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.

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Great Day to Be a Quitter

Thinking about giving up smoking but not sure where – or when – to start? Today is your day!

In celebration of World No Tobacco Day, we at Penn Medicine are here to help you stop smoking for good. Even giving up this dangerous habit for one day can dramatically improve your health.

If you’re ready to stub the smokes and want to try to quit on your own, here are a few tips to helping you take the first steps towards successfully quitting.*

Set a date: Whether you choose to quit smoking today, tomorrow, or the third Tuesday next month, pick a date to quit and stick to it. Having a start date will keep you focused on your goal and can help you plan ahead.
  1. Voice your decision: Quitting tobacco and smoking isn’t an easy process, so don’t think you have to do it alone! Tell your friends and family that you are quitting (let them know when your start date is) and ask for their encouragement to keep you on track.
  2. Plan for the bad days: Breaking the smoking habit is not an overnight thing – you’re likely to have bad days along the way. The difference between picking back up or maintaining your goal is identifying your challenges and smoking triggers and having a plan for coping with them.
  3. Get it out of sight: When you’re ready to quit, remove all cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, workplace, and car, to keep temptation at bay.
  4. Talk to a professional: Be honest with your doctor about your decision and talk about getting help to quit smoking.
  5. Get help at Penn's Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program, which provides state-of-the-art and individualized treatment to help smokers quit safely and comfortably. Specialists at the center offer treatment that is respectful and supportive, without guilt or pressure.

Learn how you can get help to quit smoking at Penn.

Watch Frank Leone, MD, MS, director of the Comprehensive Smoking Cessation Treatment Program at Penn talk about how Penn can help you quit smoking. 

*Tips for quitting tobacco and cigarette smoking were taken from the website,

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cancer-Fighting Recipe: Pan Roasted Baby Artichokes with Pistachios, Lemon And Black Quinoa Recipe

This is an easy, tasty, yet unique recipe packed full of cancer fighting phytochemicals. Artichoke hearts, named the 4th vegetable highest antioxidants, contain an antioxidant called rutin that can induce cancer cell death and reduce cancer cell growth.

Pistachios are second on the list right under red wine for containing a significant amount of the cancer fighting and heart healthy phytochemicals.

Lastly, all the hype about quinoa is for a good reason! Not only does it contain all the essential amino acids that your body needs, but it also has anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties! Enjoy this dish solo or paired with a piece of baked fish.


Pan Roasted Baby Artichokes with Pistachios, Lemon And Black Quinoa Recipe

Serves 2


  • 1 can artichokes hearts
  • 1 half medium shallot
  • 1/2 c. shelled pistachio nuts
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 c. quinoa cooked
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. lf you haven't cooked your quinoa, start that first. Remember that it expands to four times its original volume when cooked, so you don't need to make a lot.
  2. Whisk 1/4 c. olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Drain and rinse the artichoke hearts. Slice them into quarters then submerge the artichoke instantly in the olive oil and lemon juice mixture. Artichokes quickly oxidize and turn black when exposed to air. The acid from the lemon juice will prevent this from happening. Stir the mixture regularly to be sure none are exposed to air for too long.
  4. Thinly slice your shallot. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a deep pan on medium high heat. When the oil swirls easily in the pan add the shallots and pistachio nuts. When the shallots begin to brown, add the zest and stir. Cook the mixture for another minute or two until the shallots have almost completely caramelized.
  5. Add the artichokes and liquid to the pan and salt and pepper to taste. Turn the artichokes so their faces are touching the surface of the pan and allow them to brown and the liquid to reduce. Stir the artichokes every few minutes until the liquid is
  6. almost completely reduced and all surfaces of the artichokes start to brown. lf the pan dries before the artichokes have finished cooking, add 1/8 c. of water to prevent the shallots and nuts from burning.
  7. The artichokes are done cooking when they are tender all the way through. At the last minute, toss in the quinoa and mix well.

Make sure to scrape the caramelized bits of shallot and zest into the quinoa. Adjust salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Nutrition Facts
1 servinq: 500 Calories, 37g Fat,4g Saturated Fat,40g Carbohydrates, 10g Fiber, 167mg Sodium, 13g Protein

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pancreatic Cysts: Diagnosis and Treatment

Christine Wilson, cancer survivor, shares her experiences from the Abramson Cancer Center’s 2013- Focus on Pancreatic Cancer Conference. In this blog, she discusses pancreatic cysts.

In recent years, the number of pancreatic cysts detected has increased significantly. Most of these are found “incidentally,” meaning that they show up on imaging studies done for other reasons, not because they are causing any symptoms.

The question, according to Vinay Chandrasekhara, MD, Penn gastroenterologist, is “what to do about them?” The key to answering that question lies in determining the type of cyst, and what its potential is for becoming cancerous. Based on that, about half of all pancreatic cysts will require close monitoring or treatment.

