SCCA Cancer News Watch

Here’s a quick summary of notable recent health and cancer news:

The Emperor of All Maladies
In anticipation of next week’s airing of Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, KCTS has produced this segment about the remarkable cancer journey of SCCA’s Dr. Keith Eaton–not as doctor, but as patient. In late 2012, Dr. Eaton was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and, after several unsuccessful rounds of chemotherapy, he traveled to Philadelphia to be the first adult with ALL to receive CAR T-cell therapy. Later, back at SCCA, he underwent a bone marrow transplant and today is cautiously optimistic about his prospects.

Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies premieres March 30 at 9 p.m. on KCTS. Last year, Dr. David Maloney discussed CAR T-cell therapy and the research that’s happening here at SCCA and Fred Hutch.

Angelina Jolie Pitt: Diary of a Surgery
As you may remember, two years ago Angelina Jolie announced in an op-ed for The New York Times that she carried a mutation in the BRCA1 gene that dramatically increased her risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer. As a result she decided to get a preventive double mastectomy. Yesterday, in the same space, Jolie wrote that she would undergo yet another preventive surgery—this time the removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Yesterday, in an interview on KING 5 News, SCCA’s Dr. Elizabeth Swisher, the medical director of the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Prevention Program at SCCA, spoke about Jolie’s decision and the steps that women should take in evaluating their risk for breast cancer. Watch Dr. Swishers’ interview here.

The New Survivors
Advances in cancer treatment have, for many, turned cancer into a chronic condition, rather than a death sentence. Wendy Paris, writing for Psychology Today, considers what it’s like to live with a terminal disease”

“In their ability to live fully in the present, people in cancer’s limbo may actually have something important to teach those of us who live more or less in denial of mortality, always oriented toward our imagined future.”

A thoughtful article worth reading whether you’ve been touched by cancer or not.

Other Health and Cancer News
In case you missed it earlier this month on HBO, you can now watch the VICE Special Report: Killing Cancer online, or read The New York Times’ review of Killing Cancer here.  The Seattle Times looks at how public cord-blood banking is expanding across region, which could be good news for anyone needing a donor for  a bone marrow transplant. The Los Angeles Times reports on how exercise “may be a ‘novel adjuvant treatment’ for women with breast cancer.” And Geekwire writes about Argos, a new tool developed at the Hutch that integrates thousands of medical records, databases and tissue inventories at SCCA, Fred Hutch, UW Medicine, and Seattle Children’s to help accelerate cancer research and treatment.

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    Out of Sync: Cancer at 32


    Emily’s family: Fiona, Emily, Dan and Colm.

    It’s a strange experience to walk into a cancer center when you are nine months pregnant. The afternoon I arrived, most people probably looked at my large belly and assumed I was visiting my mother. Instead I had come for my first oncology consult after a biopsy confirmed the lump in my breast was not a clogged milk duct but cancer.

    Settling into the waiting area with my husband, I looked around the room and realized most of the other patients were 30 or 40 years older than I was. I couldn’t help thinking: “I’m too young for this!”

    There is never a good time to get cancer—it’s wrenching no matter how old we are—but a diagnosis in our twenties or thirties brings unique challenges. Young adults are just launching into the world, defining our professional identities, building relationships, starting families. Cancer is not part of the plan, and when it intrudes upon our barely formed lives, it’s profoundly isolating.

    I started treatment ten days after I delivered a beautiful baby boy. The survivors I met at the cancer center were kind and supportive, yet I couldn’t fully relate to them. Many shared photos of their grandchildren and talked about early retirement. One breezily told me I shouldn’t worry about chemo-induced menopause because it wasn’t as bad as people thought. At the age of 32, I didn’t feel equipped to assess hot flashes.

    Looking for a Support Group?
    Cancer should not be a lonely experience. Fortunately, there are dozens of support groups locally, and hundreds more nationally aimed at helping cancer patients and survivors get information, comfort, and hope. If you’re a young person looking for others like yourself, check out the links below:

    See also the Support Groups page on the SCCA website. It’s a good place to start no matter what type of group you’re looking for.

    I often felt just as out of sync with my friends. While they were attending Mommy & Me classes or wrapping up maternity leaves, I was busy with scans and steroids. I lay awake at night wondering if the pain in my back was from the Baby Bjorn or a tumor. I looked at my son and feared I wouldn’t live to see him enter kindergarten. My friends meant well, but how could they understand this? They would have known how to comfort me through infertility or divorce, but cancer just wasn’t on their radar yet.

