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.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Former Olympic Athlete and Coach Leads Funding Effort for Cancer Vaccines

“We are not a charity. We are a crusade to rid the world of cancer— one vaccine at a time.” - Uschi Keszler, founder and CEO of Pennies in Action.

October will be another busy month for Pennies in Action(R), the non-profit whose mission is to educate, advocate, and fund research, development, and trials for Penn Medicine breast surgeon Brian Czerniecki, MD, and the work he is doing for breast cancer vaccines.

October's fundraising events kick off on October 5 with the Ace Cancer Mixed Doubles Tennis Tournament at Bucks County Racquet Club, and then move all the way to Florida that same day with the Palm Beach Figure Skating Club’s Regional Send-off and Winter Olympic Preview. From October 24 to October 27, Steve DiOrio, host of the "Steve DiOrio Show," will complete a 250 mile triathlon to raise awareness and funds for the phase III Trial of Dr. Czerniecki’s vaccine, and to close out fundraising initiatives for breast cancer awareness month, on October 30th the Voorhees Middle School will host a basketball shoot off fundraiser. St. Joe’s head basketball coach, Phil Martelli, as well as the wife of Flyers head coach, Kristen Laviolette, will be in attendance.

Uschi learned of the cancer vaccine from Dr. Czerniecki when he performed surgery to treat her breast cancer. As a former élite athlete and tuberculosis survivor, she refused to kill her immune system and diminish her strength while battling cancer, and opted for surgery without chemotherapy or radiation.
Pictured from left to right – Pennies In Action® Crusaders:  Michael Nicholas,  Brian Czerniecki, MD, PhD, Uschi Keszler, MacKenzie Nicholas, and Melissa Nicholas.

As it happened, her decision aligned with Dr. Czerniecki’s research. A vaccine that uses the patients’ own white cells to fight disease by training these cells to attack a protein that early tumors need to survive – and a way to keep breast cancer from coming back.

While Uschi herself was ineligible to enroll in any cancer vaccine trials, she forged a tremendous partnership with Dr. Czerniecki. His brilliance and ability to focus and think quickly on his feet in and out of the operating theatre, reminded her of the elite athletes she both competed with and trained to become champions on a worldwide stage. Uschi’s fortitude refusing to destroy her body in order to heal it, and high-profile status, made her a perfect advocate for Dr. Czerniecki’s vaccine research.

When Dr. Czerniecki asked for her help, Uschi knew she wanted to give it. At first she was unsure how. Her inspiration came when she spotted a penny while biking. “I always pick up pennies,” Uschi said. “I was raised on a saying that ‘he who does not honor the penny, is not worthy of the dollar.’”

Six years after its creation, Uschi and Pennies in Action® have raised many pennies that have added up to many dollars – so many in fact that those dollars are funding a new vaccine trial to prevent breast cancer recurrence at Penn Medicine. From Pennies in Action® local fundraising events around the country to a charity partnership with the Philadelphia Marathon to a placement in a major motion picture– Uschi’s fundraising ingenuity and tenacity has guaranteed there is no place that Pennies is Action cannot go and no goal they cannot reach. Further proof is an international event with the sponsorship of a Kenyan who will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro raising funds for Pennies in Action®.

What sets Pennies in Action® apart is the organization’s minimal overhead and massive professional volunteer base that donates time and lends expertise on a pro bono basis. But it is Uschi who really makes Pennies in Action® so special, and so successful. Her discipline, drive, and determination have resolved her to continue fighting until cancer is history.

“I play to win, I don’t go to a competition to participate, and how do you win? You beat your opponent at its own game,” said Uschi. “Our opponent is cancer- and cancer beats life by emulating regular cells, the way cancer wins is that it never shuts down, but the beauty of the vaccine is that it doesn’t even give recurring cancer cells a chance to become a contender!”

Learn more about Pennies in Action and their upcoming events here.

Learn how you can support Dr. Czerniecki's Cancer Vaccine Research Fund here, or contact Pam Keon at or 215-573-4040.

Join the 2nd Annual Namas Day Yoga Festival

The Second Annual Namas Day is a Philadelphia Area Yoga Festival. Sponsored in part by the Abramson Cancer Center, this full day of workshops, master classes, and information exchange will bring together yogis from all over the Greater Philadelphia Area.

Date: Sunday, October 6th, 2013
Location: Wayne Art Center

Yoga and Cancer

Gentle movement, breathing techniques, meditation, deep relaxation and imagery work to guide patients to an energized yet calm state of peaceful awareness. As fatigue is the number one side effect of cancer treatment, patients spend approximately 60 to 75% of class time in chairs, with some choosing to remain in the chair for the entire class.

Movements can be modified to accommodate all types of limitations.

In addition to these classic elements of yoga, “Yoga Therapy for Cancer Patients” includes concise lectures on the physiology behind yoga and arms patients with information and an understanding of yoga’s workings.

For instance, meditation elicits the “relaxation response,” a term coined by researcher Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School to describe a phenomenon in which the following physiological changes take place:
  • Metabolism decreases
  • Heart rate lowers
  • Muscles tension is reduced
  • Breath rate slows
  • Blood pressure decreases
  • Chemicals associated with stress, cortisol and adrenalin, are reduced
When patients know these benefits of yoga, they are inspired to practice more frequently.

