University of Pennsylvania Health System

Focus on Cancer

We are happy to announce the launch of our new Abramson Cancer Center website.

Please stay connected to our Focus On Cancer blog by visiting us there.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friend of the Basser Research Center for BRCA Helps Raise Awareness

Emmy-award winning Emily Frances hosts “a premier online parenting community providing parenting tips, valuable information, advice for new mothers and more.”

Emily recently blogged about the important work of college friend, Mindy Basser Gray who founded the Basser Research Center for BRCA with her husband, Jon Gray in 2012.

Read the post on Raising Cancer Awareness: Mindy Gray & The Basser Research Center for BRCA from How to Mom TV.

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

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

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

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

The breast cancer program at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center helps you understand your options. Learn the facts and request a consultation today.

Second Leading Cause of Lung Cancer May Be in Your Basement

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month (#LCAwareness). In this blog, guest writer Erica Voll discusses the lesser known, but all too common lung cancer risk of radon. Learn what steps you can take at home to help protect your family in this Focus on Cancer blog post. Learn more about radon from Oncolink here. 

Knowing the Facts

When we think of lung cancer, and lung cancer-related deaths, we immediately think of smoking and tobacco use. And, it’s with good reason. According the Centers for Disease Control, cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. In the United States, cigarette smoking causes about 90 percent of lung cancers.

But the second leading cause of lung cancer could be in your home and you may not even know it.

Last year, we moved into a new home. We worried about everything from the house build to the move to how we would manage to unpack everything with two toddlers to wrangle. However, one thing we didn’t need to worry about was radon.

Or so we thought.

What is radon? Should I be concerned?

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from the ground. It can enter your home through the foundation, cracks in the walls and floors, bad piping and so on - and then get trapped inside. Radon can’t be seen, smelled or tasted yet it is very dangerous - causing about 20,000 new cases of lung cancer each year.

Because radon is naturally occurring in the ground, not every home is at risk for high radon levels. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a radon map and detailed information so you can determine the risk level for the zone you live in... theory.

The reality is that every home should be checked with a radon testing kit. We tested our home, in a few days we learned that our passive radon mitigation system was not enough – our levels were greater than 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) and we would need to install a fan in our attic to draw more radon out from our basement into the air.

It was relatively inexpensive to have a fan installed (it may be more expensive without an existing passive system in place), and it worked. Our radon levels are now virtually undetectable.

Radon Testing for Lung Cancer Awareness Month

November is lung cancer awareness month. So while it is certainly important to educate friends and loved ones about the dangers of smoking tobacco, do yourself a favor and test your home for radon as well. It could, literally, save your life and the lives of those you love.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Proton Therapy for Lung Cancer at Penn

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month (#LCAwareness). To recognize this, Focus on Cancer highlights Kathy, grandmother of 8, who learned about treatment options for lung cancer when she was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma. Learn about surgery, chemotherapy, and proton treatment from her experience with Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center.


Lung cancer is the most common form of the disease in the world, claiming more than 1.3 million lives each year. 80 to 90 percent of all lung cancer cases are attributed to smoking tobacco. Most lung cancers are of the non-small cell variety, with adenocarcinoma being the most common type in women.

Kathy Brandt learned all of this and more when she was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma. Her pulmonologist discovered the cancer in her left lung while Kathy was in for a checkup for her emphysema.

“You feel like you have been hit by a ton of bricks,” Kathy remembers about her reaction upon hearing the diagnosis. “It was truly terrifying, but then the decision needs to be made where you are going to seek treatment.” - Learn more about Kathy’s story about proton therapy for lung cancer in her own words here.

Treatment Options at Penn Medicine

The type of treatment needed can often drive that decision. There are three main treatment types for lung cancer: Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Surgery has been the “gold standard” for lung cancer. It is possible to completely remove cancers surgically that have not metastasized and spread either to or from the lungs. If the cancer has spread, however, then surgery is combined with other treatment. Possible side effects include local pain, damage to surrounding tissue and the threat of infection.

Chemotherapy uses strong chemicals to target rapidly dividing cells throughout the body. These chemicals kill both the original tumor cells as well as any cells that have spread. That means healthy cells are targeted as well, but these cells recover while cancer cells do not. Chemotherapy is often given as an adjuvant therapy designed to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence after surgery. Side effects may include nausea and vomiting, loss of hair and appetite, diarrhea and anemia.

