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.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

SU2C and Raise Money For Cancer Research

On Friday, September 7 at 8 pm ET, celebrities and musicians will come together to build awareness for cancer and raise money for cancer research through the Stand Up 2 Cancer (SU2C) telethon.

100 percent of all public donations from the special will go to cancer research.



Watch the Stand Up 2 Cancer Special

The Stand Up 2 Cancer Special airs Friday, September 7 from 8 to 9 pm ET.

Stand Up 2 Cancer will air on all major networks without commercial interruption. Networks include ABC, NBC, CBS as well as BIO, E!, HBO, MLB Network, Palladia, Showtime TBS, VH1 and STARZ.

About Stand Up 2 Cancer

Founded in 2008, SU2C has raised more than $180 million for innovative cancer research. Since its inception, SU2C has made grants to seven multi-disciplinary “Dream Teams” of researchers as well as to 26 young innovative scientists who are undertaking potentially high-reward projects to end the reign of cancer as a leading cause of death in the world today.

Eighty-five institutions are currently involved, including Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center.

The Penn Medicine SU2C Dream Team

As the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, pancreatic cancer remains one of the most deadly forms of cancer. More than 90 percent of patients die within the first year of diagnosis. Recent advancements have had little impact, and a new approach is desperately needed.

The SU2C Dream Team at Penn is actively researching better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer. Together, members of the Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team working to translate scientific breakthroughs into new treatment options faster than ever before. Their research focuses on developing tests using advanced imaging technology to understand pancreatic cancer cells and developing new, personalized pancreatic cancer treatments based on their research.

Members of the Pancreatic Cancer SU2C Dream Team at Penn Medicine

Pancreatic cancer researchers at Penn Medicine are at the forefront of developing new, personalized approaches to pancreatic cancer treatment.

These Penn clinicians and researchers are part of the SU2C Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team.

Chi Van Dang, MD, PhD
Professor of Medicine, Hematology/Oncology
Director, Abramson Cancer Center
Director, Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute

Jeffrey A. Drebin, MD, PhD, FACS
John Rhea Barton Professor of Surgery
Chairman, Department of Surgery

Hank Kung, PhD
Professor of Radiology and Pharmacology
Department of Radiology
Perelman School of Medicine

Peter J. O’Dwyer, MBBCh, MD
Professor of Medicine, Hematology/Oncology
Perelman School of Medicine

Watch Stand Up 2 Cancer and Join the Conversation

Watch Stand Up 2 Cancer Friday, September 7 at 8 pm ET.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Focus On Brain Cancer: A Free Conference for Adults with Brain Cancer

The Focus On Brain Cancer: Discovery to Recovery conference is sponsored by the Abramson Cancer Center and is held in conjunction with the Focus On Brain Cancer - Discovery to Recovery for Parents of Children with Brain Cancer.

The Focus On Brain Cancer conference is for adults who are newly diagnosed, in treatment of survivors of brain cancer. At this conference, adults with brain cancer will gain knowledge and take action by learning important information from faculty at Penn Medicine. Patients will also be able to network with other adults who have brain cancer.

Who Should Attend?

  • Patients who are newly diagnosed, currently in treatment or long-term brain cancer survivors
  • Family members, caregivers or healthcare professionals

Brain Tumor Conference Details

Date: Friday, September 21, 2012
Time: 8 am - 3 pm EDT
Location: Hilton Hotel, 4200 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA

Register for the conference here.

About Penn's Brain Tumor Center

Penn's Brain Tumor Center exists to develop the cures, deliver the treatments, and offer the hope of a life fulfilled.

Treatments are quickly brought to the bedside by world-class physicians who team with researchers to advance medical science. Cutting-edge technology provides patients with the most-accurate diagnoses, while state-of-the-art facilities create a patient-friendly, healing environment.

Learn more about brain cancer treatment in Philadelphia.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What Ocular Melanoma - Melanoma in the Eye?

Christine Wilson, cancer survivor, shares her experiences from the Abramson Cancer Center’s 2012 Focus On Melanoma Conference In this blog, she recaps the conference. You can view the conference in its entirety, including presentations here.

What is Ocular Melanoma?

There are 2500 new cases a year of ocular, or uveal melanomas. These rare tumors occur in the pigmented portions of the eye, which include the iris, and choroid and ciliary body, together called the uvea.

Ocular melanoma is more common in fair-skinned, blue-eyed people.

