Tag Archive for: cancer treatment

December 2022 Digital Health Roundup

Scientists and engineers have teamed up to create new treatments to help fight cancer. These treatments sound like something out of a science fiction movie but are bringing us closer to ending cancer. Bacteriabots are nanobots used to destroy tumors and trigger the patient’s own immune response to fight their cancer. CRISPR is using CAR T-cells to create therapies for cancer patients that have run out of treatment options. Nanobubbles in combination with ultrasound waves are being used to kill cancer cells with positive results in early testing. As science and technology advance, it opens new options for cancer treatment.

The Army of ‘Bacteriabots’ That Could Combat Cancer Tumors

In this case, the bacteriabots colonized 3D tumor spheroids. They delivered chemotherapeutic molecules, demonstrating an innovative on-demand drug delivery method for cancer treatment reports InterestingEngineering.com . Biobots are time limited and programmed to self-destruct without leaving anything harmful behind. They are targeted for a particular task such as going to places of high acidity as in tumor tissue. Using bacteriabots helps to limit the unwanted side effects of treatment on healthy tissue, unlike the current treatments of chemotherapy and radiation. The use of bacteriabots is a non-invasive way to get into a closed environment like tissue and blood vessels. These biobots can also be used to trigger the patient’s own immune system. There are many things biobots could eventually be used for; treating other diseases and even repairing a torn ACL without surgery. Click to read the full story.

CRISPR Gene-Editing May Boost Cancer Immunotherapy, New Study Finds

CRISPR is developing cancer treatments using CAR T-cell therapies. These are called “living drugs” because they’re living cells of the immune system, taken from cancer patients, and then reinfused after being genetically engineered in the lab to attack the patient’s tumors reports weku.org . Using a drug that is living can make it last a few weeks or even a few years. This therapy offers a treatment for people that have run out of other options like stem cell therapy. Scientists are trying to make an off the shelf version of this therapy that would be available quickly, made in large quantities, and less expensive. They take T cells from a healthy donor and use CRISPR to reprogram the T cells. It reprograms it in several ways; to leave healthy cells alone, to hide from the patient’s own immune system, and to destroy cancer. While studies are showing some positive results from the off the shelf CAR T-cell therapy, it is not as effective as using the patient’s own cells. Click to read the full story.

These Tiny Bubbles are “Warheads” for Killing Cancer

These infinitesimal gas bubbles surround the tumor and then can be exploded via ultrasound, creating “therapeutic warhead,” as they artfully put it in their study, published in the journal Nanoscale freethink.com . High frequency ultrasound can damage tissues surrounding tumors. The use of low frequency ultrasound in combination with the nanobubbles reduces harm to surrounding tissues. The tiny bubbles are injected into the bloodstream which goes into the blood vessels of a tumor and is then leaked into the tissue of the tumor. The low frequency ultrasound makes the bubbles explode and that kills the cancer cells. This is an effective treatment for tumors that are located deep within the body or where there are many tumors. The hope is that this method would replace surgeries to remove cancerous tumors. The trials are currently moving from mouse trials to human trials. Click to read the full story.

December 2022 Notable News

Research is a valuable tool in every aspect of cancer; prevention education, treatment advances, and effectiveness of new treatments. New research has shown that survivors of childhood cancer have a significant increase in risk for cardiovascular issues. Oral chemotherapy is a new modality for cancer treatment and research shows the pros and cons of this treatment. This month, research confirms that there is a direct link between alcohol consumption and increased risk in getting certain cancers. All these studies will help to educate cancer patients, causing better outcomes for people.

Survivors of Childhood Cancer Face a Higher Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

The researchers said the risk of cardiovascular disease was significantly higher in cancer survivors in virtually all categories, including sex, race/ethnicity, income, education, smoking status, and physical activities reports healthline.com . The increased risk of cardiovascular disease for survivors of childhood cancer comes from the use of chemotherapy and radiation to treat the cancer at an early age. The class of chemotherapy commonly used is anthracyclines and it is known to place patients at risk for damaging the heart muscle. Radiation therapy directly to the chest causes damage to the heart muscle and the heart valves. The research did show an increase in risk to children that were treated for cancer in households making under $50,000. To reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease for these patients, they should follow a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, and do not smoke. Oncologists need to refer childhood cancer patients to cardiologists for screening to find cardiovascular disease in its early stages. Catching the disease in its early stages allows for prompt treatment and better outcomes. Click to read the full story.

Oral Chemotherapy: What are the Advantages?

Chemotherapy kills or slows the growth of cancer cells. In some cases, it can eliminate cancer. In others, it prolongs life by slowing down the progression of the disease reports MedicalNewsToday.com . Oral chemotherapy can come in the form of a pill or liquid that can be swallowed or placed under the tongue. This treatment can be given at home which is less expensive and less inconvenient for cancer patients. The dosing of oral chemotherapy is especially important and requires clear instructions from the doctor. The medication requires special handling such as wearing gloves and storing it at a specific temperature. It needs to be kept secure and dry in an airtight container away from food, children, and pets. The side effects of oral chemotherapy are the same as IV chemotherapy; hair loss, fatigue, nausea, and bruising. It is important to log side effects and notify the doctor of vomiting. There are several disadvantages to taking chemotherapy orally. If a patient has an adverse reaction to the medication, they are at home instead of with a medical professional and will take longer to get help. This medication given orally is very dose dependent and patients can make errors at home that affect the treatment outcome. There is also a high out of pocket expense in using oral chemotherapy versus IV, some insurance companies will not cover the cost of oral chemotherapy. Oral chemotherapy is not available to treat all forms of cancer but in some cases, it has been proven to be more effective than IV chemotherapy. Click to read the full story.

Alcohol and Cancer Risk: Most Americans Aren’t Aware

The new study, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, notes that there are seven cancer types that have been linked to alcohol consumption reports Healthline.com . The types of cancers linked to alcohol consumption are mouth and throat, larynx, esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast cancer. Alcohol consumption is one of the leading modifiable risk factors for people to prevent cancer. Since the pandemic, consumption of alcohol is on the rise. There needs to be interventions made to help educate people on the direct link to cancer such as media ads, warning labels, and doctor’s educating their patients. Older Americans are less aware of the increased risk of cancer form drinking alcohol. There is no safe level of drinking of any kind of alcohol and this needs to be emphasized to help prevent cancer. Click here to read the full story.

October 2022 Digital Health Roundup

Scientists have out done themselves in the arena of innovation for cancer treatments and detection this month. Fibroscan is a tool using ultrasound for oncologists to detect liver changes that could lead to further testing for diagnosing and treating liver cancer. A group of researchers have developed artificial intelligence to help oncologists determine the best drug therapy for each patient and their individual cancer. A small wireless implant is being tested to help battle deadly brain cancer tumors with less side effects than standard treatments for the patient.

Can A Fibroscan Detect Liver Cancer

Fibroscan is a noninvasive imaging test that may help diagnose liver cancer reports Healthline.com. Fibroscan uses ultrasound or sound waves to see the liver. It bounces sound waves off of the liver and can show signs of damage such as scarring and stiffness. Scarring or stiffness can be signs of cancer. Fibroscan shows more detail than a standard ultrasound and it can show changes to the liver over time. This tool has been helpful for finding hepatocellular carcinoma which is the most common type of liver cancer. If the Fibroscan detects certain changes to the liver, a biopsy can be done to detect if cancer is present. The Fibroscan is a quick test lasting about 15 minutes that requires fasting 3 hours before the test. Early detection of liver cancer increases the patient’s chance of survival. Click to read the full story.

