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April 2011 Archives

By Lindsey Garner, MD Anderson Staff Writer

chilis.jpgSpices have been used for centuries as a preserving agent and to add flavor and color to food. Now, spices are emerging as a possible therapy to prevent and treat diseases -- even cancer.

Chile pepper, a customary spice used in Texas and the southwest, has shown anti-cancer effects in research with mice. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chile pepper and the source of its heat, is the cancer-fighting element.

Capsaicin is also thought to:

  • Boost metabolism
  • Lower the risk of ulcers
  • Improve heart health
  • Relieve muscle pain and itchiness
Research is promising
Bharat Aggarwal, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics, has spent more than 20 years researching spices at MD Anderson.

Led by Aggarwal, research using capsaicin nutraceuticals (supplements) in mice resulted in suppressing and blocking pro-inflammatory pathways in cancer cells.

"Inflammation has turned out to be a common denominator," Aggarwal says. "Symptoms common in cancer patients, such as depression, fatigue, neuropathic pain, metastases and tumor growth, are due to inflammation. By using capsaicin, we can inhibit these things."

Mendelsohn2.jpgLast year, MD Anderson President John Mendelsohn, M.D., proposed 10 steps that can be taken to ensure cancer deaths decrease more rapidly, the ranks of survivors swell, and an even greater number of cancers are prevented in the first place.

This is the third in a series of posts on key actions outlined by Mendelsohn:

3. Prevent more cancers.

In an ideal world, cancer "care" would begin with risk assessment and counseling of a person when no malignant disease is present. Risk factors include both inherited or acquired genetic abnormalities and other factors that are related to behavior, lifestyle and the environment.

By Val Marshall

addisonandsarah.jpgVal Marshall's cancer journey began in May 2009 when her son Addison was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. A visit to the family doctor for what they thought was a simple high school football injury turned out to be so much more.

Inspired by her son's strength and hope, Val strives to be a voice to help connect other parents on this journey. Her series shares insight into her life as a mom of a typical teenager who just happens to be fighting leukemia.


Addison Marshall Crush Cancer

Our youngest son decided to play a belated April Fools' Day joke by telling me that he was scared because he had never witnessed petechiae on his chest before (pin dot pools of blood under the skin that become evidence of crashing platelets). As I dropped my fork, he walked over to me and said with a smile, "Or it is just spaghetti sauce." Dark humor at its best.

In its 2002 report ("The Ethics of Research Related to Healthcare in Developing Countries"), the Nuffield Council concluded that externally funded research in developing countries is crucial but must be subject to rigorous ethical safeguards to prevent the exploitation of those who take part. Rather than setting out guidelines, the report provided an ethical framework for those designing or conducting externally sponsored research in the developing world.

In 2005, a follow-up paper ("The Ethics of Research Related to Healthcare in Developing Countries: A Follow-up Discussion Paper") went further. Four very sensitive topics were identified:

  • Consent
  • Standards of care
  • What happens after the research is over
  • Ethical review
The follow-up paper agreed that the ethical review of research plays a crucial role in protecting research participants. But several other related themes emerged:

  • Adequate review of ethical and scientific aspects of research proposals
  • Efficiency
  • Collaboration between different institutional review boards (IRBs), particularly committees in host and sponsor countries
  • Capacity building
Capacity building is a key issue. According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS ("Creating Effective Partnerships for HIV Prevention Trials: Report of a UNAIDS Consultation," Geneva 21-21 June 2005), research can and should be used as a means of incrementally improving local standards of care and building infrastructure, research governance and human capacity.

By Alex De Alvarado and Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D.

COHEN.jpgMore than two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the United States are obese or overweight. Mounting evidence links excess body weight with an increased risk for many types of cancer.

In fact, the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests that more than one-third of the most common cancers could be prevented if Americans maintained a healthy diet, increased their level of physical activity and stayed lean. The federal government recently released new dietary guidelines that echo the recommendations of many cancer experts, and may help to reduce this risk.

The U.S Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (D.H.H.S.) outline the guidelines in their latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. The guidelines are published every five years and are designed to help promote health, prevent chronic diseases and reduce the risk of becoming overweight or obese.

mendelsohn5.jpgLast year, MD Anderson President John Mendelsohn, M.D., proposed 10 steps that can be taken to ensure cancer deaths decrease more rapidly, the ranks of survivors swell, and an even greater number of cancers are prevented in the first place.