The primary difference is between neoplastic cysts—which have the potential to be or become cancerous and non-neoplastic cysts which are largely the result of inflammation and rarely, if ever, become malignant. Dr. Chandrasekhara recently spoke a the 2nd Focus on Pancreatic Cancer Conference and noted there are very specific features that doctors look for when they make this determination. He also noted that, in most cases, this requires a procedure known as a guided aspiration, in which the doctor is able both to visualize the cyst and try to withdraw fluid from it for examination under the microscope.

“What to do about them” depends on the type of cyst, its size and stability. Many patients with worrisome cysts undergo surgery, while others have follow up surveillance to determine if the cyst is growing or changing.

For patients, a pancreatic cyst can be a source of concern or uncertainty. The best approach is to have pancreatic cysts diagnosed, evaluated, followed and if necessary, treated in a center that has experience in this area.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cancer-Fighting Recipe: Asparagus with Curry Butter

This recipe is teaming with cancer-fighting ingredients which happen to fight aging as well. Asparagus contains glutathione, an important antioxidant found in all tissues of the body. This antioxidant helps to detoxify and eliminate toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides from the body, which can contribute to aging and toxin induced diseases such as cancer.

Limonene a compound found in citrus fruits such as the lemons used in this recipe boosts the body's production of glutathione.

Although, this recipe uses only a small amount of butter, feel free to replace the butter with olive oil if you are a heart conscious cook.

Asparagus with Curry Butter

Serves 4


2 teaspoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely diced
1 bunch asparagus, (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces


Combine butter, curry powder, lemon juice and salt in a small bowl.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add asparagus and cook, stirring, until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir the curry butter into the asparagus; toss to coat.

Nutrition facts per serving (1/2c): 67 calories; 5 g fat ( 2 g sat , 2 g mono ); 5 mg cholesterol; 6 g carbohydrates; 3 g protein; 2 g fiber; 161 mg sodium; 262 mg potassium.

Nutrition Bonus: Folate (40% daily value), Vitamin A (25% dv), Vitamin C (15% dv).
Recipe from Eating Well: March/April 2009 www.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Genetic Risk and Pancreatic Cancer Prevention

Christine Wilson, cancer survivor, shares her experiences from the Abramson Cancer Center’s 2013- Focus on Pancreatic Cancer Conference. In this blog, she discusses genetic factors that may put someone at higher risk for pancreatic cancer.

Anil Rustgi, MD
Of the 40,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed each year, approximately 10 percent, or 4,000 of these have a hereditary or familial basis, according to Penn expert, Anil Rustgi, MD, chief of gastroenterology. Patients are anxious to identify family members who are risk for the disease, and take steps to minimize those risks or prevent them from developing pancreatic cancer.

It is important to note that having pancreatic cancer does not necessarily mean that your family is at increased risk. Dr. Rustgi points out that there are very specific conditions linked to higher rates of this disease. They include:
  • Hereditary pancreatitis: This is an inherited condition. It occurs early in life, even in childhood, and is characterized by nausea and pain. As the condition becomes more chronic, patients develop severe diarrhea and diabetes. Smoking and alcohol use make the symptoms worse. Having this condition, which is caused by a specific genetic mutation, increases the risk of developing pancreatic cancer by 35%.
  • FAMM: Familial atypical mole and multiple melanoma syndrome. This is a rare condition, also caused by a specific genetic mutation. If a patient has two or more family members with melanoma, or one member with multiple melanomas and pancreatic cancer, family members should be tested for this condition.
  • BRCA 1 and 2: These genetic mutations are more often associated with breast cancer, but are now being linked to other cancers as well, including pancreatic, ovarian and prostate cancer.
There are several other rare genetic syndromes associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. All of these, according to Dr. Rustgi, are amenable to genetic testing, counseling and intervention.
The GI Genetics Program at Penn can help patients understand their level or risk, establish the source of that risk, educate patients and family members on the best approaches to targeted screening and intervention. It can also identify patients and families who are NOT at increased risk for pancreatic cancer.

Learn more about your risk for gastrointestinal cancer at the GI Cancer Risk Evaluation Program.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Does Insurance Cover BRCA Genetic Testing?

Last week’s op-ed piece by Angelina Jolie has brought to the forefront BRCA testing, and choices women make regarding their BRCA status and preventative measures against breast and ovarian cancer.

It also raises the question: Is BRCA testing only for men and women who are of means? Who can afford genetic testing for BRCA?

Is BRCA testing covered by insurance?

BRCA testing is usually covered by insurance if the patient meets certain criteria. There are different types of BRCA testing, ranging in cost from $475 to $4000. Genetic counselors are helpful in determining what type of testing is indicated. Testing is less expensive once a mutation has been identified within a family.

