University of Pennsylvania Health System

Focus on Cancer

We are happy to announce the launch of our new Abramson Cancer Center website.

Please stay connected to our Focus On Cancer blog by visiting us there.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Exciting Changes for the Abramson Cancer Center Blog

We are happy to announce the launch of our brand new Abramson Cancer Center website.

We will continue to bring you cancer education, information about Abramson Cancer Center events, treatment updates and clinical trial information in a patient and family-focused language to help you and your loved ones throughout the cancer journey.

Because of this exciting change, the Focus on Cancer blog will move to its new home within the Abramson Cancer Center's website.

Please update your bookmarks to reflect our new home.

Thank you for your continued support, and we look forward to connecting with you on our new website.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Precision Medicine: Four Predictions on How It Will Change Cancer Care

Since President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address in January 2015, the nation has been talking about a revolution in patient care, known by many as precision medicine.

Of course, the country is used to hearing the president talk about health care, especially the Affordable Care Act. But when the White House starts launching $215 million initiatives to accelerate research—in this case, the Precision Medicine Initiative, according to a White House Press release—you can be sure it’s not just a passing fad.

First, what is precision medicine?

Precision medicine is about tailoring treatments to the patient’s genome and body function. The promise is that this detailed personal health data can determine what’s most effective for each individual, which can lead to better outcomes.

Most of precision medicine’s application currently focuses on cancer. Launched in 2013, Penn Medicine’s Center for Personalized Diagnostics (CPD) helps oncologists determine the best treatment for their cancer patients by looking at the cancer’s genome.

Here’s how precision medicine is being practiced at Penn:
  1. A patient is diagnosed with cancer.
  2. If the cancer involves a solid tumor—like breast, lung, or colon cancer—the tumor is surgically removed during a biopsy, and a chunk of the tissue is sent to Penn Medicine’s CPD. If the cancer involves blood or bone marrow—like leukemia—a sample of the blood or bone marrow is sent.
  3. The CPD sequences a panel of genes that are known to be involved in cancer. This test examines DNA within the tumor, blood or bone marrow sample. The goal is to find DNA mutations that are driving the cancer.
  4. A report on the mutations found is sent to the patient’s oncologist.
  5. The oncologist determines if there are therapies or treatments available that work better than others—or not at all—on the patient’s particular type of cancer.
“We’re using precision medicine to give patients the right drugs, guided by the DNA sequence information from their cancer, so we’re not exposing them to potentially toxic effects,” explains David Roth, MD, PhD, director of the CPD. “This individualized therapy is better than treatment based on the ‘average patient.’”

Precision Medicine is being researched, translated and applied across Penn Medicine. Here,
experts from the Center for Personalized Diagnostics share four predictions on how precision medicine will change how cancer is treated in future generations.

1. Cancer will be diagnosed earlier.

Jennifer Morrissette, PhD, clinical director of the CPD:

“There are different stages of tumors. The earlier you catch the tumor, the more likely you are to survive it. My theory is that this century will be the century of diagnostics. We will be diagnosing people’s cancers earlier and earlier.

"That way, we are not dealing with advanced metastatic tumors that have acquired so many different changes that they’re hard to treat. We’ll be capturing tumors very early, in stage one; have a definitive surgery; follow the patient for a certain number of years to make sure that the cancer hasn’t spread; and then they’ll be cured.

"Some people put off seeing a physician because they don’t want chemo, but the longer they put it off, the more likely they are going to have metastatic disease.”

2. Cancer treatment will be based on each person's health profile.

David Roth, MD, PhD, director of the CPD:

“[In the past,] doctors had been treating [the average patient] based upon results from a large study.

"The revolution in precision medicine is that now we have better tools to understand what’s going on with you as an individual. Instead of saying, ‘Okay, you have this particular cancer, and you have a 30 percent chance. So, go ahead and get this toxic therapy,’ we can be much more specific.

"If we were able to tell you that you have a five percent chance of responding to a chemotherapy based on the makeup of your tumor, would you still do it?”

3. Gene paneling will be used for diagnosis, not just treatment.

David Lieberman, MS, CGC (certified genetic counselor):

“We tend to see certain genes mutated in certain cancers. For example, there is a certain set of
genes [that are] typically mutated in lung cancer or another set in lymphoma.

"It is not always clear using historical methods what type of cancer a patient has. This makes treatment decisions challenging. Sequencing the tumor's DNA on a panel of known cancer-related genes may help clarify the cancer's origin and, in this way, assist the clinician in determining treatment or prognosis.”

$215 million: The amount the White House will invest in the Precision Medicine Initiative in 2016

4. More cancer patients will have a treatment team, rather than just an       oncologist.

Jennifer Morrissette PhD, clinical director of the CPD:

“It’s not going to be one physician making all the decisions. Cancer treatment has gotten much more complex. Because of the availability of multi-gene testing, you need a group of people with different types of expertise to make the best decision for a patient.