Radiation treatment before or after surgery or in conjunction with other therapy is used to destroy or shrink tumors. This can be done to try and kill tumors entirely, to kill remaining cancer cells after surgery, or to kill cancer cells that have spread. However, it damages other cells as well, those healthy normal cells surrounding the cancer. Possible side effects include fatigue, nausea, hair loss and loss of appetite.

“First I had surgery. I had a left upper lobectomy, where half of my left lung was removed,” Kathy explained. “That was followed by chemotherapy and then radiation.”

Kathy then had her proton therapy for lung cancer at Penn Medicine.

“Penn Medicine was a wonderful choice for us. They used a team approach. I saw an oncologist, a radiologist and a surgeon,” she said, “all located at Penn Medicine.”

“They were all genuinely concerned and genuinely caring and wanted to make me healthy again, and that was evident from the first day I went there”.

The main reason she came to Penn for lung cancer treatment, however, was for the option Penn Medicine offered Kathy that no one else in the region could – proton therapy for lung cancer as her radiation treatment, 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.

“It was wonderful. I continued to work the whole time”, Kathy said. “I went to work, came home, and enjoyed my grandchildren,” Kathy said of the days she was receiving treatment. After five weeks, Kathy was cancer free.

“What survivorship means to me, first of all, is not to sweat the small stuff,” she said. “I definitely embrace every day.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

New Research in Nicotine Addiction

Nicotine addiction is like any addiction - difficult to treat without the right tools or resources. Often times, people who use nicotine have tried to quit numerous times. For some, it is easy. But for others, overcoming their nicotine is difficult.

At the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Nicotine Addiction (CIRNA), faculty conducts numerous studies to understand the nature of nicotine addiction and identify effective methods to treat nicotine dependence.

Robert Schnoll, PhD, is an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania who is working to understand nicotine addiction, and new ways to treat it.

"We have completed many studies of different treatments for smoking and continue to conduct studies in this area," says Dr. Schnoll. "Some of our work focuses on identifying methods for improving how smokers respond to existing FDA-approved medications, such as potentially tailoring the selection of treatments to individual smokers based on genetic characteristics or evaluating how longer-term treatment improves outcomes."

Overall, smokers interested in quitting are more likely to be successful if they utilize FDA-approved medications and professional behavioral counseling.

Dr. Schnoll adds: "We encourage smokers interested in quitting to contact our program (1-877-513-QUIT) or contact the Philadelphia quit-line for more information (1-800-QUIT-NOW)."

Friday, November 22, 2013

Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month (#LCAwareness). Dr. Gregory Beatty, MD, PhD, discusses immunotherapy and it's relationship with cancer from last year's Focus on Lung Cancer Conference. Learn about the ways lung cancer tumors are being studied to create new treatments - then join us 11/15 for the 6th Focus on Lung Cancer Conference.

Demystifying the Immune System

"Lung cancer is a formidable foe with many ways of eluding the immune system--but we are developing multiple approaches to using immunotherapy as a treatment option." Gregory Beatty, MD, PhD

Our immune systems are sophisticated, highly evolved and multi-dimensional. They look for and attack invaders. They fight infections, heal wounds and maintain our body health. But do they recognize and fight cancer? And if not, why not?

The answer is complicated. The immune system does, at least in some instances, recognize and attack cancer cells, including lung cancer cells--but in many cases, it fails to eradicate these cells. New research indicates that cancer cells actually develop ways of co-opting the immune system, teaching it to help the cancer grow and spread. This says Dr. Beatty is "bad education," and the goal of immunotherapy research is to re-educate the immune system to attack cancer cells.

At Penn, researchers are using a number of approaches. These include:
  • Cancer cells have the ability to produce STOP signals that prevent the immune system from recognizing them. One approach to immunotherapy is to develop specific antibodies that go after these STOP signals and block them. One example is the PD-1 blocking antibody.
  • CAR-T or chimeric antigen receptors use specially engineered killer T-cells to attack cancer cells. These T-cells are harvested from the patients, go through an amazing process by which they are "re-programmed" to attack the patient's tumor, and then re-injected. The results for several cancers have been promising--with trials scheduled to begin for non small cell lung cancers.
Right now, there are no immunotherapy agents approved by the FDA to treat lung cancer, but clinical trials are underway in patients with advanced disease, and are planned as adjuvant therapy for patients who undergo potentially curative surgery as a means of reducing the risk if recurrence.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cancer-Fighting Recipe: Wilted Kale and Roasted Potato Salad

This powerhouse recipe has kale, sweet potatoes and the sesame seed paste called tahini. An equally delicious substitution is with sunflower seed butter which also is a good protein, vitamin E and iron source.

