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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.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Treatments for Pancreatic Cancer

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

“Penn is setting the standard in terms of survival and outcomes for pancreatic cancer.”
Ursina Teitelbaum, MD, medical oncologist at Penn Medicine

Changing the Paradigm for Chemotherapy

In opening her talk at the recent 2nd Focus On Pancreatic Cancer Conference, Dr. Teitelbaum acknowledged that for many years, pancreatic cancer treatment has characterized by “well deserved gloom.” Gemcitabine, introduced in 1996, was the first drug to show activity against pancreatic cancer, and has been the standard of therapy, but its effectiveness is limited. The multitude of trials using a variety of drugs and combinations of drugs yielded little progress. The scenario began to change in 2010 with the introduction of FOLFIRINOX, a combination of drugs that has demonstrated higher response rates, better control of the cancer and improved quality of life.

The second step in what Dr. Teitelbaum called “sudden, dramatic progress” has been the introduction of nab-paclitaxel, or Abraxane in 2012. Abraxane is a drug that has been used to treat a number of different types of cancer and is currently being tested against several others, including pancreatic cancer. It works by penetrating the stromal tissue, in effect, allowing the other drugs to be more effective in reaching cancer cells. Abraxane given with gemcitabine demonstrates significantly better overall survival for pancreatic cancer patients with advanced disease.

“These new treatments represent a true paradigm shift. It has been a long journey.” Dr. Teiltelbaum

Proton Therapy for Pancreatic Cancer

“The evidence is clear that treatment outcomes for pancreatic cancer are better in centers that treat a high volume of these tumors. These centers of excellence have cutting edge therapies that make a difference.” Edgar Ben-Josef, MD, radiation oncologist at Penn Medicine

Local Control is Important

For many pancreatic cancer patients, local control of their disease is crucial to both improving survival and maintaining quality of life. Many problems caused by pancreatic cancer result from the tumor’s progression around the primary site, not from distant metastases. Radiation therapy can play an important role in helping to achieve this local control. At Penn, sophisticated ways of planning and delivering radiation therapy are improving the outcomes and reducing the side effects for patients with pancreatic cancer. This includes IMRT, which allows doctors to increase the dose to the tumor while reducing the effects on other organs. Another approach teaches patients to hold their breath for 15-20 seconds while the radiation is delivered, overcoming the loss of accuracy that occurs when the simple act of breathing causes the pancreas and other organs to shift their position.

Penn is also involved in research that combines radiation therapy with other treatments, including a study to determine if radiation therapy and Abraxane can improve the prognosis for patients with borderline resectable pancreatic cancers, potentially making these patients candidates for surgery. Another protocol is studying whether high doses of radiation therapy can stimulate the immune system.

Proton Therapy For Pancreatic Cancer

Penn is one of just 10 centers nationally offering proton therapy, a modality that is increasingly being used to treat pancreatic cancer. Protons are another approach to delivering high doses o radiation to the tumor while sparing neighboring tissue. Penn is treating protons to treat advanced stage pancreatic patients with some promising results in extending life and relieving symptoms.

A Safer Approach to Pancreatic Cancer Surgery

The original surgical procedure for pancreatic cancer, the Whipple procedure, had a mortality rate of 30 to 35 percent. According to Robert Roses, MD, surgical oncologist, the major breakthrough that has occurred in surgery for this disease is a significant improvement in its overall safety and reduced complications for patients who undergo the modern day version of the Whipple, known as the pancreaticoduodectomy.

“Our pancreatic cancer patients generally stay in the hospital for seven to 10 days,” says Roses, “and we focus on assuring that they have a good, safe recovery. They do sometimes have setbacks, but they are often self limited and can be well managed. The most important thing is that this surgery is often curative.”

Monday, June 24, 2013

Esophageal Cancer: "You Don't Have to Go Through It Alone"

As a teenager, Rick Megaro had heartburn a lot. He managed it with over-the-counter medications, but it always came back. He just figured he would have to live with it.

When he was 28, Rick began to have difficulty swallowing, and made an appointment with his doctor.