Insurance coverage and criteria varies by insurance plan, and genetic counselors are excellent at determining whether insurance is likely to cover the testing. Insurances more readily cover testing of people with a personal history of cancer and ideally, testing in a family starts in an individual who has had a BRCA-related cancer at a young age.

This first person to undergo testing in the family has complete sequencing of both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. This costs about $3300 and if no mutation is found, an additional $700 test looking even more closely at both genes may be necessary. For individuals of Jewish ancestry, a simpler test can often be performed that looks at just the common BRCA mutations within that population, for a cost of $575. Lastly, once an individual in a family test positive, other family members typically only require testing for a single mutation which is a simpler test that costs about $475.

There are also options for individuals who lack insurance coverage of genetic testing. Uninsured individuals may be eligible for free testing via the laboratory. Under-insured individuals can apply for financial assistance through an organization called Cancer1Source and depending on where they are tested, may have access to institutional earmarked charity funds.

Another insurance question that often arises is whether a positive result will make it harder for an individual to get health insurance. Legislation passed in 2008 bars discrimination based on genetic test results for the majority of health insurance companies and plans. This legislation extends to protect people from discrimination based on genetic test results in the realm of employment. It is important to note that no such protections are in place for things like life and long-term disability insurance, so some consider putting these in place before testing is performed.

Learn more about BRCA testing at the Basser Research Center for BRCA.

Monday, May 20, 2013, People Magazine Interviews Susan Domchek, MD for Angelina Jolie Piece

Basser in People Magazine:

Susan Domchek, MD executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA in the Abramson Cancer Center, was interviewed by People magazine  regarding Angelina Jolie’s BRCA news.

The article highlights "seven things to know" about the BRCA gene mutation from information on survivorship, genetic inheritance, testing and treatment options.

We invite you to read the article in full at here.

Basser on

Dr. Domchek also provided expert Q&A content for, providing information on the BRCA gene mutation, testing and the benefits and risks of mastectomy and oophorectomy.

For the latest information on BRCA research, 
screening and clinical trials from 
The Basser Research Center for BRCA,
visit the official webpage.

May Awareness Month: Brain Cancer, Melanoma, and Skin Cancer

May is brain, melanoma, and skin cancer awareness month. Be sure to subscribe to the Focus On Cancer blog and like the Abramson Cancer Center Facebook page for more information on brain, Melanoma, and skin cancer throughout the entire month.

At a Glance: Brain Cancer

  • Brain cancer is an umbrella term for several different forms of cancer, including tumors and metastases.
  • About 2 percent of all newly diagnosed adult cancers are brain cancer; the average age of patients with brain cancer is 50.
  • Exposure to radiation has been linked to certain types of brain tumors.
Learn more about the treatment for brain cancer at the from the 2012 Focus On Brain Cancer Conference. 

Learn more about proton therapy for brain cancer at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center

At a Glance: Melanoma and Skin Cancer

  • Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. While it is mostly found on the skin, it can also be seen on a person’s nail beds, feet, scalp, eyes and mucosa surfaces (anal canal, rectum, and vagina).
  • Moles that change in size, color, or border shape, or begin to itch or sting can be warning signs of melanoma and should be carefully monitored by your doctor.
  • Risk factors for melanoma and skin cancer include fair complexion, history of sunburns and/or prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light, multiple moles, age, and family history of skin cancer and melanoma.
  • The best prevention methods for skin cancer are avoiding sun exposure during peak hours (10 am to 4 pm) and wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more every day, even in winter.
Learn more about the treatment for melanoma and skin cancer at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Angelina Effect (Video)

"The genes that you're born with don't change over the course of your lifetime, however, genetic testing techniques [does]..."

Susan Domchek, MD executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA in the Abramson Cancer Center, was interviewed on MSNBC about the news that actress Angelina Jolie carries the harmful BRCA 1 mutation, which led her to undergo a prophylactic mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

For the latest information on BRCA research, 
screening and clinical trials from 
The Basser Research Center for BRCA,
visit the official webpage.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cancer-Fighting Recipe: Simple Snap Peas with Cucumber and Ginger

Sugar snap peas are rich in Vitamin C.

This pea with an edible pod is half the calories of regular peas and high in fiber, vitamin C, K, A and folic acid. Cucumbers have a compound called lignans which provides nourishment to your gut bacteria and has anti-inflammatory properties. Adding lemon juice and ginger to vegetables are great ways to spark your taste buds as well as obtain great cancer fighters called limonene and gingerol.

This salad is very refreshing and easy.