For the calorie conscious the olive oil can also be reduced to 2 1/2 tablespoons.

wilted-kale-saladWilted Kale and Roasted Potato Salad

Serves 4 as a main dish, or 6 as a side dish

  • 1 lb Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 lb of sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup well-stirred tahini
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 pound of kale, stems and center rib removed, leaved thinly sliced

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees with rack in upper third
  2. Toss potatoes with oil, salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a pan and roast for 10 minutes. Stir and roast for another 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in shallot and cheese and roast another 5 - 10 minutes until golden and soft.
  4. Puree tahini, garlic, water, lemon juice for 1 minute. Add a bit of water if it is too thick.
  5. Place sliced kale in large salad bowl. Add hot potatoes and toss with tahini mixture. Cover for 10 minutes as the potatoes cool and wilt the kale.
  6. Serve hot, at room temperature or cold.

Source: Gourmet: December, 2008 as found on

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Foods That Lower Lung Cancer Risk

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. To recognize this, Carly Roop RD, CSO, is a registered dietitian at the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine Pennsylvania Hospital. Here, she provides nutrition education and support to patients while addressing nutrition-related side effects from chemotherapy and radiation. Dietitians at ACC provide educational nutrition programs that are open to patients as well as the community.

The American Institute of Cancer Research found compelling evidence that a diet high in fruit can lower lung cancer risk as much as 36% of U.S. lung cancer cases not caused by tobacco. The AICR recommends eating at least 5 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day!

This may seem hard to do, but the AICR makes it easy by suggesting you rethink your plate.

As a dietitian, my mantra is food first; there is convincing evidence that high-dose supplements of beta-carotene can actually increase lung cancer risk. Therefore, it is better to get your beta-carotene from vegetables such as carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes.

In the food form, the phytochemical beta-carotene neutralizes free radicals, which may damage cells. The anti-cancer compounds found in cabbage and kale such as indole-3-carbinoles and isothiocyanates have also been linked to a lower incidence of lung cancer.

Sauerkraut anyone?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Survivor Strong: My Rearview Mirror

Donna-Lee Lista
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month (#LCAwareness). Donna-Lee, a lung cancer survivor and advocate for lung cancer research talks about lung cancer research, and her hope for lung cancer treatment in the future.

When I see all that has transpired in the last few years regarding lung cancer research, I can’t help but hope that maybe all the work the advocates are doing has something to do with it. I want to believe we are making a difference and want to hope if we keep it up, we can see it through. Maybe it is a dream that doctors will completely cure lung cancer, maybe it is more realistic to strive for treatments that make it a chronic disease, but why not reach for the sun and if we have to settle on the stars that will be ok for a short while too? Once we get there, we re-group and keep on going.

My wish is that people will start feeling hopeful when all the latest research and development in lung cancer becomes common knowledge. I know that any cancer diagnosis is awful and not a club anyone wants to willingly join, but let’s face it, there are some cancers that offer a lot more hope than lung. But now, it won’t be so hard to find survivors to hold your hand through the ordeal because more are living longer and more are being cured. I recognize we have a lot to still accomplish, but compared to where we were, the train has really started to leave the station.

I know we are only at the threshold of a new world order for lung cancer, a precipice of sorts, and I understand there is a lot more to do. But, there is finally something to see in the rearview mirror, because we are moving ahead and that my friend is exhilarating!

Learn More About Lung Cancer Treatment at Penn

Join Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center and the Pennsylvania Lung Cancer Partnership for a day of information about lung cancer treatment and research, as well as, a chance to network with others at the 6th Annual Focus On Lung Cancer Conference.

