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.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Living with a BRCA Mutation

Penn Health for Women Newsletter reports on Sandy Cohen’s experience living with a BRCA mutation and the Basser Research Center for BRCA.

Like too many women, Sandy Cohen grew up with breast cancer in her family. “My grandmother died of breast cancer in her thirties. Consequently, my mother was always worried she’d  develop the disease herself,” says the Lafayette Hill resident. When Sandy’s mother did develop breast cancer at 50 and passed away four years later, Sandy became what she calls “obsessed” with breast cancer too.

High Fiber Diet Could Slow Prostate Cancer

Do you get enough fiber in your diet?

Fiber has many nutritional benefits including lower blood cholesterol levels, better blood sugar control, and bowel regularity.

But a recent study published in the journal, Cancer Prevention Research, found in mice models, a diet high in fiber can actually slow the progression of prostate cancer.

The article, first published in December 2012, highlights the ability of a specific compound found in fiber called IP6 to prevent the progression of prostate cancer in mice.

IP6 is found in high-fiber diets, and it was found that it prevented new blood vessels from being formed. No new blood vessels meant the prostate cancer couldn’t get the energy it needed to spread.

Cancer researchers think the study in mouse models may translate into suppressing growth and progression in humans.

The benefits of fiber go beyond prostate cancer, however. Studies have also shown fiber to be linked to lower risk for colon and rectal cancers.

How to Get More Fiber in Your Diet

Here are some tips for adding more fiber to your diet.
  • Add more fiber gradually, a week or two at a time. Adding fiber too quickly can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating and gas.
  • Spread out your fiber intake throughout the day rather than loading up in one sitting.
  • Eat whole fruits instead of juice.
  • Use beans as a source of both fiber and protein.
  • Make all of your grains whole grains. Look for cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving and breads and crackers with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Breast cancer forum to stress BRCA genetic testing for Ashkenazi women

The Jewish Chronicle reports on the benefits of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic screenings for members of the Jewish community. Highlighting a patient story, the article discuses important factors such as a family history of breast and ovarian cancers.

Read the story in full here, and find out more at The Basser Research Center for BRCA,
official webpage.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Breastfeeding and Decreased Risk of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is cancer that forms in tissues of the ovary (one of a pair of female reproductive glands in which the ova, or eggs, are formed). Most ovarian cancers are either ovarian epithelial carcinomas (cancer that begins in the cells on the surface of the ovary) or malignant germ cell tumors (cancer that begins in egg cells).

While there is no cure for ovarian cancer yet, Penn Medicine is at the forefront of discovering new treatments for ovarian cancer, and learning about a woman's risk for developing ovarian cancer through research at the Basser Research Center for BRCA 1 and 2.

Pregnancy, Breastfeeding Linked To Decreased Risk of Ovarian Cancer

There are some ways women can decrease their risk of ovarian cancer. One of those ways is through pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding are linked to a decreased risk of ovarian cancer.

That is because ovulation stops or occurs less often in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Some experts believe that women who ovulate less often have a decreased risk of ovarian cancer.

In fact, Australian researchers conducted a study involving 493 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer and compared them with 472 healthy volunteers of similar age. Each was asked how many children they had and for how long they breastfed each one, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports.

The results showed those who breastfed a child for at least 13 months were 63 percent less likely to develop a tumor than those who did so for less than seven months.

Mothers who had three children and breastfed for a total of 31 months or more were found to cut their chances of ovarian tumors by 91 percent. This was compared to those feeding naturally for a total of under 10 months.

Do You Know Your Risk?

Learn your risk for cancer with the What’s My Risk tool from Oncolink.

What’s My Risk? is a comprehensive program designed to help you learn about factors that determine your personal risk of many types of cancer and what they can do to decrease that risk.

Monday, January 28, 2013

HPV and Cervical Cancer

Vaccines are now available that protect against four major types of HPV, including the two types that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and two types that cause about 90 percent of genital warts.

The HPV vaccine is expected to be long-lasting, but because the vaccine does not protect against all HPV types that cause cervical cancer vaccinated women still need cervical cancer screening (Pap tests and HPV tests). The vaccine does prevent HPV, but does not protect against HPV exposure before vaccination. The HPV vaccine is not a cure for HPV.

Condoms do not protect completely against HPV because they don't cover all of the potential HPV-infected areas of the body. However, condoms do provide some protection against HPV, and they protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Although penetrative intercourse is not necessary to get and spread HPV women can do the following to decrease their risk of cervical cancer:
  • Stay up-to-date with recommended paps and exams.
  • Avoid smoking
  • Avoid early onset of sexual activity and sexual activity with people who have had several sexual partners.
  • Use condoms
  • Try to maintain a healthy immune system
  • Limit the amount of sexual partners
Women may avoid HPV, and therefore prevent cervical cancer, by waiting to have sex until they are older and limiting the number of sexual partners. They should also avoid having sex with anyone who has had multiple sexual partners.

