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, February 28, 2014

The Ride to Conquer Cancer©

An epic event, an unparalleled opportunity to cure cancer

Join Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) on October 11 to 12, 2014 in the Ride to Conquer Cancer© (RTCC)—an unforgettable and epic bike ride through Pennsylvania’s picturesque scenery -towards one life-changing destination: to cure cancer.

At two-days and 150+ miles the RTCC will be a physical challenge—and an emotional and inspirational weekend—that will give you a chance to join forces with our physicians, patients, and families to leave everything on the bike course and raise serious funds and awareness in the ACC’s fight to cure cancer.

The funds raised through the ride will be put to use immediately, powering our vision to eradicate cancer as a cause of human disease and suffering through precision medicine, novel research, next-generation therapies, and compassionate care.

Join riders like Susan Ranck, who shared her personal motivation for participating, saying:

“I am beyond grateful that funding from research enabled scientists to discover a drug that enables me to at least control my cancer...I am excited to ride and it’s my hope that with more time and money, the researchers at the Abramson Cancer Center will find a cure for my disease and all forms of cancer.”

Your participation is essential!


This event will be remarkable and will bring together communities of cancer survivors, cyclists, and their supporters with a common goal to conquer this disease. We invite everyone to join us in October by registering today at or by calling (844) 777-7433.

Register before March 7, 2014 using the discount code 2014RIDE to sign up for only $25.

Remember, it's not just for avid cyclists, it's for all of us who want to do something big! I encourage you to share this opportunity with all of your friends and family. We're in this together.

Before the ride, you will have access to:

  • Expert coaching
  • Training rides in your area
  • Personal webpage for fundraising
  • Helpful manual
  • 2014 ride commemorative item

During the ride, participants will have access to:

  • Event-day ride jersey
  • Support along the route
  • Catered meals
  • Entertainment at camp
  • Massage and medical care

    Thursday, February 20, 2014

    Basser Center Director quoted in Marketplace

    Basser Research Center for BRCA Director Susan Domchek, MD was quoted in a recent Marketplace report on drug shortages. Dan Gorenstein reports on shortages in the supply of drugs for cancer and other conditions, quoting Dr. Domchek who says that this lack of medication puts patients at risk.
    photo of Basser Research Center Director, Susan Domchek, MD
    “It is a very difficult thing to explain to a patient, why you can’t get a very standard chemotherapy regimen because you don’t have access to the medication,” she says.

    Monday, February 17, 2014

    Something Stronger Than Me - A Previvor Story

    Katrina is an editor for a medical publication, and lived in South Jersey with her two daughters and husband. In January 2013, she found out that she is a carrier for the BRCA1 mutation. Katrina is returning to her writing roots by blogging through the experience as she weighs family planning, surgical measures vs. surveillance, and the impact all of it will have on her family. In her spare time, she practices yoga and spends time with her extended family.
    “Pour me something stronger than me.” ~Nashville

    I jotted that lyric down last season, not long after finding out about my BRCA gene. And it came rushing back when we went to see Decoding Annie Parker, a 2013 movie that tells the story of Annie Parker and Dr. Marie Claire King.

    The movie looks at parallel journeys — that of Annie Parker, a woman dealing with a heavy family history of breast cancer, and Mary-Claire King, the geneticist who spearheaded the discovery of the BRCA mutations.

    Parker’s personal and family history of cancer is eventually explained by a mutation in BRCA1. This  gene sequence Dr. King’s team studied led to the discovery of its role in increasing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

    The realism with which they portrayed Parker’s chemotherapy treatments hit me in the gut. The swelling. The hair loss. The vomiting. The scarves. I’ve watched four women very close to me endure it. One still is enduring it. They were and are the strong ones. Not me.

    Not long after, my friend posted this photo essay in which a photographer documented his wife’s battle with cancer. You can feel the heartache, almost touch the physical pain.

    All of these things scared me. I thought, “I don’t know if I can be that strong. I don’t know if I can fight like they did.” I’m sure if it came down to it I would, but in the moment I only felt weakness. I wanted to schedule my preventive surgeries right then and there. As much strength as I knew it would take to follow through, it won’t be the strength I would need to go through chemo. To put my girls through watching me suffer in my fight.

    Living with the BRCA Mutation

    There are days I manage to forget the decisions weighing on my shoulders, but not for long.

    It’s in the 3-day walk for breast cancercommercials. It’s in my bee necklace that my best friend sent me. It’s in the Pandora bracelet we gave my best friend for her 30th birthday that I now wear.

    But it’s mostly at night - when I’m feeding and rocking my baby or reading stories to my toddler that I think about all the memories we have yet to make. It’s then that I wonder what kind of example I’m setting for them or what they will think someday when they understand. Or what kind of torture it will be to not pick them up in the days and weeks after my mastectomy. Or if they will poke and prod at my “foobs” and ask why I’m not soft and comfortable for nighttime snuggles any more.

    I can only hope they have vague memories of the days or weeks that mommy wasn’t be able to pick them up and millions of fresh memories of the times I did, of the times I ran with them, danced with them from kitchen dance parties to their own weddings.