Get information about lung cancer and these topics:
  • Ask the Experts
  • Diagnosis
  • Chemo and Personalized Therapies
  • Coping
  • Integrative Medicine and Wellness
  • Nutrition
  • Proton and Radiation Therapy
  • Research and Clinical Trials
  • Risk, Screening and Prevention
  • Robotic Surgery
  • Symptom Management

Register for the Focus On Lung Cancer Conference at Penn

Date: Friday, November 22
Time: 7:30 am to 2:30 pm
Location: Hilton Hotel, 4200 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19131
Register: Registration is free. Join us for the 5th Annual Focus On Lung Cancer Conference

Pancreatic Cancer Treated with Vaccine and Proton Therapy: Kim's #CureIsWithin Story

A vaccine therapy helped shrink Kim's pancreatic cancer tumor so that surgeons could take it out. When the cancer recurred, proton therapy proved to be the one-two punch that took out her cancer for good.

Please share this video and help us tell the world.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Great American Smokeout

Penn Medicine is proud to join the American Cancer Society in promoting the Great American Smokeout as part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

Did you know that tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States? In fact, tobacco use is responsible for nearly one in five deaths in this country.

Why Quit?

Research shows that if you smoke and pick a quit date in the next 30 days and stick to it, you’ll be more likely to quit for good. So pick a quit date, and as you mark it on your calendar, consider these benefits of quitting: 
  • 20 minutes after quitting: Your heart rate and blood pressure drop.
  • 12 hours after quitting: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
  • 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Your circulation improves, and your lung function increases.
  • 1 to 9 months after quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair-like structures in the lungs) regain normal function, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection.
  • 1 year after quitting: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s.
  • 10 years after quitting: The lung cancer death rate is about half that of a smoker. The risks of cancer of the larynx and pancreas decrease.
  • 15 years after quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker’s.
  • 5 years after quitting: Risks of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half. Cervical cancer risk falls to that of a nonsmoker. Stroke risk can fall to that of a nonsmoker after 2 to 5 years.

How to Quit

If you are looking for ways to quit smoking or tobacco use, the Comprehensive Smoking Cessation Treatment at Penn Medicine can help you quit for good.
If you want to try to quit smoking on your own, here are some things you can do to take the first steps.*
  • Set a Quit Date: Whether it is today, on National Smokeout Day, or another day, setting a quit date can help you focus your efforts and plan accordingly.
  • Tell People: Tell your friends and family members you are quitting smoking on that date. Let them help you and support you along the way and on that day.
  • Anticipate the challenges. Identify what they are and plan on how you will cope with them.
  • Remove cigarettes and all tobacco products from your home, work and car.
  • Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit smoking.

Penn's Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program provides state-of-the-art and individualized treatment to help smokers quit safely and comfortably. Specialists at the center offer treatment that is respectful and supportive, without guilt or pressure.

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

*These steps were taken from the website,

Friday, November 15, 2013

Targeted Molecular Therapy for Lung Cancer

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month (#LCAwareness). In this Focus on Cancer blogpost, learn about the benefits of targeted molecular therapy at Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center.

Targeted molecular cancer therapy is a type of personalized lung cancer treatment designed to interrupt the unique molecular abnormalities that make cancer grow.

Targeted molecular cancer therapy uses personalized drugs that are designed for each individual through the rigorous analysis of their tumor's unique molecular makeup, or “fingerprint.” These targeted therapies have the potential to cause less impact on normal cells and bring about fewer side effects, while still improving patients’ quality of life.

Every lung cancer is different. So treatment for lung cancer should be tailored to each individual patient.

At Penn's Abramson Cancer Center, patients with lung cancer have access to every treatment option available. Doctors and patients work together to choose the best option for each patient based on their particular situation. Penn's expert care and leading-edge treatments give patients with lung cancer the best chance of an excellent outcome.

Advanced Lung Cancer Therapies at Penn

Lung cancer specialists at Penn Medicine develop personalized treatment plans that often include a combination of therapies designed to meet the specific needs of each patient.
  • Lung-sparing surgery and other advanced surgical options such as sleeve resection and laser surgery
  • Proton therapy, CyberKnife® and other radiation therapies
  • Chemotherapy and biological therapies, including immunotherapy, vaccine therapy and targeted molecular therapies
  • Clinical trials of the very latest treatments for lung cancer

Learn about the lung cancer treatment options, survivorship and more at the
6th Annual Focus On Lung Cancer Conference and CANPrevent Lung Cancer Conference
both on Friday November 15th, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cancer - Fighting Nutrition: Tuscan Ribollita

This is a wonderful one pot meal utilizing two cancer-fighting ingredients: greens and beans. The variations are boundless.