Snap Peas with Cucumber and Ginger

Serves 4 with 10 minute prep time

  • ½ lb. of sugar snap peas, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • ½ English cucumber, sliced (can substitute peeled and seeded local cucumbers when they are in season)
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced

  • 2 Tb. Olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs. grated ginger
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Prep the sugar snap peas, cucumber and shallot and toss in a salad bowl.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, ginger, sugar, salt and pepper.
  3. Combine the dressing and the chopped vegetables.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Media Coverage Recap: Basser Center and BRCA in the News

A special edition of the Basser Center for BRCA Research quarterly email newsletter, the BRCA-Beat, went out this week. The message focused on recapping recent Basser Center news coverage around Angelina Jolie's New York Times Op-Ed, "My Medical Choice."

Excerpt from the BRCA-Beat:

Susan Domchek, M.D., Executive Director, Basser Research Center for BRCA, is a nationally recognized expert in breast cancer genetics, breast cancer risk and prevention as well as breast cancer treatment, and along with other Basser Center experts, was interviewed by a number of media outlets from the New York Times, Bloomberg News, CNN, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe 6 ABC, Marie Claire and more.
Read the full newsletter coverage and sign up for the future editions here.

How the Basser Research Center for BRCA at Penn is Helping People with BRCA like Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie announced in a New York Times op-ed piece titled “My Medical Choice” she had a preventative (prophylactic) double mastectomy earlier this year.

A mastectomy is a procedure that removes part, or all of the breast.

Jolie, 37, announced she had the procedure after learning she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, which sharply increases her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

From her op-ed piece in the New York Times, Jolie says:

“We often speak of ‘Mommy’s mommy,” and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us. They have asked if the same could happen to me. I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy."

How the Basser Research Center for BRCA at Penn is Helping Women with BRCA like Angelina Jolie

The Basser Research Center for BRCA at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center was created to lead the revolution in defeating BRCA-related cancers. Through visionary philanthropy by Mindy and Jon Gray, the Basser Center was created as the first comprehensive center of its kind, featuring a remarkable breadth and depth of talent and resources as well as pioneering research that cannot be found anywhere else in the nation.

Increasingly, women at high risk for breast cancer are choosing prophylactic mastectomy to greatly reduce their chance of getting breast cancer.

“Prophylactic mastectomy reduces breast cancer risk by at least 90 percent,” says Rebecca Mueller, MS, CGC, certified genetic counselor and outreach coordinator at the Basser Research Center for BRCA.

Mueller explains, “Prophylactic mastectomy reduces breast cancer risk by about 90 percent. Whether someone elects prophylactic mastectomy involves a lot of factors. The breast cancer risk profiles for BRCA1 and BRCA2 are slightly different, so the counseling is very individualized. At the end of the day, women’s personal experiences with breast cancer may inform their choices. Women who have lost loved ones to breast cancer are more likely to get prophylactic mastectomies. Women from families full of breast cancer survivors may make other choices.”

Indeed, while prophylactic mastectomy stories often make the front page, at least as 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:

  1. Determining if genetic testing is appropriate for a family
  2. Interpreting genetic test results, since mutations in different cancer genes confer different risks
  3. 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 or father with a BRCA1 mutation has a 50 percent 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.

Penn’s Mariann and Robert MacDonald Women’s Cancer Risk Evaluation Center provides consultation with certified genetic counselors and medical oncologists.

Learn more about BRCA and hereditary cancer risk at Penn

Help Penn Discover New Ways to Help Women and Men with BRCA1 and BRCA2

The Basser Research Center for BRCA is dedicated to the improvement in basic understanding, clinical care, and development of new therapies targeting BRCA1/2 related cancers. Join the revolution and speed the pace of discovery, helping more women like Angelina Jolie empower themselves with knowledge about their risk for cancer by making a gift today.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bloomberg,, 6ABC turn to Basser for BRCA Information

The Basser Center for BRCA Research and executive director Susan Domchek, MD made headlines this week as major news outlets turned to Penn Medicine for an expert opinion. Read the headlines and quotes below:

Bloomberg News quoted Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA in article on Jolie’s decision:

Jolie Mastectomy Fuels Debate on Breast Cancer Treatment
Those two paths, each with risks and benefits, can leave patients confused and conflicted over how best to protect themselves, said Susan Domchek, a breast cancer researcher and director of the Basser Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Jolie said she chose to have a double mastectomy after learning she had the genetic mutation that increased her risk for cancer, which killed her mother. Read more at Bloomberg here.

Domchek was also quoted in a Philadelphia Inquirer piece on Angelina Jolie’s op-ed on carrying a BRCA1 mutation and opting for a double mastectomy:

Jolie’s Difficult Medical Decision Wins Praise

"It's not the magic solution," Domchek said. "But it's a compelling example of how, if you know the biology of the cancer, you can use it." Read more at here.