“He figured I was eating too fast, and advised me to slow down my eating and cut my food into smaller bites,” remembers Rick. “A few years later, I had a lot of trouble eating spaghetti, and I knew something was not right. I began eating liquid and soft foods to compensate for my swallowing issues and lost 25 pounds. My wife finally convinced me to go see a doctor.”
Rick Megaro ready for a ride

Rick came to Penn Medicine where he was examined by Penn physician Robert Cato, MD. Dr. Cato ordered an upper GI test and barium swallow – both diagnostic GI tests.

An endoscopy with Penn gastroenterologist Michael Kochman, MD, revealed Rick had stage 3 esophageal cancer (cancer was found in his lymph nodes). Rick was only 30.

“I was married with young kids at the time,” says Rick. “It was really a shock for all of us and I was scared to death”.

About Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer is cancer that develops within the lining of the esophagus, the muscular tube through which food passes from the mouth to the stomach.

There are two types of esophageal cancer:
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the flat skin-like cells lining the esophagus.
  • Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in the intestinal-type cells that make and release mucus and other fluids.
Researchers believe chronic irritation of the esophagus, like years of heartburn as was the case with Rick, may affect esophageal tissue and put some people at higher risk for developing esophageal cancer.

Barrett’s esophagus can also increase a person’s chance of developing esophageal cancer.
Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the lining of the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid, and cells within the lining are replaced by cells normally found lower in the GI tract.

Life After an Esophageal Cancer Diagnosis

Rick had an esophagectomy, as well as lymph nodes removed, to remove the cancer.

An esophagectomy is the most common form of surgery for patients with esophageal cancer. In this procedure, the part of the esophagus affected by cancer is removed. The healthy part of the esophagus is then connected to the stomach. Lymph nodes near the esophagus are also removed and examined for cancer. If the esophagus is blocked by a tumor, an expandable stent, or tube, may be placed prior to surgery to help keep the esophagus open to improve nutritional status, or after surgery for palliation.

Rick says: “After surgery, I had six weeks of chemotherapy, and six weeks of radiation. I was supposed to have a second round of 6 weeks of chemotherapy but my white blood count did not recover and my oncologist, David Vaughn, MD, thought I had enough. It took a good year to start eating normal foods again and adapt to the physical changes my body went through after surgery.”

Like many patients who have had esophagectomies, Rick had to re-learn how to eat and manage uncomfortable gastrointestinal side effects while trying to regain his health.

“The Esophagectomy Support Group at Penn really helped me adjust and relate to others going through the same side effects I was experiencing,” says Rick.

The support group meets quarterly at the Abramson Cancer Center of The University of Pennsylvania. Rick still goes to the support group meetings today after more than 16 years and has made many wonderful friends and connections.

Rick says, “The support group is run by the best nurses on the planet and is supported by a complete staff of doctors and medical professionals that help the patient from surgery to recovery. It is a wonderful place for patients, families, caregivers and survivors to talk with each other and share the experiences they all go through. It is so comforting knowing that you are not alone through this experience.”

The support group is also reaching out to patients before their surgery so they know what to expect and this helps relieve their fears and anxiety.

“If someone is going through their cancer treatment or someone that is scheduled to have an esophagectomy, it’s important to come out to these meetings and listen to other people who have been through it,” says Rick. “Being a part of a group of people who have been through this can relieve a lot of anxiety and worries, which is really important because having a good attitude is a big part of the recovery process.”

Now, 16+ years after his diagnosis and surgery, Rick gets an endoscopy every year and continues to enjoy a healthy and active lifestyle.

“If you have esophageal cancer, you don’t have to go through it alone,” says Rick.

For more information about the Esophagectomy Support Group at Penn, visit their Facebook page.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Toast to Hope and Progress at the 10th Annual Focus on Melanoma Conference

Christine Wilson, cancer survivor, shares her experiences from the Abramson Cancer Center’s 2013- Focus Melanoma and CAN Prevent Skin Cancer Conferences. In this blog, she discusses advances in melanoma treatment and research.

Lynn Schuchter, MD, had to delay her presentation, ”10 Years, Reflections on the Journey,” while The Broad Street Line, a men’s a cappella group from Temple University, began serenading the conference chair and program leader for Penn’s Melanoma Program with their version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

No song, and no moment, could have better captured the tone, and the content of the May 17th conference, which brought together over 350 patients and family members to hear Dr. Schuchter and her colleagues discuss the extraordinary progress that has been made against melanoma in the last few years.

