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There are many publications and sites that write about cancer. We want you to know we don’t produce the news items you can read in this section, they belong to the MD Anderson Cancer Center. This section only intents to inform you about what is out there.

However, we are working on the first edition of the Pink Ribbon Magazine as well as in the production of featured articles that will be published here.

 

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What to expect when you meet with an oncofertility specialist

For people who hope to have children of their own, a cancer diagnosis can derail those plans. However, thanks to oncofertility experts, who serve as a bridge between oncology and reproductive medicine, patients have several reproductive options to explore.

“While there are many paths to parenthood — such as foster care, adoption and embryo donation — my goal is to try to expand those options as much as possible to include having children with your own eggs or your own sperm,” says Laurie McKenzie, M.D., associate professor in Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine.

McKenzie’s mission to empower patients to make the best decisions for their future family is both professional and personal. She and her husband, a leukemia survivor, underwent fertility preservation when he was diagnosed with cancer more than 20 years ago.

“If it weren’t for fertility preservation, we wouldn’t have the family that we have,” she says. “I certainly understand how important this is for patients.”

Here, McKenzie discusses why it’s important to discuss your fertility early and what to expect during your first meeting with an oncofertility specialist.

Why is it important to talk about fertility preservation before treatment?

Patients typically have more future family building options in the future if I meet with them before they start cancer treatment. For example, if chemotherapy is part of their cancer treatment plan, egg freezing and sperm banking is contraindicated during most chemotherapy regimens. This means that for the vast majority of patients, it’s too late to cryopreserve eggs, sperm or embryos once they’ve already started chemotherapy.

What questions will patients be asked when they first meet with an oncofertility specialist?

One of the most important things for me to get a sense of is what their ideal goal is in terms of what their future family looks like. It’s also helpful that they have some knowledge of their family’s reproductive history. This includes whether anyone in their immediate family had an issue with infertility and whether any known genetic disorders run in their family.

We’ll also conduct a baseline fertility assessment to understand the patient’s reproductive history and health history. Have they attempted pregnancy before? Have they been diagnosed with infertility? Do they have regular menses? If I’m meeting with a male patient, has he led to a pregnancy before?

What should patients ask their oncofertility specialist during their initial appointment?

There are several questions I recommend asking. These include:

  • How likely is my cancer treatment to impact my fertility?
  • How would we know what is a safe time for me to attempt to have a child in the future?
  •  Is it safe for me to have a child in the future?
  • Are there increased risks of health problems in children born from cancer survivors, specifically those who have the type of cancer I have?
  • Are there steps I can take to protect my fertility during cancer treatment?

What fertility testing is available before and after cancer treatment?

For women, my recommendation is to consider:

  • a fertility blood test called an Anti-Mullerian Hormone test (AMH for short) and
  • a baseline ultrasound that counts the resting number of follicles in your ovaries (called an antral follicle count).

These two tests combined can help give me a snapshot of someone’s fertility potential and provide a comparison after they’ve completed cancer treatment.

For men, I recommend conducting a semen analysis at the time of sperm cryopreservation. Once they bank sperm, we go over the results of their semen analysis and the number of vials of sperm that they have frozen to discuss how that sperm can be used in the future.

If chemotherapy is part of the cancer treatment plan, we typically repeat those tests every one to two years after their cancer treatment is completed. If somebody has not yet completed childbearing, we’ll track those fertility metrics to see if there is a change, if there has been recovery of their fertility function or if their cancer treatment has impacted their fertility.

What happens after the initial meeting with an oncofertility specialist?

For women, I recommend a follow up visit 12 to 18 months after they finish chemotherapy. Then, I track their fertility and discuss their reproductive goals. Regardless of whether they have a partner or not, I want to know what they’re thinking in terms of long-term fertility plans and timing.

Once men complete their cancer treatments, we recommend repeating a semen analysis about 12 to 18 months afterward to see whether they have viable sperm. That would help determine if they would be able to conceive spontaneously or if they would need to use that cryopreserved sperm.

If you haven’t finished building a family or if having children is very important to you, talk to your MD Anderson oncologist about getting referred to us as soon as possible for us to discuss your fertility preservation options.

We are here to support you. We don’t want somebody to come to our appointments with any trepidation or anxiety. Our goal is for this to be a very positive, empowering experience.