About Namas Day

Namas Day is brought to you by Philly Area Yoga, a website dedicated to equally supporting yoga and wellness businesses in the Greater Philadelphia Area. We strive to bring together the community, offering an opportunity to strengthen our ties without competition. Representing the community as a whole, we are not owned or operated by any individual yoga studio or business. We strive to connect the students, teachers, studios and wellness businesses; and share these incredible local resources.

This year, Namas Day will donate a portion of proceeds to The Cancer Support Community of Philadelphia (CSCP), an organization dedicated to providing, at no cost to members, a comprehensive and professional program of emotional support and education designed to enhance the mind, body and spirit of people whose lives have been impacted by cancer. CSCP offers programs at Ridgeland in Fairmount Park and other Philadelphia-area locations. Visit their website or more information,

Learn more about Namas Day Philadelphia, and register for Namas Day here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Types of Radiation Treatment for Prostate Cancer

At Penn, men with prostate cancer have access to new and advanced treatment options and ongoing clinical trials in radiation therapy including proton therapy. As part of Penn Medicine's commitment to advancing cancer care in patients, radiation oncologists are also researching how radiation treatment affects the quality of life for cancer patients.

These are some types of radiation therapy that may be used to treat prostate cancer.

Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT)

Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) uses frequent imaging during a course of radiation therapy to improve the precision and accuracy of the delivery the radiation treatment.

In IGRT, the linear accelerator (machine that delivers radiation) is equipped with imaging technology that take pictures of the tumor immediately before or during the time radiation is delivered.

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)

Radiation therapy, including IMRT, stops cancer cells from dividing and growing, thus slowing or stopping tumor growth. In many cases, radiation therapy is capable of killing all of the cancer cells.

Using 3-D computed tomography (CT) images in conjunction with computerized dose calculations, IMRT allows for the radiation dose to conform more precisely to the three-dimensional shape of the tumor by controlling, or modulating the intensity of the radiation beam in multiple small volumes.

The therapy allows higher radiation doses to be focused on regions within the tumor while minimizing the dose to surrounding normal critical structures.


Cyberknife delivers beams of high dose radiation to tumors with extreme accuracy.
CyberKnife therapy is pain free, non-invasive and can be done as an outpatient procedure. CyberKnife can treat hard to reach tumors, and requires no anesthesia during treatment.

Proton Therapy

Proton therapy is external beam radiotherapy in which protons are directed at a tumor. The radiation dose that is given through protons is very precise, and limits the exposure of normal tissues. This allows the radiation dose delivered to the tumor to be increased beyond conventional radiation. The result is a better chance for curing cancer with fewer harmful side effects.

Unlike X-rays, protons can be manipulated to release most of their energy only when they reach their target. With more energy reaching the cancerous cells, more damage is administered by each burst of radiation.

Read a patient testimonial about proton therapy for prostate cancer here.

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 including a second opinion for prostate cancer treatment.

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.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Prostate Cancer, Surgery and Treatment Options at Penn Medicine

Surgery may be an option for many men with prostate cancer. In some prostate cancer cases, a radical prostatectomy, removal of the prostate gland, is needed.

Penn is a national leader in surgical treatment of prostate cancer and its surgeons are at the forefront of developing and using new minimally invasive surgical techniques. Benefits of minimally invasive surgical techniques include:

  • Smaller incisions/less scarring
  • Significantly less pain
  • Less blood loss
  • Shorter recovery time
  • Faster return to normal daily activities

Radical Prostatectomy

A radical prostatectomy is complete removal of the prostate gland, surrounding tissue and seminal vesicles. A prostatectomy can be performed via traditional surgery, or robotic-assisted surgery.
Traditional prostatectomy

Traditional prostatectomy involves removing the prostate and surrounding tissues through an incision in the body. Nearby lymph nodes may be removed at the same time.

The surgical incision can be made either though the abdomen or through the perineum, the area between the scrotum and the anus.

Robotic-Assisted Prostatectomy

One of the most innovative treatments for prostate cancer is robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy – removal of the prostate gland via computer-assisted surgery.

Laparoscopic robotic-assisted prostatectomy is the complete removal of the prostate using long, narrow instruments that are introduced through very small skin incisions. To perform the procedure, six tiny incisions are made in the patient's abdomen and the laparoscopic instruments are carefully inserted and attached to the robot.

Robotic prostatectomy offers similar and sometimes better outcomes than traditional prostate cancer surgery. The margins obtained around the prostate are just as precise, if not more so, than with open surgery. This leads to cancer cure rates equal to traditional surgery. Better precision also means better nerve sparing, thereby maximizing the chances of preserving sexual and urinary function.

While these technological advantages are significant, a surgeon's skill and experience remain the most important elements for achieving good outcomes. Penn has one of the most experienced robotic-assisted surgery teams in the world, with full-time surgeons dedicated to robotic-assisted prostatectomies. It’s their experience, understanding of the body and prostate cancer, and dexterity of the robot’s tools that helped rank Penn’s urology the highest in the Philadelphia region, and among the nation’s best.