It’s Like Molecular Speed Dating: LSU Using Artificial Intelligence In Cancer Treatment

Using algorithms originally designed to map complex social networks, like those utilized by Facebook, researchers generated three-dimensional graphs of molecular datasets that include cancer cell lines, drug compounds and interactions among proteins inside the human body reports TheAdvocate.com. This AI helps oncologists find drug therapies that work best on each patients different cancer. The information this AI provides will help patients get the correct treatment quicker and cut cost by choosing the right treatment the first time. The graphs created are analyzed by the AI. Researchers train the AI by inputing data, then ask it for what medicine would work best for that particular cancer. The AI makes a prediction based on the data and the researchers test the results in a wet lab. The team used six combinations of cancer cell lines with the drugs most toxic to their gene profile. The AI is able to match the cancer cell lines with the best drug much quicker, giving the patient the best treatment option. Click to read the full story.

A Small Wireless Implant Could Help Kill Deadly Brain Tumors

Researchers at Stanford Medicine developed and tested a wireless device in mice that is small enough to be inserted into a mouse’s brain to kill cancerous cells reports InterestingEngineering.com. This implant is activated remotely and heats up nanoparticles that are injected into the cancerous tumor to kill the cancer. The nanopartilces treat only the tumor so it has less side effects than chemotherapy and radiation. The implant uses photothermal treatment which uses light to heat up the nanoparticles. Photothermal treatment used to only be used during surgery when the brain was exposed to a light, but with the implant it can be done remotely. The device generates heat at the precise site of the tumor and is implanted between the skin and the skull. Then gold nanoparticles are injected into the tumor through a tiny hole in the skull. The implant then sends out infrared light that penetrates the brain tissue to activate the nanoparticles, it increases the temperature by up to 5 degrees Celsius. The power of the implant and wavelength of light can be adjusted to treat the cancer. Click to read full story.

September 2022 Notable News

This month, researchers and scientists reveal the results from studies that are valuable tools for the prevention and treatment of cancer. Currently, they are studying the reasons why there has been a dramatic rise in the number of people getting cancer under the age of fifty. The results of this study may promote people to make changes in their lifestyle to prevent cancer. Stress is also a significant risk factor for causing cancer; it is now considered the 6th vital sign for detecting cancer. Researchers have discovered why air pollution causes cancer; the reason is different than what was previously thought. This discovery could offer hope for people diagnosed with lung cancer that are not smokers.

Dramatic Rise in Cancer in People Under 50

A study by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital reveals that the incidence of early onset cancers-including breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, liver, and pancreas- has dramatically increased around the world, with the rise beginning around 1990 reports news.havard.edu . People born a decade later have a higher risk of developing cancer later in life due to things they were exposed to earlier in life. Some factors that are causing this increased risk are diet, lifestyle choices, weight gain, environmental exposures, and a persons’ microbiome. The best weapons to fight cancer are still screening and early detection. Some other factors that are on the rise are alcohol consumption, sleep deprivation, smoking, obesity, and a diet high in processed foods. There has also been an increase in eight cancers that are related to the digestive system. Many of these factors are easily changed with lifestyle modification. Find more information here.

The Role of Distress in Cancer

For those who do not know, cancer is not a specific disease but a cluster of over 200 diseases typified by dysfunctional cell growth that is rapidly replicated. The challenge is that the body’s immune system often misses detecting the stealth cell growth and then has difficulty eliminating it reports Psychologytoday.com . Stress causes inflammation, the proteins involved in inflammation are what feed cancer. Stress has been found to be the 6th vital sign in finding cancer. People can manage other risk factors for cancer such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and chemical exposures; stress can be managed as well. People need to be encouraged to overcome trauma, treat anxiety and depression, and promote emotional healing. More effort needs to be made to decrease stress to help prevent cancer. Find more information here.

Mystery of Why Air Pollution Causes Cancer is ‘Solved’ in Major Breakthrough Offering Hope for Treatment

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London found that rather than damaging cells directly, air pollution instead ‘wakes up’ dormant mutations and causes them to become cancerous reports The-sun.com . This new research explains why non-smokers are getting cancer. This knowledge changed previous ideas that cancer was formed from a healthy cell mutating. Air pollution triggers the damaged dormant cells to turn into cancerous cells. Discovering the mechanism that causes the cancer cells to grow can help scientists develop cancer blocking treatments. The air pollution causes this mechanism to start in the lungs. Smoking is still the leading cause of lung cancer, but air pollution has a significant impact on lung cancer as well. Find more information here.

September 2022 Digital Health Roundup

The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer used to be considered a death sentence, due to its late detection and difficulty in treatment delivery. With the help of science and technology, pancreatic cancer is a now treatable cancer. Scientists have created a glass bubble nanocarrier to help make the treatment of pancreatic cancer more effective. An Artificial Intelligence program has been created to help detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages to help increase survivability for patients diagnosed with this cancer. Scientists have discovered that using photodynamic therapy to treat many cancers, including pancreatic cancer, is more specific in its delivery and less harmful to the patient.

‘Glass Bubble’ Nanocarrier Boosts Effects of Combination Therapy for Pancreatic Cancer

In hopes of turning the tide, UCLA researchers have developed a technology that delivers a combination therapy to pancreatic tumors using nanoscale particles loaded with irinotecan, a chemotherapy drug approved as part of a drug regimen for pancreatic cancer, and 3M-052, an investigative drug that can boost immune activity and help overcome tumors’ resistance reports Phys.org . One of the reasons pancreatic cancers are hard to treat is that the cancer is protected by biological factors that make it resist treatment. The use of the nanoparticle for treatment helps to shrink the cancerous tumors and prevent metastasis. This nanocarrier attracts more cancer killing immune cells to the pancreatic tumors. There is a double layer of lipids surrounding the core of the glass bubble. The bubble is made of silica and has a hollow core filled with the cancer drugs. The fatty tail of the carrier is used for the second drug delivery. This nanocarrier method helps prevent drug leakage and toxicity to surrounding tissues. It can break through the rugged barrier that is around the pancreatic cancer tumors to deliver the treatment. Find more information here.

Pancreatic Cancer: New AI Program Could Help with Early Detection

If caught early, pancreatic cancer is treatable. Experts say that early detection is the best way to improve the chances of survival as the prognosis worsens significantly once the tumor grows beyond 2 centimeters reports healthline.com . There are currently no valid screening tests for this deadly cancer for patients without any symptoms. The standard use of CT scans for detection does not always find the tumors in the difficult to visualize pancreas. The pancreas is close to many other structures and varies in size and shape. In Taiwan, scientists have made a clinically applicable computer aided detection tool that helps to easily find the pancreas. This program is accurately finding pancreatic cancer in its early stages. The use of liquid biopsy in combination with this AI program work together for early detection. Liquid biopsy is a blood test that finds the biomarkers showing there is cancer present. This program offers hope for early detection of pancreatic cancer and increases survivability for patients. Find more information here.

Photodynamic Therapy Offers Promise for Cancer Treatment

Photodynamic therapy –the use of precisely targeted light, usually from a laser, that activates or “turns on” a drug to kill cells- has been used mostly to treat skin cancers, since it is easier to deliver light to the outside of the body. But light does not travel far through the body tissues reports MedicalXpress.com . The goal of this therapy is to get the light as close as possible to red light, which has the longest wavelength, to penetrate tissue using the lowest energy. The use of the lower energy causes less harm to surrounding tissues. Doctors use a two-photon light, in which two particles of light hit at the same time. The cancer killing molecule that is activated only by light can destroy cancer cells that are resistant to chemotherapy. This therapy has been tested on drug resistant pancreatic and breast cancers. Scientists can examine cancers for levels of a certain protein using phototherapy. The light fluoresces differently for various levels. A high level of the protein shows red, and a low level shows yellow. This test shows whether the patient will be responsive or resistant to chemotherapy. If the patient is resistant, doctors can use the photodynamic therapy. This therapy is given via IV infusion in an outpatient setting and fiber optics deliver the light. Find more information here.

