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, August 29, 2013

Cancer-Fighting Recipe: Quick Pickles

Carly Roop, RD, 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.

Quick Pickles are made with vinegar as opposed to store bought pickles, which are fermented in a highly-salted concentration called brine.

This recipe offers a low sodium alternative to the traditional pickle. The herbs and spices used in this recipe offer a variety of cancer fighting properties. Dill promotes the activation of glutathione, an antioxidant that kills free radicals and toxins in our bodies. Curcumin found in Turmeric has been investigated for not only its anti-inflammatory properties but also for its role in cancer-fighting and cancer prevention. Piperine an active substance in black pepper enhances absorption of curcumin.

Although, some water-soluble vitamins and minerals are lost during the pickling process, adding quick pickles to your summer meals is a great way to increase fiber intake while decreasing cancer risk.

Quick Pickles

Makes about 1-2 cups


1 cup of white vinegar
1¼ cup of water
¼ cup agave, honey or sugar
Up to 7 small or medium cucumbers sliced 1/8" thick
or 2 cups of crudités: pepper strips, string beans, carrot slices, cauliflower
½ tsp Dried dill, ¼ tsp crushed red pepper, ½ tsp mustard seed, ½ tsp celery seed, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 1/8 tsp turmeric


Lay sliced cucumbers on a sheet of paper towels in a single layer and sprinkle with salt. Cover with a second layer of paper towels. Let stand 15 minutes, and then pat dry.

Combine seasoning, vinegar, water and agave, honey or sugar, heat mixture in a medium pot until it is boiling. Pour mixture over vegetables. Allow to sit for 15-30 minutes or until cooled to room temperature. Put into jars and refrigerate. Enjoy for up to 1 week.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cancer-Fighting Recipe: Farro Salad with Tomatoes and Herbs

Debra DeMille, MS, RD, CSO is a nutritional counselor at the Joan Karnell Cancer Center. Debra has worked at Pennsylvania Hospital since 1988 with the last 12 years specializing in oncology. Debra guides individuals receiving chemotherapy and radiation as well as addressing survivorship issues including the use of integrative therapies.

This is a wonderful grain salad that can be very versatile. Farro is a wheat grain that is high in fiber and protein. Farro also has cancer fighting lignans and may aid with blood sugar control. The down side is that along with recent popularity, the cost has risen. So brown rice, barley or quinoa are easy substitutes.

Parsley is a wonderful herb which is known as a palate and breath cleanser. This herb is high in Vitamin C, beta-carotene and folic acid.

Chives contain the compound as is found in garlic called allium which also has cancer fighting properties. And tomatoes are well known for being high in Vitamin C, potassium and lycopene which may decrease the risk of prostate cancer and have anti-inflammatory properties.

Farro Salad with Tomatoes and Herbs

Serves 6
  • 4 cups water
  • 10 ounces of farro
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes
  • ½ Vidalia or sweet onion (chopped)
  • ¼ cup snipped fresh chives
  • ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
  • Dressing ingredients:
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

  1. Combine water and farro in a medium saucepan.  Add the salt.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  Drain the grain and transfer to a large bowls to cool.
  2. Add the tomatoes, onion, chives and parsley to the grain and toss to combine.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients and add to the salad.  Toss to coat the ingredients.

Source: by Giada De Laurentis

Debra’s note:
This salad will also work well with many other whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, barley or whole wheat couscous.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tee Off and Support Cancer Research, Treatment and Survivorship Programs

From the Sarah Rosato Golf Invitational: (from left) Vince Powers, Lt.Col. Brendan Reilly (C'88), Rafael Rosato (C'88), Chris Young
“When I walked out of my last cancer treatment at Penn, my perspective on life had changed. I made the decision right then and there to follow my dream and open my own business. Now that we are up and running, I want to show my deep appreciation and support for the institution that gave me hope and saved my life, while ensuring other men with cancer also have the opportunity to follow their dreams.”
– Ed Tell, testicular cancer survivor, RAZRBAR founder
“My sister, Sarah, was a remarkable young woman from whom I continue to learn about facing challenges with an optimistic view of the future. She was enthusiastic about life and never lost sight of what could be, rather than what is right now. Organizing a charitable golf tournament in her name helps keep her spirit alive in the hearts of many, but most importantly in our own hearts. I could never tell you often enough how grateful we are to the people who have given their time and support to this cause. Sarah would have enjoyed their company and counted them as friends.”
-Raphael Rosato, along with his family, organizes the Sarah Marie Rosato Golf Invitational

Golf Outings to Support Cancer Research and Survivorship Programs

Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center is a place of healing and inspiration – through innovative research and compassionate care, charitable donations provide hope to patients and families.