Most men who have robotic-assisted prostatectomies return to work in two to three weeks and can resume activities such as golf and weightlifting in about three weeks.


Cryosurgery is a treatment currently offered through clinical trial studies. Cryosurgery is the application of extreme cold to destroy tumors and cancer cells. Cryosurgery may be an option to treat prostate cancer if other treatment options are not successful.

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 including a second opinion for prostate cancer treatment.

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.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Living Well After Childhood Cancer

If there is any good news about childhood cancer, and childhood cancer diagnoses, it’s that more and more children are doing well after a cancer diagnosis. In fact, three fourths of the 12,000 young people diagnosed with cancer under the age of 18 each year are expected to have excellent outcomes.

As more children with cancer have better results, the number of adults who had cancer as a child continues to rise. This exciting result reflects the efforts of cancer researchers around the country who have dedicated their lives to finding better treatments that also reduce the potential long-term side effects from cancer and its treatments.

Late Effects of Childhood Cancer

There may be late effects of childhood cancer. These effects include
  • Impaired growth
  • Heart problems
  • Lung problems
  • Thyroid problems
  • Bone density problems
  • Dental problems
  • Fertility
  • Liver problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Learning problems
  • Emotional problems
  • Second cancers

Feelings of Recurrence

Feelings of recurrence among survivors is very common. The Abramson Cancer can help you address them through our Living Well After Childhood Cancer Program.

The Living Well After Childhood Cancer program was established with a grant from the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF). The LAF continues to help support the program and credits it as the premier model for helping survivors understand, address, and control the medical and psychological effects of a cancer diagnosis.

At Penn, we focus on you and your particular medical situation and personal questions or needs. We help you understand the effects that your prior surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy may have long-term on your health. These effects are commonly called ‘late effects'. Because we know that there may be psychological effects directly related to having had cancer as a child, our team is also prepared to help you work through your concerns. Other issues, such as insurance and infertility, are also discussed in a private, supportive environment.

Our goal is to make you feel empowered and that you are in charge of your long-term health.

If you are a childhood cancer survivor, or know a childhood cancer survivor, visit the Living Well After Childhood Cancer program at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Breast and Ovarian Cancer Symposium 9/30 in NYC with Basser Center for BRCA

Imaeg of Barbara WaltersAs one in a series of Jewish community educational events, Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA is collaborating with Central Synagogue in New York City to sponsor the Breast & Ovarian Cancer Symposium on Monday, September 30, 2013 from 6 to 8 pm

Inherited Breast & Ovarian Cancer: Why Jewish Families Are at Heightened Risk

The symposium will focus on the Ashkenazi Jewish population's increased chances of carrying a mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Mutations in these genes place people at a greatly increased risk for both breast and ovarian cancer.

To explore this topic, Barbara Walters will be moderating a panel of breast and ovarian cancer experts. Presenting on the panel will be Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA.

“With proper genetic counseling, testing, education, and screening, women and men with BRCA mutations have the power to dramatically reduce their risk of developing these cancers and to catch them early when they are most curable,” says Domchek, also an oncologist at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center. 

“We wanted to partner with synagogues to build on the strong trust that rabbis have already formed with their congregations. These religious leaders are in a position to empower their congregations to learn about their risk and take decisive steps to prevent and detect cancer in their families.”

The event is free and open to the public, and no tickets are necessary.

To RSVP and learn more about the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Symposium, the panelists attending and other details, visit the official event page.

Read More About BRCA in the Jewish Community

We encourage you to read more about these events at the Focus on Cancer Blog, from the official Penn Medicine press release as well as an inspirational blog post from the Union for Reform Judaism.

The PSA Test, and Options for Prostate Cancer Treatment at Penn

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 including a second opinion for prostate cancer treatment.

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.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Blood Cancer News from ASCO 2013

Christine Wilson, cancer survivor, shares her experiences from the The American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) national conference in 2013. Every year,  cancer specialists and researchers from around the world gather to present their latest findings on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of science. At a recent continuing medical education meeting, experts from the Abramson Cancer Center summarized some of the most important research from ASCO 2013 for a packed room of over 300 local oncologists.

This is a summary of the information presented at ASCO CME by Edward Stadtmaurer, MD, chief of hematologic malignancies at Penn Medicine.

One of the featured studies this year focused on the work done at Penn Medicine by Drs. David Porter and Carl June. That study used specially re-engineered CAR T cells to treat patients with relapsed ALL and CLL, all of whom had exhausted all other treatment options. Eighty percent of the first group of patients responded to this therapy and their responses have been prolonged.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia

  • For acute pro-myelocytic leukemia, the combination of ATRA and ATO is the equivalent of standard chemotherapy. The response rate to this regimen was 100% suggesting that these patients can be treated without chemotherapy.
  • Sorafenib vs. Azacytidine in AML with FLT3-ITD. The FLT3-ITD mutation is found in 20 to 25% of patients with AML and is associated with poor prognosis. This was a phase I/II study with patients who had been treated with several regimens and had multiple relapses. Forty-three percent of these patients attained either a complete or partial response, and a number are continuing to do well on a long term basis.