August 2022 Notable News

August brings advances in the field of cancer treatment and detection, thanks to the partnership of scientists and physicians. Scientists persevered in their research to find a new molecule to help improve cancer immunotherapy treatment. The well mapped brain of a locust and its sense of smell is aiding scientists with cancer detection. New research warns that a diet high in saturated fats can increase chances of bladder cancer in males.

New Molecule Could Improve Cancer Immunotherapy’s Effectiveness and Accessibility

We have developed a molecule that can inhibit PD-1/PD-L1 binding and remind the immune system that it needs to attack the cancer reports technologynetworks.com . This molecule uses the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer. In the past, immunotherapies have been expensive and challenging to manufacture. Until this new molecule, immunotherapies primarily worked on cancer that did not have solid tumors. With the help of Computer Aid Drug Design (CADD), they were able to find the best structure for the molecule. This new molecule is more cost effective and easier to manufacture. This new immunotherapy treatment is effective on solid tumors, expanding the types of cancer that can be treated. Patients will be able to take immunotherapy orally from home, instead of intravenously which is how it is currently given. Immunotherapy will be more affordable and effective for patients, dramatically improving cancer patient outcomes. Find more information here.

Researchers Hack Locust Brains to Help Diagnose Cancer by Smelling Them

In their quest to find a technology that can “sniff” out cancer, researchers at Michigan State University have revealed that locusts can not only “smell” the difference between cancer cells and healthy cells, but they can also distinguish between different cancer cell lines reports interestingengineering.com. Researchers have already mapped out the locust’s brain, they understand it’s neural circuits and olfactory sensors. Using electrodes over the locust brain, scientists can see responses to gas samples and can create chemical profiles. Cancer cells emit chemicals that differ from healthy cells. Locusts can smell the cancer chemicals. This method can work with any cancer that introduces volatile metabolites into the breath. Plans are in progress to develop a closed system with a portable sensor to use for detection. The earlier the detection of cancer, the higher the chances of patient survivability. Find more information here.

Too Much Saturated Fat Could Increase Bladder Cancer Risk in Men- What Are the Signs?

The research, funded by the World Cancer Research Fund, found that consuming too much saturated fats increased the risk of bladder cancer in men by 37%, while women who ate monounsaturated fatty acids and plant-based oils (such as olive, coconut, and sesame oil) decreased their risk of the disease by 27% reports newschain.com . The quality of the fat eaten effects developing bladder cancer. There is an even higher risk of developing bladder cancer with certain conditions such as type 2 diabetes, repeated bladder infections, repeated kidney stones, and long-term indwelling urinary catheter use. Smoking causes an increased risk of this cancer also. Symptoms of bladder cancer include blood in the urine, dark urine, frequent urination and urgency, pain with urination, and pain in the lower abdomen. A physician uses urine microscopy, cystoscopy with biopsy, CT scan, or MRI for diagnosis. The treatment of bladder cancer involves tumor removal or removal of the bladder. It is often recommended to have treatment with chemotherapy and radiation as well. Find more information here.

July 2022 Digital Health Roundup

This July, healthcare providers partner up with technology to give cancer patients a better outcome. Gamma Knife technology, a knife-free approach, helps to treat brain and neck cancers. Radiologists use artificial intelligence (AI) to help them catch more cancers on mammograms, leading to increased survivability. The United Kingdom is using technology, in the form of drones, to deliver chemotherapy to cancer patients in isolated areas.

Gamma Knife Technology Treats Brain Tumors Without Surgery

Despite the name, there is no cutting or incisions involved in the Gamma Knife method; instead, radiation and computer-guided planning are used to treat abnormalities in the brain reports TheBlade.com. This technique treats metastatic cancer, malignancies, benign tumors, lesions, and malformations in the head and neck area. The use of gamma rays to the affected area is precise and helps to keep the surrounding tissue healthy. The Gamma Knife is a way to get surgery without using a knife. There is no pain, no anesthesia, the only requirement is that the patient must lay still. This technique is a good choice for people who are unable to undergo surgery, underwent prior brain surgery, or have tumors located in hard-to-reach places. Cancer patients that go through this procedure, have follow-up MRIs to check the status of the area treated. Find more information here.

Doctors Using AI Catch Breast Cancer More Often Than Either Does Alone

Radiologists assisted by an AI screen for breast cancer more successfully than they do when they work alone, according to new research. That same AI produces more accurate results in the hands of radiologists than it does when operating solo reports MITtechnologyreview.com. This artificial intelligence (AI) is called Vara and has been fed data from over 360,000 mammograms with the notes and assessments from the radiologists. It is being used in Germany and Mexico. This AI saves lives by analyzing mammograms and categorizes them as normal or abnormal, the not normal ones are flagged for the radiologist to review. There is a shortage of specialists, and this can help the radiologists free up more time to spend with patients. Radiologists alone can miss catching some of the cancer on the mammograms due to working long hours and being tired. Radiologists review everything the AI interprets and together cancer patients are getting better diagnosis and treatment. Find more information here.

UK Tries Cancer Meds by Drone

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has launched the world’s first trial to deliver chemotherapy via drone – a move that could make receiving cancer treatment cheaper, more convenient and less taxing on patients and the environment reports Freethink.com. Some patients must travel several hours using different modes of transportation to get their chemotherapy. The drone can deliver the medication in a matter of minutes to a hospital or doctor office that is closer to the patient. This delivery method cuts transportation costs to the patient and lowers carbon emissions, impacting the environment. The UK is creating drone corridors to hospitals. Recently, drones have been used to deliver medical supplies in war zones, coronavirus tests to labs, and delivered transplant organs. Find more information here.

June 2022 Digital Health Roundup

June brings exciting news combining science and technology to aid the fight on cancer. Scientists have used an established tool, ultrasound, in a new way to deliver immunotherapy to cancer patients. A Southwest Florida oncologist is bringing new cancer technology to make the delivery of radiation more precise and safer for patients. Ion technology, which is a robotic bronchoscopy, is helping doctors diagnose and treat lung cancer faster.

UTSW Researchers Develop Microbubble Technology to Enhance Cancer Immunotherapy

Researchers at UT Southwestern have developed a first-of-its-kind ultrasound-guided cancer immunotherapy platform that delivers immunostimulant agents to cells for the development of systemic anti-tumor immunity reports utsouthwestern.edu. The microbubble-assisted ultrasound guided immunotherapy of cancer (MUSIC) makes the bubbles oscillate which creates holes to deliver agents into the cells. The immunotherapy agents cause immune responses to kill cancer lesions and tumors. These agents have a lower toxicity and limit the risk of an inflammatory response. Ultrasound is much more affordable and widely available, making this a better treatment option for patients. Find more information here.

SWFL Doctor Uses New Technology to Help Direct Radiation Treatments for Cancer

Dr Dosoretz’s practice is the first in the country to use a new smart system called identify. A combination of hardware and software tool that generates a 3D model of a patient’s body allowing technicians to make real time adjustments for even the slightest movements reports WINKNews.com. This tracking and mapping system makes radiation delivery more precise. The increase in precision of radiation delivery affects the other organs near the cancer less, causing less side effects and less damage to the body. This technology will not deliver the radiation unless the patient is in the exact correct position allowing for better outcomes. Find more information here.

