University of Pennsylvania Health System

Focus on Cancer

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
nreznik@exchange.upenn.edu 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 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.
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