Learn more about cervical cancer treatment at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Learn more about the Jordan Center for Gynecologic Cancer.

Learn more about the MacDonald Women’s Cancer Risk Evaluation Center.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cervical Cancer Awareness: What is a Colposcopy?

January is cervical cancer awareness month. In this blog post, we discuss "What is a colposcopy?" and why a colposcopy may be performed.

What is a colposcopy?

For women with a history of abnormal pap tests, a colposcopy may be performed to determine the cause of the abnormal test.

A colposcopy is an in-office procedure in which your doctor uses a special magnifying device to look at your vulva, vagina, and cervix.

During the colposcopy, your doctor may take a sample of the cervix or from the inside of the opening of the cervix. This is called a biopsy, and it will be looked at under a microscope to determine if the cells are cancerous.

Why get a colposcopy?

There are a few reasons your doctor may perform a colposcopy. 

He or she may look at the cervix for problem areas when a Pap test was abnormal. If an area of abnormal tissue is found during colposcopy, a cervical biopsy or a biopsy from inside the opening of the cervix (endocervical canal) is usually done.

A colposcopy may be used to check a sore or other problem (such as genital warts) found on or around the vagina and cervix.

Finally, he or she may use a colposcopy to look at the cervix for problem areas if an HPV test shows a high-risk type of HPV is present.

Meet Cervical Cancer Specialists at Penn

Learn more about cervical cancer, and cervical cancer treatment at Penn.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Patient Story: The End of Cancer Treatment and Penn Proton Therapy

Tracy Lautenbach, MSW, LCSW, OSW, is the social work team leader for radiation oncology at Penn. In this article, she discusses what happens when cancer treatment ends.

The time of diagnosis is often a time of shock or described as feeling you’re having an “out of body experience." During treatment you may feel you will never get through it and are often plugging along through the thick of it. Then comes the end of treatment where one can often feel a sense of overall abandonment.

Cancer treatment may have come to an end however the cancer “experience” has not. It is not over. For many patients this is the time there is a resurgence of fear.

You have recuperated and now the recovery stage begins.

Patients are left to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Being around people who listen and validate your fears and not dismiss your fears is the essence of the support that is needed at this time.

In this recent post on her blog, Chemo in Louboutins, by cancer survivor Susan Schwartz, she writes about what it’s like to complete cancer treatment. And the feelings that come with ending this chapter in her life.

No Excuses Now

Susan Schwartz
I don’t know why I am finding this last posting so hard to write. It should be easy. I’m done treatment. The End.

Penn proton therapy came and went without chemo or Louboutins, so I feel kind of like a fraud writing about it. Every day I got up super early, threw on black leggings and white sneakers and went to my session. I did walk back from treatment to my parent’s apartment (almost 2 miles)…still that was no excuse for ugly footware. Mr. Louboutin designs sneakers –of which, sadly, I have none. It would have been

New Year’s is usually thought of as a time to start anew (thus, the NEW in New Year’s) with projects and plans and resolutions. I just want to go back to April 2012 – home from holiday, kissed by the southwest sun of Arizona and the Grand Canyon, ready to go back to work. A time when I was clueless about what was to come.

I return to London this next week to begin the process of “getting back to normal. This involves trying to convince myself that I look like a middle-aged Jean Seberg and the weight I gained will slough off. After 4 weeks, radiation has only left me with a slight sore throat and some “sun” burned skin around my chest.

“All this will be healed soon,” promised my doctors.

Did wearing Louboutins make me feel and look glamorous? Yes, it did. Am I still filled with fear even now that I am going home? Yes and I am certain I will always feel that way.

Still there is one thing I can guarantee – no more dust covered Louboutins waiting for an invitation to be worn.

The Best of the Goods:

There are some people and things that deserve special recognition:
The SLS Support Team

I could not have gone through this and come out the other side without all of you…the parents, boyfriend, friends, those who read and commented on this blog
The SLS Medical Team
Everyone at HUP (Hospital of U of Penn), especially the chemo nurses, proton 4 ladies, and the doctors who are trying to cure me and their teams.
Steve Jobs and Skype
Without Facetime, Skype and every other software and/or device that let me keep one foot in the UK – allowing me to speak to my friends and watch Strictly Come Dancing at the same time!
Your Prayers, Hopes and Well-Wishes
These I pass along to the people I met at the Proton Center…who are still going through treatment.

For those of you who do not know me personally and have questions about how I am and what I am doing – you can always check out Best Bits Worldwide.