New Technology at South Shore Helps Diagnose Cancer Earlier

The ion technology, in which they are the first in Long Island to have, is a method of how you can streamline someone to get a lung biopsy through a bronchoscope, which is a camera that goes through the airway, and it helps navigate all the way to any part of the lung with this new technology reports islipbulletin.net. During this procedure, the doctors can diagnose lung cancer from a lesion sample as well as obtaining a sample from the lymph nodes. These samples allow for staging of the cancer to be determined all during one procedure. Ion technology allows for a significantly earlier diagnosis and the decision whether surgery or other treatments are needed can be determined earlier. This robotic bronchoscopy cuts the diagnosis time from 4 months down to 3 weeks. Earlier diagnosis of lung cancer can cause a better outcome for the patient. Find more information here.

Millennial Stage IV Colon Cancer Survivor Urges Earlier Screening

Millennial Stage IV Colon Cancer Survivor Urges Earlier Screening from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Stage IV colon cancer patient Ashley received her diagnosis at age 33. Watch as she shares her story starting with a routine physical, surgery and treatments that she endured, and lessons learned during her cancer journey.

Special thanks to our partner, Colorectal Cancer Alliance, for helping to make this vignette possible.


Transcript:

My name is Ashley, and I’m from West Virginia but currently reside in Nebraska. In February 2021, I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at the age of 33.

I decided I wanted to join the Air National Guard and had to complete a physical examination. After visiting a hematologist/oncologist for dangerously low iron and hemoglobin levels, I went in for a routine physical a few months later. The physician’s assistant found a mass in my stomach area, and they sent me for a CT scan. The next morning, my husband Josh got the call that I missed. The CT scan had shown three different masses – and was likely cancer.

I was dumbfounded, shocked, and then I felt the tears rolling down my face. My doctor informed me, “You need surgery immediately, since the tumors are getting close to completely closing up your colon.” I also had a tumor on my liver.

I had surgery to remove the tumor before it closed my colon, but the surgeon couldn’t get to the tumor on my liver. After surgery, they told me the three most important things to do while there that would get me home sooner were eating with no issues, walking, and having a bowel movement.

Finally after two surgeries where my liver, gallbladder, one-quarter of my colon, part of my small intestines, appendix, two large tumors, and a lymph node that turned into a tumor was removed, as well as 12 rounds of chemo.

I received news in March 2022 that my cancer is back but will not be as aggressive as it was before. I am taking things one step at a time and one day at a time, trying to stay optimistic at each step.

When someone gets cancer – the “journey” is never over. The fear NEVER goes away. Even when you are declared to have no evidence of disease, there is a possibility cancer can come back. And if it does come back, the chance of fighting and winning again gets slimmer.

If you know someone that has cancer – be kind – just because they don’t look sick, doesn’t mean they aren’t having challenges. Just because their numbers and scans are good doesn’t mean they are in the clear for the rest of their life. Always, always – BE KIND!

Some of the things I have learned during my colon cancer journey are:

  • Get your colon cancer screenings on time. Or if you’re too young like me, listen closely to what your body tells you and get annual physicals.
  • Say yes to those who want to help by bringing food, checking in, or donating. We are amazed by the support we’ve received from friends, family, and complete strangers.
  • Fighting the cancer fight is much easier knowing how many people are on our side and how much love there is for us out there.
  • Advocate for yourself! Do research on your specific type of cancer and mutations. If you feel you are being told something that just doesn’t seem right, question it – push the bar until you can’t anymore! There are so many options out there when it comes to cancer and survival, you just need to find the right person that will take care of you!

These actions are key to staying on your path to empowerment.

April 2022 Notable News

April brings positive news in the field of oncology. Advances in methods of chemotherapy delivery offers a new hope in the treatment of cancer. Scientists have also developed new materials to assist the body in fighting cancer. With all the amazing and lifesaving new treatments discovered with each new day, there is still much damage to be repaired in screening and diagnosis of cancer caused by the pandemic.

New Highly Effective Treatment for Liver Cancer

A new treatment for liver cancer which isolates the organ and “bathes” it in chemotherapy has been found to be effective in almost 90%of patients, reports newschain.com . This treatment uses two small balloons to make the blood supply to the liver flow around it instead of to it, for one hour. During the hour, the chemotherapy is delivered to the liver. This method allows for higher chemotherapy doses to be used because it does not go directly into the bloodstream, therefore not causing damage to other parts of the body. After the chemotherapy is delivered, the blood supply to the liver is drained and filtered. Typically, there is a poor outcome when liver cancer is diagnosed, due to how the treatment damages other parts of the body. This new treatment helps lessen that damage, therefore allowing a better outcome. Patients have a quicker recovery from this treatment and a better quality of life during the chemotherapy treatment. There is hope that this technique may be used to treat other types of cancer as well. Find more information here.

Simple Delivery Method Enhances Promising Cancer Treatment

One cutting-edge cancer treatment exciting researchers today involves collecting and reprogramming a patient’s T cells-a special set of immune cells-then putting them back into the body ready to detect and destroy cancerous cell reports MedicalXpress.com. These cells are called chimeric antigen receptor T cells or CAR-T cells. Engineers at Stanford University have developed a hydrogel to deliver these immune cells next to a tumor in the body to make the cells more effective. This gel is made of water, and a polymer from cellulose and biodegradable nanoparticles. This hydrogel makes the CAR-T cells effective in treating solid tumors, instead of only treating blood cancers. The cells are not going into the bloodstream but right next to the tumor, allowing for the tumor to have a longer exposure to the immune cells. Find more information here.

Doctor’s Warn of Cancer Survival Rates Going into Reverse

Many lives will end “prematurely” due to a combination of a reluctance of some people to come forward and seek help for symptoms and delayed treatments during the Covid-19 pandemic reports www.ShropshireStar . If cancer is diagnosed in later stages, it is harder to treat and the patients’ survivability decreases. During and since the pandemic, cancer surgeries have been backlogged or cancelled. There are significant staffing shortages which affect patient access to care, diagnosis, and treatment. There are shortages in oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, and nurses to care for the cancer patients. In England, they are asking for government interference for solutions to these issues, there are dramatically fewer people getting screened for cancer since the pandemic. This decrease in screening will have a serious consequence to patient survivability. Find more information here.

Tools for Living with Cancer and COVID-19

Tools for Living with Cancer and COVID-19 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Breast Cancer Network Manager Mary Leer highlights the importance of a previous interview with Dr. Shaji Kumar focused on COVID-19 and cancer. In the original interview, Empowered Patient and Care Partner Ask the Expert: Addressing COVID-19 Concerns, vaccine concerns are also addressed and key factors are given for cancer patients, survivors, and care partners.  

See More From the Best Care No Matter Where You Live Program


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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

Hello, my name is Mary Leer, and I am the Patient Empowerment Network’s [PEN’s] Network Manager for the Breast Cancer Network.  

 As PEN’s Breast Cancer Network Manager, I was proud to sit down with noted Mayo Clinic expert, Dr. Shaji Kumar. The interview helped me think deeply about my own experience as a cancer survivor and how it relates to my experience living through the pandemic that is still around us all. As cancer patients, we’ve had to live with multiple uncertainties and make decisions that can quite literally and figuratively be painful. We’ve had to make decisions about cancer treatment with our medical team, and we’ve had to deal with the fact that it is in our own best interest to at times take a path that we do not want to take in the name of healing ourselves and living a healthier life. We have learned to live with options and making choices with outcomes that are not certain, our experience and roles as survivors and as caregivers can make it hard sometimes difficult to understand the decisions of others who are hesitant or resistant to getting a vaccine. So I listened and learned from Dr. Kumar discussion about the importance of getting vaccinated to reach a significant percentage of our population. He shows compassion for those whose fear of the pandemic has led them to a decision to turn away from getting vaccinated, perhaps out of fear, distrust of medicine and anger about government impinging on personal rights, or perhaps, of course, their own personal health journey, please implore others to listen to the interviews Jeff and I did with Dr. Kumar. 