Ocular melanomas that affect the iris are very visible and are generally detected early. However, we can't see our own uvea. As a result, these tumors are often found during routine eye examinations or when a person notices a strange dark spot in their vision.

Ocular melanomas are slow growing tumors, and the goal of therapy is usually to treat them effectively while preserving vision. Primary treatment is a form or radiation therapy using a flap technique or protons. New information about the genetic mutations found in ocular melanomas has opened the doors to treating metastatic disease with the same targeted therapies used to treat other melanomas.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Reiki For Cancer Patients- Dispelling Common Reiki Myths

Many people choose Reiki to complement their cancer treatment. Reiki for cancer involves the light tough of a Reiki caregiver to provide relief from cancer treatment. 

Reiki for Cancer
Author Kim Fleisher
Kimberly Fleisher, MEd and Reiki Master, is the founder and director of The Reiki School + Clinic in Philadelphia and Collingswood, NJ. She has been practicing Reiki since 1995. Kim specializes in Reiki education, particularly in the healthcare field and is the team leader for Penn Medicine's Volunteer Reiki Project, providing Reiki sessions to patients receiving cancer treatment.

In my last blog post about Reiki for cancer patients, I explored the basics of Reiki practice, including potential benefits of receiving Reiki sessions during cancer treatment. In this post, I’d like to address some of the concerns patients have expressed about the practice and dispel some common Reiki myths.

Concern #1: Reiki practice can interfere with cancer treatment.

In online blogs and forums, I have heard the recommendation that patients should refrain from receiving Reiki sessions while receiving cancer treatment. This concern comes from the theory that if Reiki sessions promote healing, they might do so indiscriminately, promoting the health and growth of cancer cells at the expense of a patient’s overall wellbeing.

In my experience:
Reiki practice is balancing to the whole system. It is not diagnostic and doesn’t target treatment of specific symptoms. In my 17 years of Reiki practice I have not received report of a session conflicting with a cancer treatment plan. There is no evidence that Reiki practice causes harm. We’ve given over 4000 sessions to cancer patients at Penn, soliciting feedback from both patients and health care providers, and the response is exceedingly positive.

Concern #2: Reiki practitioners impose their faith or beliefs on you during a session.

Patients with deeply held religious convictions or who are atheists or agnostics sometimes worry that by receiving a Reiki treatment, they are opening themselves up to the spiritual beliefs of their practitioner and that those beliefs may conflict with their own.

In my experience:
It is not in a Reiki practitioner’s scope of practice to become a client’s spiritual, psychological or medical advisor. They shouldn’t offer a prescription for how to live your life, ask you to change your diet or question your worldview in any way. During sessions at Penn, Reiki practitioners are not trained to pray for you or to “think about” something in particular to make the practice work. Reiki is a practice, facilitated mainly through light touch; it’s not a philosophy or religion. Each recipient’s experience of the practice is unique. After a session it’s common for people to report a profound sense of connection to their own faith or spirituality, as well as increased feelings of peace and wellbeing, however, a practitioner doesn’t try or “intend” to make those things happen. If you are seeking a Reiki professional, question their style of practice. You want to make sure they are coming from a non-diagnostic, non-prescriptive or invasive perspective.

Concern #3: You have to believe in Reiki for it to work.

Some people have equated Reiki with faith healing, suggesting that for a Reiki session to provide benefits, the recipient must have special beliefs—that it is their own faith in the power of Reiki that allows it to work.

In my experience:
As I mentioned in the previous section, Reiki practice does not require the recipient to believe anything. I’ve noticed that some of my most skeptical clients have had great sessions. A patient does need to be willing to receive- a credible practitioner would never coerce you into getting a session or give you one without your consent. Belief, however, is not a part of Reiki practice. You can try Reiki practice the same way you might try anything new, and see for yourself if you experience a benefit.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Exercise and Lymphedema--Clearing Up the Misconceptions

Christine Wilson, cancer survivor, shares her experiences from the Abramson Cancer Center’s 2012 Focus On Melanoma Conference In this blog, she recaps the conference. You can view the conference in its entirety, including presentations here.

In 2010, Katie Schmitz, PhD, FACSM, associate professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, and a group of her colleagues published a study that changed how patients and doctors think about exercise and lymphedema in cancer patients.