6 ABC also quoted the Basser executive director in an article about Jolie’s decision to get preventive mastectomies:

Understanding Angelina Jolie’s Decision

Dr. Susan Domchek of the University of Pennsylvania's Basser Research Center for BRCA, says easy access to information, and a wider range of reconstruction options figure are factors in the rise. Read more at 6 ABC here.

For the latest information on BRCA research, 
screening and clinical trials from 
The Basser Research Center for BRCA,
visit the official webpage.

Basser in the New York Times: Jolie’s Disclosure of Preventive Mastectomy Highlights Dilemma

Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA is quoted in a New York Times article on Jolie’s decision:

"It is generally considered safe to wait long enough to have children before having the ovaries removed, but the operation should be done by age 40," said Dr. Susan M. Domchek, an expert on cancer genetics at the University of Pennsylvania and the executive director of its Basser Research Center, which specializes in BRCA mutations.

We invite you to read the article in full at the
New York Times here, and for more of the latest information on BRCA research, testing and more

visit the official Basser webpage.

Collaborative Science Brings New Approaches to Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

Christine Wilson, cancer survivor, shares her experiences from the Abramson Cancer Center’s 2013- Focus on Pancreatic Cancer Conference. In this blog, she discusses Stand Up To Cancer, and the pancreatic Dream Team at Penn Medicine.

Jeffrey Drebin, MD, PhD
Jeffrey Drebin, MD, PhD, recently spoke about the pancreatic cancer initiative funded by Stand Up To Cancer at the 2nd Focus on Pancreatic Cancer Conference. This grant from Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) includes scientists and clinicians from Penn, Johns Hopkins and a number of other leading institutions, working together, sharing knowledge and data to develop new treatments for pancreatic cancer. The SU2C grant has led to enrolling over 1,000 patients in clinical trials, with the results of those trials generating new trials that are underway or planned. The SU2C trials are not only multidisciplinary, and multi-institutional, but also translational—meaning that that they are seeking new understanding of the biology and genetics of pancreatic cancer, in order to apply that knowledge to developing new treatments. Promising areas of research include new ways to deliver drugs to cancers, better understanding of the role of neighboring tissue, the stroma, in promoting cancer growth, new approaches to metabolic therapies—those that deprive the cancer cell of needed nutrients, and identifying unique targets on pancreatic cancer cells for which new drugs can be developed.

“We know that pancreatic cancer is an increasing cause of cancer death, and we know that we have not had enough long term survivors of this disease,” says Dr. Drebin, “but we believe that this research will take us to the next stages of treatment, and better outcomes.”

Learn more about Penn Medicine's Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team

Monday, May 13, 2013

Angela Jolie- My Medical Choice: BRCA beat Special Edition

The Basser Research Center for BRCA sends a Special Edition BRCAbeat e-news blast to recap coverage of Angelina Jolie’s recent op-ed piece:

Angelina Jolie announced yesterday in a New York Times op-ed piece that as a BRCA1 carrier, she had a double mastectomy to decrease her chances of developing breast cancer.

"We often speak of ‘Mommy’s mommy,' and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us.  They have asked if the same could happen to me.  I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.  Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy." - Angelina Jolie

Read the whole Special Edition of the BRCAbeat here:
BRCA beat eNewsletter

At Penn, Care for People with Cancer From All Specialties

A cancer diagnosis is unexpected and often devastating. Shock can quickly give way to fear. But for Kathy Brandt, these emotions were followed immediately by a practical resolve.

“It’s truly terrifying," says Kathy. "After that initial diagnosis when you feel like you’ve been hit by a ton of bricks, the decision needs to be made where you’re going to seek treatment.”

Kathy was diagnosed with lung cancer, and chose to be treated at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center at Penn Medicine.

“Penn Medicine was a wonderful choice for us,” Kathy explains. “They use a team approach.”

This team approach means patients have the advantage of a multidisciplinary care philosophy at Penn Medicine. Kathy saw an oncologist, a surgeon and a radiation oncologist, who recommended proton therapy to treat her cancer after surgery.

Also at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, Penn Medicine provides other specialists to address every aspect of cancer from pre to post treatment, including:
  • Dietitians
  • Dosimetrists
  • Integrative medicine physicians
  • Nurses
  • Patient navigation specialists
  • Radiation therapists
  • Social workers
This is all part of the comprehensive treatment services offered at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center. The center’s world-renowned team of experts is dedicated to providing multidisciplinary cancer care focused on a patient’s particular type of cancer.

Caroline Hogue also chose proton therapy at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center as part of her esophageal cancer treatment.

Caroline Hogue (right) with her sister at a LIVESTRONG event.
“Picking a world-class hospital that has all kinds of care, all in one place, is just a phenomenal choice and the right choice for me,” Caroline says.