Dr. Kumar gave us very clear advice.  He answers many of the questions about COVID-19 that cancer patients, and our community have been asking and frankly worrying about. As you listen to the interviews on PEN’s website, you will hear his voice of reason, make it clear how critical it is for cancer patients, indeed all of us to get vaccinated for the sake of our own and for others’ health. As he states there are uncertainties about aspects of vaccination, such as the strength and length of one’s individual protective immune response, but the bottom line is that cancer patients especially need to be vaccinated to protect their health, even if one is well post-treatment. If still in cancer treatment or if one has had the COVID-19 illness, he told us to discuss the optimum time to get vaccinated with your medical team. He truly gave a clear message that there is solid evidence for the efficacy, safety of approved covid vaccines. Listen carefully and share Dr. Kumar’s interview responses with your cancer community and with your family. His answers address lingering questions my family and I had about COVID and cancer, the bottom line, these interviews with Dr. Kumar are once again, a way of giving us the tools to compassionately help ourselves and others through this COVID-19 health crisis. 

Empowered Patient and Care Partner Ask the Expert: Addressing COVID-19 Concerns

Empowered Patient and Care Partner Ask the Expert: Addressing COVID-19 Concerns from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

With COVID-19 infection and vaccine concerns, what are the key points for cancer patients and care partners to know? Expert Dr. Shaji Kumar from Mayo Clinic shares valuable information about protective measures against COVID-19 infection, vaccine side effects and effectiveness, working toward herd immunity, and cancer research benefits that have emerged from the pandemic. 

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Transcript:

Mary Leer:

My name is Mary Leer. I’m the Breast Cancer Network Manager.

Jeff Bushnell:

And I’m Jeff Bushnell, the MPN Network Manager at the Patient Empowerment Network. I’m a caregiver.

Dr. Shaji Kumar: I

’m Shaji Kumar, a hematologist at Mayo Clinic.

Mary Leer:

Jeff and I are proud to be part of a strong team of compassionate volunteers, helping health communities adapt to the realities of living with a serious illness, living with cancer during a pandemic certainly presents another layer of challenges. So, Jeff and I will drill down to ask the important questions from the community. For this production, Empowered Patient and Care Partner Ask the Expert, we are very lucky to be joined by noted expert, Dr. Shaji Kumar, a consultant in the division of hematology at Mayo Clinic. Thank you for taking the time to join us, Dr. Kumar.

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Thank you for having me, Mary.

Mary Leer:

Let’s start with the top of mind questions for so many of us right now, what should every patient and care partner facing a cancer diagnosis know during the pandemic?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

I think it’s a challenging time for everyone, and it’s obviously more challenging for patients dealing with cancer at the same time, thankfully, we have a vaccine at hand that will certainly make the situation a lot better, but I think from a cancer standpoint, I think what we need to keep in mind all the precautions we talk about in terms  of social distancing, masking, hand washing and all those measures apply equally to everyone, even more so to patients with cancer. And the reason why we say that it’s even more important for several reasons, one, and we continue to learn more about the pandemic and its impact on cancer, one thing that has become clear is that patients with underlying conditions including cancer are to other folks were more affected by the infection, more likely to have more severe interactions and poorer outcomes. Now, patients with cancer appear to be at a higher risk of getting the infection and then they get the infection having a more serious disease. Now, it’s hard to know how much of this is also related to the fact that patients with cancer often have to go into the hospital or the clinic, and hence are more likely to get exposed to the infection than someone who is able to just stay at home.

So that’s one thing. And second, we know that the ongoing treatment for cancer definitely suppresses the immune system, and hence places people at a higher risk of the infection itself. Now, even patients who have their past history of cancer, this appears to be some increased risk, even though this is a little bit, unclear how much more it impacts those individuals. But I think the bottom line is keep the awareness that you might be at a higher risk of getting the infection, more serious infection, and the need to take those precautionary measures in a more strict fashion, and getting the vaccination when you can get it is all things that one needs to keep in mind.

Jeff Bushnell:

Well, that’s wonderful, Dr. Kumar, you mentioned the vaccinations, I am a strong proponent of that, I happen to have been involved in the Moderna vaccine trial, which is and still enrolled, they’re doing the follow-up. I guess they’re checking the last time I was in last week, they took 8 vials of blood, I think they’re checking to see whether I have the antibodies and how long it will last, but I was very happy with the way it was conducted, they were very forthcoming with information.

It was very interesting. And out here in San Diego, where I am, we have done pretty well as a county in vaccinating people and Summer got the vaccine as well with myelofibrosis and she feels a lot better. But for cancer patients who have tested positive for COVID, are there notable consistencies amongst that group of people, and have we learned anything from those patients yet about maybe their chances of getting it more, or their reaction to it? That kind of thing.

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

We know that there’s a wide spectrum of reaction to the vaccine. The majority of the people would not notice any symptoms related to that except for some pain at the injection site.  Not there are some folks, number of people who might have more or just myalgia, muscle pains, just feeling fatigue, some low-grade fevers, just feeling blah for 24-48 hours, and it seems to be not too uncommon. The reactions to the vaccine in terms of the side effects or the symptoms, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference between cancer patients and normal individuals. Now, in terms of the efficacy of vaccination, you just mentioned Jeff, about you being checked for the antibodies, obviously, that is something that we hope will happen to all individuals who get the vaccine, but we know that is not going to be the case, there’s going to be a wide variation in terms of how strong an immune response one might develop against vaccines. Now We know from, not necessarily the COVID vaccine, but the vaccinations that have been used in the past, whether it be flu vaccines or pneumococcal vaccines, that we all get patients with cancer or patients going through treatment for cancer that can suppress the immune system, tend to have a lower response. But again, that varies quite widely from patient to patient now, there are some vaccines where we can clearly look at the antibody response and say, “Oh, this is not adequate, and we need to maybe give an extra shot.”

We just don’t have that information for COVID vaccines yet. So the way I would look at it is, even though the response to the back in a given person might be less than what we eventually would identify to be optimal, it’s likely to be better than not having to see the vaccine, so I would encourage obviously, everybody to get the vaccine. Now, what about someone who has already had an infection, what would be the response? Should we vaccinate those people? We certainly should. Again, we don’t know the immunity from a natural infection, how long would that last? That is still something that is unknown, and the vaccination dose is likely to make the responses more relevant and more durable, so I would recommend the vaccines for everyone. We don’t think one vaccine is any different from another in terms of your underlying cancer or lack thereof. So in terms of assessing for the antibodies, there is no clear guideline in terms of what one should anticipate from  the vaccine, so there is really no way to say, check the antibody, and they can go ahead and get one more dose or you’re fully vaccinated. So I think the bottom line is, get the vaccine, you don’t need to necessarily test for a response, and then we continue with the usual measures for prevention.

Jeff Bushnell:

And so what would you tell the… I guess that’s pretty much the answer to the next question I had. What would you tell the patients who are in active treatment and who planned to get the vaccine just continue as normal after they get it, with all the appropriate precautions?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Yeah, no, I think there’s one other important aspect, Jeff, to that question you just raised, which is, what is the right timing to get vaccinated, the vaccine, and that is a question that often comes up. So patients who are not getting active treatment, there is obviously no concern whenever the name comes up, go ahead and get the vaccine. And the second is what if someone is actually getting active treatment for their cancer, is there any role in terms of trying to find the vaccination, with respect to the doses of the medications and for most of the treatment we are using for cancer, there are no clear guidelines in terms of the when they can get the vaccine, that having several guidelines that have been put out by different organizations. The bottom line is, if there is an ability to space out or give sometime between the vaccine and the dose of the medication, do that, don’t modify your treatments, just so that you can get the cross at a particular time. The only place where we would recommend specific guidelines within the context of somebody who may have had a bone marrow transplant or had some other kind of cellular therapies, in those contexts, we often recommend that you wait for a couple of months after the stem cell transplant, before we get the vaccines. But for all the other treatments that we are getting right now, we want to just within the schedule of the treatment that’s already on going, try and get the vaccine in between two doses.