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia/ALL

  • PACE: This phase II trial used ponatinib as a secondary TKI for patients with heavily pretreated CML. Fifty-six percent of patients responded, a very good result in these patients who have become resistant to therapy.
  • Blinatumomab for relapsed/refractory ALL. This is a new agent that achieved a 69% response rate in a group of patients that is very difficult to treat successfully. A number of these patients were able to move on to allogeneic transplants.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

  • Ibrutinib: This is a new drug that is generating significant excitement in treating CLL. In three different groups of patients at different stages of the disease, it has produced a high overall response rate that was not affected by known poor prognostic factors.
  • Idelasib plus Rituximab/Bendamustine for relapsed/refractory CLL. Up to 90% of patients responded to this therapy with 60% having a two year progression free survival.

Multiple Myeloma

Treatments for multiple myeloma have improved significantly over the last decade. The focus now is on maintenance--on providing treatment that sustains initial complete responses.
  • VMPT-VT vs. VMP: This study supports the value of maintenance therapy regardless of the primary treatment.
  • Carfilzomib/lenalidomide/low dose dexamethasone in untreated myeloma. This study supports using new agents, such as carfilzomib earlier in the treatment process.
  • Iaxomib plus lenalidomide and dexamethasone in untreated myeloma. These drugs, all oral agents, produced a 92% complete response rate.
  • Carfilzomib/Pomalidomide/LoDex: This trial produced a 50% response rate in patients who had been heavily pre-treated, averaging six previous regimens. The one year survival rate was 90% with no neuropathy.

It is very hard for any patient or caregiver to evaluate whether and how these studies will apply to an individual case. The most important thing is to be in a place where your team can offer you the state of the art treatment options, and is providing leadership in developing tomorrow’s treatment.

For more information on these new approaches, and on the clinical trials currently underway at the Abramson Cancer Center, talk to your doctor or go to

Friday, September 20, 2013

Prostate Cancer, Risk, Assessment and Treatment at Penn

What is Prostate Cancer?

The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system located just below the bladder. The prostate is small, about the size of a walnut, and it produces fluid found in semen.

Prostate cancer is a disease in which cancerous (malignant) cells form in the tissues of the prostate.

Prostate cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death in men over 75. Prostate cancer is rarely found in men younger than 50.

Prostate Cancer Risk and Prevention

Men who develop prostate cancer are more likely than other men to have certain risk factors for the disease. A risk factor is something that increases the chance of developing a disease.

There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.

Prostate Cancer Risk Factors

Although the exact cause of prostate cancer is unknown, certain factors can increase the risk of developing prostate cancer:

  • Age. Prostate cancer is rare in men under the age of 50. The risk for prostate cancer increases as men get older .
  • Family history of prostate cancer. Men who have a brother or father with prostate cancer have a higher risk for prostate cancer.
  • Race. Prostate cancer occurs more often in African-American men than white men, and it occurs at an earlier age in African American men.
This does not mean men who have one or more of these factors will develop prostate cancer, but they should speak with a physician about their risk.

Prostate Cancer Risk Assessment

Men who have conditions that put them at risk for prostate cancer may benefit from consulting with their physician to determine their risk. If they are at a higher risk for prostate cancer, they may consider getting screened for prostate cancer.

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 - including getting a second opinion for your prostate cancer treatment.

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.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Penn Medicine's Fall Festival at Valley Forge

Cancer prevention is about making healthier choices that can help your body fight off diseases like cancer. On Saturday, September 21, 2013, meet with Penn Medicine doctors and dieticians to discuss how to stay healthy and prevent cancer a the 3rd Annual Penn Medicine Valley Forge Fall Festival.

During this FREE program you will:

  • Learn about cancer risk, prevention and screening.
  • Hear how to stay fit and cancer-free in your 20s, 30s,
  • 40s, 50s and older.
  • Get tips on how to talk to your doctor.
  • Find out how to choose an oncologist.

Get answers to your questions from these Penn Medicine physicians and our clinical dietician:


  • Free skin cancer screenings by Penn dermatologist Dr. Stacey Turner. 
  • Patient Service Representatives will be on-site to schedule health appointments and screenings for Penn Medicine at Valley Forge.

Join Us

Date: Saturday, September 21, 2013
Time: 10 am to 1 pm 
Location: Penn Medicine Valley Forge, 1001 Chesterbrook Boulevard, Berwyn, PA 19312

Free Program - No Registration Needed

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Go the Distance For Childhood Cancer Awareness

Erica Voll is a Philadelphia-area blogger. In this article, she discusses National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and how she, along with other Philadelphia-area bloggers, are logging miles to raise awareness with Alex's Lemonade Stand

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. And throughout the entire month, I, along with other Delaware Valley bloggers, am joining Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to go the distance with the Million Mile Run.

How Far is One Million Miles?

  • A trip to the moon and back, twice.
  • More than 40 times around the earth.
  • More than 3,000 trips from NYC to Los Angeles.
  • More than 38,000 marathons.

