News and articles


 

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.

 

News feed


Metastatic melanoma survivor finds hope in clinical trials

Joey Nelson has always loved the sun. “I sailed growing up,” he says. “Every Saturday we’d go and I’d get sunburned like crazy, not even thinking about putting on sunscreen.”

With fair skin, red hair and moles, Joey was already at increased risk for skin cancer, so he wasn’t exactly surprised by his melanoma diagnosis. The skin cancer first showed up on his leg in 1986.

After having the melanoma removed with a skin graft and lymph node biopsy, he remained cancer-free for more than 20 years. During that time, Joey and his wife bought a 22-acre farm southwest of Houston, where they continued to spend time outdoors, tending to their cattle.

In 2012, the cancer returned. Joey had several more surgeries and an isolated limb perfusion. But when the melanoma kept coming back, his sister urged him to come to MD Anderson.

“She said this was the place to be,” Joey says. “There’s so much opportunity because they do so much research.”

Immunotherapy clinical trials for melanoma

In May 2013, Joey came to MD Anderson, where his doctor recommended an immunotherapy combination clinical trial. Since previous surgical and chemotherapy treatments had failed, Joey didn’t hesitate to try immunotherapy.

“I’m optimistic,” he says. “The drugs were already approved; it was just the combination that was being tested in the trial.”

Other than gaining water weight, the combination of a cytokine therapy and a peptide vaccine seemed to be keeping his melanoma under control. Joey spent a year rotating one week at MD Anderson for IV infusions, one week at home recovering and one week back at work.

In March 2017, during his final scan for the clinical trial, Joey learned that the melanoma had spread to his jawbone and liver. In September, he learned it had also spread to his brain. Until recently, stage IV melanoma — especially with brain metastasis — had a poor prognosis, but Joey took a practical view of the disease.

“I cried like crazy for one day, but then I had to get it straight in my head that I can’t let this affect me,” Joey says. “I wasn’t even considering that cancer could end my life. Going to the doctor was just added on to my list of things to do.”

When the cancer came back, Joey became eligible for a different clinical trial that combined an immune checkpoint inhibitor with a targeted therapy. Joey enrolled in the trial as soon as his doctor recommended it. He couldn’t eat for two hours before or after taking the daily oral medicine for his second clinical trial, so he scheduled his meals around it.

“It’s all about time management,” Joey says. “It’s just something that you make part of your life. Don’t let it consume your life.” 

Within nine months of starting the second clinical trial, all of Joey’s melanoma metastases were gone. He continues to return to MD Anderson every three months for scans with Hussein Tawbi, M.D., Ph.D., and to see Jean Tayar, M.D., for treatment of the joint pain he developed during the second clinical trial.  

Practicing skin safety and supporting other cancer patients

These days, when Joey goes out to do farm chores, he wears long sleeves, a big hat, sunscreen and – at his wife’s urging – avoids staying outdoors during the late afternoon when the sun is highest.

Now that he’s nearing retirement and the two years cancer-free milestone, Joey and his wife are looking for ways to give back and help other cancer patients. On Sept. 21, he’ll be honored at the 11th Annual Steps Against Melanoma Walk, hosted by the AIM at Melanoma Foundation and MD Anderson. The event raises funds for melanoma research and includes free skin screenings.

“I’ve been real fortunate that MD Anderson has given me the opportunity to be on these clinical trials and that I’ve had such huge success with it,” Joey says. “I want others to know there’s hope.”

Register for the 11th Annual Steps Against Melanoma Walk on Saturday, Sept. 21 at MD Anderson.

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

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor: MD Anderson saved my life three times

Statistically speaking, I shouldn’t be alive today. Since being diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 27, I’ve suffered two relapses. I’ve also had two stem cell transplants, 33 bone marrow biopsies, 186 CT scans and countless rounds of chemotherapy.

You might think I wouldn’t enjoy a very good quality of life because of all that. But you’d be wrong. I’m an active, energetic, healthy 41-year-old. I’m also a wife and the mother of two beautiful children, ages 11 and 9.

I do have some side effects from my cancer treatment, such as fatigue and recurrent sinus infections. But overall, my life today is full and happy. And I have MD Anderson to thank for it.

My first non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis

At the time of my first cancer diagnosis, I was in the best shape of my life. It was November 2004, and just a few months prior, I’d run my fastest marathon yet in San Diego. I was also in the process of training to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Then, while getting the necessary vaccinations and bloodwork done for my upcoming trip to Africa, I discovered that my platelets were at a life-threateningly low level. Within 18 hours, I was diagnosed with stage IV follicular lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And all my plans changed.

My non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment

As a native Texan who grew up in San Antonio, I knew about MD Anderson’s amazing reputation. So there was never really a discussion as to where I’d go for my lymphoma treatment.

My doctors there started me on chemotherapy right away, as my cancer was very aggressive and already widespread. Fortunately, I responded well to it, and after eight rounds of “R-CHOP” chemotherapy (rituximab, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine and prednisone), my cancer went into remission.

My husband and I got married, then moved to California for a job opportunity. Once settled, we immediately met with a local fertility specialist to freeze some embryos. We were both very aware that my cancer could come back at any time. And if that happened, I’d probably need a stem cell transplant, which would make it unlikely we’d conceive naturally.