Mary Leer:

For those who have been vaccinated and are living with cancer, you spoke to that in great depth, but I’m also wondering about people that are perhaps in post-treatment and let’s look at social distancing measures or other restrictions, are those different for patients versus the general population?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

No, I think the proportions are the same, I think the social distancing and the masking should continue to be observed the same way, and I think the only other word of caution I think may be particularly relevant for the cancer patients would be, again, trying to avoid again those kind of being outdoors and larger groups of people, even if when you maintain the social distancing, try and not do that. The outdoors are probably a little better than smaller indoor gatherings, and it’s mostly the common sense proportions, and I think the cancer patients are probably more tuned to this because they have been following some of those things even before the COVID came on and post-vaccination, I would recommend that these steps don’t change at all, partly because we gain for a given person, we don’t know how robust the immune response that those patients have after the vaccination and the lack of good testing to say that, okay, now you’re fully vaccinated, your response is great, you don’t need to worry about getting infected.

Mary Leer:

Wow, thank you so much. That’s so helpful. I’m going to shift to vaccine hesitancy. This is an important topic for many. Drug development takes years, sometimes decades. Can you speak to those who might be hesitant about the speed of vaccine development around COVID. I’ve heard this often from other people saying, “Well, they develop this so quickly, how can we trust it?”

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Yeah, no, I think those concerns are quite valid, I think vaccines have always been a very controversial topic and not just COVID vaccination but even for childhood vaccinations. There have been long-standing concerns that some of those vaccinations may be responsible for some of the issues that we see in the children and even in the late adulthood. I think what we really want to get across is, again, taking that question apart, and there are multiple different aspects to it, one is the whole concept of how we created the vaccine so quickly, we kept telling everyone from the time that it started that it takes five to 10 years to develop a good vaccine, and now we have something in a year, so obviously that raises concerns amongst people. I think it’s just a testament to how far technology has come. In the past, we had to isolate the protein and use that protein to develop the immune response, and what has been really unique about the COVID situation has been the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, both of which uses a new technology called the mRNA-based technology. And this is something that has been developed over the past decade to decade-and-a-half, and I would say this is a platform that was perfect, just waiting for the right opportunity to come along.

And the COVID situation really presented that. And even though it was the speed with which this was developed, is just because the technology has come along so much and we can actually do that, and the second is how fast the clinical trials have been done, and I think that speaks to, again, the infrastructure that they have been developed over the years to rapidly develop and implement a clinical trial. So the clinical trials, both Pfizer and Moderna trials had 40 to 50,000 people enrolled in a quick phase and the community transmission that was happening at a very high rate. We could get these trials done in a very rapid manner, so the patients or the people who enrolled in this clinical trial the fact that they were not getting infected could be determined in a much, much faster fashion than what you would have done in the past with any of the other vaccines. So I think the technology is robust. The [COVID]  trials are very well-conducted and the end point in terms of efficacy has been very well-determined or very accurately determined.  And given the size of these trials and the number of people who have been a goal, I think we can feel fairly confident that the risk associated with this vaccine is pretty low, so you can argue that one of the risk of a particular side effect is only 1 in 80,000. So maybe to the 40,000 people enroll in the trial, they may not have adequate numbers of that and that was certainly a concern when they started vaccinating. And we just know a couple of days ago, there was a publication that looked at almost like 63 million vaccination doses that have been given, and overall the risk of vaccine related side effects have been very, very minimal.

So I think that should also boost our confidence.

But on the other hand, we all heard about what would happen with some of those vaccines and the blood clots, and I think that even though…yes, it is, as it is a risk. It is a very, very small risk. And the fact that you were able to identify them right away again, I think tells us that should there be rare side effects, you’re going to find it, and we are going to figure out the mechanics of why those side effects happen. And we’re going to figure out how to avoid those things.

So, I think the information flow is so fast and all the data related to vaccines and the side effects are being captured in a real-time fashion that we would be… You’d immediately be of avail of side effects should that happen.

Mary Leer:

Wow, that’s so reassuring. Thank you.

Jeff Bushnell:

Another question kind of along the same lines, doctor is the last few days, especially, it’s Vaccine hesitancy has really become sort of the issue to the potential of achieving herd immunity, and how can everybody in the medical community, you guys are facing those stuff in a different way, but the average person, how can we help overcome hesitancy and increase the people’s trust in the vaccine, and also increase the equitable distribution amongst all populations? Some populations are hesitant to take it, others have distance problems for being able to get it. What can we do to sort of push ourselves over the hill to get to that herd immunity?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Yeah, no, You bring up a very important point, and I hope we are in a much better place than many parts of the world right now because we have one of the few countries where a significant proportion of the people have been vaccinated, but we are not quite at the point where we can claim herd immunity, I think we still need to continue to pursue this, and I think the ideal goal is to get everyone who’s eligible to get a vaccine vaccinated. Now, you bring up some of the very important points, because even though vaccine hesitancy is a real problem, the underlying reason behind this is manifold, and the only way to tackle that is we have a multi-front approach that will take into account what is the reason behind it.

So for the people where it’s hard to get to populations which can live in far from the areas, it may be more the ability to use those vaccines, which does need the complicated storage, for example, the J&J vaccine. You only need one dose. It’s easy to store. So that may be one of the approaches to be taken. And people who believe that this is a vaccine is going to create side effects, or it’s part of some grand scheme to introduce a variety of things. I think it’s a person of education, and I think they really need to tell them what can happen with. Not really just to them, but the fact that if you continue to allow these infections to proceed on stuff, there are going to be increasing numbers of mutations, and that in turn is going to make the pandemic much more difficult to control in the long run. So it’s totally an individual benefit, but it’s on to the society’s benefit to have everyone be vaccinated. And then definitely, I think knowing that should anything unto it happen, there’s going to be medical care that’s going to be available to these individuals, and I think that’s also an important point, so who are near and dear to them is going to be the key thing.

Mary Leer:

Here’s a question many cancer patients are unclear about if antibodies are present or if I have tested positive before, there’s a wondering, “Should I still get the vaccine?”

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Yeah, I know the recommendation right now is to go ahead and get the vaccine, partly because we don’t know the natural immunity from the infection, how long does it last. So it seems like the antibodies can start to wane off the infection. And again, we don’t have a lot of data on it, but it looks 3 to 6 months, it might start waning at least to the level that they can detect. Now, whether that is sufficient or even the undetectable levels is protective against a future infection, we don’t know. There have been some reports of people getting a second infection even though they have been infected before again, scattered reports, we don’t know how widespread that phenomenon is going to be, so given all these, I think the current recommendation would be to go ahead and get vaccinated. We generally tell people to wait for two to three months after the infection to go ahead with the vaccination.

Mary Leer:

Alright, thank you

Jeff Bushnell:

Should people… Is the idea of pre-screening, especially for cancer patients, maybe who may be at risk, I guess, to see whether they have antibodies or whatever, be an effective thing to decide which vaccine they should get? or I know, as I say, I was in the trial and they were very forthcoming to the participants with what the numbers were, and I was flabbergasted at how effective the vaccine was, it was just amazing to me, and that kind of information that I guess is not available publicly maybe it should be. Does it help to decide which vaccine you get? All I hear on the TV is get the first one you can. What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Yeah, no, I completely agree with you. I think even those numbers may mean… You look at the Moderna and the Pfizer trials, and they said, now over 90 percent effective. Look at the AstraZeneca trials, you know, it’s like they recorded 70 to 80, 85 percent, and the J&J about 80 to 90 percent effective. Do these numbers mean much? It’s really hard to know, I think, partly because they have been tested in, again, different countries, different times, as the virus was continually changing its characteristics. So it does it mean… So one could argue that maybe the vaccines that were tested later on when this will be some of the mutants were already there might be more effective, but we don’t know.

