at Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania by Charles B. Simone II, MD and to inspire hope.

The Elpis Foundation pledged $200,000 to the Abramson Cancer Center, establishing the Joseph F. McNichol (JFM) Lung Cancer Research Fund to support the advancement of lung cancer research and awareness through Penn’s Interdisciplinary Thoracic Oncology Program, specifically as it relates to early detection and screening, treatment, and advances in radiation oncology.

Why Penn Medicine

Penn Medicine’s Thoracic Oncology Program is one of the few centers in the world that can offer a full spectrum of personalized treatment options, that aren’t available everywhere else.

“We are at the cutting edge of technology for radiation therapy, revolutionary discoveries in the lab, translational research in the clinic, surgical options, and have world-class pulmonologists,” says Dr. Simone, assistant professor of radiation oncology who specializes in lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other thoracic malignancies. "We [have the unique ability] to handle encompassing expertise across the care modalities.”

Early detection is critical, and to this end, the JFM Fund supports research of circulating tumor cells (CTCs). These cells shed from primary tumors or their metastases that circulate in the bloodstream. Inside these CTCs are information researchers at the Abramson Cancer Center believe could be a lynchpin to a better understanding of cancer diagnosis, metastases, and recurrence.

Unlocking the potential within CTCs also opens up the possibility for a “liquid biopsy,” a non-invasive blood test that will provide live information about the patient’s disease status, and a roadmap to personalized, targeted cancer therapies.

“Beyond the amazing, compassionate care my father received at the Abramson Cancer Center, the more we learned about the disease during his treatment, the more we knew this was the place for the Elpis Foundation to direct much needed resources to lung cancer research and care,” says Patrick.

To make a gift to lung cancer research, visit us online or contact Natalie Reznik at or (215) 746-3009.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Epic Ride for the Abramson Cancer Center: Abramson Cancer Center Director Chi Van Dang, MD, PhD shares his journey

On October 11th, hundreds of cyclists and their families geared up at a very cold and rainy starting line for the Structure Tone Ride to Conquer Cancer. The ride took cyclists on a 2-day, nearly 150 mile journey through the hills of the Philadelphia suburbs, and raised nearly $2 million for cancer research at the Abramson Cancer Center.

In this post, Abramson Cancer Center Director Chi Van Dang, MD, PhD, shares his experience on the ride. 

On My Ride

I completed the Ride through 150 miles of beautiful Pennsylvania countryside that included some very intense hills. The first day started at 7:30 am with pouring rain—and for a brief moment, sharp pings of sleet beat down on my face. Despite the cold temperatures and pouring rain, over 500 riders came out to support the cause.

I thought of my father and brother Bob, who were both taken away by cancer, as I started and then throughout the Ride.

During the first day, I had a near-miss on the road. As my group was cycling up a hill in the pouring rain turning left in single file, a car going too fast from the other side appeared in my left visual field. At that moment I realized that it was out of control, skidding into our side of the road directly toward me. I quickly ditched to the right and onto the roadside ground; her car slid right up over my front bike tire and slightly bent it. A slightly bent tire and only a minor left leg scratch evidenced the near-miss. At the next pit stop about 2 miles ahead, my bike was tuned, my scratch cleaned, I warmed up, and then got back onto the road towards camp. I know it was my Dad and brother Bob who looked out for me.

During the evening of the first day at camp— I shared that I have a personal reason to ride other than leading the Abramson Cancer Center. There were many cancer survivors who also rode, and when I asked all those who have been touched by cancer to stand, every single person in the pavilion stood. I told everyone to look around for a moment and to take this moment in—it was a beautiful reminder of the reason we were all riding. The evening ended with a band and people dancing, celebrating life and fellowship; needless to say there was plenty of food and drinks.

The next day started at camp about 60 miles north of Philadelphia at 37 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sun was rising up to provide the much needed warmth for the rest of the day. After a few significant hills, the sun blessed the beautiful Pennsylvania farmland, which is beginning to show the multitude of colors of the fall and goldening of the crops. The leaves are starting to end their annual journey in beautiful autumn colors, bright red, yellow, and brown. Farmhouses of all kinds with tall corn silos rose out into view. After a lunch pit stop and 25 miles left, the sky was blue and the sun was fully out for the rest of the day.

When we came into Philadelphia there were several challenging hills, but the end was in sight. There were people cheering along the ride as well as cheering us into the finish line. Mary, my wife, was there with a big smile, and gave me a much needed hug after being 7 hours on the road.

It was moving to see the cancer survivors completing their ride with joy and pride. The families were there to greet them with smiles and tears; we stayed and cheered until the last rider came in at about 5:30 pm. The sun set and the ride was over, but the incredible weekend is a testament to the strength, courage, and dedication felt within our community that will never be forgotten.

With gratitude,

Chi V. Dang, MD, PhD
Director, Abramson Cancer Center

Please share your experience, and email your rider story to

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Basser Research Center for BRCA 2014 Grant and Global Prize Winners

Committed to the support of cutting edge research in basic and clinical sciences to advance the care of individuals living with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, the Basser Research Center for BRCA has announced the recipients of $6.9 million in research grants and the 2014 Basser Global Prize.
"Homologous Hope," created for Basser Research Center for BRCA by internationally renowned artist Mara G. Haseltine.