Request an appointment online at MD Anderson or by calling 1-877-632-6789.

6 things to know about chlorophyll

We all know that eating your greens is good for you, but what if you could extract the green and take it as a supplement?

A recent trend has seen more people doing exactly that. Chlorophyll is the substance that give plants their green color, and chlorophyll supplements in liquid or tablet form are becoming popular.

Chlorophyll is an antioxidant that can boost your health. But does it have the same benefits when it’s taken as a supplement? We asked Lindsey Wohlford, our wellness dietitian, to weigh in.

Here are six things she wants you to know about chlorophyll.

Chlorophyll is not the name you see on the label. Chlorophyll is the name of the green pigment that plants use to make food during a process called photosynthesis. But if you try to buy it as a supplement, you will likely see it called chlorophyllin, which is a water-soluble form of chlorophyll that contains copper and sodium. These extra minerals are there to make it easier for your body to absorb.

The effects of chlorophyll are unclear. Supplement makers claim that chlorophyll can do many things, like boost red blood cells, help with weight loss, heal damaged skin, neutralize toxins, cut inflammation and prevent cancer. It’s an impressive list, but few of the claims are backed by scientific evidence.

“There is some research that shows chlorophyll skin products could potentially fight acne, and there’s been very, very limited evidence about weight loss,” says Wohlford. “Aside from that, we know it comes from plants and contains antioxidants, that’s about the extent what we can safely confirm.”

Liquid might be better than tablet form. If you want to try chlorophyll, liquid supplements might be better value because they are more easily absorbed by your body. But you should talk to your doctor before you start taking chlorophyll.

”There’s no real risk of taking it, although some people report side effects like diarrhea or nausea,” says Wohlford. “You should always check with your doctor if you’re starting any new supplement.”

Chlorophyll is available in all green plants. You don’t need to take supplements to add chlorophyll to your diet. You can simply eat green fruits and vegetables. Even frozen vegetables contain chlorophyll.

“You get chlorophyll when you eat broccoli, spinach or any other green fruit or vegetable,” says Wohlford.

You may absorb slightly more chlorophyll from a supplement, but fruits and vegetables will give you other vitamins and minerals. They will also give you fiber, which is essential for good digestion and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.

Green is not the only important color. Adding extra chlorophyll to your diet is nothing new. How could we forget that wheatgrass shot trend? That was all about chlorophyll. Wheatgrass is very high in the green substance. But it’s important to remember that all colors of fruit and vegetable are valuable.

“You want to try to eat a variety of colors so that you’re maximizing the number of different of nutrients for your body,” says Wohlford.

For example, orange foods like carrots are high in beta carotene, purple foods like eggplant contain anthocyanin, and red foods like tomato contain lycopene. Each color contains different phytochemicals, and your body benefits from all of them.

Nothing can replace a healthy diet. No amount of chlorophyll is going to reverse the damage that unhealthy foods can do. Refined carbohydrates and other sugary foods can cause chronic inflammation and disease. Processed meats increase your risk for cancer. Fried foods and processed foods can also cause damage and lack the nutrients your body needs.

The best way to ensure that you feel good and reduce your disease risk is to eat a plant-based diet of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and seeds, with some lean or plant proteins.

It’s also important to stay active throughout the day and get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.

“If you take chlorophyll, it should truly be a supplement,” says Wohlford. “It may provide a little bit of extra benefit, but you still need to eat greens and other vegetables for the fiber and other nutrients that chlorophyll is not going to contain, and you still need to exercise.

Request an apppointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.

Proton therapy spared me from side effects after a head and neck cancer diagnosis

When I first noticed what I thought was a swollen lymph node on the right side of my neck, I thought it was just an infection coming on. It didn’t hurt, but it was swollen.

The swelling went down a few days later and then would swell back up again. It did that for the next few months. By March 2020, it had not gone away, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I put off going to the doctor.

In June, I requested an ultrasound from my primary care doctor, followed by a biopsy and PET scan. They all came back negative. My ENT did notice a mass on the CT scan, and suggested that we watch and wait. Instead, I contacted MD Anderson for a second opinion.