Two forms of cruciferous vegetables are in this recipe which provide powerful immune enhancers and anticancer fighting compounds. And the beans are high-protein vegetables. Plus this is just delicious.

Change up the beans and add your own herbs as you see fit, and feel free also to add in some dried herbs such as herbs de provence or a tablespoon of one of the "Spike" or "Mrs. Dash" seasoning mixtures.

Tuscan Ribollita

  • 1 can of cannellini beans
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 medium white onion
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ head Savoy cabbage, cored and chopped
  • 1 bunch of Swiss chard or kale, chopped
  • 2 cups water (Use 5 cups if you are using dried beans - only 2 if you are using canned)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

  1. Rinse canned beans.
  2. In a food processor, finely chop garlic, celery, carrot and onion.
  3. Sauté the vegetables in ¼ cup of extra-virgin olive oil on a medium-low heat, about 10 minutes, or until they are fragrant.
  4. Add the beans and 2 cups or water, chopped cabbage and kale. Bring to a simmer for approximately one hour. Season with salt and pepper.
Original Source: The Culinary Institute of America

PS- Note Pennsylvania Hospital's original China pattern in the photo!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Before Angelina: Portraits of Breast Cancer Previvors and Survivors in Time Magazine

Sandy Cohen, photo courtesy of Miller Mobley for TIME
In this series of stunning photos, Time Magazine features the many women who elected prophylactic double mastectomy long before the news of Angelina’s BRCA1 mutation and surgery broke in Spring 2013.

Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA works closely with many of the women featured, including Sandy Cohen, Karen Kramer, Lisa Schlager, and Diane Rose of Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) and Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson of Best Friends for Life (BFFL Co).

See the photos and read the stories here.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA is dedicated to delivering cutting edge research in the basic and clinical sciences to advanced the care of individuals who carry BRCA mutations.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Save the Date: 6th Focus On Lung Cancer Conference

The Abramson Cancer Center, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Lung Cancer Partnership is pleased to present the 6th Focus On Lung Cancer and CANPrevent Lung Cancer Conferences, a day-long conference dedicated to lung cancer topics including prevention, diagnosis, treatment, genetics and living well after lung cancer treatment.

This conference was one of the first in the country to address the issues and concerns of breast and gynecologic cancer survivors and their families.

Whether at risk for lung cancer, newly diagnosed or a long term survivor, attendees receive up-to-date information including: the latest laboratory research, treatment advances, clinical trials, and survivorship issues.

There are two different tracts for the day including Focus On Lung Cancer Conference and CANPrevent Lung Cancer Conference.

Join Us for the 6th Focus On Lung Cancer Conference

Date: Friday, November 22, 2013
Time: 7:30 am to 3:30 pm
Location: Hilton Hotel, 4200 City Avenue, Philadelphia PA
Looking for information from medical professionals? Learn from expert panels about lung cancer prevention, risk, and quitting smoking.

Register for Focus on Lung Cancer Conference here

Join us for the 3rd CANPrevent Lung Cancer Conference

Date: Friday, November 22, 2013
Time: 8:30 am to 11:30 pm
Location: Hilton Hotel, 4200 City Avenue, Philadelphia PA
Are you or a loved one newly touched by lung cancer? Join us for risk assessment, new diagnostics and procedures, surgical advances, information on proton therapy and more.

Register for CANPrevent Lung Cancer Conference here.

Can’t Make the Conference? Want to watch it live?

Can’t make this year’s conference? Be sure to follow @PennCancer on Twitter with the hashtag #LungCancerACC to follow the day’s topics and discussions.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Learn About the Basser Research Center Through ShareWik

Have you heard of the Basser Research Center?

Until recently, neither had Jan. Even as a seven-year cancer survivor, she continues to learn about the available resources.

Jan Jaben-Eilon discusses how a friend introduced her to Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA over lunch. She encourages you, too, to get acquainted with the Basser Center.

Read her post on ShareWik, a website aimed at using the power of personal storytelling to engage, educate and inspire others about decisions that impact their health.

Read Jan's blog here.