“Philanthropy is incredibly important to our ability to offer important survivorship care and research to the growing number of cancer survivors,” says Linda Jacobs, PhD, RN, Director, LIVESTRONG Survivorship Center of Excellence at the Abramson Cancer Center. “Philanthropy ensures patients and families are empowered to have the best possible quality of life after treatments and remain cancer-free. We are grateful to our many friends who are dedicated to raising awareness and vital funds to improve the lives of people affected by cancer.”

One way to support cancer research and families at the Abramson Cancer Center is through area golf outings that raise money.

Here are some upcoming golf tournaments to support cancer research at the Abramson Cancer Center:

September 9
J. Lorber Co. Golf Classic: Supporting prostate cancer research

September 23
1st Annual RAZRBAR Golf Classic: Supporting survivorship programs at the Abramson Cancer Center

September 24
David I. Lee Golf Outing: Supporting prostate cancer robotic surgery

September 30
The 21st Annual Jay Sigel Invitational: Supporting cancer research at the AFRCI

9th Annual Sarah Marie Rosato Golf Invitational: Supporting survivorship programs.

Create a Personalized Giving Page at the Abramson Cancer Center

Honor. Remember. Celebrate. Inspire.

Create a personalized and interactive giving page in honor or memory of a family member, friend or loved one; celebrate a special event and inspire others to join you in support of innovative research and world-class patient care at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center.

Penn Giving Pages are the perfect way to raise awareness and philanthropic support for the kinds of cancer research, education and care that matter the most to you.

Get started on your personalized giving page here.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cancer-Fighting Recipe: Watermelon Salad

Debra DeMille, MS, RD, CSO is a nutritional counselor at the Joan Karnell Cancer Center. Debra has worked at Pennsylvania Hospital since 1988 with the last 12 years specializing in oncology. Debra guides individuals receiving chemotherapy and radiation as well as addressing survivorship issues including the use of integrative therapies.

Of course watermelon is great just cut in wedges however, this refreshing salad is a nice variation. Watermelons are not only high in vitamins A and C as well as lycopene – the carotenoid found in tomatoes. Actually, 1 cup of watermelon has the amount of lycopene that is found in 2 tomatoes.

Cucumbers contain lignans which not only are antioxidants that help destroy free radicals but also have cancer fighting properties. Mint has antioxidant, antibacterial properties and may aid with digestion and decrease gas.

If you have a commercially prepared Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing that you like, you can use that. Otherwise, make your own with 1 part balsamic vinegar to 2 parts olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. So for 2 Tbs. of dressing, that would be 2 tsp. of vinegar to 4 tsp. of olive oil. Best served when the watermelon is chilled!

Watermelon Salad


3 cups chopped watermelon – ¾ “ cubes
1 cup chopped cucumber – ¼” chunks
½ cup crumbled Feta
2 Tbs. chopped fresh Mint
2 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing


Combine all ingredients.

This is a very refreshing and great light summer salad – especially when you bought the watermelon and need to use it up. Watermelons are not only high in vitamins A and C as well as lycopene – the carotenoid found in tomatoes. Actually, 1 cup of watermelon has the amount of lycopene that is found in 2 tomatoes.

If you have a commercially prepared balsamic vinaigrette dressing that you like, you can use that. Otherwise, make your own with 1 part balsamic vinegar to 2 parts olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. So for 2 Tbs. of dressing, that would be 2 tsp. of vinegar to 4 tsp. of olive oil. Best served when the watermelon is chilled!


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Last Thing…A Story of Thyroid Cancer, Survivorship and LIVESTRONG

Born to Greek immigrant parents on the bicentennial, Dimitrios Donavos, 37, of Silver Spring, MD was diagnosed with Papillary Carcinoma in May of 2006. A cycling enthusiast, an activity he took up at a young age as a counterweight to his mother's culturally driven need to overfeed him, he is grateful to be cancer free today and participating in his 6th LIVESTRONG Philly Challenge on August 18th.