Getting answers from MD Anderson’s Suspicion of Cancer Clinic

I chose MD Anderson because it’s ranked No. 1 in the nation in cancer care. We’ve lived all over the country, and every story that I’ve heard about MD Anderson always reiterated this reputation. I love my life and want to keep living it. I knew MD Anderson was the place I needed to be to do that.

I called to make my first appointment. The health information specialists helped me start the appointment process.

I flew to Houston from El Paso, Texas,  and moved into a furnished apartment. I had my first appointment on Sept. 17 with Dr. Gloria Iliescu at MD Anderson’s Mary Ann Weiser Suspicion of Cancer Clinic. Dr. Iliescu was calming and wonderful – exactly what’s needed in a doctor. She went above and beyond to set up my following appointments quickly and kept me updated.

My diagnosis: HPV-related head and neck cancer

After several tests and scans, my head and neck surgeon Dr. Neil Gross explained to me that I had a HPV-related head and neck cancer called oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma. Dr. Gross then reassured me he would cure me, not just put me in remission.

Dr. Gross and his physician assistant, Justin Sellers, were amazing. Dr. Gross answered every question I had and encouraged me to ask him anything.

I then met with my medical oncologist, Dr. Charles Lu, who explained everything in a way I could understand. Nurse Rosheer Seymour went out of her way to check on me. My radiation oncologist, Dr. Jay Reddy, was my rock and ended up being the physician I saw the most.

Dr. Gross and the tumor board decided that they could cure me with only chemotherapy and proton therapy. Surgery was not needed. Proton therapy would cause the tumor to disintegrate or, as my 11-year-old son said: “Blow up like the Death Star in Star Wars.”

Proton therapy is well-suited for patients with complicated tumors of the head and neck since it precisely paints the protons onto the tumor layer by layer. The treatment team can confine the tumor-damaging energy to target areas and work to protect normal structures such as the oral cavity and brainstem. This also helps keep side effects to a minimum.

My treatment for oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma

My mom flew in from Florida to stay with me at the apartment through treatments. This allowed my husband and son to remain at home in El Paso, so his schooling wasn’t disrupted. My sister also flew in to be with me. Having my family’s support in Houston was exactly what I needed to face cancer treatment in the best possible way.

I began proton therapy on Nov. 9, and my first round of chemotherapy was the following day. I received 33 daily proton therapy treatments and six rounds of weekly chemotherapy. Once they started the Benadryl drip for my chemotherapy, I would fall asleep for three hours. It ended up being my favorite time of the week.

I started to experience side effects from proton therapy around week three, as expected. I had some pain in my throat, tongue and mouth, as well as thick mucus in my throat. But I was able to eat soft solid foods and a lot of soup.

Dr. Reddy and the staff at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center were very kind and helped me manage my symptoms. Physician assistant Lauren Palmer helped find the pain medication that worked best for me and had many suggestions to help my appetite changes. I would have had a different experience without her support.

I completed treatments on Dec. 22 and was excited to be home in time for Christmas.

Treating cancer as a full-time job

When undergoing my cancer treatments, I reminded myself that this was temporary. Having cancer feels like a full-time job – and it is.

But as I’ve learned, you can do anything for a finite amount of time. You must be positive and focus on the right now. Even though it is very hard, it will pass. So, do what the doctors say and follow directions from your care team to manage side effects, and you’ll get through this.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.

Reclaiming my life after a rare stage IV neuroendocrine tumor diagnosis

I’ve known six people who have died of pancreatic cancer, including my own dad in 2015. So, when I was diagnosed with that disease in June 2018, my first thought was: “I’ve got to get to MD Anderson.”

I live about an hour north of Dallas, close to the Oklahoma border. But I knew the six-hour drive to Houston would be worth it, because all MD Anderson does is cancer. It offers specialized treatment from doctors who are experts. So, that was the only place for me.

Today, I’m convinced that if hadn’t been for God and MD Anderson, I wouldn’t still be here. Because it was there that I discovered I actually had a stage IV neuroendocrine tumor of the pancreas — and that it was treatable.

Pancreatic cancer experts at MD Anderson offered encouragement

The first doctor I met with at MD Anderson was surgical oncologist Dr. Matthew H.G. Katz, who specializes in pancreatic cancer. My wife and I had a million questions. The most important one was, “How long do I have to live?” Because my father only lasted about 10 months after his pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and a friend of mine only lasted about 60 days.