Learn more about Penn Proton Therapy.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

HPV and Head and Neck Cancer

January is cervical cancer awareness month. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States, and also a risk factor for cervical cancer. In this blog post, we discuss a new type of cancer associated with HPV- head and neck cancer. 

There are over 100 types of HPV, and more than 40 strains that can infect the genital areas of men and women, as well as the mouth and throat. HPV is passed through genital contact through vaginal and anal sex, and can also be passed through oral sex.

HPV and Head and Neck Cancer

The connection you should know about

In recent years, the human papilloma virus (HPV) has been linked to cervical, anus and skin cancers.

“HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States,” says Ann Honebrink, MD, associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Penn. “Even without showing symptoms of HPV, people can transmit the virus and barrier methods like condoms don’t work as well to prevent HPV transmission as they do other infections like HIV.”

While HPV can cause symptoms, a person can go for years without ever knowing they have the virus. That, along with the ability of the HPV virus to remain present in a person for a long time, make this virus so prevalent — people continue to spread the virus through sexual contact without knowing they carry the virus. In most cases, the body fights off HPV naturally and eventually the virus is cleared. However, when the body cannot fight off HPV, the virus can persist and also can trigger cellular changes that may lead to cancer.

“Some types of HPV must be present in order for a women to develop squamous cell cancer of the cervix, the most common type of cervical cancer,” says Dr. Honebrink.

Oral cancer – HPV’s new connection
While HPV has most been linked to cervical, anus and skin cancers, recent studies suggest the same strain of HPV can also cause oropharyngeal (head and neck) cancer.

“We are seeing more cancer located at the base of the tongue and in the tonsils,” says Jason Newman, MD, assistant professor of otorhinolaryngology, and head and neck surgeon at Pennsylvania Hospital.

Oropharyngeal cancer develops in the part of the throat including the back of the tongue, back part of the roof of the mouth, the tonsils, and the side and back wall of the throat.

“Historically, people who get head and neck cancer are older – over 70 – and have been heavy smokers or drinkers,” says Dr. Newman. “But we are seeing an increase in young, otherwise healthy men and women who develop head and neck cancer related to the HPV virus.”

Treatment for head and neck cancer may include transoral robotic surgery (TORS). TORS is the world’s first group of minimally invasive robotic surgery techniques enabling surgeons to remove tumors of the mouth and throat. This revolutionary breakthrough results in shorter, virtually scarless head and neck surgery. TORS is performed through the patient’s mouth and provides unprecedented access to the small and often difficult-to-reach areas of the mouth and throat.

Surgeons at Penn Medicine created da Vinci TransOral Robotic Surgery (TORS) in 2005. The adoption of this highly advanced robotics technique demonstrates Penn Medicine’s commitment to providing world-class health care.

“It’s important to know the signs of head and neck cancer, and to not ignore symptoms that do not go away,” says Dr. Newman. “Treatment options and outcomes improve greatly when cancer is found early.”

Preventing HPV

The good news is that there is protection for both girls and boys who have not yet encountered the HPV virus. There are two FDA approved HPV vaccines on the market: Gardasil and Cervarix.

Gardasil protects against four major types of HPV; HPV 16 and 18, the two types that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer and HPV 6 and 11 which cause 90 percent of genital warts.
Cervarix protects against HPV 16 and 18.

HPV vaccines are given as three shots to protect against HPV infection and HPV-related diseases, and they offer the greatest health benefits to individuals who receive all three doses before having any type of sexual activity. This is why the HPV vaccination is recommended for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years.

Facts about HPV

  • Nearly 20 million people in the United States are infected with HPV.
  • 6.2 million Americans become infected each year with more than 50 percent of sexually active men and women infected with HPV at some time in their lives.
  • Most HPV infections do not cause any symptoms and go away on their own.
  • HPV can cause genital warts and warts in the oral and upper respiratory tract in both men and women.
There is no treatment for an HPV infection, but many of the conditions it causes can be treated.

Learn more about the latest HPV vaccine recommendations, and treatment for head and neck cancer at Penn.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

About A Cervical Cancer Diagnosis

January is cervical cancer awareness month.

According to National Cancer Institute, there were more than 12,000 women who received a cervical cancer diagnosis last year. Cervical cancer develops in the cervix, the narrow outer end of the uterus that extends into the vagina. When diagnosed early, cervical cancer is generally curable and patients have an excellent chance of recovery. Penn Medicine physicians and scientists are working together to develop new ways to diagnose and treat cervical cancer.

Types of Cervical Cancer

There are two types of cervical cancer:
  • Squamous cell carcinoma. The most common type of cervical cancer consisting of flat, thin cells called squamous cells that cover the surface of the cervix.
  • Adenocarcinoma. Develops in the mucus-producing glands of the endocervix or opening to the uterus.