Schuchter used the familiar computer keyboard to frame her presentation:
  • The Home Key—Because Penn is a home to its patients and to the people who care for them.
  • The Shift Key—To denote the “seismic change” in how melanoma is treated, especially the shift away from one treatment fits all approach to one that is far more individualized and targeted.
  • The Delete Key—To delete cancer, and melanoma
  • The ALT Key—Dr. Schuchter called for better, more clear cut answers to the questions that patients ask about how they can incorporate alternative therapies and help themselves to stay healthy.
  • The End—To acknowledge that melanoma still takes an enormous toll, and that many people still lose their battle to this disease. Schuchter stressed that, while pain remains part of the journey, that she and the Penn staff view taking care of melanoma patients as “an enormous privilege.”
  • The Asterisk—For the many unexpected things, “the miracles that happen every day,” the people who come to Penn with advanced disease and are cancer free today.
  • The “F” Keys—Because as Dr. Schuchter said, “I have no idea what these are about, and in melanoma, we have a lot of important clues, but we don’t yet know what they mean.”
  • The Power Button—Because “we all have so much more power to control this disease.”
  • The Hope Button—A new key, for the hope that everyone shares.

Dr. Schuchter concluded her presentation by showing the video Fire with Fire, highlighting the remarkable new approach to immunotherapy that Penn has pioneered with leukemia patients, and will soon begin using in clinical trials for melanoma patients.

Watch the Fire with Fire video below.

The conference ended with a standing ovation for Dr. Schuchter, the Penn melanoma team and the patients and caregivers who were there, along with a special “toast” of sparkling cider and a 10th year anniversary cake.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Abramson Cancer Center Welcomes Dr. Weber as Director of the Sarcoma Program

The Abramson Cancer Center is pleased to welcome Kristy L. Weber, MD as the new director of the sarcoma program at the Abramson Cancer Center, chief of orthopaedic oncology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and vice chair of faculty affairs in the department of orthopaedic surgery.

After receiving her medical degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Dr. Weber completed an orthopaedic residency at the University of Iowa and subsequently completed an orthopaedic oncology fellowship at the Mayo Clinic. She is board certified in orthopaedic surgery.

Most recently, Dr. Weber was a Virginia & William Percy Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Oncology at John’s Hopkins Medicine, where she also served as the division chief of orthopaedic oncology and the director of the Sarcoma Program.

"I am thrilled to be able to join the team in Philadelphia at the Abramson Cancer Center," says Dr. Weber. "I enjoy seeing patients with known sarcomas of bone or soft tissues as well as those patients who are concerned about a soft tissue mass or bone lesion. The sarcoma team at Penn is a highly skilled group that uses the latest research and technologies to treat patients with this disease."

Dr. Weber  specializes in the treatment of osteosarcomas, soft tissue tumors and limb salvage surgery, and has an interest in research for metastatic bone disease. Her clinical interests include the treatment of patients with bone and soft-tissue tumors, utilizing limb-salvage techniques around the hip, pelvis, knee and shoulder.

Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks and months for more information about the sarcoma program at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What You Need to Know about Testicular Cancer

June is Men’s Health Awareness Month. In this blog, Barbara Zoltick, RN, discusses testicular cancer, who is at risk and how to perform a self-exam to check for the most common cancer for men between 15 and 35.
Barbara Zoltick, RN
Barbara Zoltick, RN, is an onocolgy nurse practitioner at the Abramson Cancer Center. Barbara has more than 30 years experience caring for patients with urologic cancers including testicular cancer. She has authored peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapter and educational webinars. In this article, she discusses testicular cancer and self-exams for testicular cancer. 

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between 15 and 35 years of age.

Though it can occur in older men, testicular cancer generally occurs in young men, at the time of life when they are completing their education, finding new jobs, and creating families.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2013, 7,920 men in the United States will be diagnosed with testicular cancer, and 370 of those diagnosed will die.

Who is at Risk for Testicular Cancer?