Patients choose proton therapy because it has fewer side effects than conventional radiation treatments, targeting cancer cells with accuracy and precision. They choose Penn Medicine because of the standard of care for which Penn is known.

“I’m convinced that I would not be here if I had not had the care that I have had at Penn,” Caroline says.

“We are here to do everything we possibly can to help the patient, medically, emotionally, in every possible way, get through treatment,” says Stephen Hahn MD, chair of radiation oncology at Penn Medicine.

“Having doctors and staff co-locate in one place allows them to share different ideas about patient care, and really discuss and get to the heart of a patient’s problem,”says Dr. Hahn.

Offering multidisciplinary care at Penn Medicine stems from the philosophy that the patient always comes first.

“We are here to serve the patient,” says Dr. Hahn. “You should expect that your doctor will tell you about all the different options. Patients deserve to hear about those different options so that they can make the best and most informed decision about their care.”

This approach put patients like Kathy and Caroline at ease and helped them make the decision to choose Penn proton therapy treatment. For Kathy, the successful outcome of her treatment has allowed her to put behind those initial fearful emotions.

“My perspective coming out the other side now is not to sweat the small stuff,” says Kathy. “I like to garden. I like to fish. I like to spend time with my family and friends and especially my grandchildren. That’s really the most important thing to me right now.”

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cancer-Fighting Recipe: Cream of Watercress Soup

This vitamin and phytocehmical rich soup is so fresh and light in taste and doesn’t have any cream in it at all!

Watercress can have a radish taste but mellows when cooked and is considered a cruciferous vegetable. Cruciferous vegetables have many cancer-fighting properties and may boost the immune system as well.

Thyme has the essential oil thymol in it which may have antiseptic and antifungal properties.

Parsley is usually used as a garnish to cleanse the palate but it is also vitamin and phytocehmical rich as well as.

This soup is really fast to put together. You can have it on the table in 30 minutes. Watercress has a wonderful, peppery taste and is full of vitamins A, C and K. Adding the finely diced stalks gives the soup extra flavor, while the butter or cannellini beans give it a higher protein content than the usual potatoes and a creamy texture and taste without dairy. If you cook your own beans, add the liquid they were cooked in and cut back on the stock proportionately. If you aren’t vegetarian, try making this soup with chicken stock.

The website, Cook for Your Life, where this recipe was taken, also provides great recipes that are indexed by symptom and are made from wholesome foods.

Cream of Watercress Soup

Soups Serves: 4-6 Prep: 20 - 30 min


  • 3 bunches watercress, washed well
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans of white or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 6 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley, plus more for garnish


  1. Finely dice the thick stalks of the watercress. Set aside. Break up the leafy greens into leaflets, discarding any remaining thick main stems. Set aside and reserve some for garnish.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. When it starts to ripple, add the onions, diced watercress stalks and thyme. Fry until the onion starts to soften. Turn the heat down to medium, sprinkle with a little sea salt and cover. Sweat the vegetables for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Don’t let them burn or color!
  3. Add the beans and their liquid and stir to mix well with the vegetables. Add the stock if using canned beans. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and cook until the beans are heated through and can be easily smashed against the side of the pan with a spoon, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the watercress leaflets to the soup and cook for 5 minutes, until they wilt. Blend the soup until smooth in a blender or with an immersion blender. Bring back to a simmer, add all the watercress leaves and the chopped parsley, and cook a minute more and taste for seasoning. 
  5. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Benefits of Being an NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center

The Abramson Cancer Center has been designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) since 1973, one of only 40 such centers in the country.
The NCI recognizes cancer centers around the country that meet rigorous criteria for world-class, state-of-the-art programs in multidisciplinary cancer research.

The NCI supports cancer centers that have dedicated significant resources into developing research programs, faculty, and facilities that will lead to better approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.

What are the Benefits of Being an NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center?

The benefits of NCI-designation for cancer centers include:
  • Recognition of excellence in cancer research.
  • Membership in the community of NCI-designated cancer centers, and a "seat at the table" where the strategic plans and initiatives of NCI are formed.
  • Opportunity to represent the needs of its local community in national dialogue on cancer research issues.
  • Opportunities for extensive information sharing and broader scientific collaborations with other NCI centers.

For patients who come to a comprehensive cancer center like the Abramson Cancer Center, this means they receive treatment from a cancer center that is leading the way in cancer care through research, and has access to the latest advances in diagnosis, care and technology backed by a multidisciplinary approach to cancer care.

Patients who come to Penn Medicine can rest assured their medical team is in constant communication and art of a greater team of experts, clinicians and researchers leading the way in cancer care.