About a Cervical Cancer Diagnosis

Women with early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms. Symptoms often do not begin until the cancer becomes invasive and grows into nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptoms are:
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after sex (vaginal intercourse), bleeding after menopause, bleeding and spotting between periods, and having (menstrual) periods that are longer or heavier than usual. Bleeding after douching or after a pelvic exam may also occur.
  • An unusual discharge from the vagina -- the discharge may contain some blood and may occur between your periods or after menopause.
  • Pain during intercourse.
A cervical cancer diagnosis can only be made after a biopsy. If a biopsy shows that cancer is present, your doctor may order certain tests to see how far the cancer has spread.

Staging Cervical Cancer

In order to guide treatment and offer some insight into prognosis, cervical cancer is staged into different groups. There are a few different staging systems, but the most popular one for cervical cancer is the FIGO system (International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians). The FIGO system is a clinical staging system which means that the cancer is staged by a doctor's physical examination and the results of a biopsy. The FIGO staging system is for invasive cervical cancers, not pre-cancerous lesions.

A simplified version of the FIGO staging system is:

Stage IA - microscopic cancer confined to the cervix
Stage IB - cancer visible by the naked eye confined to the cervix
Stage II - cervical cancer invading beyond the uterus but not to the pelvic wall or lower 1/3 of the vagina
Stage III - cervical cancer invading to the pelvic wall and/or lower 1/3 of the vagina and/or causing a non-functioning kidney
Stage IVA - cervical cancer that invades the bladder or rectum, or extends beyond the pelvis
Stage IVB - distant metastases (spread to other areas of the body such as the lung or liver)

Cervical Cancer and HPV

About half of the women diagnosed with cervical cancer are between the ages of 35 and 55. The majority of cases are caused by exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted disease. HPV affects up to 80 percent of females and males in their lifetime. Many cases of HPV clear on their own, but certain types of HPV can cause cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancer in females.

Cervical cancer treatment at Penn Medicine is provided by the Jordan Center for Gynecologic Cancers. As part of Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, the Jordan Center takes a multidisciplinary approach to care, combining the expertise of Abramson Cancer physicians and scientists from the Penn’s division of gynecologic oncology, the Joan Karnell Cancer Center and the Penn Ovarian Cancer Research Center.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Miss America Contestant Plans Double Mastectomy

Miss America contestant Allyn Rose plans to undergo a double mastectomy now that her participation in the 2013 Miss America competition is over. The 24-year-old says her mother battled breast cancer as a 27-year-old, and then again at 47. Her mother eventually died from breast cancer, as did her grandmother and aunt. Rose’s story highlights the challenge that women face in considering hereditary cancer risk.

Increasingly, women at high risk for breast cancer are choosing prophylactic mastectomy to greatly reduce their chance of getting breast cancer. While prophylactic mastectomy stories often make the front page, many women at increased risk for breast cancer choose other methods of managing their risk like enhanced breast cancer screening or risk-reducing medications. Jessica Long, CGC, a genetic counselor at Penn’s Basser Research Center for BRCA explains that “this is generally a very personal decision for each woman, even within the same family.”

Cancer Genetic Counseling at Penn

Cancer genetic counseling is an extremely important step in defining one’s cancer risk and considering interventions to address it. Genetic counseling with genetic counselors can help people who are concerned about their family history of cancer by

  • Determining if genetic testing is appropriate for a family
  • Interpreting genetic test results, since mutations in different cancer genes confer different risks
  • Estimating cancer risks based on family history if no gene mutations can be identified

If a gene mutation is identified in a family, then family members can undergo genetic testing for that mutation to learn if they have inherited the increased cancer risk or not. For example, a mother with a BRCA1 mutation has a 50% chance of passing it on to each child. Despite the family history, individuals who do not inherit the mutation are typically at average risk for cancer.

Genetic counselors can also provide information on cancer risk by decade of life, information that can help women decide not just if but when to consider prophylactic surgery or other measures to manage cancer risk. For example, women with mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 have up to a 70 to 80% lifetime risk of breast cancer, but the risk for a BRCA carrier in her 20s to develop breast cancer by age 30 is about 1 to 2%.

Penn Medicine’s Cancer Risk Evaluation Program provides consultation with certified genetic counselors and medical oncologists. The Basser Research Center for BRCA within Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center was founded in May of 2012 to promote research on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes harmful forms of which cause hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome.

Learn more about BRCA and hereditary cancer risk at Penn.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

App for Weight Loss

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.

My 2013 New Year’s Resolution: Make New Friends

Although weight loss and saving money are the among the highest ranking new year’s resolutions, my new year’s resolution, to make new friends may help you achieve your new year’s resolutions too.

