Lymphoma survivor: Why I recommend hepatitis C testing

I’ve never taken illegal drugs, and the only time I ever had a needle in my arm was when a doctor was on the other side of it. So my best guess is that I contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion I received after a car accident when I was 19. Back in 1985, donated blood wasn’t tested for hepatitis C, as it hadn’t really been identified yet. Then, it was just known as “non-A/B hepatitis.” And for years, the only real treatment was a combination of interferon and ribavirin, which wasn’t very effective and caused unpleasant side effects. So, when I found out I had hepatitis C in 2009 (from a blood test performed for a life insurance application), I figured I only had about 10 good years left. My son was 2 then, and I realized while changing his diaper one day that I probably wouldn’t live to see him graduate. I thought about getting my affairs in order. Then, one day I overheard a doctor say that most people who have hepatitis C will die with the disease, but not from the disease. It took being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December 2015 to learn that MD Anderson could cure me of both. A non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis I discovered I had cancer when I went to the doctor about a lump in my throat. I’d let it go for several months, but it grew and shrank several times before I’d finally had enough. My doctor said the lump was probably a “thyroglossal duct cyst,” or a growth on my thyroid, and referred me to an...

Starting exercise prior to cancer treatment can pay off

Cancer can have a lasting effect on a patient. That’s why rehabilitation is often so important after cancer treatment or surgery. But how would a patient fare if physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT) came before any cancer care? That’s a question a multidisciplinary team at MD Anderson continues to explore through prehabilitation, or prehab. Prehab is used to help improve the strength, endurance and functional capacity of patients following the initial diagnosis. It can be personalized to meet a patient’s individual needs and, much like MD Anderson’s enhanced recovery efforts, some preliminary research on prehab has documented improved results for patients. Prehabilitation was first implemented at MD Anderson as a research trial that included pancreatic cancer patients who were preparing for surgery. Other clinicians expressed interest in this concept, and a clinical pathway for prehabilitation was started in 2015. Select surgical patients were seen in the Supportive Care Center by the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physicians and PT. Since that time, prehab has continued to gain momentum in cancer care and is now being used in the care of a few of our stem cell transplant patients. “Many cancer patients who come to us are weak and frail, even prior to chemotherapy or surgery. Our goal is to optimize their care by improving their strength and endurance beforehand,” says An Ngo-Huang, D.O., assistant professor of Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine. “We have the ability to focus on strengthening certain muscles to improve their functional deficits, manage issues that hinder their ability to exercise and also to help ease stress by preparing them mentally for what to expect throughout their cancer...

Surviving sarcoma took a different treatment route than I expected

One weekend in June 2017, I became incredibly ill. I’d faced digestive issues for three years, but this pain was different. By Monday, the pain was so intense I couldn’t eat or sleep. When the medication my doctor prescribed didn’t work, he ordered an ultrasound. They determined my gallbladder was failing but also noticed a small lesion lodged between my small intestine, pancreas and gallbladder. A subsequent CT scan led to a laparoscopic surgery, where my local doctors removed my gallbladder and what they could of the tumor, which was resting on my pancreas. The biopsy results showed it was undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma. Coming to MD Anderson for sarcoma treatment None of my doctors in Colorado had encountered sarcoma before, so they encouraged me to come to MD Anderson for treatment. Even though sarcoma is rare, I knew the statistics associated with the disease are just that – statistics. I’m an individual, and there’s hope for each of us. My husband and I came to MD Anderson in July 2017. Based on what my Colorado surgeon had said, we thought I’d quickly undergo a Whipple procedure, which would remove part of my pancreas, stomach and small intestine, along with my gallbladder. But Dr. Anthony Conley and his colleagues in MD Anderson’s Sarcoma Center reviewed my case and decided to have me start with six rounds of chemotherapy using gemcitabine and docetaxel anhydrous, followed by radiation therapy and the Whipple procedure, if needed. My chemotherapy side effects I experienced intense side effects from the chemotherapy, including folliculitis, thrush, fatigue, nausea, hair loss, loss of my sense of taste, gastrointestinal issues,...

What older cancer patients should know about clinical trials

Clinical trials enable us to discover new and better cancer treatments. They offer patients access to cutting-edge treatments years before they’re available to the general public. And, in many cases, they extend participants’ lives or even eliminate their cancer. Despite clinical trials’ benefits, far fewer adults ages 65 and older participate in them compared to younger patients. But with 50% of new cancer cases in the United States occurring in patients ages 65 and older, it’s important for older patients to consider clinical trials. We spoke with Ishwaria Subbiah, M.D., about misconceptions about clinical trials and what older patients considering clinical trials should know. Here’s what she shared. Why aren’t many older cancer patients enrolling in clinical trials? Many people fear being guinea pigs. But with a clinical trial, you’re not a test subject. You’re a person going through cancer treatment. Everything we do is guided by you, your experience and how you’re feeling. What should older cancer patients consider before enrolling in clinical trials? There’s a lot of responsibility that goes with being on a clinical trial. You’ll have to be in very close contact with your care team, so they can quickly address any changes you experience. You’ll likely need to come into the clinic often – weekly, in some cases – and at times undergo blood draws, scans and biopsies. So consider these requirements with your care team to determine if the potential benefits outweigh the trouble. What challenges do older cancer patients face when enrolling in clinical trials? Over the course of your life, you’ve experienced events that have had a cumulative effect on your...

Should you get a central line for chemotherapy?

Many cancer patients will receive chemotherapy infusions as a part of their cancer treatment. Sometimes, chemotherapy is delivered safely through a standard (or “peripheral”) IV line. Other times, infusions must be administered through a central line catheter, such as a PICC, CVC or port. How do these options differ? And which one is right for you? We spoke with Tam Huynh, M.D., chief of Vascular Surgery at MD Anderson, to learn more. What are the differences between an IV, a port and a central line?  A peripheral IV line (PIV, or just “IV”) is a short catheter that’s typically placed in the forearm. It starts and ends in the arm itself. A PICC line is a longer catheter that’s also placed in the upper arm. Its tip ends in the largest vein of the body, which is why it’s considered a central line. PICC stands for "peripherally inserted central-line catheter.” A CVC is identical to a PICC line, except it’s placed in the chest or neck. CVC stands for “central venous catheter.” A port is a catheter that’s implanted surgically under the skin on the chest. It’s another type of central line. Which one should I get? It depends on the type of chemotherapy you need and the time required to administer it. A PIV can be left in place for up to four days and can only be used with certain types of chemotherapy (those that don’t cause irritation or blistering, which can damage veins). A PICC line can be left in place for weeks or months, but must be kept dry at all times (even when showering)....