The incidence of testicular cancer has been increasing over the past 40 years for reasons which remain unclear. Testicular cancer is more prevalent in white men than in black, Asian, or other nonwhite ethnic groups. Historically, the incidence has been found to be greater in men of any ethnicity with higher socioeconomic status and more education, though more recent studies have found this difference has diminished.

The risk factors associated with the development of testicular cancer are not well established. However, cryptorchidism, or an undescended testicle, is currently the most recognized risk factor. Cryptorchidism increases the risk of developing testicular cancer by ten-fold, though only about 5% of testicular cancers can be attributed to this condition. Additional risk factors include prenatal exposure to estrogen; other testicular abnormalities, such as underdeveloped testicles; and genetic disorders that affect sexual development, such as Kleinfelter’s Syndrome.

Fortunately, testicular cancer is one of the most curable cancers. Men diagnosed and treated when the disease is still in an early stage have a 97 to 100 percent chance of being cured. Therefore, early detection is critical.

What Testicular Cancer Looks Like

The most common sign of testicular cancer is a lump, or swelling or enlargement of a testicle. This may be accompanied by tenderness, pain or a feeling of heaviness. Unfortunately, after noticing a change in a testicle, men may wait several months before seeking a medical evaluation. The disease is then more advanced upon diagnosis, possibly requiring more intensive treatment and potentially decreasing the chance of a cure. Monthly testicular self-examinations can help a man become familiar with how his testicles normally feel. He can then recognize any changes and seek medical attention at an early, more curable stage.

It is also important to note that not every change or discomfort indicates cancer; seeking medical evaluation can provide reassurance that cancer is not the cause.

How to Perform a Testicular Self-Exam

  • Check for any swelling on the scrotum. You may need to do this in front of a mirror.
  • Examine one testicle at a time using both hands. Put your index and middle fingers under the testicle with thumbs on top. Roll the testicle gently between your fingers. It can be normal for one testicle to be slightly larger than the other.
  • You will notice a soft, tube-like area behind the testicles. This is the epididymis where sperm is stored.
  • Any testicular changes, pain, swelling, lump or tender area should be evaluated by a health care professional, preferably a urologist as soon as possible. It may not be cancer, but needs to be evaluated to be sure.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Penn Medicine Helps Patients Battle Cancer with Proton Therapy

Kathy Brandt is a lung cancer survivor who thanks her doctors at Penn Medicine for saving her life.
Kathy had proton therapy for lung cancer at Penn.

The main reason Kathy went to Penn Medicine for lung cancer treatment was because Penn Medicine offered Kathy a radiation treatment that no one else in the region could – proton therapy for lung cancer, under the same roof as all of her other treatments.

“They offer proton therapy for lung cancer, which was especially important to me. I was concerned about the scatter from radiation, and proton therapy has less scatter, and therefore the chances would be less that I would have damage to any other internal organ,” Kathy explained.

Treatment at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center uses genetically targeted proton beams to destroy cancer cells. This is a particularly important factor in lung cancer treatment due to the proximity of the heart to the lungs. And it also means fewer side effects for patients.

Watch Kathy’s story on from 6 ABC News below.

Learn More About Proton Therapy for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer at Penn Medicine

Proton therapy is a non-invasive, incredibly precise cancer treatment that uses a beam of protons moving at very high speeds to destroy the DNA of cancer cells killing them and preventing them from multiplying.

Unlike conventional radiation that can affect surrounding healthy tissue as it enters the body and targets the tumor, proton therapy’s precise, high dose of radiation is extremely targeted. This targeted precision causes less damage to healthy, surrounding tissue.

Learn more about proton therapy, or schedule a consultation with a radiation oncologist at Penn Medicine.

Monday, June 17, 2013

How Much Sunscreen Should I Use?

At the 10th Annual Focus on Melanoma Conference, Penn Dermatologist Chris Miller, MD, said, “If you haven’t gone through a bottle of sunscreen throughout the summer season, you didn’t use enough sunscreen.”

Right now, the beginning of the summer, is a great time to refresh your knowledge about SPF, sunscreen and how to apply sunscreen correctly.

What is SPF?