The friend that I am referring to is

This is a free web site and mobile app that allows its members to achieve their weight-loss goals by logging their food intake and physical activities. MyFitnessPal’s searchable food database has over 2,352,000 items and their mobile app has the ability to scan bar codes, which makes it easy to log your snacks, even if you are on the go.

In a recent Consumer Reports survey, MyFitnessPal ranked first in satisfaction among 9 do-it-yourself weight loss plans.

Even if weight loss isn’t your goal, perhaps you have resolved to eat healthier or maybe you wonder how your diet stacks up to the recommended Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), MyFitnessPal can help you do that as well.

If you feel like abandoning your salad spinner and sneakers 3 months into 2013, try calling on MyfitnessPal to help you over the post holiday slump.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

BRCA Beat: Inaugural Issue, Winter 2013

Basser’s quarterly e-newsletter reports on Basser opening celebrations and research updates:

Penn's Abramson Cancer Center was pleased to announce the establishment of the Basser Research Center for BRCA in May 2012 and the visionary support of Mindy and Jon Gray. This fall we celebrated the launch of the Basser Research Center for BRCA with more than 400 guests gathering in Philadelphia and New York to honor Penn alumni Mindy and Jon Gray for their generous and transformative gift to establish the Basser Research Center for BRCA.

Read the whole Inaugural Issue Edition here:
BRCA beat eNewsletter

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Focus On Cancer Year in Review: Prostate Cancer and Proton Therapy

2012 was an exciting year for the Abramson Cancer Center. We are featuring blogs featured on the Focus On Cancer blog that highlight cancer treatment breakthroughs, coping tips and ideas, education and inspiration. Today, we are highlighting Bill Barbour, a prostate cancer survivor that had proton therapy for prostate cancer at Penn Medicine.

Always active, Bill didn’t let treatment for prostate cancer slow down his life, or his participation in his favorite activity, cycling. Bill chose to have proton therapy for prostate cancer at Penn in February, 2012, and today he is cancer free.

Watch Bill tell his story about before and after cancer treatment.

Prostate Cancer Treatment with Proton Therapy at Penn

Bill Barbour, 63, of New York, is an avid cyclist who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in May, 2011. Always active, he wasn’t ready to let treatment for prostate cancer slow down his life, or his participation in his favorite activity, cycling. Bill chose to have proton therapy for prostate cancer at Penn in February, 2012, and today he is cancer-free, and looking forward to riding with the Abramson Cancer Center cycling team in the Philadelphia LIVESTRONG challenge this August.

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in May, 2011. Last fall when my doctor recommended I start to consider treatment options for my prostate cancer, I immediately thought about the effects that the popular treatments for prostate cancer may have on my cycling. Cycling plays a significant role in my life, so I sought the advice from a fellow avid cyclist who had undergone treatment for prostate cancer. He related that he wasn’t able to ride for an extended period after his treatment.

My thoughts turned to the negative impact that such a layoff from cycling would have on my physical conditioning. It takes top physical conditioning to ride the distances needed for my frequent group rides and for my daily commute to work. I wanted a treatment option for prostate cancer that would minimize any reduction of my cycling activity, and I began researching various treatments for prostate cancer.

Learning About Proton Therapy

I quickly learned about proton therapy for prostate cancer from the excellent book called You Can Beat Prostate Cancer by Robert Marckini. After reading it, and doing some more research on my own, I felt that proton therapy, was not only as an effective treatment for my prostate cancer, but it was also a treatment that would allow me to maintain my active lifestyle.

Proton treatment at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center within the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine in Philadelphia could not have worked out any better for me.

Through Hosts for Hospitals, I found a gracious family that opened their home in Philadelphia for me during my 8 weeks of proton therapy treatments. I acquired a bike and I was able to ride from my host’s home to my proton therapy sessions at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center in Philadelphia. Thanks to laptop computers and the internet, I was even able to bring my work with me, and never missed a beat.

Not only did proton therapy allow me to avoid a lengthy post-surgery layoff from cycling, I was able to regularly include cycling, something so important to me and my lifestyle, in my routine while undergoing my treatment.

During each ride I realized how fortunate I was to have gone from the prospect of not being able to sit on a bike seat to having the best seat in the house. I rode the scenic Schuykill River Trail, and I never tired of the great views of center city from the South Street Bridge.

Every pedal stroke reminded me that we are truly living in the age of advanced medicine and how important it is for those facing a potentially lifestyle altering treatment decision to consider proton therapy for prostate cancer.