I think at the end of the day, 80 versus 90 is not something we would decide a vaccine on. The fact that, yes, if something was only 10 percent effective versus 90 percent, it’s a probably different story. So based on the numbers we have seen, I would say whatever you can get to first, if you don’t want to get jabbed twice, maybe you go with something that goes, it’s only one dose, but that may be the only distinguishing factor here, but nevertheless, I think we have to just get the vaccination, the first vaccine that we can get our hands on.

Mary Leer:

So let’s hope there is some good that comes from the bad. Are there any noticeable trends born out of the pandemic that will be or could be a benefit to the future of cancer care or research?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Mary, That’s a very important question, and I think we always learn from adversity, and I think this is going to be no different. I think, especially when the pandemic hit back in the spring of last year, we all had to think fast on our feet to figure out how best to continue to tell about the best care for the cancer patients without compromising the care in any way. And we knew that bringing the patients back into the clinic at the same rate we did before the pandemic would expose them to significant risk for infection, so how do we continue with treatment? There have been very different things people have tried…one of them is to try and get the medications to patients at home. If they are on IV medications, they can be changed to something that’s comparable that can be given by mouth. We already did that for some patients. For some patients who used to come to the clinic very often, so we figure out is there a way for them to get some of those testing done in a clinic much closer to home, so they can avoid the travel, they can avoid being in a bigger city, they can avoid being in a bigger institution, again, reducing the risk of exposure, and then you look at those numbers and then decide on the next course of treatment. We converted many of the clinic visits to video visits. Nothing is as good as having the patient right in front of you, but this is the best we could do under the circumstances.

And I think that helped. So I think the clinical trials was a big problem because in many of those trials were done in a very rigid fashion with very little variability allowed within the protocols. And everybody loosened from the clinical trial sponsors, the pharmaceutical companies, the institutional review board, the investigators to try and build flexibility into those clinical trial structures to allow patients to continue to be on those trials, many of which are important and both helping. So what does that mean for the future? I think the video visits are here to stay, I think we will continue to utilize that and bring patients back to the clinic only when it’s absolutely needed. I think the clinical trials will have in-built flexibility so that patients can enroll on clinical trials remotely, they can potentially be given some of those medications at home, maybe it would be something where we would check into the patients on a regular basis to make sure things are proceeding in the right way. I think there are increasingly technologies that will allow the patients to communicate in real time with the care team and also provide many of the data that we need through iPads or iPhones, Apple watches, whatever we end up using.

So that is that I think that technology will rapidly take off in the next few years, I think. So I think a lot of the care of the patients with cancer in general, and particularly cancer patients, I think is going to look very different five years from now, because of all these things that we have always thought of and we thought, “Yeah it will take time to implement, it’s difficult.” Now we figure it out in a year. We can do a lot of those things.

Mary Leer:

Yeah, thank you.

Jeff Bushnell:

For the final question, you’ve given tremendous information here, Dr. Kumar w What’s the final takeaway for the average cancer patient and caregiver, how to get through this? What’s your bottom line for us all?

Dr. Shaji Kumar:

Bottomline is, I think Your cancer treatment comes first, let’s not compromise on it, let us do it as safe as we can by observing all the instructions in terms of social distancing, masking, avoiding gatherings, getting vaccinated, and make sure you keep connected with your care team. You don’t have to be in the clinic to do that. There’s a variety of different tools, I think every hospital has options to either through their medical records to message their care team, or set up video visits and so forth.

So we want to be in a state where it was before the pandemic in terms of your communications, but use the technology, so we can decrease the risk of exposure without compromising the quality of care.

Mary Leer:

Alright, well, thank you so much, Dr. Kumar, that you have just given us such valuable information, and I want to thank Jeff as well, and the Patient Empowerment Network for putting this together.

Jeff Bushnell:

Thank you, Dr. Kumar, appreciate it.

Dr. Kumar:

Thank you, Jeff.

How to Regain Self-Esteem and Body Confidence After Cancer Treatment

Getting through cancer treatment is a huge accomplishment. The moment you’re finished with your final session, it can feel like you’re on cloud nine. You’ve done something incredible.

Unfortunately, it may not take long for those positive feelings to waver.

Cancer treatments are often intense and can cause noticeable changes to your body. While those changes are necessary to fight back against the disease, many can linger once treatment is done. That can leave you with low self-esteem. You might even start to struggle with mental health conditions like depression or anxiety1.

Whether it’s healing from major surgery, dealing with hair loss, weight fluctuations, or a change in your sex drive, it’s not uncommon for the after-effects of cancer treatment to make you see yourself differently.

So, how can you regain confidence in your body after your treatment journey is over?

Common Body Image Issues

Going through cancer treatment can make you feel strong on the inside, but lose confidence in your external appearance. Because both the disease and treatment can cause your body to change, it’s not uncommon for your physical appearance to affect your self-esteem.

If you’re feeling “off” after your treatment or you’re struggling with your self-confidence, it could be the result of how you see yourself when you look in the mirror. Some of the most common signs of body image issues are:

  • Your feelings about your body are affecting other areas of your life
  • You speak negatively/harshly about your image
  • You avoid seeing your own image as much as possible
  • You obsessively try to change your image with makeup/grooming

Unfortunately, we’re currently living in a period that makes it harder than ever to avoid your own image. If you’re working remotely, for example, you might be one of the 300 million people logging into Zoom meetings every day2.

The current remote culture has created some self-esteem issues of its own. Working from home can be beneficial for patients going through treatment or those in recovery. But, it’s not without its potential drawbacks.

Problems like Zoom fatigue and Zoom dysmorphia have come to the forefront for many people. Zoom dysmorphia, for example, is a condition that causes someone to develop self-image issues from looking at themselves on a screen. When you’re on Zoom meetings all day, it’s easy to start nitpicking your flaws or seeing things that others wouldn’t even notice. If you’ve recently gone through cancer treatment and are already dealing with body image issues, seeing a pixelated version of yourself on a screen can make matters worse.

So, what can you do if you’re struggling with any of these problems?

Explore Your Emotions

You might feel negative about having a negative image of yourself. After all, you just went through something life-changing and came out on the other side. But, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is ignoring how you really feel. By shoving your feelings aside, you’re putting yourself at risk for them to “bubble up” and explode later.

Instead, accept how you’re feeling. Accept the loss you’ve experienced when it comes to the way you used to look. It’s okay to feel sad or frustrated. It’s okay to grieve.

Once you’ve worked through those feelings, you can attempt to shift your mindset. Focus on the things you’ve been through and how they have made you stronger. What have you gained from this experience, and how have you changed positively?

If you’re having a difficult time focusing on the brighter side, lean on your support system. That can include:

  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Doctors
  • Support groups
  • Online forums

You can even talk to other cancer patients for advice about self-image3. The important thing is to remember you’re not alone. You undoubtedly had support with you throughout your treatment. That doesn’t just disappear because you’re cancer-free. Keep leaning on that support for help with your mental health and advice on how to keep moving forward.

Focus On What You Can Change

When it comes to your physical appearance, there are things you can and can’t control.  For example, if you lost your hair during treatment, you can’t make it grow back any faster. But, you can opt for a wig, or choose to wear hats when out in public. If your skin became dull and dry, you can’t change it overnight. But, you can use creams and lotions to bring back hydration and elasticity. If you experienced weight loss, you can purchase clothes that fit better for now, and work on slowly regaining the weight over time.