The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) displayed on the sunscreen label ranges from 2 to as high as 50 and refers to the product's ability to screen or block out the sun's harmful rays. For example, if you use a sunscreen with an SPF 15, you can be in the sun 15 times longer that you can without sunscreen before burning.

What SPF should I choose?

It’s recommended you use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater for all skin types, year-round. Those with fair skin should choose a sunscreen with a higher SPF. It’s also important to choose a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen that protects against UVB and UVA radiation. Sunscreen that is waterproof or water-resistant is important if you will be sweating or participating in water activities.

How much sunscreen do I need? Where should I apply it?

You should apply sunscreen to all areas of the body that will be exposed to the sun for more than 20 minutes at a time. One ounce should be able to cover your entire body. Today, most facial moisturizers contain sunscreen and can be worn under makeup. It’s important to use sunscreen year-round (even in the winter), and in all types of weather as the sun’s rays can penetrate clouds.

It’s also important to remember to apply sunscreen to the ears, feet (if bare feet or wearing sandals), and on the hands. Chap stick with SPF is also great protection for the lips.

How often should I apply sunscreen?

Sunscreen should be applied in the morning, and reapplied after swimming or perspiring heavily. Sunscreen begins to lose its effectiveness after 80 minutes in the water, so make sure to reapply once you have towel-dried.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The American Cancer Society Turns 100

This May, the American Cancer Society celebrated its 100th birthday. To celebrate, and honor cancer survivors, the American Cancer Society is featuring 100 stories from everyday people who are helping to finish the fight against cancer.

Here at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, we also have stories of people finishing the fight.

From the cancer researchers who are making life-changing discoveries in the lab, to the physicians who are bringing those lab discoveries to bedside care, the Abramson Cancer Center continues to be at the forefront of cancer research.
And the friends and families affected by cancer are also making a difference by acting for change.

Read more from those at the Abramson Cancer Center who are finishing the fight against cancer.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Survivor Strong: Celebrate Cancer Survivor’s Day With These Inspirational Stories

Cancer Survivor’s Day was this month - a day to celebrate life with and after cancer. Every person diagnosed with cancer is considered a survivor, and we thought it would be inspirational to share some stories of Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center survivors.

“Thank you for saving my life.”

Susan Bolinger of Elverson, PA, had a nagging sore throat that wouldn’t go away. After a tonsillectomy revealed she had tonsil cancer, she had a tonsil dissection, and Trans-Oral Robotic Surgery (TORS), a revolutionary surgery for the head and neck developed by Drs. Bert O’Malley and Gregory Weinstein at Penn Medicine.

Susan writes,” Today, I am cancer-free. Things are going well, and I feel better and stronger every day.”

Read more about Susan’s story here.

“Being diagnosed with stage IV cancer was not what I was expecting at the age of 30.”

From L-R: Lori Cuffari, Dr. Marcia Brose,Michelle LeBeau,
At 30, Michelle LeBeau was diagnosed with advanced stage medullary thyroid carcinoma. Michelle sought treatment under the care of Marcia Brose, MD, at the Abramson Cancer Center. There is no known cure for medullary thyroid cancer and it is not responsive to traditional chemotherapy, but rather than sit back and do nothing, Michelle started the REACT Thyroid Foundation in 2011.

Michelle says: “I was very determined to not let cancer define who I am but rather let it be one more interesting part of me. I have been very successful at doing that and have become so much more of a well rounded person because of it. My diagnosis helped me to realize how important it was to have a work/life balance, not sweat the small stuff and to live life to the fullest.”

Read more about Michelle here.

“It was the coming together of many professionals and friends that made it a comfortable, very easy experience for me.”

Bill Barbour 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’s Roberts Proton Therapy Center in February, 2012, and today he is cancer-free.

Bill remembers, "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.”

Read more about Bill’s story here.

Celebrating Father's Day With Stories of Hope

Father's Day is Sunday, and to celebrate all the men and fathers in our lives who are cancer survivors, we are sharing stories from fathers and sons.

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

"Forever filled with gratitude."

Frank McKee, Jr., talks about what it was like to watch his father overcome prostate cancer with proton therapy at Penn.

I’ll never forget the moment my dad told me he had prostate cancer. I was leaving work, getting ready to get in my car when he called. There was something ominous about his voice that told me I shouldn’t start the car – that I was about to hear some news that would affect me deeply.