This is the second in a series of posts on key actions outlined by Mendelsohn:

2. Develop better tests to predict cancer risk and enable earlier detection of cancer.

New technologies similar to those that enable identification of abnormal genes and gene products in cells in a patient's cancer can be used for early detection of cancer (or pre-cancer) in cells or molecules that are shed into the blood or other body fluids.

Changes in the levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood signify the possible presence of prostate cancer. Most recently, changes in the blood levels of CA-125 have been reported as successful for detecting the presence of ovarian cancer.

By Val Marshall

addisonands.jpgVal Marshall's cancer journey began in May 2009 when her son Addison was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. A visit to the family doctor for what they thought was a simple high school football injury turned out to be so much more.

Inspired by her son's strength and hope, Val strives to be a voice to help connect other parents on this journey. Her series shares insight into her life as a mom of a typical teenager who just happens to be fighting leukemia.

Addison Marshall Crush Cancer

Addie completed hospital visit number 12 last week. Only two more hospitalizations until radiation to his central nervous systems is complete, but who's counting? This stage of chemo is tantamount to your junior year in high school. You become antsy and feel like the end will never arrive.

I requested a tutor while he was an inpatient, as he has been missing two to three days of school each week with this intensification stage. He becomes rather agitated with the three-day imprisonment at camp MDA, as he feels like he's falling behind in Pre-Cal and Physics.

By Sandi Stromberg, MD Anderson Staff Writer

Lung Clouds.jpgRodolfo Morice, M.D., shares the stories of patients and family members when he talks about the role of pulmonary medicine at MD Anderson.

First, he remembers a man with renal cancer who developed tumors in his airway. No treatment worked, but Morice was able to remove the tumors and allow the man to breathe.

Three years later, when the cancer metastasized and nothing more could be done, the man thanked Morice, "You've given me three good years. In that time, my son got married and my grandson was born."

And there's the young woman who wrote him a thank-you letter, saying, "You don't know me, but years ago, when I was 5 years old, you treated my mother. I'm grateful I had her for another five years."

By Suki Gibson, L.M.S.W., Rebecca Savoie, L.C.S.W. and Mark Anderson, L.M.S.W., Department of Social Work

An individual's memory, thinking and/or emotions are often affected by a brain tumor diagnosis and treatment.
The extent of these changes can vary from person to person and may affect the individual's ability to work or go about his or her daily life. A brain tumor can impact your ability to function in various ways.

Your ability to organize thoughts and make decisions may be impaired. You may have difficulty remembering information you've been given or have a harder time expressing yourself or understanding conversations. Emotions may also be affected and you may find yourself reacting differently to situations, friends and family.

These impairments can feel overwhelming. However, there are some memory strategies individuals can adopt to limit their impact. Some of these can include:

  • Getting enough rest/sleep: let your body recharge
  • Taking breaks throughout the day
  • Planning ahead

By Denise Rager

A video essay detailing the Rager family's journey debuted at the Mom 2.0 Summit this morning in New Orleans. Watch the video to learn more about the family's journey and read more about why Matthew's mom wanted to share their story, her advice to parents with a child with cancer and how her son is doing today.


schoolpic.jpgWhen you hear the word cancer, you feel very alone. When Matthew was diagnosed, it was the stories of other parents' struggles that helped me get through difficult moments. I hope my story will in turn help others realize they are not alone.

As parents, we are our children's advocates. We need to make every effort to understand what is happening to them, even if the facts are too much to bare facing. Denial is not the place to be when you have a child with a cancer diagnosis; you need to take charge and understand the available treatment options.

I hope people are inspired by my family's story -- inspired not to dwell in their struggles, but to look beyond their current pain and trust that God has a plan. I can be positive in my struggles because I trust that there is a purpose behind the cancer diagnosis; there is a purpose behind everything in life.

By Kim Gourley

JordynandKim.jpgIt was Labor Day 2010, and my husband Eric and I took our three kids, Gannon, 4, Jordyn, 3, and Cohen, 1, for an outing in the park. We arrived home in time for lunch and naps.

As I was talking to the kids, I noticed that Jordyn's left eye was slightly turned in. I panicked. Maybe her recent sleepless nights and irritability were more than the night terrors our doctor suggested she was having.

So, I put our daughter in the car and took her to the ER. After begging for a CT scan and getting it, a very solemn-looking doctor walked into our room with results that forever changed our lives: Jordyn had a tumor in her head and neck area called rhabdomyosarcoma, and it was stage IV.