    Halfway through chemo, my oncologist told me about a new support group for young women with breast cancer. As I walked into the first session and saw eight youthful faces looking back at me, I was flooded with relief. Here were women my own age fluent in the language of low blood counts and fears of recurrence. They talked about cancer robbing our youthful faith in our bodies. And they never winced when the conversation turned dark or gory. They got it.

    I am deeply grateful to my oncologist for steering me toward this group. I realized that the best cure for isolation is having our experience reflected around us. For young survivors, that can include going to meet-ups, finding books about young adults in the cancer center’s library, or simply seeing young faces in the center’s online presence. Because in the midst of chemo and clueless friends, one of the most important things we can hear is: “You are not alone.”

    Emily Cousins was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer in 2002 at the age of 32 while living in New York City. She lives in Seattle now and works in strategic communications for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Her favorite thing to do is spend time with her husband, son and the daughter she was fortunate to have after treatment. Cousins receives her follow-up care at SCCA and serves as a SCCA Patient and Family Advisor.

      Posted in Personal Stories, Suvivorship | Leave a comment

      An Update on Colon Cancer Prevention and Screening

      Colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer, affecting one in 20 people in the United States. Almost all colon cancers start out as polyps, or precancerous lesions, which can be detected and removed during colonoscopies before they become cancerous. The incidence of colon cancer is decreasing among older adults due to the effectiveness of screening, but doctors have seen an increasing incidence in younger adults. Risk factors for developing colon polyps and colon cancer include family history, being overweight, not exercising regularly, an unhealthy diet, smoking, and diabetes.

      In the below video from Patient Power, watch Dr. William Grady, the director of the GI Cancer Prevention Program at SCCA, discuss colon cancer screening and the increasing incidence of colon cancer among young people over the last 10 to 20 years. Dr. Grady discusses noninvasive screening options for colon cancer, including fecal occult blood tests and Cologuard, a DNA screening test that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration recently approved. Cologuard detects molecular markers that may indicate polyps or cancer, and has a lower false-positive rate compared to the fecal occult blood test.

      March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Find out more about how colon cancer screening is one thing that could save your life in our infographic. And, if you’re due for an appointment, view our list of gastroenterology centers in the Puget Sound region and make an appointment to get screened today.

        Posted in Cancer Screening | Leave a comment

        Being Mortal: Book Review

        being-mortalAtul Gawande is a practicing surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor in both the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Department of Surgery at Harvard Medical School. He’s probably best known as the author of several groundbreaking books about the practice of modern medicine, including Complications, A Surgeons’s Notes on an Imperfect Science and The Checklist Manifesto, How to Get Things Right. His latest book, Being Mortal, Medicine and What Matters in the End, has been on The New York Times bestseller list since it was published last fall. In Being Mortal, Dr. Gawande looks at the problems caused by modern medicine’s inability to deal with the end of life and the negative impact it can have on patients and their families.

        We asked SCCA’s Dr. Anthony Back to give us his thoughts on Being Mortal. In addition to seeing patients here at SCCA, Dr. Back codirects the Cambia Palliative Care Center of Excellence at the University of Washington and is co-author of Mastering Communication with Seriously Ill Patients. Watch Dr. Back’s review–on video–below.

        Dr. Gawande is also a staff writer at The New Yorker, where you can find a nice collection of his work available for reading online.

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          The Emperor of All Maladies Screening Event

          When oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee set out to better understand the disease he treats, the result was the 2010 Pulitzer-Prize winning book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Mukherjee’s chronicle of the disease covers its first documented appearances thousands of years ago to how therapies have continued to evolve in the 20th century, and everything in between. The book has now been made into a film by Barak Goodman, presented by Executive Producer Ken Burns.

          cancer_event_imageThe film will air as a three-part television series that premieres March 30 to April 1 on KCTS 9.  Join us next Tuesday, March 17, for a preview screening of the film Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies at Town Hall. The Town Hall event is free and open to the public, and will include a resource fair at 5:30 p.m. with community organizations, followed by the screening at 7 p.m. After the screening, stick around for a panel discussion including the following panelists:

          • Barak Goodman, Filmmaker
          • Dr. Frederick R. Appelbaum, Executive Vice President and Deputy Director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; President and Executive Director of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and Professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine
          • Dr. Philip Greenberg, Head of Immunology at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
          • Wendy Weeks, Cancer Survivor

          The panel discussion will be moderated by Don Antonucci, the President of Regence BlueShield in Washington, and the Co-Chair of the American Cancer Society’s CEOs Against Cancer. View a trailer for the film hereRSVP for the Town Hall event, and be sure to stop by the SCCA booth at the resource fair prior to the film’s screening.


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