He told me he had prostate cancer, and that it was found very early. He sounded calm and collected as he told me he was researching treatments for prostate cancer and had a good chance of overcoming cancer.

Despite his optimism, my heart began to sink. His diagnosis would forever change my world.

Read more of Frank's story here.

"I have found a major way to give back and educate others about this disease."

John Turino was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1996. A South Jersey resident, John is married with a son and is chairperson of the tri-state chapter of the Colon Cancer Alliance.

My story begins on May 15, 1996. I was experiencing extreme pain on my left side. I was sent to a radiologist for a barium enema, and X-ray to look at my colon, but the liquid was unable to pass through. A tumor had blocked off the descending colon and broken the membrane. The CT scan confirmed that I had colon cancer.

Read more from John here.  

"How do I tell my children? Their father’s mortality would suddenly jump out at them."

Robert Lustig, MD, is professor of radiation oncology at Penn Medicine, prostate cancer survivor and proton therapy patient. In this blog, he discusses his diagnosis, and how difficult it was to tell his kids he had cancer.

A few years ago I went to the urologist for a problem unrelated to my prostate. I was not at all concerned about prostate cancer as my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) was less than 1.

While my presenting problem was minor, the urologist felt a scar on my prostate and recommended a biopsy. Two days after the biopsy, I read the diagnosis, prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN).

Read more about Dr. Lustig's inspirational story here. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

PSA Levels and Prostate Cancer

June is Men’s Health Awareness Month. In this blog, we discuss prostate cancer, and how rising prostate-stimulating antigen, or PSA, levels can indicate the presence of prostate cancer.

The prostate gland produces a protein called prostate-stimulating antigen, or PSA.

Often, PSA levels will begin to rise before there are any symptoms of prostate cancer. Sometimes, an abnormal digital rectal exam may be the only sign of prostate cancer (even if the PSA is normal). If you have an elevated PSA, your doctor may have recommended a biopsy to tell if you have prostate cancer.

Many men who come to Penn's Abramson Cancer Center have already received a biopsy result that is positive for prostate cancer. However, before a personalized treatment plan is developed, our team provides a thorough evaluation to ensure the most accurate diagnosis. This may include an endorectal coil MRI of the prostate gland and pelvis, an advanced diagnostic technique developed at Penn Medicine,  that currently represents the optimal method for visualizing the local anatomy and assessing the extent of the disease.

The Gleason Grade and Gleason Score

The biopsy results are reported using what is called a Gleason grade and a Gleason score.

The Gleason grade tells you how fast the cancer might spread. It grades tumors on a scale of 1 to 5. You may have different grades of cancer in one biopsy sample.

The two main grades are added together. This gives you the Gleason score. The higher your Gleason score, the more likely the cancer is to have spread past the prostate.

The chart below shows diagnoses for different Gleason scores.

Learn More About Prostate Cancer Treatment at Penn

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with prostate cancer or an abnormal PSA, you're probably wondering what to do next. Look to Penn's Abramson Cancer Center for the most advanced cancer program in the region - for full insight on all your options.

Our team will:
  • Help you understand your PSA levels and guide you towards the next steps you should take
  • Ensure you have the most accurate diagnosis using advanced diagnostics
  • Offer you the most advanced surgical and radiation treatment options – all in one place
  • Answer your questions about the potential side effects of all your options
  • Provide an unbiased opinion on your best treatment option

Call 800-789-PENN (7366) to schedule a consultation with a Penn prostate cancer specialist.

Or, learn more about prostate cancer treatment, side effects of prostate cancer, and other prostate cancer information by watching a five-part video series about prostate cancer.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Support Prostate Cancer Research in 2013 Gary Papa Run

According to the National Cancer Institute, 1 in 6 American males are affected by prostate cancer today. They estimate that 2013 will see 238, 590 new cases diagnosed as well.

To raise greater awareness support for the fight against prostate cancer, Penn Urology and Radiation Oncology doctors will be joined by staff, family and friends for the 11th Annual Gary Papa Run on Father's Day, June 16 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

To register as a team member or team sponsor, please visit

and join the Penn Urology/Penn Radiation Oncology team in the fight against prostate cancer.