Dr. Schmitz's Physical Activity and Lymphedema (PAL) study demonstrated that a slow, gradual, supervised program of weight lifting not only didn't make lymphedema worse in women who either had the condition or were at risk for it following treatment for breast cancer, it actually had measurable benefits.

These benefits were measured in terms of the ability of patients to function and their overall quality of life. For patients with lymphedema, the risk of flare-ups for patients on the exercise program was reduced by 50%, and for those patients at highest risk for developing lymphedema (those who had five or more nodes removed from their axilla), the expected incidence of lymphedema was 90% less than expected.

Until Dr. Schmitz's data was published, it was standard procedure to tell patients at risk of lymphedema to rest and avoid any kind of activity with the affected arm.

Dr. Schmitz doesn't mince her words. Exercise is important for everyone, including cancer patients. For cancer patients, to be safe and effective, it needs to be done in what she calls a "rehab" mode, meaning that it tailored to the individual needs and abilities and aimed at rebuilding or regaining lost conditioning.

Now, Dr. Schmitz is extending to her work to patients with other types of cancer and those at risk for lower extremity lymphedema, which often occurs in melanoma patients. Her LEG-UP Pilot study is recruiting patients to assess whether the same kind of exercise program is safe and effective for this group. Preliminary results demonstrate that this program works for lower extremity lymphedema as well, with participants experiencing increased strength, increased capacity to walk and no worsening of their condition.

Conditioning and deconditioning are the keys to treatment. When we have cancer and undergo treatment, it is normal to lose some level of strength and flexibility. The disease and its treatment, along with the emotional challenges that are part of the experience, can all lead to a body that is weaker, less able to respond to stress or resist infection and inflammation. The right kind of exercise rebuilds that strength, restores function and enhances overall health and the sense of well being.

Dr. Schmitz's advice to cancer patients, including those who are at risk for or have lymphedema: Find a supervised exercise program that works for you. Go slowly and gradually. Be evaluated on a regular basis by a physical therapist who is knowledgeable about cancer, and keep moving.

If you are concerned about lymphedema following cancer treatment, watch our new video,
"Cancer-related Lymphedema: What You Need to Know.” This video guide features experts from the Abramson Cancer Center and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, recognized as one of the nation's best and most comprehensive lymphedema treatment programs.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cancer-fighting Recipe: Walnut and Cucumber Gazpacho

This is a refreshing recipe for the summer using garden fresh cucumbers, parsley and mint.  Even though the recipe calls for English cucumbers, feel free to use locally grown cucumbers if they are in season.

Taste a slice first to determine if the cucumber needs to be peeled and seeded. The recipe calls for the English variety as the skin and seeds are less bitter. This is a very high fiber, high fluid and low calorie vegetable to enjoy.

Parlsey is usually known as a garnish but it is also vitamin rich and helps with breath and to cleanse the palate.

Mint aids digestion, and is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

Walnuts are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, a precursor to vitamin E called gamma tochopherol and may be beneficial for sleep as a source of melatonin.

This soup is more of a meal than a side dish. This fat level seems high but it is a healthy monounsaturated fat. If you choose to reduce the fat, add ½ cup of chopped walnuts.

Walnut and Cucumber Gazpacho

Serves 8 (1 cup)


  • 4 English cucumbers, roughly chopped
  • ½ bunch, parsley
  • ½ bunch mint
  • 1 bunch scallions, roughly chopped
  • ½ small red onion, peeled
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup champagne vinegar
  • 6 ounces plain yogurt
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 cup ice
  • Salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste


Salt the cucumbers and let sit for one hour. Drain off liquid. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Serve in a chilled bowl, and garnish, if desired with mint or parsley.

Nutrition information

Calories: 275; Total fat: 23 gm.; Saturated fat: 3 gm.; Sodium: 30 mg.: Total carbs: 14 gm.; Fiber: 3 gm.; Sugar 6 gm.; Protein: 6 gm.

Source: 101 Foods That Could Save your Life! By Daniel Grotto, RD, LDN

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Radiation Therapy for Lung Cancer

Stephen Hahn, MD
Stephen Hahn, MD,  is chair and professor of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is board certified in radiation oncology, medical oncology, and internal medicine and is internationally renowned for his work in photodynamic therapy (PDT).

Dr. Hahn recently answered a series of questions related to lung cancer and radiation therapy for

Why is spot radiation so frowned upon in advanced non-small cell lung cancer?