With firsthand knowledge of just how far parents of children with cancer would go to find a cure for their child, the Foundation is challenging supporters to collectively walk or run one million miles during the month of September to work toward better treatments and ultimately cures.

The brainchild of Foundation Co-Executive Director, Jay Scott, a running enthusiast, the Million Mile Run will invite ambitious individuals, as well as teams, to pledge to walk/run and contribute to the one million mile goal during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Drawing from the inspiration of Foundation creator Alexandra “Alex” Scott, who set out to raise $1 million through lemonade stands in 2004, Jay Scott feels that through combined efforts, reaching one million miles in just thirty days is attainable.

“The Million Mile Run will act as an easy way for walkers and runners of all abilities to contribute to the fight against childhood cancer and raise the profile of the awareness month,” says Scott. “Though some people have commented that one million miles might be a crazy goal, and maybe they are right, my daughter Alex taught me that when you set your mind to something and garner the help of others, anything is possible. She reached her million, and I think we can too.”

The Million Mile Run will utilize both the MapMyRun application and the ability for participants to manually enter the miles they log daily. Individuals who participate will average three to four miles a day, while teams can split up the 100 miles. For instance, a group of 4 employees can walk a mile at lunch every day and easily reach their goal. Additionally, participants are urged to recruit friends and family members to pledge dollar amounts for each mile, or provide a straight donation.

“September has become highly recognizable within the childhood cancer community as an important time of year,” says Liz Scott, Alex’s mom and co-executive director of the foundation. “However, for the general public, it still flies highly under the radar. We think the Million Mile Run has the ability and mass appeal to change that, one mile at a time.”

Individuals and teams who are interested in participating or learning more about the Million Mile Run can visit where they will find a video detailing the effort.

Register for the Million Mile Run here.

About Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation

Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) emerged from the front yard lemonade stand of cancer patient Alexandra “Alex” Scott (1996-2004). In 2000, 4-year-old Alex announced that she wanted to hold a lemonade stand to raise money to help find a cure for all children with cancer. Since Alex held that first stand, the Foundation bearing her name has evolved into a national fundraising movement, complete with thousands of supporters across the country carrying on her legacy of hope. To date, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a registered 501(c)3 charity, has raised more than $60 million toward fulfilling Alex’s dream of finding a cure, funding over 300 pediatric cancer research projects nationally. For more information on Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, visit

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Focus on Mesothelioma: A Mesothelioma Conference for Patients and Caregivers

Join Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center  a day of information about mesothelioma and pleural disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention as well as a chance to meet others  at the 5th Annual Focus On Mesothelioma Conference.

Get information about mesothelioma and these topics:

  • Ask the experts
  • Diagnosis
  • Chemo and personalized therapies
  • Coping
  • Integrative medicine and wellness
  • Nutrition
  • Radiation therapy for mesothelioma
  • Research and clinical trials
  • Risk, screening and prevention
  • Robotic surgery
  • Symptom management

Who should attend?

Anyone who is facing a mesothelioma or pleural disease diagnosis as well as their loved ones, are invited to attend this conference.

Register for the Focus On Mesothelioma Conference at Penn

Date: Friday, September 27, 2013
Time: 7 am to 2 pm
Location: Hilton Hotel, 4200 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19131
Register: Registration is free.

Register for the 4th Annual Focus On Mesothelioma Conference here

About Mesothelioma Treatment at Penn Medicine

The Penn Mesothelioma and Pleural Program is a unique program that consists of a multidisciplinary team of dedicated specialists with a passion and expertise for treating patients with mesothelioma.

The Penn Mesothelioma and Pleural Program offers a true multidisciplinary approach, presenting patients with essentially all treatment options offered worldwide and a number of treatments offered only at Penn. Led by a dedicated team of professionals, the Penn Mesothelioma and Pleural Program has one goal, to provide each mesothelioma patient with comprehensive and compassionate care at the highest level possible, both now and in the future.

Learn more about mesothelioma treatment at Penn here.

Follow on Facebook and Twitter

Follow the Abramson Cancer Center on Facebook, and Twitter at #MesoACC for more information.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Focus on Adult Brain Cancer: A Free Conference for Patients and Caregivers

The Focus On Brain Cancer: Discovery to Recovery conference is sponsored by the Abramson Cancer Center.

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

Who Should Attend?

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

Brain Tumor Conference Details

Date: Friday, October 11, 2013
Time: 8 am - 2:30 pm EDT
Location: Hilton Hotel, 4200 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA

Register for the conference here.

About Penn's Brain Tumor Center

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

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

Learn more about brain cancer treatment in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Swallowing My Cancer Treatment - Radioactivity in a Pill

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 recently participated in the 2013 LIVESTRONG Challenge. In this blog, he remembers the radioactive treatment for thyroid cancer.

To read more about how Dimitrios' cancer was diagnosed during an abdominal scan following his aortic root replacement surgery, click here.