By focusing on the things you can control, you’re less likely to get frustrated. Most image issues you’ll face after cancer treatment are temporary. It may take a long time to get back to normal. But, you can take comfort in knowing most of them aren’t permanent.

When it comes to physical issues like surgery scars, they will typically fade over time, too. You can help that process with different creams and body butter. But, it’s okay to accept the fact that you may always have a scar or two. Instead of looking at those scars as something “ugly” or embarrassing, consider the fact that you get to stand there and see them. You made it through something that not everyone else gets to. A surgery scar is a sign of strength and victory.

In addition to changing what you can and accepting what you can’t, regaining confidence can come from leading a healthy life. Practice self-care every day. Develop healthy habits that make you feel good about yourself, inside and out. Get enough sleep, work out if you feel strong enough, and take time to relax each day.

Your body has been through a lot. While it’s understandable to feel self-conscious at first, realizing what it’s done for you can make you more accepting and willing to love yourself again.


Sources:

  1. Cancer patients left to cope with mental health problems alone
  2. Zoom User Stats: How Many People Use Zoom in 2021?
  3. Self-Image, Sexuality, and Cancer

3 Things To Know About Your Cardiac Health During Cancer Treatment

According to recent data from the American Cancer Society, 19 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in 2020 alone. However, times are changing, and cancer patients now have access to better treatment and thus an increased chance of survival. But sometimes the cancer treatment itself has detrimental effects on the body, especially the heart. This can predispose patients to heart diseases or worsen already existing symptoms. Furthermore, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy can cause abnormally high blood pressure, arrhythmia, and in extreme cases, even heart failure. It is important, therefore, not to overlook the health of the heart, as it is vital to the chances of survival when undergoing treatment for cancer. The good news, however, is that the heart can be cared for through healthy life choices, and there’s a lot patients can do to protect themselves throughout their treatment.

How The Heart Is Involved

Chemotherapeutic agents in use during cancer treatment have been extensively studied for years and have some known side effects during the course of therapy. Drugs, such as Adriamycin, which is widely used as the first line of treatment for breast cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia, are known to have the highest risk of developing heart-related symptoms, with a 2% risk for developing heart failure. Two percent might not seem significant, but if combined with another chemo agent, Herceptin, which is used for HER2+ breast cancer patients, the lifelong risk for heart failure is now increased to 8-30%. In fact, adding stress to an already weakened cardiac system can lead to sudden cardiac arrest, which occurs when the heart stops beating suddenly, and is the leading cause of death in the US.

Becoming More At Risk Without Treatment

Although the side effects of some therapies are frightening, it is necessary to weigh up the pros and cons of undergoing chemotherapy. The cardiac problems are rarely present in those undergoing cancer treatment, but often enough that cardiac care and prevention should be focused on before the beginning of therapy. Over time, inflammation can lead to sudden irritation in the cardiac system, which can cause the formation of plaques and blood clots. This will also lead to triggers of a sudden heart attack.

Protecting the Heart During Cancer Therapy

Even with the advancements in medical innovations, treating cancer is not yet a precise science. Before chemotherapy can be authorized to begin by your oncologist, your medical history and results from various tests will be discussed by the medical team to pursue the most efficient treatment. Chemotherapeutic plans are specially tailored to each patient to ensure the best possible outcome and to not interfere with other conditions. During the course of treatment, regular check-ups to monitor the heart for potential conditions are vital so that problems can be found and addressed early on. Healthy lifestyles such as nutritious eating habits, daily exercise, and keeping blood pressure under control are additional, yet vital, ways to keep your heart healthy.

Detecting cardiac symptoms early is key in the treatment of heart problems. To protect your heart during and after treatment, pay attention to your entire body and maintain regular check-ups with your doctor. Not only will doing so give you peace of mind, but it will also pave the way for living a longer and healthier life.

What You Need to Know Before Choosing a Cancer Treatment

What You Need to Know Before Choosing a Cancer Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

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What steps could help you and your doctor decide on the best treatment path for your specific cancer? This animated video explains how identification of unique features of a specific cancer through biomarker testing could impact prognosis, treatment decisions and enable patients to get the best, most personalized cancer care.


If you are viewing this from outside of the US, please be aware that availability of personalized care and therapy may differ in each country. Please consult with your local healthcare provider for more information.


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TRANSCRIPT:

Dr. Jones:

Hi! I’m Dr. Jones and I’m an oncologist and researcher. I specialize in the care and treatment of patients with cancer. 

Today we’re going to talk about the steps to accessing personalized care and the best therapy for YOUR specific cancer. And that begins with something called biomarker testing.

Before we start, I want to remind you that this video is intended to help educate cancer patients and their loved ones and shouldn’t be a replacement for advice from your doctor.

Let’s start with the basics–just like no two fingerprints are exactly alike, no two patients’ cancers are exactly the same. For instance, let’s meet Louis and another patient of mine, Ben. They both have the same type of cancer and were diagnosed around the same time–but when looked at up close, their cancers look very different.  And, therefore, should be treated differently.

We can look more closely at the cancer type using biomarker testing, which checks for specific gene mutations, proteins, chromosomal abnormalities and/or other molecular changes that are unique to an individual’s disease.

Sometimes called molecular testing or genomic testing, biomarker testing can be administered in a number of ways, such as via a blood test or biopsy. The way testing is administered will depend on YOUR specific situation.

The results could help your healthcare team understand how your cancer may behave and to help plan treatment. And, it may indicate whether targeted therapy might be right for you. When deciding whether biomarker testing is necessary, your doctor will also take into consideration the stage of your cancer at diagnosis.

Louis:

Right! My biomarker testing results showed that I had a specific gene mutation and that my cancer may respond well to targeted therapy.

Dr. Jones, Can you explain how targeted therapy is different than chemo?

Dr. Jones:

Great question! Over the past several years, research has advanced quickly in developing targeted therapies, which has led to more effective options and better outcomes for patients.

Chemotherapy is still an important tool for cancer treatment, and it works by affecting a cancer cell’s ability to divide and grow. And, since cancer cells typically grow faster than normal cells, chemotherapy is more likely to kill cancer cells.

Targeted therapy, on the other hand, works by blocking specific mutations and preventing cancer cells from growing and dividing.

These newer therapies are currently being used to treat many blood cancers as well as solid tumor cancers.  As you consider treatments, it’s important to have all of the information about your diagnosis, including biomarker testing results, so that you can discuss your treatment options and goals WITH your healthcare team.

Louis:

Exactly–Dr. Jones made me feel that I had a voice in my treatment decision. We discussed things like potential side effects, what the course of treatment looks like and how it may affect my lifestyle.

When meeting with your healthcare team, insist that all of your questions are answered. Remember, this is YOUR life and it’s important that you feel comfortable and included when making care decisions. 

Dr. Jones:

And, if you don’t feel your voice is being heard, it may be time to consider a second—or third—opinion from a doctor who specializes in the type of cancer you have. 

So how can you use this information to access personalized treatment?

First, remember, no two cancers are the same. What might be right for someone else’s cancer may not work for you.

Next! Be sure to ask if biomarker testing is appropriate for your diagnosis. Then, discuss all test results with your provider before making a treatment decision. And ask whether testing will need to be repeated over time to identify additional biomarkers.

Your treatment choice should be a shared decision with your healthcare team. Discuss what your options and treatment goals are with your doctor.

And, last, but not least, it’s important to inquire about whether a targeted therapy, or a clinical trial, might be appropriate for you. Clinical trials may provide access to promising new treatments.

Louis:

All great points, Dr. Jones! We hope you can put this information to work for you. Visit powerfulpatients.org to learn more tips for advocating for yourself.

Dr. Jones:

Thanks for joining us today. 


This program is supported by Blueprint Medicines, and through generous donations from people like you.