University of Pennsylvania Health System

Focus on Cancer

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 michalg@exchange.upenn.edu.


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,
like us on Facebook and visit Basser.org 

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 michalg@upenn.edu.


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.

October 24: Focus On Neuroendocrine Tumors Conference

Penn's Abramson Cancer Center and the Caring for Carcinoid Foundation are teaming up to provide a free day-long neuroendocrine tumor conference for patients and caregivers.

This free educational conference highlights news in NET diagnosis, disease and symptom management and panel discussion.

Attendees will receive the latest information about research, treatment advances, clinical trials, and survivorship issues.

Who Should Attend?

This session can be helpful for those newly diagnosed, currently in treatment, or who are long-term survivors; as well as family members and caregivers of those affected by:
  • Gastrointestinal tract NETs including:
    • Pancreatic NETs (hereditary or sporadic) 
    • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (gastrinomas)
    • Insulinomas
    • Alimentary tract NETs (foregut, midgut or hindgut)
    • Functional (carcinoid syndrome)
    • Non-functional
  • Bronchial, thymic and carcinoid in other locations
  • Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas including hereditary and sporadic forms 
  • Hereditary Ssyndromes associated with neuroendocrine tumors

4th Focus On Neuroendocrine Tumors Conference

Date: Friday, October 24, 2014
Time:  8 am to 2:30 pm
Location: Hilton Hotel, 4200 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA


RSVP for the Focus on Neuroendocrine Tumor Conference here.

Can’t Make the Conference? 

If you can’t make this year’s conference, you can watch or follow the conference live:

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

'Breast Cancer Genes' are a Problem for Men Too

In recognition of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Week, Focus on Cancer is highlighting new support and research efforts for male carriers of BRCA mutations.

In August, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported an increase in research and support, specifically for male carriers of BRCA1/2 mutations. These mutations are known for being strong indicators of breast and ovarian cancer risk; as well as other types of cancer.

"Men very much matter in this equation," said Jacquelyn Powers, MS, CGC, a genetic counselor at Penn's Basser Research Center for BRCA, during her presentation at a recent conference in Philadelphia with partner organization, FORCE.

Understanding Hereditary Cancer Risk for Male Carriers

In men, mutations in either gene raise the risk for breast cancer as well as risk for other cancers. In fact, men with BRCA1 mutations have between a 1-5% lifetime risk of breast cancer and men with BRCA2 mutation have between a 5-10% lifetime risk of breast cancer.

Typically, a man's risk of breast cancer is 0.1%, or 1 in 1,000. Men who carry a BRCA mutation may also have an increased risk of prostate cancer, melanoma and pancreatic cancer.

Men, as well as women, can inherit and pass on a BRCA mutation to their children, further driving the demand for new research and support.

Penn Investigators Take Leading Role in Research 

In one international study, investigators from Penn are exploring the best way to screen male carriers with increased prostate cancer risk. Men with BRCA1/2 mutations who develop prostate cancer tend to develop these cancers at an earlier age than average and may develop more aggressive forms of the disease.

Free Webinar for Male BRCA Carriers with Basser and FORCE 10/1

As part of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Week, we invite you to join FORCE and Basser Center genetic counselor Jacquelyn Powers, MS, CGC next Wednesday for the webinar "BRCA and Men: Medical Management and Prostate-specific Considerations."

This free online session is open to male BRCA carriers, those at risk; as well as their family members and caregivers. Register online at FORCE.

Read the full Philadelphia Inquirer article on male carriers and learn more from the Basser Research Center for BRCA about risk factors, screening recommendations and research.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sara Gowing: A Partner in Hope Propels Research on Breast Cancer Recurrence

“I think that anyone who has received a cancer diagnosis would agree that it is a moment which is life-altering: emotions range from fear and sadness, to anger and regret, after which you can’t help but see everything in a different light.”

For Sara Gowing, that new light as a breast cancer survivor has been characterized by elation for her cancer remission and good health against the odds of and fear for her cancer returning.

“As my breast cancer treatment came to an end, I learned that palpation would be my primary method for monitoring recurrence,” Sara explained. “I was startled to think that after spending a year undergoing cutting edge treatments that included surgery, rounds of chemotherapy with two different drugs, and radiation, I would be back to relying upon breast exams to catch a recurrence of the cancer.”
Angela DeMichele, MD, MSCE (center) with Sara Gowing and her husband Jim, at the celebration of Dr. DeMichele's appointment as the Alan and Jill Miller Associate Professor in Breast Cancer Excellence.