Radiation Treatment In a Pill

Transfixed on the long cylindrical stainless steel tube that the Penn medical staff had just pulled out of a large wheeled case, I took a deep breath and tried to make sense of the scene. Just a few short weeks earlier, I had been diagnosed by Dr. Susan Mandel with papillary carcinoma (thyroid cancer) and then had a radical thyroidectomy performed by Dr. Ara Chalian to remove my thyroid and some of my surrounding lymph nodes. If there was a silver lining, it was that I had the “right” kind of cancer, if ever such a thing could exist. Although my cancer was aggressive, having spread to surrounding lymph nodes, it was of the papillary variety, which has a high survivability rate.

As the top of the container opened, a cool vapor came pouring out, revealing a small glass tube of capsules – a scene that could have been plucked right from a sci-fi thriller. A thin gown that struggled to cover my 6’5” frame was the only thing separating me from the radiation emanating from the glass-encased capsules. Ironically, radioactive iodine (RAI) is released in a nuclear meltdown. Thyroid tissues absorbs iodine, so here I was willingly swallowing this veritable poison in hopes that it would irradiate and kill any thyroid tissue remaining in my body. Instinctively, I placed the palm of my hand over my “bits.” Surely, I thought to myself, I should at least be wearing a lead apron or something?!

The Penn Nuclear Medicine staff, clad in full protective gear, was ready for anything, including cleaning up a radioactive spill if I were to vomit up the RAI pills. From the outset, I was warned that I might experience a wave of nausea and that I should fight the feeling to vomit as best I could. As serious as the situation was, all I could think about in that moment was that I hadn’t vomited since the 6th grade, a nearly 20 year record that I wasn’t about to relinquish without a fight … especially to the likes of a despicable disease like cancer.

With a determined gaze, I watched as the capsules were divvied up into several small paper cups, each with it’s own cup of water in tow. Preparing for my first “radioactive shots,” I listened intently as the nurse rattled off instructions:

“Swallow the pills two at a time.”
“Don’t let them linger on your tongue before swallowing.” 

Increasingly nervous and desperate to break the growing tension in the room, I shot back, “So, no swishing them around, like I’m enjoying a nice Merlot?”

Crickets ... no one was biting. I had stalled long enough and it was time to get this show on the road. I picked up the first cup of pills and with as much precision as I could muster, tossed them into my mouth, aiming for the center of my tongue. Reaching for the obligatory water chaser, I paused as I felt an intense burst of coolness where the pills had landed, almost as if I had crammed an entire tin worth of Altoids into my mouth at once; the pills were all but frozen. As I leaned back and emptied the contents of the water cup into my mouth, I could feel a trail of cold propagating down my throat. I better slow down, I thought to myself, I wouldn’t want to give myself an RAI headache.

Fighting back fleeting waves of nausea, I managed to keep all of the RAI pills down: a small but nonetheless satisfying victory. Cancer had taken my thyroid, but I was going to be damned if it claimed my vomit-free streak (which might have survived another decade had it not been for some sketchy seafood from my former favorite Thai restaurant – but that’s another story....)

The next phase of treatment was actually the most difficult for me. I had enjoyed the support of my family and friends throughout my thyroid surgery, and I couldn’t even put into words the strength and courage they imparted to me simply by being there through it all. But the radiation swirling around in me meant that anything I touched or even breathed on became contaminated with radiation that was leaching out of my body. In one fell swoop I had become a walking radioactive meltdown. Destined for isolation from all human contact, it began to sink in how lonely radiation treatment was going to be.

During my week in isolation, I ate only with paper plates and plastic utensils. Not that I had much of an appetite – still bound to an extremely low iodine diet, I had to keep any food-based iodine to a minimum so it wouldn’t compete with the RAI that was attacking any remaining cancer cells. That meant lots of raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, and white rice and pasta. Newspapers, books, and magazines were allowed, because they could be easily disposed of after my isolation, but I quickly became saturated with trashy novels and Newsweek. Visits from family and friends were extremely brief, and intricately choreographed. I finally knew what it felt like to be a living breathing bubble boy.
After surviving one of the longest weeks of my life, I still had a long list of restrictions that I had to follow while the radiation began to dissipate. Travel by plane was out as I would potentially set off radiation detectors at airports; a decidedly unwise move in a post-9/11 world. I couldn’t be around pregnant people, which made things awkward at work. “Hi, I’m radioactive. By the way, you aren’t pregnant, are you? Because I could potentially harm your fetus!” Going to the bathroom meant sitting down for everything (to avoid unnecessary splashing) and flushing the toilet several times after use. Self-conscious about still posing some harm to others, I avoided people for several weeks.

The only bright spot was that I instantly became very cool to my young cousin, who was thrilled that I was radioactive and expected me to have all kinds of interesting powers (a notion that was unfortunately quickly disabused when I didn’t glow in the dark as he had hoped).

In the weeks that followed, full body scans looking for any remaining thyroid cancer found none; I had been given a clean bill of health. Looking back on the entire experience, I couldn’t help but wonder about how fortunate I had been to make it as far as I had, catching my thyroid cancer before it had gotten out of control. It was a fluke that they even caught it at all.