Cancer Information From a Reliable Source

Thank you for a fantastic 2012. The Focus On Cancer blog is committed to provide people with cancer and their caregivers educated information from a reliable source, the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine. Please subscribe to our blog to get updates about new cancer treatments at Penn, credible information from cancer experts at Penn, and inspiration from other people with cancer.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Focus On Cancer Year in Review: Reiki During Cancer Treatment

2012 was an exciting year for the Abramson Cancer Center. We are featuring blogs featured on the Focus On Cancer blog that highlight cancer treatment breakthroughs, coping tips and ideas, education and inspiration. Today, we are highlighting reiki for cancer patients.

For patients undergoing treatment for cancer, the stress can be overwhelming. Finding tools that help you stay calm are invaluable. Reiki expert Kim Fleisher discusses how reiki can help people with cancer.

Reiki During Cancer Treatment

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.

Cancer Information From a Reliable Source

Thank you for a fantastic 2012. The Focus On Cancer blog is committed to provide people with cancer and their caregivers educated information from a reliable source, the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine. Please subscribe to our blog to get updates about new cancer treatments at Penn, credible information from cancer experts at Penn, and inspiration from other people with cancer.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Focus On Cancer Year in Review: Helping Friends with Cancer

2012 was an exciting year for the Abramson Cancer Center. We are featuring blogs featured on the Focus On Cancer blog that highlight cancer treatment breakthroughs, coping tips and ideas, education and inspiration.

Today, blogger and breast cancer survivor, Wendy Neilsen, offers tips to help a friend who’s been diagnosed with cancer, or who is undergoing treatment for cancer.

How to Help a Friend With Cancer

Author and breast cancer survivor, Wendy Neilsen
Wendy Nielsen is a mom, a blogger and a breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, Wendy initially underwent a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment that year, followed by a prophylactic oopherectomy in 2010. She currently takes a daily aromatase inhibitor and remains NED.

Wendy blogs at Wendy Nielsen and is the weekly health and wellness contributor at The Trend Tribe.

Do you need ideas on how to help a friend going through treatment for cancer? I’ve put together a list of things that helped me while I underwent treatment for breast cancer.


Knowing that your child is well taken care of in your absence is worth its weight in gold. When I was going through radiation treatment, I had to be at the hospital daily for a matter of twenty minutes. I’d get undressed, get zapped, get dressed, and go home. But, I couldn’t take my daughter with me to my appointment. She couldn’t be in the treatment room and I obviously couldn’t leave her alone in the waiting room. Offer up your babysitting services!

Food Delivery

Meals are important. I wasn’t so concerned with what I was eating but I worried about my husband and daughter going without a proper meal. There are so many awesome options, such as: 1) dropping off prepared meals from places like Dream Dinner that can be frozen and served later in the week or month. 2) recruit other friends and family to bring over homemade meals – including breakfast and snacks. Care Calendar is a great web-based system to help organize this effort. 3) grab a couple of extra pre-made salads, ingredients for simple dishes, fresh fruit and veggies, and some kid friendly snacks at your next grocery store trip and drop them on her porch.
Tip: Before purchasing or making food, consult with your friend to find out if there are any special dietary needs or restrictions.

Care Packages

It is really important to stay hydrated during chemotherapy treatment. I gulped down drinks like Gatorade and bottled water mixed with Emergen-C. A cute care package with a reusable bottle and a box of Emergen-C is a great gift idea. Throw in some trashy tabloid magazines – if that’s her thing – and you’re golden. Note: chemotherapy wrecks a person’s taste buds and certain thing – even bottled water – can taste really awful. You might ask first if your friend has any specific aversions.
House Chores

Both chemotherapy and radiation treatment can seriously wipe out a person physically. Walking up the stairs in my own home was extremely trying somedays. Offer up your services to vacuum their house, do a couple loads of laundry, walk the family dog, take their kids to the park, or take out the trash cans. Everyday chores can become quite overwhelming – don’t let them be.

Write it Out

A simple, well-written card is always appreciated. But what do you say? Tell her she is strong, that she is a fighter, and that her hair coming out means the drugs are working! Encourage her to believe in her treatments and the education of their doctors. Remind her of the support system she has and the love that surrounds them. Cheer her on, especially as she get closer to finishing treatment. Tell her that having a positive mental attitude makes a difference. These simple words work wonders! Still tongue-tied? Hallmark stores have cancer specific cards. Serious, religious, and funny ones. Believe it or not, there is one that suits your needs.

Expect Less and Don’t be Offended

Lower your expectations – at least temporarily. I was hardly myself going through treatment for cancer. The chemotherapy drugs zap all your brain power. It’s a phenomenon called “chemo brain” and it’s very real. I didn’t care about anything other than surviving until my next treatment. Try not to be offended if your friend doesn’t make the effort they once did.