Seeking an Active Measure for Recurrence in Post-treatment Survivorship

Despite 5-year survival rates approaching 90%, a substantial number of breast cancer patients relapse - and many more experience late treatment effects or are diagnosed with a second cancer. As a consequence, millions of breast cancer survivors find themselves in a post-treatment survivorship period that is largely devoid of active measures that they can take to monitor and prevent recurrence.

Sara asked her oncologist, and co-leader of the Breast Cancer Research Program, Angela DeMichele, MD, MSCE, what she could do to help propel breast cancer recurrence research forward.

“I got to know Dr. DeMichele particularly well during my chemotherapy. She was such a big help and provided so much reassurance during the unknowns surrounding my treatment,” Sara explained.

Forming the 2-PREVENT Translational Center of Excellence

“When I learned that the causes and treatment of recurrence was something that she was hoping to change through research, my husband and I were glad to be able to support this important work.”

The Gowings generously established the Breast Cancer Recurrence Program in support of the 2-PREVENT Translational Centers of Excellence (TCE) at the Abramson Cancer Center, co-led by Dr. DeMichele and Lewis Chodosh, MD, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Cancer Biology, Perelman School of Medicine. Translational Centers of Excellence are virtual centers that bring the most brilliant minds across Penn’s medical campus together, to solve cancer’s most complex challenges.

The 2-PREVENT TCE focuses on the microscopic cells that are left in the body after cancer treatment—rather than the original tumor—and researches how they relate to the original tumor, where they live, how they grow and how they relate to the relapsed tumor. That information is then used to develop clinical trials focused on innovative, targeted therapies.

These cross-disciplinary teams are already making great progress, helping deliver novel, personalized cancer care to cancer patients.

Sara has joined the ranks of the Abramson Cancer Center’s brave patients, advocates, and philanthropists who have formed a community of support in the fight to advance research that offers better options and therapies for women diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I am so pleased to be able to support the amazing work being done at the Abramson Cancer Center and know that we will be able to find a cure for breast cancer. Forever.”

For more information on how to support breast cancer recurrence research please contact Laura Ferraiolo at lferr@exchange.upenn.edu or by phone (215) 746-2948, or make a gift online.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Times Article Highlights Research on Universal Screening for BRCA Mutations

The New York Times recently reported on new research findings that suggest all women over 30 be screened for BRCA mutations, regardless of family history. The research was conducted on an Ashkenazi Jewish group in Israel and asserts that some women who tested positive for cancer-causing genetic mutations during random screenings may have higher rates of breast and ovarian cancer even when they have no family history of the disease.

Gene mutations in either BRCA1 or BRCA2 place individuals at higher than average risk for developing certain cancers, most notably breast and ovarian cancer. Inherited mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are rare -- only about 1 in 500 to 1 in 800 individuals have a mutation. However, individuals of Ashkenzi Jewish ancestry have a 1 in 40 chance of carrying a BRCA gene mutation.

Even with recent research, there is still general disagreement about cancer risk in families who have BRCA mutations but no known family history of cancer. Although some now think that all women should be screened, others advise against routine genetic counseling and testing for women whose family history doesn't indicate a risk of harmful mutations. Due to this uncertainty, some women may find themselves facing difficult choices, such as opting for surgery when they may not need to.

Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA at the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center, commented in the article on the psychological and social impact on patients who test positive for BRCA mutations: “These are not trivial,” she said. “They have the potential to cause harm.”

It's worth noting that this research was done in an Ashkenazi Jewish group in Israel and not in a general US population group. We know that Ashkenazi Jews have a much higher chance of carrying a BRCA mutation than those of other ethnic groups.

When to Consider Genetic Counseling

In a family with a significant history of breast and/or ovarian cancer, the first step is to seek genetic counseling with an expert. Genetic counseling will help determine the best approach to testing in your family.

Consider genetic risk evaluation for BRCA testing if:

You or a family member has had:
  • Breast cancer at age 50 or younger
  • Ovarian or fallopian tube cancer at any age
  • Cancer in both breasts
  • Male breast cancer
  • Breast cancer and are of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
You have two or more family members with any of the following cancers:
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian or fallopian tube cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer (at least one diagnosed under age 60)

Educational Events and Resources for Cancer Risk Evaluation and Genetic Screening

Join the Basser Research Center for BRCA, the Program for Jewish Genetic Health and the JCC in Manhattan for Testing for Cancer Risk in the Jewish Population: A Community Conversation on Monday, November 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the JCC in Manhattan.

Amy Harmon, a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist, will moderate a panel of medical experts in a lively discussion about testing for BRCA mutations in the Jewish community. She also will engage the audience in a conversation about the controversial topic of population testing all Ashkenazi Jews for these mutations. Read more information and RSVP online.

As always, you can find information on cancer risk evaluation, BRCA mutations, and the genetic counseling and testing process online at Basser.org
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