"In addition to the team directing care for the appropriate approach—whether it’s surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, pain management—now there is also the genetic component.

"[The team's] able to sit in a room with people from the lab who can talk about what the result means, have the oncologist tell them about the patient and then get the clinical geneticist's notion that there may be an inherited predisposition. Then, they walk out with a consolidated treatment plan for that patient."

The future of medicine

For more than 250 years, advancements like "precision medicine" have been the hallmark of Penn Medicine. As the first school of medicine in the United States, it has been and continues to be a place where the future of medicine and the future leaders in medicine are being developed.

Interested in learning more about precision medicine? Please contact Karen Kreeger

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Join Penn at the Race for the Cure 5/10

The 25th Annual Komen Philadelphia Race for the Cure® is a Mother’s Day tradition benefiting breast cancer research, education, screening and treatment.

The Penn Medicine Breast Health Initiative (PMBHI) was recently awarded $100,000 from the Susan G. Komen Philadelphia Community Grants Program to provide screening and diagnostic services to an additional 600 women this year.

Twenty-five percent of the funds raised by Komen Philadelphia supports the Komen national research program--a peer reviewed cancer research program offering grants in areas such as diagnosis, treatment, public health, survivorship and prevention. The remainder of the funds raised are invested locally in programs like the PMBHI, which help provide access to care and education in our community – both enriching and saving lives.

These are just a few good reasons to come out and join the Penn Medicine Team.

25th Annual Komen Philadelphia Race for the Cure®
Mother’s Day, May 10, 2015
Eakins Oval/Philadelphia Museum of Art
5K Run/Walk & 1-Mile Fun Walk
Join us and help make a difference.v

Interested in joining our team?

To join the official Penn Medicine Team, patients, friends and family are welcome to visit the official registration page online and follow the instructions.

Race for the Cure Schedule:
7:00 AM: Opening Ceremony: 25th Celebration Extravaganza
8:15 AM: 5K Run Start
8:25 AM: 5K Walk / 1-Mile Fun Walk Start

Other ways to show your support.

Can’t make it on Mothers' Day? You can still support Penn Medicine’s team by making a donation to the team.

If you have questions about joining or would like to tell us why you walk in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, please email Amy Kleger or visit

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cauliflower is the Comeback Kid of 2015

Carly Roop, RD, is a registered dietitian at the Joan Karnell Supportive Care Services (JKSCS). She provides nutrition education and support to patients while addressing nutrition-related side effects from chemotherapy and radiation. Dietitians at JKSCS provide educational nutrition programs that are open to patients as well as the community.

Move over kale, this year cauliflower is taking over menus everywhere. And the cauliflower appearing on menus at some of the top restaurants in the United States is not the same steamed cauliflower you once pushed around your plate.

Dietitians everywhere are thrilled about this comeback because cauliflower is full of cancer and disease fighting properties. Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and cabbage; it belongs to the cabbage family. These sulfur-containing vegetables may have a pungent smell but they also contain phytochemicals such as Sulforaphane and Indole-3-carbinol which aid the liver in production of enzymes that block cancer-causing chemicals from damaging the body and help enhance the immune system.

This vegetable is low in calories while still being rich in vitamin C, fiber and B vitamins such as biotin, which contributes to healthy hair and nails. Cauliflower is more than crudité, there are a variety of ways one can prepare this vegetable, it can be coated with a spicy yogurt and baked tandoori style, pureed into a creamy soup, roasted with a touch of melted Parmesan, tossed in sauce for vegetarian Buffalo wings and it can even be prepared to have a couscous- like texture.

The year has just begun but I predict there is a lot more culinary fun to come with cauliflower.

Spicy Whole Roasted Cauliflower 

Serves 6 

  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil 1 head of cauliflower 
  • 1 ½ cups of plain Greek yogurt 
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced 
  • 1-2 tbsp. chili powder 
  • 1 tbsp. cumin 
  • 1 tbsp. garlic powder 
  • 1 tsp curry powder 
  • 2 tsp kosher salt 
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 °F and lightly grease a small baking sheet with vegetable oil. 
  2. Trim the base of the cauliflower to remove any green leaves and the woody stem.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt with the lime zest and juice, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, curry powder and pepper. 
  4. Dunk the cauliflower in the bowl and use a brush or your hands to smear the marinade on evenly over its surface (Extra marinade can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days). 
  5. Place the cauliflower on the prepared baking sheet and roast until the surface is dry and lightly browned 35-45 minutes.
  6. Let the cauliflower cool for 10 minutes before cutting it into wedges and serving alongside a big green salad
Nutrition per serving: 65 calories; < 1 gm of total fat; 7 gram of carbohydrates; 2 gm of dietary fiber; 7.5 gm of protein

Monday, March 16, 2015

Colon Cancer Prevention and Screening Web Chat This Thursday - March 19, 2015

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. To learn more about screening, symptoms, treatments and the latest research, we’re teaming up with 6ABC for a live, streaming web chat at

Colorectal Cancer - Did you know?