This is a good question and I am assuming by ‘spot radiation’ you mean very focused radiation to a tumor (what radiation oncologists refer to as stereotactic body radiotherapy or SBRT). SBRT is a highly effective and safe treatment for early stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) when the cancer is small and surrounded by normal lung.

In patients with advanced NSCLC, the tumors are typically larger and more centrally located toward the middle of the chest. When cancers get bigger and are located near the middle of the chest, we are limited in the dose that we can deliver because of the risk of serious side effects.

Therefore, often in patients with advanced NSCLC, SBRT could be unsafe. Of course, every patient is different and therefore, every patient should be evaluated by a qualified radiation oncologist who has experience in using SBRT.

What factors determine if radiation treatment is recommended instead of surgery for stage 1 and 2 lung cancer?

The biggest determining factor is whether surgery is safe for a patient.

The safety of surgery is determined by a thoracic surgeon often in collaboration with the patient’s primary care doctor. More and more patients are electing to receive radiation (typically stereotactic radiation) for early stage lung cancer rather than surgery.

Studies are being performed now to determine if radiation should be considered a routine treatment for early stage lung cancer.

How is radiation adjusted accordingly to cause maximum damage to cancer cells while keeping normal tissue within its tolerance?

There are a couple of ways that we maximize radiation dose to the tumor and minimize dose to the normal tissues.

First, radiation oncologists have a lot of experience with understanding the doses that are required to control tumors and the doses that could cause side effects. Therefore, most treatment regimens are designed with these doses in mind.

Second, we use advanced imaging to help guide the treatments. At Penn Medicine, we have CT scans, MRI scans and PET CT to help determine exactly where the tumor is and exactly where the normal tissues are. Not only do we use these advanced forms of imaging to identify tumor and normal tissue, but we also use advanced imaging during the treatment to ensure that the radiation is delivered as precisely as possible.

Third, it is very important that experience physicians and staff use the best devices to keep the patient in the same position every day for treatment. These are typically casts that the patient is able to comfortably lie in on a daily basis.

Fourth, we select the correct type of radiation for the patient’s type of cancer and location. At Penn Medicine, we can choose among advanced conventional types of radiation such as SBRT and intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) or proton therapy. Proton therapy is a type of radiation beam that can allow a physician to reduce the dose that is delivered to normal tissues compared to conventional radiation therapy. It is a highly precise form of radiation.

We are particularly enthusiastic about the use of proton therapy for lung cancer patients and are currently evaluating its use in this setting.

How do you measure if the radiation treatment is working for lung cancer?
Radiation therapy works over a period of time after the radiation is delivered. We obtain scans typically three and six months after a course of radiation to look for shrinkage and/or disappearance of the tumor.

The scans can be regular CT scans of the chest or a PET CT scan.

A PET CT scan often gives us more information about a patient’s response to treatment. It can be difficult to distinguish treatment-related changes in the lung which are benign and related to the effects of radiation on lung versus tumor.

Therefore, such studies should be carefully evaluated by experienced radiologists and radiation oncologists.

What potential issues should a lung cancer patient going through radiation treatment look for?

A patient should always let his doctor know when there are changes in symptoms that he or she is concerned about. When we treat the chest with radiation, a patient would want to watch out for fatigue, skin redness on the chest, and sore swallowing. Sore swallowing is more common when radiation is combined with chemotherapy.

After radiation, there are side effects that can occur.

Radiation pneumonia can occur one to three months after treatment is complete and can cause cough, fever, and shortness of breath. Other much less common late side effects include damage to the heart, thyroid gland, and spinal cord. Side effects from treatment are typically related to the site of treatment, the doses used and the amount of normal tissue in the radiation field.

An experienced radiation oncologist with the most advanced equipment will design the radiation fields to maximize the doses to the tumor and minimize the doses to the normal tissues such as the lung, heart and spinal cord.

How does radiation therapy help as a palliative treatment for advanced lung cancer?
Radiation therapy is a highly effective treatment for patients who need palliation.

Some examples include the treatment of pain if the cancer has spread to the bones, reducing any bleeding that occurs when patient’s cough, and treatment of symptoms related to cancer that has spread to the brain.

The course of such treatment typically occurs over one to three weeks and the side effects are mild.

Learn about Treatment for Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma in Philadelphia

At Penn's Abramson Cancer Center, patients with lung cancer have access to every lung cancer and mesothelioma treatment option available, provided by nationally recognized cancer experts.