Cancer has become the leading world-wide cause of death from disease, according to the World Health Organization.

Mendelsohn.jpgSignificant progress is being made against cancer. The five-year survival rate for all forms of cancer combined has risen to 66%, more than double what it was 50 years ago. And the cancer death rate has been falling by 1% to 2% annually since 1990.

MD Anderson President John Mendelsohn, M.D., is a thought leader on what needs to be done to achieve more progress against cancer. Last year, he proposed 10 steps that can be taken to ensure cancer deaths decrease more rapidly, the ranks of survivors swell, and an even greater number of cancers are prevented in the first place.

This is the first in a series of posts on key actions outlined by Mendelsohn:

By Colleen Martin, MD Anderson Staff Writer

Cooking - Frying Veggies.jpgWhen you're juggling work and family, it can be tough to maintain a healthy diet. After all, it's sometimes easier -- and quicker -- to stop by the drive-through or sit down at your favorite restaurant.

But remember, you are what you eat. And, most "fast-food" options tend to be low in nutrients and high in fat. They don't offer the low-fat, plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains that can help to curb your risk of cancer.

So, how can you fit a low-fat, cancer-fighting diet into your busy life? Get our expert advice in this month's issue of Focused on Health.

By Allison M. Burton, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, Department of Behavioral Science, MD Anderson Cancer Center

An estimated 2% to 4% of colorectal cancer cases are due to Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer or HNPCC), a genetic cancer syndrome that results in a predisposition to early (adult) onset cancers. A diagnosis of Lynch syndrome has implications for both patients and their families because first-degree relatives have a 50% risk of inheriting the gene.

The cancers most commonly associated with Lynch syndrome are colorectal cancer for men and endometrial and colorectal cancer for women. But lifetime risks for other cancers, including ovarian, stomach, small bowel, hepatobiliary tract, pancreated, urinary tract, brain and skin cancers, are also increased.

As a result, individuals with Lynch syndrome are advised to follow high-risk management guidelines, including annual colonoscopy (initiated at age 20-25 years) and screening for endometrial cancer and other cancers associated with the syndrome.

By Shelby Robin, Clinical Nurse, Inpatient Pediatric Unit, MD Anderson

Shelby.pngWhen I was 12 years old, I didn't have a care in the world. My biggest concern was what position my big brother was going to allow me to play in our daily game of cul-de-sac baseball.

All that changed on a cold January day in 2000. My new dilemma was no longer clothes, school or even boys. It was surviving. I was diagnosed with cancer.

Lying in a bed at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the voice of my doctor echoed in my still-sedated brain. "Shelby, you have Ewing's sarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer, and we're going to have to begin chemotherapy right away.

Then I was thrown another curveball. I was told our only option to get rid of the tumor was amputation. I would be losing my left leg below the knee. There was no alternative and I had no say in it.

By Benjamin Daniel

Benjamin Daniel, father of Max, now 11, takes a look back at what the family refers to as "our interesting summer vacation" and the battle to save Max's life. Max was diagnosed on June 9, 2010, with a brain tumor called anaplastic meningioma. He underwent surgery to remove the tumor at a children's hospital near their New Jersey home and then traveled to Houston for proton therapy radiation at MD Anderson. Here, Max's dad details their journey.

MaxDanielandHisDad.jpgIt was July 2010, and 10-year-old Max, with his mom Renee and grandfather Mike, were packing up their hotel room in Houston, folding and putting away socks, shirts, shorts and gifts from well-wishers. They were leaving behind Houston and MD Anderson and the whole scene, heading for a vacation from a summer filled with all things cancer: headaches, a brain tumor, surgery and proton therapy.

They'd learned more about anaplastic meningiomas than any non-doctor had a right or reason to know. MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center - its men, women and machines - had become family, brothers and sisters helping Max battle his - their - cancer, and win.

Texas, meanwhile, had plenty to offer during their stay. There was the Astros game in what Max called "a stadium with a roof, Dad!" and the Dallas Cowboys and historic Dealey Plaza - past and present together with a brain tumor that was now, thankfully, barely there.

By Karen M. Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., M.P.H., professor, Department of Behavioral Science, MD Anderson Cancer Center

fitness.jpgEvidence is accruing that exercise can help cancer survivors feel better and improves their health. 

In the past, cancer survivors were often told that they should rest. While rest is important, getting off the couch and moving also provides benefits. 