Colorectal cancer, cancer of the colon and rectum, is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

You may be at a higher risk for colorectal cancer as you get older, but with education and screening, you can help reduce your risk.

Screening Can Save Lives

For those 50 years and older, getting a colorectal cancer screening can be life saving.

Symptoms like the appearance of polyps in the colon or rectum, persistent stomach aches and pains, rapid weight loss and bloody bowel movements may be key indicators.

While these symptoms may be indicative of other ailments, colorectal cancer screenings can help you take the right next steps.

This March, Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, be sure to ask the right questions, and get the facts.

Our Experts Answering Your Questions

Patients and loved ones can submit questions ahead of time and also watch the chat in full after our broadcast.

Want to know more about:
  • Colorectal cancer screening?
  • Risk evaluation?
  • Hereditary risk?
  • Cutting-edge treatment potions?
  • New breakthrough clinical trials?
  • Survivorship?

Please join Penn experts Gregory G. Ginsberg, MD, Timothy C. Hoops, MD and Joshua I.S. Bleier, MD on Thursday, March 19 at 4pm. 

To submit your questions and set up an email reminder for the live web chat,
please visit

Friday, March 13, 2015

Biannual Amyloidosis Support Group Comes to Penn Medicine on March 28

In partnership with the Amyloidosis Support Group, Penn Medicine's Amyloidosis Program will be hosting this year's biannual Amyloidosis Support Group event and complimentary lunch.

The event will feature guest speaker Frederick Ruberg, MD, of the Boston Medical Center as well as Penn Medicine doctors and staff of the Abramson Cancer Center Amyloidosis Program. Additional time will also be dedicated to questions and answers you might have.

Topics to be discussed throughout the event include:
  • Announcements of new clinical trials and treatments
  • Questions read and answered by Amyloidosis Support Group doctors
  • Health insurance options for people with amyloidosis
  • An informal discussion over lunch with speakers and participants
  • Breakout groups for caregivers and loved ones
  • How to raise awareness and ways to help 
Please RSVP for the event, Saturday March 28, 2015
from 9 am to 2:30 pm

Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine
3400 Civic Center Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Main Lobby of the Translational Research Center
Parking in the Perelman Garage is free and will be validated

Monday, March 9, 2015

“If I can save one person from being where I was, that makes me happy.” - Michele

Penn Medicine recognizes March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Follow us all month for information on screening and prevention tips. 

Michele on her 2-year "cancerversary."
At 50, Michele was feeling great. She’d done everything she was supposed to do to take care of her health.

Annual physical exam? Check.
Mammogram? Yup.
Echocardiogram? Done.
Skin check for moles and skin cancer? No problem.
Bone density scan? Of course.

But the one thing she’d put off was getting a colonoscopy.

“It was the only thing I hadn’t done, and I really didn’t think much of it,” remembers Michele. “I felt great; there wasn’t a reason to get one other than I was 50 and it was recommended I get one at 50.”

Two months before her 51st birthday, on Valentine’s Day, Michele had her colonoscopy in central New Jersey close to her home.

Her doctor found cancer. That colonoscopy saved her life.

“He told me he found lesions, and that I needed to see a specialist surgeon,” says Michele. “I left there dazed and confused.”

One week later, Michele met with Dr. Najjia Mahmoud, MD, Chief of the Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery in the Department of Surgery at Penn Medicine.

“Dr. Mahmoud had a calming effect,” says Michele. “She spoke to me in a way I could understand the process for my situation, she actually made it sound easy – and that put me at ease.”

It was stage 3 colon cancer, and after her surgery at Penn, Michele had 12 rounds of chemotherapy under the care of Ursina Teitelbaum, MD, medical oncologist at the Abramson Cancer Center.

“I was so impressed with Dr. Teitelbaum,” says Michele. “I walked into that first visit with two pages of questions, and she went through and answered each and every one.”

Michele got through those chemotherapy treatments, but it wasn’t an easy road.

“Chemotherapy was tough, but I got through it with the support of my friends and family, and the determination I had to get through it,” says Michele. “I walked every day – even if it was slow – because I knew that’s what I had to do.”

Today, Michele is cancer-free and is an advocate for colon cancer awareness. She’s participated in the Undy 5000 race, numerous awareness events, and supports multiple organizations through volunteer work. This year again, she had Governor Christie proclaim March, 2014, Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in New Jersey.

“If I can save one person from being where I was, that makes me happy,” says Michele. “It’s estimated that 1 in 3 people are not up to date with their screenings, and that 1 in 20 will be diagnosed with colon cancer. Those numbers alone should alarm people to take action.”

Michele reminds us she had no symptoms of colon cancer – no pain, no blood in her stool, and her annual blood work was normal.

“I probably had colon cancer for years before I went for a screening,” she says, “but without the screening, I probably would have found out too late.”

If you or a loved one are at risk for colorectal cancer and would like to learn more, visit for scheduling and a free downloadable guide.
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