Be a Friend

Offer to go to her chemo sessions – and do it. I didn’t always engage in conversation during treatment but it was always great to know I had someone there by my side. Especially the first time because it was the scariest and definitely the last because it should be a celebration!

Encourage them to find a support group of patients also being treated for the same cancer. There are so many fantastic online support groups and many hospitals offer group services. It helps immensely to discuss thoughts, feelings, and experiences with someone also going through the same thing.

Twitter is another fantastic source for finding current patients and survivors. I highly recommend the weekly #BCSM Twitter chat on Monday at 9pm/EST.

A simple phone call, voicemail, or email just letting them know you are thinking of them. A potted plant, flowers, or a homemade card left on their porch step is always a sweet surprise.

On a very personal note: While I was going through treatment I insisted to everyone, including my closest friends, my parents, and other loved ones, that everything was fine and that I was managing. This was not always true. I didn’t want to burden others with my needs. I didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable with my disease. I wanted to ease their worries and fears and pretend all was fine. Really pay attention, she might need your help but is afraid or uncomfortable to ask for it.

From this cancer survivor’s perspective, you just want to feel like you aren’t alone. Like you haven’t been forgotten. Cancer and its treatment can be very isolating because your peers aren’t experiencing the same thing.

If you have any questions or worry about what may or may not be acceptable – please email me at

Cancer Information From a Reliable Source

Thank you for a fantastic 2012. The Focus On Cancer blog is committed to provide people with cancer and their caregivers educated information from a reliable source, the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine. Please subscribe to our blog to get updates about new cancer treatments at Penn, credible information from cancer experts at Penn, and inspiration from other people with cancer.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Focus On Cancer Year in Review: New Treatment for Lung Cancer

2012 was an exciting year for the Abramson Cancer Center. We are featuring blogs featured on the Focus On Cancer blog that highlight cancer treatment breakthroughs, coping tips and ideas, education and inspiration. Today, we are discussing new treatments for lung cancer including proton therapy for lung cancer.

"At Penn, we care about the total patient experience,” says John Kucharczuk, MD. “We know that for most people, the diagnosis of lung cancer is their first experience with this disease. As doctors, we need to recognize what that means to people, understand their anxiety level.”

New Treatments for Lung Cancer at Penn

Christine Wilson, cancer survivor, shares her experiences from the Abramson Cancer Center’s 2012- Focus on Lung Cancer Conference. In this blog, she discusses new treatments in radiation and proton therapies for lung cancer patients. 

"At Penn, we care about the total patient experience,” says John Kucharczuk, MD. “ We know that for most people, the diagnosis of lung cancer is their first experience with this disease. As doctors, we need to recognize what that means to people, understand their anxiety level.”

Surgery for Lung Cancer

At Penn, the highest quality of surgical care for lung cancer encompasses understanding what it means to have this disease and undergo treatment. Penn has one of the largest divisions of thoracic surgery in the country, one that includes a dedicated surgical unit staffed with nurses who care only for patients who have undergone this kind of surgery.

Surgeons work as a team with experts from other disciplines to assure optimal care for every patient, and are leaders in developing new technologies and approaches that minimize the invasiveness of surgery, while maximizing the therapeutic effect. These include innovative approaches to lung sparing surgery, robotic platforms and the use of photosensitizers to improve local control of tumors.

Skill and technology are critical, but underlying the Penn program is an active commitment to preserving quality of life for patients. To Dr. Kucharczuk and his team, that involves engaging with each patient to understand what quality of life means to that person, and working to tailor the treatment to the individual.

Radiation and Proton Therapy for Lung Cancer

"Lung cancer treatment is a 'team sport.' We see ourselves as a group of physicians who have the privilege of caring for you. Effective treatment is truly a partnership with our patients." Ramesh Rengan, MD.

For many lung cancer patients, radiation therapy is an important part of their treatment. Penn offers a number of options to patients with most kinds and stages of lung cancer. These include:
  • Conventional radiation therapy utilizing 3-D imaging and IMRT
  • Protons
  • Stereotactic body radiation

Charles Simone, MD, emphasized that there are two major components in delivering effective radiation therapy to lung cancer patients.
  • Where is the cancer? This means locating the tumor as precisely as possible. Penn is one of the few centers that has integrated PET scanning and metabolic evaluation of tumors into this process.
  • How do we target the cancer? This means getting as much of the radiation dose to the tumor while sparing normal tissue.

The exact type of radiation used depends on the patient--the kind and extent of the cancer, and the overall health or other conditions that might exist. Newer options, such as stereotactic body radiation are making it possible to treat older, sicker or more advanced patients.