The Cure is Within: Lauryn's Breast Cancer Story

My mother’s sister, my aunt, had breast cancer and I started mammograms early because of her diagnosis. I had my daughter at 41, and nursed her for almost two years – so I missed a few mammograms in between.

At 43, I had my first mammogram since having my daughter, and that’s when I learned I had cancer.

I’ll never forget the moment in September 2012 when I got the call from my gynecologist, Dr. Bernadette Wheeler. My 2 year old was running around and I walked to a quiet place in my home to listen closely.

Breast cancer. Surgery. Breast removal. Appointments. These are the words I heard.

I brought my daughter to my parents’ home, who have always been extremely supportive, so I could have some time to myself to reflect on this news I’d just received. Soon thereafter, I met with Dr. Wheeler who helped me make an appointment with Penn breast surgeon, Dahlia Sataloff, MD. I felt more comfortable getting all of my care at Penn Medicine, and now at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center.

Surgery – And a Surprise

On October 24, I was scheduled to have my left breast removed. I was scared, but ready to have this cancer taken out, and start on my journey back to health.

As I was lying in the room, getting ready for surgery, I heard a familiar voice. The curtain opened and there was my best friend, Lynette. She’d driven all the way from Savannah, Georgia to be with me on this day. I was elated. Her visit, and knowing she came all the way up to support me, was the best thing about the day.

The surgery lasted about six hours. I had reconstruction of the breast done at the same time, and everything went according to plan. I was healing well, and the nursing staff was excellent in preparing me for what to expect at home.

Next Steps - Chemotherapy

Because I had positive lymph nodes, I needed both radiation treatment and chemotherapy after surgery, but chemotherapy was first. Again, I felt most comfortable coming to Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center for all of my treatment, so for 16 weeks, I was a “frequent flyer” at Penn getting my chemotherapy.

It was a tough road. Treatments left me nauseous and tired. I’d taken some time off of work, which was helpful, and of course, my parents were there to support me and help me with my daughter. Robin Herzog, a clinical nurse practitioner at the Abramson Cancer Center, was a great source of support for me too. She encouraged me to never give up and really understood what I was going through emotionally.

Around this time, I also had genetic testing to see if I carried the BRCA gene mutation. It was important for me to know because I have a daughter, but thankfully, I did not carry the gene mutation.

The End in Sight

Once my chemotherapy treatments were over, radiation was next. I was able to have my radiation treatments at the Abramson Cancer Center located at Penn Medicine Valley Forge. It was convenient for me, and knowing that I was still being cared for by Penn Medicine I never had to worry about one doctor not talking to another, everyone was on the same team - my team.

Dr. Nagda was my radiation specialist, and after 23 weeks of radiation treatment, I am now, cancer free.

You know, at two, my daughter didn’t really “get” that I had cancer. We talked about how I was sick, and how I had a “boo boo” but I wanted her to guide the way and let her actions and questions tell me how much I needed to tell her.

But even at two, she was always there for me. Throughout my treatment, I wrote her letters – letters that told her how much she helped me, what it was like to go through treatment for breast cancer, and how one day she, too, will have the strength to fight anything life throws her way.

Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center is leading the way in breakthrough cancer treatment. If you or someone you know has been touched by cancer, the power to find the Cure is Within.
Hear our stories and find out more today.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Hope and Support From a Young Widow

Jessica Bemis Young Widow
Jessica Bemis is a full-time, working mom of two who lost her husband to testicular cancer in November 2011. Since then, Jessica has been sharing her story on her blog, Hope for Young Widows and working to bring awareness and hope to women and men who have lost their spouses to cancer. In this blog, she discusses her life with her husband before and after his diagnosis, kids, marriage, 4jim5k , resources and creating a new normal.

Read Jessica's blog, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter

The Diagnosis…

Jim was diagnosed with a rare form of testicular cancer on July 1, 2010. He was 38 years old.

Jim had a great sense of humor and whenever he would have to confront a tough situation, especially at work, he would take a deep breath grin and say, “It’s a journey!” instead of getting exasperated. And he faced cancer the same way.

On June 30, 2010, Jim came home from work and decided to go for what was supposed to be a five- mile run. But after about three miles, he didn’t feel right; he was experiencing shortness of breath. When he came home, his neck was swollen, he felt dizzy and his face looked really red. I took him to my local hospital's ER and after many tests the doctor came into the room and told us there was a grapefruit-size tumor in his chest.