“Oh, and one more thing…” quipped Dr. Joseph Bavaria, the Penn cardiothoracic surgeon who had just gone over my CT and echocardiogram results one year after my aortic root replacement surgery, “there’s this thyroid nodule that showed up on the edge of your abdominal CT scan. It’s probably nothing, but we’re going to refer you to Dr. Susan Mandel for evaluation just to cover our bases.”

Thyroid nodule? It was the last thing I wanted to hear after being given a positive report on the status of my aortic root repair, the largest and most complicated surgery of my life. It had been a very long road leading to that fateful day in the exam room on the 4th floor of Silverstein building and this was a twist that I wasn’t expecting.

I had first arrived at HUP a year earlier for a consultation with Dr. Bavaria, or “Dr. B”, as he is known to his patients. At the age of 15 I had been diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a rare genetic disorder of the connective tissue. The diagnosis helped explain why I was 6’5”, with long limbs and slender fingers, while no one else in my immediate family broke the 5’6” barrier. Among the host of symptoms that accompany the disease, none is more serious than the cardiovascular complications affecting the aorta. Marfan syndrome has made my connective tissue weaker, and my aorta had stretched over time to nearly 6 centimeters (twice the average size of 3 cm). As my aorta stretched, it became even weaker, running the risk of a potentially fatal dissection or rupture.

Dr. B was evaluating me for a relatively new procedure for Marfan patients, a David 5 valve-sparing aortic root replacement. Even though the procedure had been performed in the “normal” population for some time, Marfan patients typically received a more traditional surgical approach that involved a mechanical valve. Dr. B was refreshingly upfront when he told me I would only be his 25th patient to undergo the valve-sparing procedure.

The surgery required my body to be cooled and induced into a hypothermic state in order to shut down both my brain and my heart while surgeons worked on the arteries. No EKG (heart signal) or ECG (brain signal) meant that for that portion of the surgery I met the standard for the clinical definition of death.

Dimitrios Donavos, (back row, third from the left)
The surgery was a success. Shortly after my initial discharge, however, complications forced me back to Penn hospital by helicopter for an emergency life-saving procedure. Additional hospital stays for life threatening arrhythmias, reconstructive plastic surgery to repair a stubborn chest incision that was refusing to close, and months of rehabilitation therapy all led up to my one-year follow-up visit with Dr. B. After everything I had been through, I finally felt like I had turned a corner and was looking forward to a period of relative calm on the health front.

Then came the cancer.

Sitting in Dr. Mandel’s office awaiting the results of a thin needle biopsy was one of the longest waits I had ever had to endure. It was probably less than 20 minutes, all told, but the anticipation of confirming (or rejecting) a cancer diagnosis had the effect of making time stand still. The tension in the room as we waited for the results was palpable. When Dr. Mandel mercifully burst in and broke the silence, the news was what I had feared: I had thyroid cancer.

If ever there is an upside to a cancer diagnosis, it was that it was the “right” kind of thyroid cancer: Papillary Carcinoma. Of the types of thyroid cancer, it has the highest survivability rate. At that point surgery was no longer optional and I likely faced radiation therapy afterwards, depending on how large the nodule was and whether the cancer had spread to surrounding lymph node tissue. In a procedure performed by Dr. Ara Chalian, I had a radical thyroidectomy (total removal of the thyroid). Because the cancer had spread, and the nodule was over 1 cm, I underwent radiation therapy at the recommendation of Dr. Mandel. Ironically, the therapy entailed swallowing capsules containing radioactive iodine … the toxic substance released in a nuclear meltdown. Because the thyroid is really good at absorbing iodine, it’s an approach targeted at eradicating any remaining thyroid tissue in the body without damaging other tissue.

After radiation therapy I underwent a period of seclusion during which I was quarantined from human contact and anything I touched became radioactive (a trait my young nephew at the time found exceptionally cool). The treatment was successful: my follow-up full body scans were clean, indicating no more evidence of thyroid cancer in my body.

The Silver Lining

In an unlikely symbiosis, my Marfan syndrome and subsequent aortic root replacement had led to a scenario that helped diagnose my thyroid cancer, potentially saving my life. Not a day goes by that I am not thankful for the incredible care that I received and continue to receive at HUP. To say that I wouldn’t be here today without their efforts would be an understatement and it gives me great pride and appreciation to have been able to join the Penn Medicine LIVESTRONG Philly Cycling team in 2012 and to be riding with them again in 2013 in support of the LIVESTRONG Foundation and their efforts.