Learn more about cancer research at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Funding for Cancer Research Saves Lives and Dollars

Christine Wilson, cancer survivor, shares her experiences from the Abramson Cancer Center’s 2013- Focus on Pancreatic Cancer Conference. In this blog, she discusses funding for cancer research.

Margaret Foti, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Association for Cancer Research, opened the 2nd Focus on Pancreatic Cancer Conference with a comprehensive overview of the progress made against cancer and the challenges facing researchers, clinicians and patients today. Dr. Foti noted that while there has been significant progress in a “new era of science and medicine,” the global incidence of cancer continues to rise, and “we have not stemmed the tide of many major cancers.”

She pointed to the ongoing need to foster innovative approaches, exemplified by the work at the Abramson Cancer Center, in order to reach the point where we can “deliver the right dose of the right drug to the right patient at the right time.” She also noted that in many instances, cancer is increasingly becoming a chronic disease. Penn, she noted, is “uniquely equipped to translate research, provide access to clinical trials, multidisciplinary treatment and expertise in treating rare and difficult cancers.”

Dr. Foti called on the audience to support a “decisive assault on cancer, harnessing the collective knowledge, passion and smarts of scientists and clinicians from a broad spectrum of fields. She pointed to Stand Up To Cancer’s $200 million commitment in cancer research, which includes a grant to Penn to study new approaches to pancreatic cancer, as an outstanding example of an innovative funding mechanism that brings together researchers from different disciplines and institutions. Dr. Foti called on the audience to tap the power of individuals, the power of public leaders and the power of patient leaders to make cancer research a national priority.

Learn more about Penn Medicine's Stand Up To Cancer Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team here

Monday, May 6, 2013

Survivor Strong: 4 Amazing Stories of Women and Moms from the Abramson Cancer Center

Mother's Day is next weekend, and to celebrate all the women and mothers who are cancer survivors, we are sharing their stories on our blog.

If you are a mother, or have a woman in your life you'd like to honor this Mother's Day, please join us on our Facebook page, and share your own words of inspiration.

Inspirational Women and the Power of Philanthropy

For three generations, the Barness family has been tireless advocates for cancer research and patient care in Philadelphia. Starting with the late Irma and Herbert Barness, continuing with sisters Nancy and Lynda Barness, and now keeping the tradition of philanthropy going, Jennifer and Daniel Stern, co-chairs of the Young Friends of the Abramson Cancer Center - the Abramson Cancer Center is grateful for the many generations who help sustain our mission.

This Mother's Day, help honor the courage and bravery of all women affected by cancer, and support life-saving research by making a gift in honor of the special women in your life.

I Survived Cancer, Now I Want a Family

Melanie Gaffney is a proud childhood cancer survivor, and a contributor to the Focus On Cancer blog. Today she is cancer-free, but lives with the after effects of her cancer treatments. In this excerpt from her blog, she discusses motherhood, what it means to her, and how she was worried she couldn't have children.

Before I ever pictured myself in the “what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up” role, being a mom always foreshadowed any career or profession. I had a vivid concept/vision in my head about motherhood: the mother I would try to be, the hugs and kisses I would smother a child with, life lessons I would teach, even the sex -- I always envisioned boy and girl twins.

This was even after I was told that a baby, especially “babies,” might not be possible. I had come to terms with knowing that I might not be able to conceive, carry or deliver because of my cancer treatments and health limitations. I knew if I couldn’t conceive, I would adopt. I realized this about the age of 13. I know it sounds young, but I think when forced to battle for your life at a young age, your outlook and decisions about life tend to mature quickly.

Continue reading Melanie's story here.

Determined Not to Let Fear Rule Her Life

Sandy Cohen is the Philadelphia group founder of the national organization, FORCE, which stands for “Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered.” She founded the group after she tested positive for BRCA1 and wanted to create a resource in the Philadelphia area for other women who were BRCA positive and needs education and support. In this blog excerpt, she discusses her BRCA status. 

“I grew up with breast cancer,” says Sandy Cohen. “My grandmother died of breast cancer in her thirties, and consequently, my mother became obsessed with breast cancer, and worried she’d develop the disease herself.”

When Sandy’s mother developed breast cancer at 50, and passed away 4 years later, the cycle continued as Sandy became what she called “obsessed” with breast cancer herself.

She also became determined not to let fear of breast cancer rule her own life, and the lives of her two young children and family.

“Genetic testing for BRCA had just come out,” recalls Sandy. “And I decided to have the genetic testing after a lot of hesitation because I didn’t want to imagine my children going through life without a mother.”

Continue reading Sandy's story here. 

From Sun Worshipper to Skin Safety Advocate

Colleen Bronstein is a melanoma and breast cancer survivor, mother, artist, entrepreneur and a contributor to the Focus On Cancer blog. After her melanoma diagnosis in 1999, Colleen started her own business, Sun Threadz, which promotes skin cancer awareness and protection with clothing designed to protect skin from the sun’s harmful rays. 