Learn more about thyroid cancer treatment at the Penn Thyroid Center. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Penn Medicine's Basser Research Center for BRCA Brings Mission Into Synagogues Across The United States

This summer, Penn Medicine's Basser Research Center for BRCA reached out to more than 1,500 Jewish congregations around the United States to promote awareness around BRCA gene mutations which are frequently recognized as risk factors for Breast and Ovarian Cancer.  Penn Medicine hopes to encourage discussion around increased incidences of BRCA mutations among people of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry this High Holiday season.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA provided eye-catching informational posters that were hung throughout synagogues and temples nationwide, as well as fact sheets with details on the cancer risks associated with BRCA1 and BRCA2  – gene mutations which disproportionately impact the Ashkenazi Jewish community.

BRCA in the Jewish Community Information from Penn Medicine's Basser Research Center for BRCARabbis and other leaders were called on to bring the important discussion of hereditary genetic mutation to their communities.

This month, as congregations around the world are observing the Jewish High Holidays, we hope that they will also observe Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and participate in this important dialogue with their friends and families.

BRCA Educational Events in Your Area

Throughout 2013 and 2014, educational events scheduled in Philadelphia, New York, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles will further spread this important message.

The series will kick off with an event at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia: Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk: What You Need to Know, on October 6, 2013. Basser Center Executive Director, Susan M. Domchek, MD and Rabbi Jill L. Maderer will serve as keynote speakers during the event, which features an expert panel and CBS3/CW Philly 57’s health reporter Stephanie Stahl as emcee. You can read Rabbi Maderer’s blog on the initiative here.

Read More About BRCA in the Jewish Community

We encourage you to read more about this topic - both from the official Penn Medicine press release as well as an inspirational blog post from the Union for Reform Judaism.

You can also listen to a WHYY interview with Rodeph Shalom president, Dena Herrin on BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in the Jewish community.
To get the facts and learn about educational events in your area, visit the Basser Research Center for BRCA online.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cancer Awareness Month for September: Thyroid Cancer, Prostate Cancer, Previvor Week

September is thyroid and prostate cancer awareness month. Previvor week is also in September Be sure to subscribe to the Focus On Cancer blog and like the Abramson Cancer Center Facebook page for more information on thyroid and prostate cancer throughout the entire month, as well as Previvor week.

At a Glance: Thyroid Cancer

  • There are four main types of thyroid cancer: Papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic thyroid cancer.
  • Thyroid cancer is the fastest increasing cancer among men and women today. There is no known cure for advanced stage thyroid cancer, only treatments to help slow down its growth.
  • If detected early, there is a very good prognosis so asking for a neck check while at the dentist and your general practitioner is very important.
Learn more about the treatment for thyroid cancer at the Abramson Cancer Center.

At a Glance: Prostate Cancer

  • Prostate cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death in men over 75, and is rarely found in men younger than 50.
  • According to a recent study in Cancer Prevention Research journal, a high fiber diet can slow the progression of prostate cancer.
  • Many older men have slow growing, low-volume prostate cancer that does not affect life expectancy because of how long the cancer takes to grow and become clinically important.
Learn more about the treatment for prostate cancer at the Abramson Cancer Center.

At a Glance: Previvor Week

  • The term “cancer pre-vivor” arose in 2000 from a challenge on the website, FORCE, which stands for “Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered.”
  • Previvors have unique needs from people with cancer such as active surveillance, testing and often need to make treatment decisions based on their risk for inherited cancer.
  • The goal of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) Week and Previvor Day is to raise awareness about hereditary cancer.
Learn more about Previvor week at the Basser Research Center for BRCA.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cancer Awareness Month for September: Leukemia, Myeloma, Ovarian Cancer

September is leukemia, myeloma, and ovarian 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 leukemia, myeloma, and ovarian cancer throughout the entire month.

At a Glance: Leukemia

  • Leukemia is a cancer of the blood or blood cells, and is categorized by how quickly they progress and which cells they affect.
  • Cigarette smokers are at a higher risk for acute myelogenous leukemia because it increased their exposure to the chemical benzene.
  • There are around 44,240 cases of leukemia per year in the United States. It is considered a rare disease and it’s recommended that patients be treated quickly by a medical center with experience with the disease.
Learn more about the treatment for leukemia at the Abramson Cancer Center.

At a Glance: Myeloma

  • Myeloma cancer affects bone marrow plasma cells, causing low blood count, painful bone lesions and fractures, kidney failure, and an increased risk of infection.
  • Multiple myeloma is very rare, with about 14,600 cases a year. It accounts for only 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States.
  • Almost all patients with myeloma are at risk for eventual relapse, making follow up appointments a crucial part of treatment.
Learn more about the treatment for myeloma at the Abramson Cancer Center.

At a Glance: Ovarian Cancer

  • Women with ovarian cancers rarely show symptoms until the cancers are advanced, making it the 5th most common cause of cancer death in women. 1 in 57 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year.
  • Because ovulation stops or occurs less in women who are breastfeeding, pregnancy and breastfeeding are linked to a decreased risk of ovarian cancer.
  • The Penn Ovarian Cancer Research Center is working to establish an Ovarian Cancer Tumor Center to facilitate the procurement of ovarian tumor tissue at the time of surgery. Cells from the tumor issue can then be used to develop personalized vaccine therapies, which could eventually lead to improved survival and quality of life for women with ovarian cancer.
Learn more about the treatment for ovarian cancer at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cancer Awareness Month for September: Childhood Cancer, Gynecologic Cancer, Hodgkin Lymphoma

September is childhood cancer, gynecologic cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma awareness month.