    I cannot help but shed tears over the chance that I passed this on to one or both of them. I pray that they will have many more options than I have or that this won’t even factor into their lives. (And all of this emotional weight, all of these decisions don’t even factor in the debate of whether to have another child).

    Knowledge is Strength

    Some days I feel very much like the oncologist quoted in this amazing pictorial, Before Angelina:
    “When I told my friends about my upcoming procedure, some of them looked at me like I was crazy, like it was a brutal mutilation. They told me to just wait and to see what happened, but I told them the idea of getting the breast cancer diagnosis and having chemo was something I couldn’t face. Maybe I was a coward, but I felt like at that point I still had a choice.
    I see “Save the Tatas” a thousand times a day and all I can think is, “Take mine away. Save me from the tatas.” In many ways I’ve faced this reality head-on, but in many ways, I’m still trying to outrun it.

    So my goal for this year is to continue to educate myself. For me, knowledge is strength when you feel you have none. And sometimes I’m more scared than strong.

    Movies like Decoding Annie Parker and news stories like 
    Before Angelina helped Katrina learn more about BRCA 
    For a list of supportive resources, including top BRCA reads, visit

    Friday, February 14, 2014

    Basser External Research Grant Program Receives Additional Funding

    Penn Medicine's Basser Research Center for BRCA has announced the Basser External Grant Program, that focuses on projects designed to advance the care of individuals living with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.

    Bringing Support to BRCA1/2 Research

    The Basser External Grant Program has been made possible thanks to an additional $5 million donation from University of Pennsylvania alumni and Basser Center founders, Mindy and Jon Gray.

    “As the nation’s only center solely devoted to research into the prevention and treatment of BRCA-related cancers, the Basser Research Center for BRCA is uniquely positioned to help fund team science and original ideas,” says Dr. Chi Van Dang, director of Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center.

    The grant program provides support for basic science, early detection, translational or clinical research and relevant to the study of BRCA1/2.

    “This generous award by the Grays will help expand the mission of the Basser Center by allowing us to support innovative researchers outside of Penn and widen the circle of those who are working to find new ways to prevent and treat cancers associated with BRCA mutations,” says Dr. Susan Domchek, executive director of the Basser Research Center and the Basser Professor of Oncology at the Abramson Cancer Center.

    “There are many research teams doing exceptional work in BRCA1/2 research who are finding it difficult to compete for the shrinking pool of federal and foundation funding for biomedical research, and this program provides a new avenue to accelerate progress across the field.”

    Recognizing and funding leaders in the field of BRCA research is a cornerstone of the Basser Center’s mission

    Last year, the first Basser Global Prize was awarded to cancer biology and genetics expert Alan Ashworth, chief executive officer of the Institute for Cancer Research in London and leader of the Gene Function team in the ICR’s Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre.

    As part of the award, Dr. Ashworth, a pioneer in efforts to develop therapies to target cancer cells that contain BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, will give the keynote address at the annual Basser Research Center for BRCA Symposium in May 2014.

    In 2013, the Basser Center awarded its second year of grant funding—more than $2 million—to 19 Penn investigators representing a wide array of disciplines.

    Read the official press release in full here. To learn more
    about the Basser Team Science Award and Basser Innovation Award visit

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014

    Radiating Love

    When Neha Vapiwala, MD, and John P. Plastaras, MD, PhD, met during the Perelman School of Medicine’s residency program in radiation oncology, Neha left a huge impression on John.

    “She was a year ahead of me and gave me the lay of the land on my first day,” said John. “Her organization and thoroughness were simply remarkable.”

    Little did they know, the guidance she showed him during his first disorientating days of residency would set the tone for the friendship that developed as co-residents, the courtship that followed, and their life together as colleagues, husband, and wife.

    The only glitch to this sweet "meet-cute?" Neha doesn’t remember it.

    But that’s okay, John remembers for her. And therein lies the secret recipe for how Neha and John make their busy lives work.

    A Team with Support and Love

    They are a consummate team and rely on one another to be sounding boards for help, advice, support, and guidance.

    Now married with two children, they use the foundation of deep friendship and trust they built as co-residents to help navigate their duties as partners, parents, and faculty members in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Penn Medicine.

    “We have a very unique situation,” Neha explained. “Every day we benefit from working on the same team and sharing many of the same overarching goals.”

    “The commonality of our work allows us to really support and promote one another in ways most couples cannot,” John went on to say.

    While the delicate balance of John and Neha’s personal and professional lives doesn’t come easy, it is the end product of the quintessential yin and yang of their personalities working together in harmony.

    John’s happy-go-lucky, "it’s all going to be okay" philosophy balances the more regimented approach to life that first drew him to Neha.

    But, ultimately they believe their inherent differences, complimentary personalities, and shared passion for radiation oncology has made them stronger as a couple than they would be individually.

    “While we approach the practice of medicine from different angles, helping patients and families along their cancer journey is an incredibly rewarding, and emotionally draining, privilege,” Neha said. “We are fortunate in that we both understand what a profound effect our patients have on our daily lives.”

    “We also love and engage in the same things, our city-life with our daughters dictates our fun,” John said. “We take advantage of what Philadelphia has to offer and are always out walking to parks and museums, visiting with friends, or trying out new restaurants.”