For me, paradise had always been sitting on the beach in a comfortable beach chair with a good book and nothing but the sounds of the ocean to relax me.

As a child, I spent summers in Cape May – a tradition I continued throughout my life.
The Bahamas are only a couple hours away so every spring, we were on the beach soaking up the rays and just so we were sure we had every sun angle covered, we had a pool put in our backyard.

Unfortunately, I was unaware that my favorite pastimes could cause cancer.

Continue reading Colleen's story here

Friday, May 3, 2013

Paying it Forward

After a cancer diagnosis, many survivors and their loved ones are motivated to give back some of the good fortune or good experiences they had on their cancer journey.

Philanthropy helps fuel research and patient care programs that provide hope to patients and families for the best possible outcomes – you can make a gift to help accelerate these efforts.

However, writing a check isn’t the only way to “give back” to others in the cancer community.

In this blog, Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, discusses ways in which you can give a little of yourself to the cancer community and “pay it forward” to other cancer survivors.

Have you “given back” to other survivors? What inspires you to share with others?

Read more about Carolyn’s advice for “giving back” here.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Can Your Manicures Give You Skin Cancer?

manicure cause cancer
A recent article to make the news states that those popular gel manicures that promise long lasting, chip-free manicures may actually increase the risk for skin cancer.

The gel manicures have come under attack due to the ultraviolet light used to dry the gel. According to dermatologists, these UV lights can damage the skin cells in the same way tanning beds can damage the skin while tanning.

“UV lamps are actually used for conventional, non-gel manicures too,” says Emily Chu, MD, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology at Penn Medicine. "If people do get manicures, especially gel manicures, which do rely more heavily on UV lamps, the manicurist can be asked also during the manicure to apply sunscreen. Some manicurists also have fingerless gloves available to help reduce UV exposure."

LED lamps, which don’t emit UV radiation and are used in some nail salons, do not pose health risks.

Tips for Manicure and Skin Safety
  1. Use sunscreen on your hands. If you must get gel manicures, apply sunscreen on your hands at least 30 minutes before placing them under the UV lights.
  2. Practice moderation. As with anything in life, practice moderation when it comes to manicures and gel manicures.
  3. Go natural. Because manicures – especially gel manicures – can leave nails brittle, make sure you take breaks between manicures to allow your nails to heal.
  4. Self-check. Always look at your skin to check for any spots or lesions that do not go away, or change shape.

Learn More About Skin Cancer and Melanoma Prevention and Treatment at Penn Medicine

The CANPrevent Skin Cancer and 10th Focus on Melanoma Conferences are free conferences from the Abramson Cancer Center for those at risk for melanoma, or who are survivors of melanoma as well as their families and friends, and care givers to those with melanoma and skin cancer.

CANPrevent Skin Cancer Conference

Date: Friday, May 17, 2013
Time: 8 to 10:30 am
Location: Hilton Hotel, 4200 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19131

Register for the CANPrevent Skin Cancer Conference here.

Focus On Melanoma Conference

Date: Friday, May 17, 2013
Time: 7:30 am to 3 pm
Location: Hilton Hotel, 4200 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19131

Register for the 10th Focus On Melanoma Conference here.

FREE Skin Cancer Screening

Have your skin checked by a Penn Dermatologist to determine your risk for developing skin cancer.

Date: Saturday, May 18, 2013

Appointments are necessary and space is limited.

Call 215-662-2737 to make your reservation.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Say “Yes” to Wish Upon a Wedding

Dietitian Carly Roop, RD, shares with us her idea of a beautiful spring wedding . Carly 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.

I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight an amazing organization whose whole mission is to recognize courageous and inspiring couples in love.

Wish Upon a Wedding

Founded by Liz Guthrie, a wedding planner in San Jose, CA, Wish Upon a Wedding is the world’s first nonprofit organization that provides weddings and vow renewals to couples facing terminal illness and serious life altering circumstances, regardless of sexual orientation.

This organization launched in 2010 in San Francisco, CA and now has over 16 chapters in the United States including a chapter in Philadelphia. Wish recipients are provided with everything from the gown to the cake, the flowers to the venue, and the music to the d├ęcor, which have all been donated by professional vendors.

All the couple has to do is to enjoy their special day surrounded by those who matter most to them.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old, legal U.S. citizens, and are unmarried, where at least one individual has been diagnosed with less than five years to live are encouraged to apply.

The organization also grants a limited number of vow renewals (for couples already married) and special circumstance wishes each year.

In the face of a devastating diagnosis, this organization is throwing more than a wedding they are throwing a celebration of courage, determination and spirit.

Apply to Wish Upon A Wedding here.
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