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nataliearneson812.jpgBy Natalie Arneson

I recently found out that I carry the BRCA 1 genetic mutation, and I'm not freaking out.

The mutation means that I have a crazy high chance of getting breast cancer. Like, it's practically a guarantee. And ovarian cancer is a strong possibility, too.

You can stop before you barrage me with condolences or compliments. I'll just roll my eyes. And then I'll hug you because I love you. But seriously, don't freak out. I'm not freaking out. Can we just skip freaking out and go to lunch?

Why I decided to undergo genetic testing for breast cancer and ovarian cancer
My mother, Terry Arnold, was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and triple negative breast cancer at the same time almost seven years ago. Fortunately, when it comes to cancer treatment, my mom kicks butt.

710saoirse.jpgMelanoma was the last thing on Saoirse Murray's mind when she made her first appointment with a dermatologist at age 17. Prom was around the corner, and she was hoping to have a perfect complexion for the big night.

She never guessed that she'd end up with a skin cancer diagnosis.

Saoirse's melanoma diagnosis and treatment

At her first appointment, the dermatologist found two concerning moles on Saoirse's back. He asked Saoirse if she used tanning beds.

Saoirse nodded. She didn't use a tanning bed often. She already had an olive skin tone. But like she'd mentioned, prom was coming up, and she wanted to look perfect.  She'd only gone to the tanning salon a few times -- just like all her friends.

The doctor removed the two moles. 

A few days later, Saoirse received a phone call from her doctor asking her to come back for another appointment as soon as possible.

"I thought it was weird that they had called me it work," she says. "It was a little alarming, but I had no idea what was coming."

You've probably seen someone walking down the street or sitting on an airplane smoking an electronic cigarette -- a smokeless electronic device that allows the user to imitate traditional smoking methods by inhaling a vapor of liquid nicotine. Tobacco companies have recently begun promoting e-cigarettes to hook young people on tobacco, claiming they're harmless and can even help people quit smoking.

But now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stepped in, proposing new rules to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

"The reality is we have limited knowledge of what is in e-cigarettes, and if the actual nicotine content on the label is reflective of what's inside. There are no standards for reporting or measuring," says Paul Cinciripini, Ph.D., director of MD Anderson's Tobacco Treatment Program. "Regulation is welcome and further clinical research is needed before e-cigarettes can be promoted as a safe alternative to smoking or as an effective means to quit smoking."

Cracking down on e-cigarettes

E-cigarette sales have jumped from $500 million in 2012 to nearly $2 billion today. This is partly due to hip packing and flavoring options that make e-cigarettes attractive to a new generation of younger smokers. Our tobacco experts are concerned that e-cigarettes may become a gateway form of nicotine for never-smokers, while also preventing those who are trying to quit from kicking their nicotine addiction.

iStock_000007172534Small.jpgBy John Chattaway

As a part of MD Anderson's mission to end cancer, we're aspiring to raise the first tobacco-free generation. It's this goal that led to the creation of the ASPIRE program.

ASPIRE, which stands for A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience, aims to educate teens about the dangers of tobacco use, so they never start smoking. For teens who already use tobacco, it provides information and strategies to quit smoking.

This free, web-based school curriculum has enrolled participants from 28 states and one international city. The program is available in both English and Spanish.

"Young people are very picky about what and how they are taught," says Alexander Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Behavioral Science and director of the Tobacco Outreach Education Program. "That's why we created this online course that is fun, interactive and entertaining while still being educational."

Online tobacco and smoking prevention
ASPIRE can be accessed by anyone through the MD Anderson website. It offers information tailored specifically for one person or for groups. Those who have never smoked can use ASPIRE to learn why it's important to avoid tobacco and how to talk to others about the harms of tobacco.

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By Robert Bresalier, M.D.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in the United States, and the third leading cause of cancer death.

Colorectal cancer develops in the colon or rectum, and grows slowly. In 2014, there will be an estimated 141,000 new colorectal cancer cases in the United States and 49,000 related deaths.  But colorectal cancer is preventable and curable when detected early.

Here are my top four tips to help lower your risks for colorectal cancer:

Tip 1: Get screened for colorectal cancer
Screening remains the most important method to prevent colorectal cancer. People at average risk, age 50 and older, should get a colonoscopy every 10 years. A colonoscopy enables your doctor to detect potentially cancer-causing lesions or polyps early, and remove them.

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By Amanda Woodward

Because of my melanoma diagnosis, I consider myself a student of sun safety. I've learned to be diligent and cautious about my sun exposure while still getting out and enjoying the season.

However, there's a bit more to it than that. I needed to redefine beautiful as it pertains to skin. As a teen, I saw my peers tanning and was very much aware that tanned skin  was their idea of attractive. Thankfully, society seems to be moving to a place where we see pale skin and consider it healthy, beautiful and classic. I'll take that!

Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks to being safe in the sun and fashionably pale:

By Katrina Burton

MD Anderson is standing by a recommendation that women 40 years old and older receive annual mammograms, despite a recent study that raised controversy regarding breast cancer screening.

"We are not recommending that women change their screening practices," says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center. "We stand by our guidelines that recommend women have annual mammograms beginning at age 40 and continue to be screened as long as they are in good health."

But a study by the Canadian National Breast Screening says annual mammography in women ages 40-59 does not reduce mortality from breast cancer and mammography screening should be revisited.

The results of the study, published in the BMJ Journal on Feb. 11, are in direct contrast to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation that  women should begin annual mammograms starting at age 50, and of guidelines by MD Anderson, the American Cancer Society and others that call for annual breast cancer screening to begin at age 40.

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By Jenny Montgomery


When Sara Souto Strom was growing up in Argentina, she wanted to be a mathematician. But she became a marine biologist instead. Then a cancer researcher.


That's what can happen when nothing much daunts you, not even pursuing a Ph.D. or two.

Now an associate professor in Epidemiology, she's followed a career path that looks a lot like an expedition.


Call of the wild

Strom recalls having a scientific, inquiring mind even as a child in Buenos Aires. Whether exploring the patterns of numbers or nature, Strom was drawn to discovery. When her twin sister was getting interested in boys, Strom was getting serious about zoology.

It wasn't merely the dispassionate interest of a scientist.


"I still like any animal that moves," she says. "Jellyfish, lizards, horses. Human beings, too. They all need help."


Eventually Strom set her sights on marine biology, and she spent seven years earning bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees from the University of Buenos Aires.


Her research as a marine biologist led her to the discovery of a new species of one-celled protozoa -- and to her future husband. She was studying plankton on a research vessel off the coast of Antarctica when she met Gary Strom. He was the American-born first mate.

quit_smoking_how_to_curb_the_urge.JPGThis Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General's 1964 Report on Smoking and Health, the first major statement in the United States linking smoking to lung cancer.

With more than 200,000 people diagnosed with lung cancer each year in the United States and smoking contributing to 87% of lung cancer deaths and 30% of all cancer deaths, this landmark report and the 30 subsequent Surgeon General's Reports on smoking have greatly influenced what we do here at MD Anderson.

Here are four ways the Surgeon General's Report has impacted our work and -- and our cancer patients and their families.

1.    We've hired more researchers focused on smoking and cancer.
"The 1964 Surgeon General's Report set the stage for extraordinary increase in knowledge and research on tobacco and cancer that's occurred since then," says Ellen R. Gritz, Ph.D., chair of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson and an author and/or editor for nine Surgeon General's reports on smoking and tobacco.

iStock_000011750431Medium.jpgBy Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D.

It's that time of year ... when we resolve to lose weight, exercise more and eat more healthfully.

Changes like these can reduce our chances of developing cancer and improve our overall health and quality of life. But our experience and studies show that New Year's resolutions often fall by the wayside a few weeks into the year. We know what we need to do, and have good intentions, but most of us are not able to turn resolutions into reality.

If you're serious about making changes, consider the following tips.

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By Brittany Cordeiro

Each day in the United States, about 4,000 kids smoke their first cigarette. Many of them will become daily smokers.

"For teens, it may seem cool to smoke. But tobacco use at a young age can cause immediate and long-term health problems like cancer," says Alexander Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Tobacco Outreach Education Program at MD Anderson.

Recent data shows that the declining number of teen tobacco users has stalled. And, the tobacco industry may be to blame.

The industry advertises products, like e-cigarettes, flavored cigarillos and hookahs, as "safe" and is capturing the attention of kids.

"All tobacco products are dangerous," Prokhorov says. "We need to be proactive about educating our communities, schools and governments about the dangers of these products." 

Use the facts below to educate kids about the health risks of trendy tobacco products.

Cigarillos contain dangerous chemicals
Cigar use among high school students rose from 7% in 2009 to 12% in 2011. One main factor: flavored cigarillos.

bowl of fruit.jpgBy Brittany Cordeiro

As a cancer caregiver, you face unique challenges. The loved one you're nurturing often requires your time, energy and attention, making it hard to focus on your health and wellness.

But an unhealthy caregiver could do more harm than good. Your loved one needs you to stay in fighting shape, so you can provide the care he or she needs. Plus, maintaining a healthy diet and weight helps lower your cancer risks.  

Not sure where to start?

"Research shows that making small changes can lead to bigger diet changes over time and better health," says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson.

Try these smart food tips to maintain good health.

Dine out less
"Restaurant foods are usually loaded with extra fat, salt and calories," Herndon says. "Eating out or getting takeout even just a few times a week can cause weight gain over time."

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