Proton therapy is another option for patients with locally advanced lung cancers, the most common diagnosis. Penn is one of only eight centers in the United States that offers proton therapy--a technique that allows more precise, targeted delivery of radiation to the tumor. Protons have the potential to reduce side effects from therapy while being equally effective in treating the cancer.

See all the presentations from the Focus On Lung Cancer Conference here. 

Cancer Information From a Reliable Source

Thank you for a fantastic 2012. The Focus On Cancer blog is committed to provide people with cancer and their caregivers educated information from a reliable source, the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine. Please subscribe to our blog to get updates about new cancer treatments at Penn, credible information from cancer experts at Penn, and inspiration from other people with cancer.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Integrative Medicine for People with Brain Cancer

Christine Wilson, cancer survivor, shares her experiences from the Abramson Cancer Center’s 2012- Focus on Brain Cancer Conference. In this blog, she discusses integrative medicine, and its role in those who have brain cancer.

The final panel of the day began with a series of yoga stretches that demonstrated how breathing and movement can relax even a roomful of people who have been listening to a long day of complicated, difficult information. The Integrative Medicine Program at Penn Medicine led by Jun Mao, MD, MSCE, offers a full range of medical and complementary approaches that treat the whole person and promote wellness for every person at every stage of the cancer journey.

These include:
  • Nutrition
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation
  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Reiki
  • Psychosocial counseling and support groups
  • Mindfulness training
"Integrative medicine is about achieving wellness. It takes a diverse group of people to help each of our patients achieve that overall wellbeing." Jun Mao

Learn More About Brain Cancer Treatment at Penn

For more information about Penn Medicine's brain cancer program visit Find clinical trials for brain cancer, or any other cancer type in the search bar.

Learn more about the Focus On Brain Cancer conference, and to watch videos from the conference.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Focus On Cancer Year in Review: FORCE and BRCA Previvors

2012 was an exciting year for the Abramson Cancer Center. We are featuring blogs featured on the Focus On Cancer blog that highlight cancer treatment breakthroughs, coping tips and ideas, education and inspiration. Today, we are highlighting the partnership between Penn and FORCE.

FORCE stands for “Facing Our Risk Cancer Empowered” and was founded by women who have the BRCA gene mutation. This blog discusses what being a previvor is and how FORCE is empowering women.

What is a Previvor?

The term “cancer pre-vivor” arose in 2000 from a challenge on the website, FORCE, which stands for “Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered.”

Founded by Sue Friedman in 1999, FORCE acts under the principle that nobody should face hereditary cancer alone.

“FORCE’s goal has always been to include all who have been affected by hereditary cancer,” says Friedman. “This includes those with cancer and those without, those with a known mutation and those with cancer in the family even if no BRCA mutation has been found.

This particular challenge was posed by a FORCE website regular who posted on the site, “I need a label!” She expressed how she had lost her mother to breast cancer at a young age, she lost her breasts, ovaries, and fertility to the risk of cancer, but she did not have cancer. At that time the medical community used the term “unaffected carrier” to describe those who have a gene mutation but have not had cancer.

The term applies from a medical perspective, but can be dismissive for people who face the fears, stress, and difficult choices that accompany an increased risk for cancer,” says Friedman. “As a result, FORCE developed and promoted the term ‘cancer previvor’ for ‘survivor of a predisposition to cancer.’”

Previvors have unique needs from people with cancer such as active surveillance, testing and often need to make treatment decisions based on their risk for inherited cancer.

Now, more than a decade later, as we commemorate National Previvor Day, we celebrate the fact that previvorship has grown into more than a label, but an actual movement of real people who are empowered to take charge of their health.

The goal of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC)Week and Previvor Day is to raise awareness about hereditary cancer. HBOC Week marks the transition between National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and recognizes anyone affected by hereditary breast or ovarian cancer, including women and men with BRCA mutations, people with a family history of cancer, breast and ovarian cancer survivors, and previvors, individuals who carry a strong predisposition to cancer but have not developed the disease.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA at Penn Focuses on BRCA1 and BRCA2

The Basser Research Center for BRCA supports research on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, harmful forms of which are linked to greatly increased risks of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The Center is named in honor of Mindy Gray’s sister, Faith Basser, who died of ovarian cancer at age 44.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA was established with a $25 million gift to the University of Pennsylvania from alumni Mindy and Jon Gray.

Emphasizing outreach, prevention, early detection, treatment and survivorship, the Basser Research Center for BRCA will contribute to all stages of research and clinical care related to BRCA-related cancers.

Cancer Information From a Reliable Source

Thank you for a fantastic 2012. The Focus On Cancer blog is committed to provide people with cancer and their caregivers educated information from a reliable source, the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine. Please subscribe to our blog to get updates about new cancer treatments at Penn, credible information from cancer experts at Penn, and inspiration from other people with cancer.
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