Basser Grants

The University of Pennsylvania’s Basser Research Center for BRCA has announced the latest recipients of the Basser research grants, which help fund projects aimed at advancing the care of patients living with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations through team collaboration. The grants were awarded to nine teams and total $6.9 million.

In addition to awarding grants to four Penn Medicine teams from an array of disciplines, the Basser Center is also pleased to announce the first round of funding under the Basser External Research Grant Program, a new and unique funding mechanism for projects outside of Penn Medicine.

Five external teams from across the nation were awarded grants. These projects demonstrate the potential for translation into clinical practice and were awarded to investigators at the following institutions: University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University, Fox Chase Cancer Center, and Drexel University College of Medicine.

“The projects funded under this latest round of grants are at the forefront of BRCA-related cancer research, and will help bring targeted therapies to a new level,” says Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA and the Basser Professor of Oncology at the Abramson Cancer Center. “BRCA research has come so far since the initial discovery twenty years ago, and working in collaboration with colleagues across the nation, we are making strides every day toward providing better care for these high-risk patients.”

Projects range from identifying new vaccines and therapies for patients at increased risk for breast and ovarian cancers to improving access to genetic testing for individuals in underserved communities.

Read more about research topics of the 2014 Basser Grant Awardees.

"Homologous Hope," inspired this Global Prize trophy.

Basser Global Prize

Twenty years after the identification of the BRCA1 gene, the University of Pennsylvania’s Basser Research Center for BRCA honored the geneticist credited with its discovery with the second annual Basser Global Prize.

Mary-Claire King, PhD, American Cancer Society Research Professor of Genetics and Medicine at the University of Washington, has been a pioneer in the development of experimental and bioinformatics genomics tools to study common, complex human diseases and health conditions. As part of the award, King will give the keynote address at the 2015 Basser Research Center for BRCA Scientific Symposium.

“We’re very excited to honor Dr. King’s accomplishments in BRCA-related research, particularly as this year marks twenty years since the initial cloning of the BRCA1 gene,” says Dr. Domchek. “The identification of BRCA1 was the first critical step in work to improve outcomes for individuals with inherited susceptibility to breast cancer. Supporting research projects that are similarly devoted to the prevention and treatment of BRCA-related cancers is a primary mission of the Basser Center.”

Read more in a recent press release highlighting the 2014 Basser Global Prize.

About the Basser Research Center for BRCA

In 2012, the Basser Center was established through a $25 million gift from Penn alumni Mindy and Jon Gray in memory of Mindy Gray’s sister Faith Basser, who died of ovarian cancer at age 44. The External Grant Program was made possible by an additional gift of $5 million made earlier this year by Mindy and Jon Gray. The Basser Global Prize, a marquee component of the center, was established by Shari Basser Potter and Leonard Potter to honor a visionary scientist who has conceptually advanced BRCA1/2 related research that has led to improvements in clinical care.

For the latest in BRCA patient education and translational research,
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Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Ride to Conquer Cancer -Thank You!

This past Saturday, October 11th, hundreds of cyclists and their families geared up at a very cold and rainy starting line for the Structure Tone Ride to Conquer Cancer.

The nearly 150-mile ride was intense, invigorating, cathartic, full of fun and fellowship, and, most of all, provided a tremendous sense of community, comradely, and personal accomplishment. Over 500 riders finished the Ride to benefit Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Fairmount Park with Madlyn Abramson, her daughter Nancy and her two children, Stephanie and Rachel, and many other family and friends of the riders, cheering at the finish line. The Ride was phenomenal, and its success was a total team effort.

Thank you very much to all of our volunteers, staff, friends, family, and faculty for participating, helping, and contributing to the Ride.

A special thank you goes to our title sponsor, Structure Tone, and founding sponsor Ben Shein Law Offices.

Also, thanks to all the team members and captains for their dedication. The medical team led by Drs. Linda Jacobs and Alvin Wang was phenomenally helpful for many riders in need of treatment or wound care, including me. The development staff was terrific and special thanks goes to Karrie Borgelt for making it a wonderful event.

The feedback on peoples’ experiences with the Ride has been amazing. We have been successful in not only building our community spirit and engaging a new group of supporters, but also created an "esprit-de-corps," as one department chair who rode told me. Cancer survivors from the Philadelphia area, as well as from as far as Canada shared their appreciation of what we are trying to accomplish.

And, Carl June rode with his team that included a colleague from Texas. The Ride has had a more far-reaching impact than we could ever have imagined.

Thank you everyone!! The Abramson Cancer Center team is not only innovating in research and clinical care, but also innovating new ways to engage our patients, their families, our community and new partners through new events such as the Ride. Stay tuned as we plan several new events for next year. Several of you have shared your own experiences of the ride, and we will be posting these in a new series on our Focus on Cancer blog. To share your experience, contact Michal Greenberg at

Check out photos from the weekend here. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be posting more photos to Facebook, we encourage you to tag your photos with #TheRidePHL and tag Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center.

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