Be sure to subscribe to the Focus On Cancer blog and like the Abramson Cancer Center Facebook page for more information on childhood, gynecologic, and Hodgkin lymphoma cancers throughout the entire month.

At a Glance: Childhood Cancer

  • Although survival rates have improved over the last 30 years by more than 50 percent, cancer is still the second leading cause of death in children.
  • In 2013, an estimated 10,000 children will be diagnosed with cancer; 1,500 will die from their disease.
  • The two most common childhood cancers are leukemia and brain/central nervous system tumors.
  • The National Cancer Institute has ongoing, major studies to research the most effective treatments for childhood cancer on on-going
Learn more about the treatment for childhood cancer at the Abramson Cancer Center.

At a Glance: Gynecologic Cancer

  • Gynecological cancers include cervical, endometrial, uterine, fallopian tube, ovarian, vaginal, and vulvar cancer, gestational trophoblastic disease and choriocarcinoma.
  • Two of the four major types of HPV virus cause 70% of cervical cancer cases.
  • Endometrial cancer is the most common form of gynecologic cancers, causing up to 6 percent of all cancers in women.
  • Women with ovarian cancers rarely show symptoms until the cancers are advanced, making ith the 5th most common cause of cancer death in women.
Learn more about the treatment for gynecologic cancer at the Abramson Cancer Center.

At a Glance: Hodgkin Lymphoma

  • Hodgkin lymphoma affects the lymph nodes and lymphatic tissue.
  • While there’s no known connection between Hodgkin lymphoma and toxins, chemicals, or environmental agents, HIV-infected patients generally have a more aggressive, advance form of the lymphoma.
  • Hodgkin lymphoma makes up 6 percent of all childhood cancers, but is extremely rare in children under the age of 5.
Learn more about the treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fall Mindfulness-Based Stress Management Programs at Penn

Whether you’re returning to a “back-to-school” schedule with your kids, or just getting back to a routine after summer vacations and getaways, the fall is a great time to find new balance, and take moments to get on track with work, school and fun with your family.

The Penn Program for Mindfulness is a mindfulness-based stress management program that teaches you how to use meditation as the primary tool for long-term stress management. Mindfulness meditation is taught in a completely practical way as a powerful tool to manage the physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms of stress, and as a proven means of supporting inner balance, growth and quality of life.

Mindfulness-based stress management is perfect for anyone to help you maintain focus and learn positive ways to manage your stress.

Foundation Mindfulness-Based Stress Management Programs at Penn

Introduction to Mindfulness - $49 (Waived if enrolled in 8-week program)

These 2-hour workshops will give you an overview of mindfulness and how it could potentially improve your health, happiness and quality of life as you reduce stress.
  • Radnor, PA: September 10, 2013
  • University City: September 16, 2013
  • Moorestown, NJ: September 17, 2013
Learn more or register here.

Foundation Stress Management Programs -$549

This highly acclaimed eight-week program will teach you a variety of meditation techniques to help you to cultivate relaxation, clarity and stillness in your day-to-day life. You will learn to recognize your unique reactions to stress, to find more effective ways to respond to stressful situations, and discover how to use your own inner resources to find greater health and well-being.
  • Eight 2-½ hour weekly classes and one full day Saturday or Sunday session. (CE Credits available)
  • Eight-week courses starting week of September 23, 2013.
  • Ten classes in eight locations in PA and NJ
Learn more or register here.

Advanced Programs

Advanced programs are designed to allow 8-week foundation course graduates explore a variety of topics and deepen one’s ability to apply mindfulness to life. We offer 4-week courses, half day and full day retreats for experienced meditators.
Learn more or register here.

Mindfulness in Education

Introductory workshop for K-12 Teachers, Counselors & School Personnel September, 28, 2013 - $49

Learn more or register here.

Teaching Mindfulness to Children: 6 week program for K-12 Educators, Counselors & School Personnel Starting September 16, 2013 - $289

Learn more or register here.

MindfulMe! - $289

This six-part series teaches teens tools to reduce stress, worry, and anxiety, while increasing feelings of well-being. Teens will learn highly effective mindfulness techniques that can be used in and out of school to address the many stresses teens face. If you are or know a high-school student looking for positive ways to “chill out,” this program is for you. Starts September 11, 2013.
Learn more or register here.

Mindfulness Programs for Health Care Professionals

Healing the Heart and Mind: Mindfulness Meditation for Health Care Professionals - $495

Annual eight-week mindfulness-based stress program for health care providers. CME, CEU, CE credits available. Discount for Penn Medicine employees.

Class starts September 26, 2013.
Learn more or register here.

One-Day Retreat for Health Care Professionals on September 21, 2013

Learn more or register here. (prior mindfulness experience required)

For more information or to register, go to Click here to join our mailing list and receive announcements of upcoming events.
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