    By far, what they are most in sync about are their children. While medicine brought them together, they are in total agreement to not put pressure on their children, to follow in their footsteps.

    “We want to give them the best possible education from an early age,” they said. “But we will give them the space to make up their own minds as to what they feel passionate about.”

    Neha and John fell in love with medicine independently and then found love with one another while training to help better care for cancer patients. The one thing they do know is how lucky they were to find each other and build their academic careers together.

    “It didn’t have to work out this way, but fortunately for us, it did!”

    Philanthropy is a powerful tool to advancing research, care, and education - in an environment where love and hope go hand in hand.  
    Make an online gift today or contact Karrie L. Borgelt at or 
    215-898-9931 to learn more about the impact of your support.

    RSVP - Biannual Amyloidosis Support Group Returns to Penn Medicine 4/12

    The Biannual Amyloidosis Support Group Comes to Penn Medicine

    In partnership with the Amyloidosis Support Group, Penn Medicine's Amyloidosis Clinic will be hosting this year's Biannual Amyloidosis Support Group event. The event will featue a questions and answers segment with guest speaker Dr. Vaishali Sanchorawala as well as the Penn Medicine doctors and staff of the Abramson Cancer Center Amyloidosis Program.

    Topics to be discussed throughout the event include:
    • Announcements of new clinical trials and treatments
    • Questions read and answered Amyloidosis Support Group doctors
    • How LLS can help AL amyloidosis patients
    • An informal discussion over lunch with speakers and participants
    • Nutrition and Physical Therapy for amyloidosis patients
    • Raising awareness and other ways to help 

    RSVP and join us Saturday April 12th, 2014 
    from 9:00am - 2:00pm
    Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine
    3400 Civic Center Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19104
    Main Lobby of the Translational Research Center
    Follow Signage - Complimentary Food Served -
    RSVP for the Biannual Amyloidosis Support Group 

    Wednesday, February 5, 2014

    Acupuncture and Integrative Oncology: Help for Cancer Patients 2/13 in Philadelphia

    Event Cancellation: This event, Yin and Yang of Acupuncture Research: Examining the "parts," understanding the "whole" has been cancelled due to the incoming storm. We apologize for any inconvenience, and hope to reschedule Dr. Witt's visit in the future.
    Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center is sponsoring a free public lecture entitled “Yin and Yang of Acupuncture Research” on February 13, 2014 from 12-1 pm in the Reunion Auditorium of the John Morgan Building.
    Dr Claudia Witt

    Yin and Yang of Acupuncture Research: Examining the "parts," understanding the "whole"

    The Integrative Medicine and Wellness Program delivers and evaluates a range of integrative supportive services designed to help patients cope with the cancer experience and improve their overall sense of well-being. To further explore the relationship between cancer care and integrative medicine, the Abramson Cancer Center is hosting a lecture on the topic.

    In this lecture, Claudia Witt, MD, MBA, will discuss the use of acupuncture - a component of traditional Chinese medicine - and its integration into conventional health care. Dr. Witt is an internationally recognized medical doctor, epidemiologist, and research methodologist.
    “Using acupuncture for pain and symptom management is an increasingly popular treatment choice,” says Jun Mao, MD, MSCE, Director of Integrative Oncology Initiative at the Abramson Cancer Center. “Emerging research supports the safety and effectiveness of acupuncture for managing common symptoms such as nausea, pain, and fatigue for cancer patients.”

    For Patients, Professionals and Researchers

    Patients, medical professionals and researchers who want to learn more about the mechanisms and effects of acupuncture for health maintenance and the treatment of disease are encouraged to join. The lecture is free and open to the public. Learn more and view the official lecture poster.

    For more information about the Integrative Medicine and Wellness Program at the Abramson Cancer Center, please visit

    Tuesday, February 4, 2014

    Brain Tumor Support Series

    The Abramson Cancer Center presents a new support series for brain tumor patients and their families with guest speakers presenting on topics of interest. Participants are encouraged (but not required) to attend all three sessions in February.

    February 11, 2014
    Dr. Eleanor Anderson, Psychiatrist
    Matt Stevenson, LCSW, Counselor

    February 18, 2014
    Kim Fleisher, Reiki instructor
    Tali Mazar Ben-Josef, Yoga instructor

    February 25, 2014
    Katrina Claghorn, Registered Dietitian

    Sessions are Tuesday afternoons from 2:30 to 4 pm at the Patient and Family Services Conference Room, 1 West Pavilion Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine – 3400 Civic Center Boulevard

    Please call 215-615-5240 if you have questions or want to be added to our e-mail list. Registration for these support groups is recommended.

    World Cancer Day 2014

    Today is World Cancer Day. To celebrate and raise awareness, we've "Purpled our Profile" on Facebook here.
    World Cancer Day is a chance to raise our collective voices in the name of improving general knowledge around cancer and dismissing misconceptions about the disease. From a global level, World Cancer Day is focusing on the myths below.

    How are you celebrating World Cancer Day? Purple Your Profile on Facebook and spread awareness about cancer.
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