Penn's expert care and leading-edge treatments give patients with lung cancer the best chance of an excellent outcome.

Have questions about lung cancer treatments offered at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fox 29’s Dr. Mike Cirigliano Tells the Audience to Focus on Staying Healthy

Christine Wilson, cancer survivor, shares her experiences from the Abramson Cancer Center’s 2012 Focus On Melanoma Conference In this blog, she recaps the conference. You can view the conference in its entirety, including presentations here.

In addition to running a very busy internal medicine practice at the University of Pennsylvania, Mike Cirigliano, MD, also appears regularly on Fox 29 Philadelphia as Dr. Mike.

At a recent Focus On Melanoma conference, he added his strong voice to the growing sentiment that the best approach to a better health care system is a healthier lifestyle for most Americans.

Dr. Mike kept it simple, and often humorous, in his talk. He pointed to not smoking, getting enough sleep, getting exercise, and maintaining a normal body weight as the most effective and obvious ways to stay healthy, feel good and reduce health care costs.

The chronic diseases that negatively impact our health and raise our health care costs are all heavily impacted by our behaviors. These include diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

Dr. Mike urged people to eat more fruits and vegetables, and fewer calories overall, and to avoid supplements, hormones and pills as much as possible.

He also noted the growing body of evidence that getting adequate sleep, eight hours a night, is critical to maintaining good health, and avoiding weight gain.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Does Your Shopping Cart Make The Grade?

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

Smartphone Apps for Nutrition

I was recently introduced to phone app called Fooducate.

Fooducate is a smart phone app, developed by team of dietitians and concerned parents. It grades food items based on their nutritional content and ingredients.
Here’s how it works:
  1. Install the app. You can download it for free from the App Store for iPhone and Android.
  2. Scan the barcode or SKU of the item for which you want more information.
  3. Fooducate shows you the nutritional content of the food and grades the food based on its value.
  4. Fooducate can suggest healthier alternatives if your food’s grade does not score well.

I eagerly started scanning the SKU numbers of my favorite products. I felt like I was creating a wedding or baby registry in a department store!

To my dismay many of my favorite snack foods like crackers and cookies did not receive an “A.” And when I looked for alternatives with the app’s specially designed feature, it suggested an apple, which tastes nothing like my beloved animal crackers!

It took a few more tries before I finally realized that I don’t need an app to eat better. I realized that if I wanted an “A” diet, I needed to buy less food that comes with a SKU number and more food that comes in its “natural” packaging or none at all like oranges, spinach, fish, dried grains or legumes, for example. Despite learning this valuable lesson this free app is still a ton of fun to use!

If you want to see how your diet measures up and you have a smart phone or the Internet check out: Fooducate or

Disclaimer: Penn Medicine does not endorse any particular application, and is not affiliated with Fooducate. This blog post is meant to be educational.

Monday, August 6, 2012

10 Things to Know About Melanoma

  1. One in 50 Americans will develop a melanoma at some time in their lives.
  2. People at high risk are those with fair skin, who have many moles, especially atypical nevi, who have had a first degree relative with melanoma, or have a personal history of the disease, and who have chronic sun exposure either through their work or recreational activities.
  3. 88% of melanomas are found by patients or their caregivers, but doctors find melanomas at an earlier, thinner stage. Only one in four people at risk for melanoma have a yearly skin examination.
  4. The most common site for melanomas in young men in on the trunk, in young women, it is on the legs. As people age, the most common sites become those that have the most exposure to the sun.
  5. You should examine your skin regularly and look for moles that are asymmetric, have irregular borders, have multiple colors within their boundaries, that are larger in diameter than others on your body. Doctors call this looking for the "ugly duckling."
  6. The most important thing to be aware of when you examine your skin is any change in the size, color or elevation of any mole.
  7. People who have many moles should not rely on either their own memory, or their doctors. They should have Total Body Photography which provides a reliable, pictorial frame of reference to note any changes or the appearance of new moles that might be melanomas.
  8. The single best way to reduce your risk of melanoma is to avoid exposure to the sun (and that means tanning booths as well.)
  9. After avoiding exposure to the sun, the best ways to protect yourself are with clothing that blocks the ultraviolet rays and with sunscreen, but...
  10. To be effective, sunscreen must be labeled “broad spectrum” and have an SPF of 15. (The value of anything over 15 has not been established.) It must also be applied correctly to all exposed body parts and repeated on a regular basis.
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