Dr. Katz didn’t feel comfortable speculating about that, but he did tell me not to worry. He said, “Look: we’re going to do some more scans and run some additional tests to figure it out. We’ll take care of this.” And, as it turns out, he was right.

Corrected diagnosis took me from terminal to treatable

The first thing Dr. Katz did was send me to a colleague, gastroenterology specialist Dr. Jeffrey H. Lee. This was for a fine needle biopsy to confirm my pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

I was out running errands with my wife when the results came back. I’ll never forget that day, because Dr. Katz didn’t ask one of his nurses or assistants to deliver the news. Instead, he called to tell me himself. He said, “Look: it is cancer, but it’s a neuroendocrine cancer and it’s treatable.”

I didn’t understand then that there were different kinds of pancreatic cancer. I just focused on the word “treatable.” Dr. Katz explained that 95% of people with pancreatic cancer have a type called adenocarcinoma. That’s the one my father had. The other 5% have neuroendocrine tumors of the pancreas. And that’s what I had.

By the time I was diagnosed, the cancer had already spread from my pancreas to my stomach, colon, liver and spleen. Dr. Katz recommended surgery to remove as much of the growth as possible, followed by additional therapies suggested by Dr. Daniel Halperin, a neuroendocrine tumor specialist.

My neuroendocrine tumor treatment at MD Anderson

I had the surgery on Aug. 23, 2018. Dr. Katz removed my spleen, the tail of my pancreas, and parts of my stomach and colon. During that same surgery, I also had my gall bladder removed and the spots on my liver biopsied to confirm that they were cancer. It was a long procedure, but I didn’t have any issues afterward. In fact, the very next day, I was up and walking around.

I stayed in the hospital for four more days. Then, I met with Dr. Halperin, who had several options for treating the remaining spots on my liver. He said I could do regular chemotherapy either in Houston or closer to home, and he’d manage it. Or, I could enroll in an immunotherapy clinical trial at MD Anderson.

Dr. Halperin recommended the clinical trial, because while chemotherapy would slow down the growth of the spots, it wouldn’t actually kill them. And the hope with the immunotherapy was that it would destroy the cancer.

I don’t believe that the “prevent defense” in football works, so I always play to win. That’s why I chose the clinical trial.

My clinical trial experience at MD Anderson

Every three weeks for the next 18 months, I traveled to MD Anderson for an IV infusion of the immunotherapy drug atezolizumab, combined with the targeted therapy drug bevacizumab. The scans I got during those visits showed that the spots on my liver were stable.

If I’d been under anyone else’s care besides Drs. Katz and Halperin, I might’ve doubted I was actually getting the drugs, because I didn’t notice any side effects at all. I felt exactly the same. But they’d both earned my respect and trust, and Dr. Halperin had promised that a placebo wasn’t even a possibility in this clinical trial, so I knew I was getting the real thing.

I ended up having to leave the clinical trial early, but only because I had a heart attack in May 2020 that was completely unrelated to my cancer treatment. Dr. Halperin said he could either start me on a chemotherapy regimen afterward or we could just monitor the spots.

I chose monitoring, so that’s what we’ve been doing ever since. At my last office visit in February 2021, the tumor had grown only very slightly. But I’m not worried, because Dr. Halperin says he still has a bag of tricks at his disposal. I go back for my next follow-up in May. If it’s grown again by then, we’ll make a new plan.

My life after a stage IV neuroendocrine tumor diagnosis

I’m still trying to pin Dr. Katz down in terms of life expectancy. But he chooses his words very carefully, and he’s always three or four steps ahead of me. So, I know I’m never going to outmaneuver him. All he will say is, “You’re not going to have to worry about cancer.” And I don’t.

Even so, I’ve been making memories and crossing off bucket list items ever since my diagnosis. I let my son take over the family business and went paragliding and horseback riding in Wyoming with my wife. We also went on a religious retreat in Idaho and a turkey hunt in Florida.

Thanks to God and the care I’ve received so far at MD Anderson, I anticipate living a full and normal life. And I feel great. That’s why I tell anybody who’s just been diagnosed with cancer, “Get to MD Anderson as fast as possible. You won’t regret it.”

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.

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