The Journey

On July 1, 2010, the doctors confirmed that Jim had a rare form of testicular cancer, a nonseminoma germ cell tumor and they mapped out his treatment regimen. He would receive four rounds of chemo to shrink the tumor so that doctors could perform surgery to remove it. Following surgery, he would receive an additional round of chemo to ensure all cancer cells were gone. After this first round of chemo and surgery, Jim was disease free for approximately four weeks. Unfortunately, the disease returned and Jim’s doctor suggested he meet with doctors in Indianapolis, Indiana who specialize in this type of testicular cancer. Another surgery was performed, and he endured more chemo. Following this round of treatment and surgery, he was disease free for about three months.

The cancer showed up again near Jim’s chest area in May 2011. This time he was not a candidate for surgery. Jim’s last hope for a cure was going through chemo with stem cell treatment. Upon completion in October 2011, the cancer was in check, but he was not cured. Over the course of his 17- month treatment, the disease had spread near his heart, lungs, and neck. At this point, we all knew Jim would not be cured and our focus shifted to controlling the disease so that he could live his life with a sense of quality. Since Jim was not a candidate for major surgery to remove the disease, the doctor’s suggested a less invasive procedure to kill the cancer cells.

Jim went in for surgery on November 15, 2011, but he didn’t wake up. He lost a lot of blood and had a stroke. He was in a coma for five days before passing away peacefully.

Living With Loss

Today, I am learning to create a new normal for me and my boys, which means we are learning to embrace new routines, and start new traditions.

By sharing my experiences with other widows and widowers, I hope we can create a community of hope and support for each other.

Please join me here, as I contribute more articles for young widows and widowers, or visit my website

Also, I invite you to share your own experience with me so we can learn to navigate the new normal together.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Prostate Cancer and Proton Therapy at Penn Medicine

When Frank McKee was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he wanted to find the best possible treatment to fight his disease. Frank did extensive research about prostate cancer treatments and learned about proton therapy for prostate cancer, the world’s most advanced form of radiation therapy.

"For me, I wanted to treat the cancer. I wanted to be done with it," Frank said. "And, I wanted to be done with it in a way that had a minimum amount of side effects and affect my life the least."

"That’s why I picked proton therapy."

In this video, Frank discusses his diagnosis, and why he chose proton therapy at Penn Medicine.

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.
Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center is leading the way in breakthrough cancer treatment. If you or someone you know has been touched by cancer, the power to find the Cure is Within. Hear our stories and find out more today.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Study Information 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, over 30,000 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. 

In this article, Chris discusses a presentation about studies for non-small cell lung cancer from Penn Medicine's Director of Thoracic Oncology, Corey Langer, MD.

Locally Advanced Disease

  • START Trial: MUC1 is often over expressed in lung cancer. In preclinical studies, a vaccine produced an increase in T-cells or an immunotherapy response. The START trial is a large phase III study for patients with stage III lung cancer with either stable disease or an objective response to chemo and radiation therapy. These patients received the MUC 1 vaccine for eight weeks. Although, overall, the trial did not extend overall survival, the group of patients who received their chemo and radiation at the same time did have a 10 month advantage in overall survival. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, but may result from a combination of factors.

Advanced Disease

  • PROSE Trial: VeriStrat testing is a new way of profiling lung cancers based on a number of prognostic factors. The PROSE trial studied whether VeriStrat has any predictive value in determining the success of chemotherapy and targeted therapy. The results did not show any difference between the two arms for the VeriStrat Good patients, but the VeriStrat Poor patients receiving chemotherapy did better than those receiving the targeted therapy.
  • Ganestespib is a novel agent that inhibits the Hsp-90 pathway which is over expressed in cancer cells. The GALAXY trial compared ganestespib alone with ganestespib and daclataxel. In patients with advanced lung cancer, earlier trials have shown that patients who did well on previous therapies are more likely to do better with this agent.
  • Anti-PD-1. This trial uses nivolumab with advanced lung cancer patients who have been heavily pretreated. Response rates for both squamous and non-squamous cell patients have been in the 20 to 25% range. This is promising, and can be easily administered in an outpatient setting.

Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center is leading the way in breakthrough cancer treatment. If you or someone you know has been touched by cancer, the power to find the Cure is Within.

Hear our stories and find out more today.

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