Recently by Will Fitzgerald

childlife and proton therapy.JPGWhen 6-year-old Allie Alvarado came to MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center, she was nervous and didn't know what to expect. Her fear, however, didn't last long.

Allie was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue, in her ear following a month-long battery of tests. Allie's mother, Cassandre, first suspected a problem when her daughter's smile seemed lopsided. The culprit was a tumor pushing against the cranial nerve, which caused facial paralysis.

It required six weeks of proton therapy, an advanced form of radiation that precisely localizes the dosage while sparing surrounding structures. It's especially beneficial for complicated tumors and young children since excess radiation can pose problems for developing bodies.

Gifts that give back Inspired by young cancer patients.JPGHolidays are the time for giving and, thanks to the Children's Art Project (CAP), giving that perfect present shouldn't be difficult this season. That's because year-round MD Anderson's pediatric cancer patients color, paint and sketch their own unique artwork, which is featured on a variety of gift items. 

The best part: sale proceeds go right back to fund important educational and recreational programs for children and their families. CAP has released its annual holiday collection, and there's no better way to show your support for kids with cancer than considering giving friends and loved ones a gift that truly makes a difference.

"This is a time of year to reflect and be thankful for all that we have," said Shannan Murray, CAP's executive director. "When I see the talents of these young patients reflected in their artwork and the wonderful opportunity we have to support them, it's reminds me of what's really important."

The latest and greatest

The "Santa Fluff" ornament, $8, is a newly released design that made its way into CAP's popular resin-based ornament collection. For years, CAP staff members have heard stories from customers about how they treasure decorating their trees with these special pieces.  They say it's a simple way of giving back and recognizing the achievements of those faced with difficult circumstances, especially around the holidays.

Young proton therapy patients channel their inner mad scientist.JPGFizzling beakers, gooey bars of soap and lots of smiles were just a few of the scenes at a recent celebration at MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center.

Each week, the Proton Center hosts a patient information meeting called "Beam News" where physicians, nurses and other medical experts discuss the latest topics in proton therapy. Patients, former patients, family members and people from the community all attend. This time, however, an idea was hatched to try something new with special support from Proton Pals, an outreach group of former patients who received proton therapy at MD Anderson.

"We decided an event for our young patients would be beneficial," says Kelly Wagner, a child life specialist. "Because our staff shares a passion for science, we devised a mad scientist costume party, which would be entertaining and educational at the same time."

madsci.JPGLab transformation
For two hours, a large group of children and their families entered a makeshift laboratory filled with colorful streamers, balloons and a variety of exciting experiments. They were greeted by radiation therapists, nurses, and other staff who underwent a transformation of their own to look the part of mad scientists.

One of the experiments, called the "invisible hand," was especially a hit. A latex glove was attached to a long clear tube filled with gas. Once the gas rose to the top, the glove began inflating automatically to a wide array of smiles. The patients also created "cloud goo," a mixture of shaving cream and corn starch.

After a series of contentious debates about the value of the prostate-specific antigen, or PSA test as it's widely known, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has issued its final recommendation.  The latest ruling recommends against the test for all men who do not exhibit symptoms of prostate cancer.

The test measures a protein in the blood, which is produced by the prostate gland, and when combined with other factors like age, race and family history, can help guide physicians in determining whether there is reason for a biopsy to screen for evidence of disease.

For years, the test has been credited for saving the lives of men who were otherwise healthy and exhibited no signs of cancer, yet it's also led to unnecessary and harmful treatments in others. This is the crux responsible for stirring passionate discourse among physicians, regulators, patients and families.

Therese Bevers, M.D., professor in the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention, said the new guidelines are likely to cause confusion and stress MD Anderson believes each patient should have an individualized conversation with their physician.

"We're very concerned with this recommendation against screening for all men because there are some small, but definite benefits associated with prostate cancer screening," Bevers said. "Men should have the option of having access to these benefits as long as they fully understand the harms associated with screening."

Learn more about prostate cancer and the PSA test.


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