3 myths about inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s natural reaction to infection or injury. But because of misinformation circulating in the media, there’s confusion about whether inflammation is healthy or harmful. We recently asked Stephanie Watowich, Ph.D., co-director of MD Anderson’s Center for Inflammation and Cancer, about common myths surrounding inflammation and what cancer patients should know. Here’s what she shared. Myth: Inflammation is one condition. Truth: The term inflammation actually refers to many different processes in the body. “When the medical community talks about inflammation, we aren’t just talking about one thing, one organ or even the same type of inflammation,” Watowich says. Inflammation is a local or systematic reaction from the cells in our immune system, but research has shown that there are different types of inflammation and that cells from other parts of the body are also involved. For example, the cells that line our blood vessels and the cells that line our skin also have inflammatory responses, so we know that it’s a more broad reaction that can involve cells throughout the body. Myth: Inflammation is bad. Truth: “Inflammation has a bad rap,” Watowich says. “But the truth is that we couldn’t live without it.” But inflammation isn’t strictly good or bad. It can be either, depending on how long the inflammation lasts. Small flare-ups of inflammation are good since it’s our immune system working to heal our bodies, but chronic inflammation can be a sign of something more concerning such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes or even cancer. “I encourage cancer patients to think of inflammation broadly,” Watowich says. “We have to understand inflammation in its context...

Melanoma survivor: Protect your skin

I usually don’t consider myself fair-skinned, because I used to tan pretty easily. But I’ve seen pictures of myself badly sunburned as a kid, so that’s probably a more accurate description than I’d like to think. I grew up mostly near the Texas coast, and my family was always outside. I only remember using suntan lotion occasionally. It didn’t offer any UV protection, since SPF wasn’t even a thing yet back then. I wasn’t aware that I needed it. My first melanoma diagnosis I was first diagnosed with melanoma in February 2016 at age 56. My wife had noticed an unusual spot on my back about six months earlier and asked me to have it looked at. I didn’t see a dermatologist until it changed dramatically in size and appearance, and began draining a clear fluid. Then I had a punch biopsy. The results showed it was melanoma. My first reaction was disbelief. Then I felt angry because I hadn’t seen a doctor about it sooner. Eventually, I felt sadness, because I knew it was something that could eventually kill me. Fortunately, the cancer wasn’t very advanced then, and I was able to have it removed surgically. My dermatologist sent my biopsy results to MD Anderson, and I had my first appointment there on Feb. 4, 2016. My surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Gershenwald, removed the cancerous lesion and two of my lymph nodes that same day. The melanoma hadn’t spread yet, so I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation. My second melanoma diagnosis I was considered cancer-free until two years later, when I had a CT scan for an unrelated condition....

My colorectal cancer diagnosis caught me by surprise

My journey with colorectal cancer began suddenly and unexpectedly. One day I was feeling OK and the next, after a painful night, I found myself in surgery. I’d begun throwing up in the middle of the night and had a painful stomachache and diarrhea. Nothing seemed to help, so we rushed to a nearby ER. Scans showed that something was wrong, but it wasn’t clear what. The doctors quickly admitted me to a nearby hospital and recommended immediate surgery. During surgery, the doctors found a tumor in my ascending colon so this section was removed, along with the tumor. A few days later, I was told that I had stage IIA colorectal cancer and that I should begin chemotherapy soon. Looking back, I remembered a few times before that I’d suddenly lost weight and been ill, but I chalked it up to travelling or eating a bad meal. I wish that I’d paid more attention then. I’ve always tried to do well by my body, so my colorectal cancer diagnosis was pretty shocking. I was just 36 years old, and I exercised regularly, took my dog on long walks and maintained a healthy diet. My diagnosis was made even harder by the fact that my grandma, who had lived with my family since I was born, had passed away that same week.  It took me some time to digest everything and think about my next steps. Choosing MD Anderson for my colorectal cancer treatment We originally visited another local oncologist, but something didn’t quite feel right. I felt rushed into chemotherapy, but I wanted to better understand my options...

Osteosarcoma survivor: MD Anderson has helped shape my future

In 2016, osteosarcoma was the last thing on my mind. I was a typical and active high-school junior playing sports and hanging out with my friends. On a trip in December, I decided to try snowboarding for the first time, but it was harder than it looked and I kept falling. I had some pain in my leg and took over-the-counter pain relievers, assuming it was just a bruise from the falls. In January, after playing in a flag football game, I began experiencing swelling in my leg again. Walking became uncomfortable. My parents took me to a local orthopedic doctor near our home in The Woodlands. I got an X-ray and an MRI. They showed I had a fracture in my leg, but the doctors also saw a spot that looked like it could be a tumor. My family and I were shocked, but we made an appointment at MD Anderson as quickly as we could. My osteosarcoma treatment Within a week, I had my first appointment at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital with Dr. Valerae O. Lewis, chair of Orthopaedic Oncology. After further testing, the biopsy results confirmed that I had osteosarcoma in my left distal femur. My parents and I again met with Dr. Lewis and we began to discuss a plan of action for treatment. My pediatric oncology team, led by Dr. Najat Daw, prescribed six rounds of chemotherapy. I received the first round in February 2017. In May 2017, Dr. Lewis performed a limb-salvage surgery that included a full knee and partial distal femur replacement. I received another twelve rounds of chemotherapy following surgery....

Citizen scientists help advance cancer research in the community

A researcher designs new materials that could help prevent cancer in underserved communities, so why aren’t the materials being used? A new clinical trial opens for African-American males, but why is no one enrolling? With the help of MD Anderson’s Citizen Scientist Program, which was created by the Center for Community-Engaged Translational Research, many researchers are receiving immediate input on how to best reach their target audiences to make an impact on cancer health disparities. As part of the program, 16 citizen scientists – community members without scientific backgrounds – have dedicated their time to helping our researchers achieve their goals. They come from all walks of life and represent a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities in Houston. Many are cancer survivors or caregivers as well, so they’re familiar with what a cancer patient deals with during diagnosis and treatment. Rose Childress’ husband was treated here 20 years ago, and she now serves as one of our citizen scientists. “I like getting to see a different side of MD Anderson and cancer treatment,” she says. “I learn something new every time we meet, and it’s great to be able to affect how MD Anderson works within my community.” Reaching out for cancer researchers  The Community-Engaged Translational Research team implemented the citizen scientist program last year thanks in large part to its long-time ties to churches, community centers and more within many of the area’s diverse ethnic and religious groups. “Community engagement is part of what we do,” says Crystal Roberson, program manager, Health Disparities Research. Citizen scientists work with MD Anderson researchers to help improve their study design, outreach...