A number of studies have been conducted over the past 12 years showing that exercise improves fitness in cancer survivors, enhances quality of life and reduces side effects such as fatigue and anxiety.

Additionally, many cancer survivors have declines in physical functioning. They are not able to participate in the same activities or do their daily tasks as effectively as before their diagnosis. 

Exercise has been shown to improve physical functioning, helping survivors get back to their usual activities. Patients undergoing treatment, as well as survivors who have completed their treatment, experience benefits. 

Exercise is associated with many additional health benefits, including reducing the chances of hypertension, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and improving physical functioning of individuals with arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. 

Cancer survivors can be at increased risk of these chronic diseases, because the diseases share risk factors with cancer or because cancer treatment has left survivors more vulnerable to their effects.

By Lindsey Garner, MD Anderson Staff Writer

AYA.jpgPaola Hasbun was 16 when she was diagnosed with a rare malignant brain tumor called pineoblastoma. A sophomore at Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans, she wanted to keep up with her academics, even when treatment led her away from home and to MD Anderson in Houston.

Adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer patients, like Hasbun, can find themselves in a cancer conundrum when diagnosed -- out of place in pediatric clinics, but without targeted resources in adult hospitals, where the average patient is 65.

More than 70,000 adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 39 are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States--one every eight minutes.

By Nancy Ambrose, a librarian at Bane Elementary in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston.

sisters copy.jpgYesterday's post concerned my diagnosis and treatment for melanoma.

I recalled how, when I was leaving for my surgery, my sister Carolyn and I took a walk in my backyard. I picked and handed her a tiny yellow daisy, which she kept and framed.

Two years later, I'd recovered from my surgery and had no evidence of disease. About this time, Carolyn went for a routine check-up. The scan showed a large mass in her abdomen, and she was sent for a biopsy. Shortly thereafter, when she called to let me know, I learned what it felt like to be on the other side of a cancer diagnosis.

By Nancy Ambrose, librarian at Bane Elementary in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston

sister2 copy.jpgI knew to be careful about the sun. I'm fair and freckly and my father died of melanoma at 66. So I went to the dermatologist regularly for check-ups.

But my husband, Jeff, and I are outdoor lovers. We hike, swim, camp and snow ski. I always took care with sunscreen, hats, and finding shade whenever possible.

Life changes with melanoma
Then, when I was 44, I realized maybe I hadn't been careful enough. A lump under the skin of my upper right thigh turned out to be melanoma.

I'd had it about three years, but my dermatologist had said it was nothing to worry about. But when it got bigger, then turned blue, I became alarmed enough to have it removed.

The surgeon told Jeff and me that it was melanoma, and there was lymph node involvement. In a moment my world changed. I worried about telling my family. We'd lost my Dad 12 years earlier to the same cancer.

After years of failure in the treatment of advanced melanoma, two new drugs have emerged that help patients with one of the most deadly and difficult-to-treat cancers.

The experimental drug PLX4032 targets a specific genetic mutation found in the tumors of about half of all patients.  Ipilimumab,  an antibody that stimulates an immune system attack on melanoma, recently was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of the disease.

Thumbnail image for Gu.Blackburn.JPGLike the plastic tips on shoelaces, telomeres sit at the end of chromosomes, protecting them from unraveling telomeres are protective, preventing harmful damage to DNA on the chromosome and inappropriate fusion with other chromosomes. 

These caps grow shorter over time and as that occurs, they become associated with diseases of aging, such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke and some cancers.

Evidence has indicated that there's an inherited factor that helps determine telomere length and that short telomere length is a risk factor for cancer. No one had ever connected the two, until now.

By Lakshmi Naik, L.C.S.W., and Stephen Collazo, L.M.S.W.

March is National Social Work Month. Here at MD Anderson, one of the primary roles of the Department of Social Work is to promote optimum quality of life and remove any psychological or social barriers that might have a negative impact on a patient's care.

One particular barrier that can be present for patients of all different diagnoses and backgrounds is emotional or psychological distress.Sadness, anxiety and fear can be a common experience for many patients with cancer. In fact, these psychological and emotional feelings of distress have become of increasing interest in the oncology field.

The 2007 Institute of Medicine Report, "Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs," has proposed new standards for assessing patients' distress because addressing distress has been linked to better treatment outcomes. Distress, like pain, can fluctuate, and like pain, distress can increase due to a variety of triggers.

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