Any questions with registration or to make a donation, please contact Anna Bottoms at 215-615-0408.

Team shirts will be provided for all registered team members for the Penn Urology/Penn Radiation Oncology team. Registration pamphlets can also be picked up at the Radiation Oncology and Urology offices at HUP, Presbyterian and Pennsylvania Hospital.

Read about Penn’s participation in the 2012 Gary Papa Run here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Penn Physician Gets Serenaded by Broad Street Line

Chief of Hematology/Oncology at Penn Medicine Lynn Schuchter, MD, was serenaded by The Broad Street Line, a men’s a cappella group from Temple University, at the 10th Focus On Melanoma Conference.

The group surprised her as they began singing and coming on stage while seated in the audience for the conference. They sang “Over the Rainbow” and “All My Life” to Dr. Schuchter, who watched (and danced) alongside the group.

Watch the Broad Street Line’s performance below.

Penn’s Focus On Melanoma Conference addresses the personal and medical issues people with melanoma face including those in treatment, survivors, their loved ones, relatives and caregivers.

The conference provides patient-focused information on the latest advances in melanoma risk, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, symptom management and psychosocial issues. It is also an opportunity to network and gain support from other melanoma patients and survivors.

Watch videos from the melanoma conference and other cancer related content here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What’s New in Pancreatic Cancer Research?

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

Chi Van Dang, MD, PhD, at the 2nd FO Pancreatic Cancer
Starving Pancreatic Cancers

What do pancreatic cancers require to “feed” themselves? How can that information be used to design new treatments for this disease? Greg Beatty, MD, PhD, noted at the 2nd Focus On Pancreatic Cancer Conference that different approaches to imaging are increasingly being used to understand the tumor’s biology. Today, imaging encompasses much more than the standard x-ray or cat scan can provide. Novel imaging modalities allow doctors to understand not just the way tissue looks, but also how it functions and behaves—with significant implications for new approaches to treating cancer.

One such new approach, using FDG-PET, involves looking at metabolic images. Pancreatic cancers require large amounts of glucose—a kind of sugar—in order to grow. Creating visual images of which cells are taking up large amounts of these sugars makes it possible not only to identify cancers, but potentially to find them earlier and to distinguish primary cancers from metastatic disease, as well as providing a useful method of determining if a treatment is working in as little as two weeks from the beginning of treatment. Understanding the metabolism of pancreatic cancer opens the possibility of developing targeted treatments that deprive these tumors of the nutrients they need, in effect starving them to death—work that is already underway at Penn and other research centers.

Improving the Neighborhood

Better understanding of the biology of pancreatic cancers is also one key to another novel approach to treating this disease. Researchers now know that the neighborhood in which the pancreatic cancer exists plays a critical role in helping the tumor to grow.

“Pancreatic cancers form islands of tumor cells surrounded by a sea of what is known as stromal tissue,” says Dr. Beatty. “In animal models, we have seen that this stromal tissue in some ways isolates the tumor. The chemotherapy that we deliver though the blood vessels ends up being far from the cancer cells themselves, and being delivered to the stromal tissue. So the drugs have a hard time getting to the cancer cells. If we can break down the stroma, we can improve the efficiency of our current therapies.”

Better Education for the Immune System

Researchers have known for years that pancreatic cancer somehow co-opts the immune system, educating our natural defenses to help the tumor grow and spread. Now, with what Dr. Beatty describes as an “exponential increase in knowledge about the role of the immune system in pancreatic cancer,” the potential exists for “re-educating” out immune cells to fight the cancer. The neighborhood, or stroma, plays a key role in this approach as well. To use a different analogy, our tissue is like a wall, with the cancer being the bricks and the stroma being the mortar or supporting structure. If you can attack that supporting structure, you can break down the wall—and destroy the tumor.

One new approach uses an antibody known as CD40 to activate the immune system, turning on cells called macrophages to attack and kill cancer cells, and to eat away at the stroma. Another new treatment utilizes specially engineered cells taken from the patient’s own body to activate T-cells to kill cancer cells. Both of these efforts to provide good education to our immune cells are the basis for clinical trials now underway at Penn.
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