Learn more about the LIVESTRONG Philadelphia Challenge, and why the Abramson Cancer Center is a LIVESTRONG Center of Excellence

Read more about thyroid cancer

Monday, August 12, 2013

Upcoming Cancer Conference: 3rd Focus on Neuroendocrine Tumors for Patients and Caregivers

Join the Abramson Cancer Center and Caring for Carcinoid Friday, September 27, 2013 for a free conference about neuroendocrine tumors.

Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) form from cells that release hormones in response to a signal from the nervous system. Some examples of neuroendocrine tumors are carcinoid tumors, islet cell tumors, phechromocytomas and Merkel cell cancers.

Neuroendocrine tumors are often small and can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous).

Patients with NETs are treated at Penn by a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists who see more patients with gastrointestinal (GI) cancers in one year than many doctors see in their careers.

In addition, the Neuroendocrine Tumor Center at Penn offers patients:
  • A tumor board: A treatment planning approach in which the NET team reviews and discusses the medical condition and treatment options of a patient.
  • Nurse navigators: Specialty nurses available to guide patients through the appointment and treatment process.
  • A single point of contact.

Who Should Attend the NET Conference?

The Focus On Neuroendocrine Tumors conference is for people who are newly diagnosed, currently in treatment or long-term survivor of:

Gastrointestinal Tract NETs including:
  • Pancreatic NETs (hereditary or sporadic)
  • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (gastrinomas)
  • Insulinomas
  • Alimentary tract NETs (foregut, midgut or hindgut)
  • Functional (carcinoid syndrome)
  • Non-functional
Pheochromocytomas and Paragangliomas including hereditary and sporadic forms
Bronchial and Thymic Carcinoids
Hereditary Syndromes including:
  • Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN)
  • Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)
  • von Hippel–Lindau (VHL)
  • SDHB and SDHD mutations

Register for the Focus On Neuroendocrine Tumors Conference

The Focus on NET Conference is free, and open to the public.

Date: Friday, September 27, 2013
Time: 8 am to 2:30 pm
Location: Hilton Hotel, 4200 City Line Avenue, Philadelphia, PA
Registration: Register here for the conference

Can’t Attend In Person?

If you can’t attend in person, view the Livestream of the event, at , follow @PennMedicine and @CureCarcinoid on Twitter with the hashtag #NETsACC.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Penn's Basser Research Center for BRCA Names UK Breast Cancer Researcher Alan Ashworth Winner of First Annual Basser Global Prize

The Basser Research Center for BRCA has announced the recipient of its first annual Basser Global Prize. The honor will go to cancer biology and genetics expert Alan Ashworth, FRS, Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Cancer Research in London and leader of the Gene Function team in the ICR’s Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre.

The Basser Global Prize, a marquee component of the Basser Research Center for BRCA, was established by Shari Basser Potter and Leonard Potter to honor a visionary scientist who has conceptually advanced BRCA1 and BRCA2 related research that has led to improvements in clinical care.

Professor Ashworth’s laboratory focuses on using genetic principles to understand cancer biology and channel the findings into information to change the way patients are treated. His lab has been instrumental in the development of PARP inhibitor therapy, medications that are designed to target the genetic vulnerability of BRCA1- and BRCA2-related cancers.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Love in the Afternoon

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 the changing views on relationships and sexuality for people with cancer.

Dr. Weiss speaks about love and relationships.

What happens when one of the region’s leading breast cancer doctors—and advocates—is diagnosed with the disease that she has fought for an or her entire career. In the case of Marissa Weiss, MD, founder of, her role as a “dual citizen,” as doctor and patient, has re-charged her passion—for life, love and for other patients. She began her talk by encouraging the audience “to get your life back,” and to embrace the idea of living not just as long as they could but as well.

Having cancer herself, Dr. Weiss acknowledged, is a “long hard battle,” that can change how you feel about just about everything in your life—your own body, relationships, your sexuality, the family and friends who surround you. Your partner may not know how or be able to meet your needs, and your own expectations will change.

In all of this, Weiss stressed, it is important to “share your life with other people.” Isolation is a “bad sign.” People need to reconnect with other people, to maintain a social context. That means having fun, letting yourself be spontaneous, opening yourself to new opportunities. It can mean romance and intimacy, but it doesn’t have to go that route. Love, whether it is sexual or platonic, leads to more love. The important thing is to understand that all any of us has is the present, that we need to make the most of the time we have, and that our mind is our most powerful organ.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...