My first non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma relapse

Sure enough, the lymphoma returned just eight months later. My husband and I flew back to Houston to meet with Dr. Borje Andersson in MD Anderson’s Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy Center. He recommended a stem cell transplant. Luckily, my brother was a perfect tissue-type match, so I got my first stem cell donation from him. It went very well.

Eight months later, my husband and I decided to implant one of our embryos. That resulted in our daughter Ellie. Much to our surprise, I conceived again naturally just a year and a half later. Our son Tommy was born in January 2010.

My second non-Hodgkin’s relapse

Once my pregnancy belly started to fade, one fateful look in the mirror revealed what had previously been hidden: swollen lymph nodes in my groin. My cancer was back for a third time. Only now, I had a two-year-old and a five-week-old to think about.

My husband and I flew back to Houston. We knew my treatment options would be more limited, but we trusted Dr. Andersson to find the best one available. And he did.

Dr. Andersson recommended a small clinical trial that was showing great success with patients whose cancer had relapsed. I met all the participation criteria, so I joined the trial. I had five more rounds of high-dose chemotherapy (busulfan and fludarabine), followed by a second stem cell transplant on July 5, 2010. Then I received cyclophosphamide by IV to prevent graft-versus-host disease.

The second transplant worked even better than the first. Because I’ve been cancer-free ever since.

What makes MD Anderson special

MD Anderson has saved my life three times, so I always knew it was a special place. But it wasn’t until last summer that I truly understood why.

My family and I were there in July 2018 for my annual check-up. When we finished, it was late in the day, and the sun was setting. But Dr. Andersson saw the football in my young son’s hands and asked if he wanted to throw the ball around. The hallways were empty, so they played together for about 10 minutes. And that is the moment I truly understood the magic of MD Anderson.

By this point, Dr. Andersson already seemed like a part of our family. But when he took the time to play with my son — after he’d just worked a full day — I knew that he actually was.

And it’s because of him and all the other amazing doctors, nurses and staff at MD Anderson that my husband still has a wife, my children still have a mom and my heart has a home.

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

Skull base tumor surgeon: Why you should come to MD Anderson first

As a surgeon, I am motivated by the challenge skull base tumors represent — both their complexity and the impact that they have on our patients. Because not that long ago, many of these tumors were considered incurable.

Before skull base surgery was developed as a field, neurosurgeons would go as low as they could go, and head and neck surgeons would go as high as they could go. Both would stop at the skull base — the bony platform behind the eyes and nose that slopes down toward the back of the head. That meant sometimes part of a tumor got left behind — where it could grow right back.

Today, we know that skull base tumors are curable. It takes many types of brain and spine and head and neck specialists working together to treat them effectively. But we do that here at MD Anderson. And being involved in that process is the most rewarding part of my job.

Why skull base tumors are difficult to diagnose

Skull base tumors are rare, so they are often difficult to diagnose. The average doctor will probably see less than a handful in their entire career. That’s why it’s important to seek treatment at a place like MD Anderson — because even rare tumors aren’t rare here.

Patients frequently come to us with a particular diagnosis, but when we review their reports with our dedicated head and neck and neuropathologists, we sometimes come to a different conclusion. This happens more than 30% of the time. So, for one out of every three skull base tumor patients, we say, “Nope. You have this instead of that.”

One reason is that there are many different types of skull base tumors. They can originate in the head or neck (nasal, sinuses, ear or salivary gland), in the brain (meningioma, chordoma, acoustic neuroma or pituitary gland), or in the skull base itself (usually sarcoma). Not all of them are cancerous. But all of them can affect a patient’s most basic functions, such as breathing, eating and walking.

Successful skull base tumor treatment requires multidisciplinary care

Regardless of the type of skull base tumor, they’re all difficult to treat, because of their location deep inside the head. This makes them challenging to access. The skull base involves many vital structures, such as major blood vessels and nerves that control vision, hearing, balance and gait. So, skull base tumors can’t be resolved by a simple surgery or a single specialist.

At MD Anderson, a skull base tumor patient may see a neurosurgeon, a head and neck surgeon, a temporal bone surgeon, a plastic surgeon and an ophthalmologic surgeon. They may also have a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a neuro-oncologist, and a head and neck medical oncologist.

That’s what makes our multidisciplinary approach to care so critically important. Every member of a patient’s team has to work together with all the others to provide the best possible result. And we do.

How MD Anderson is advancing skull base tumor treatment

One area in which MD Anderson has really led the way is in developing and pioneering a “minimal access” approach to skull base tumors. In these procedures, surgeons use natural passages (such as the sinuses or nasal cavity) to reach these growths, instead of making cuts to the face or removing large sections of bone from the skull. This is a huge advance for our patients, as it means fewer extreme surgeries and shorter recovery times.

Through clinical trials, we’re also exploring how delivering treatments such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy first can improve results by reducing the size of a tumor or requiring less surgery.

One study we published earlier this year on sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma is revolutionizing the way that type of cancer is being treated. The study found that patients who received chemotherapy and radiation therapy before surgery had much higher survival rates five years after diagnosis than those who received surgery first. These findings are changing the way this disease is treated both here at MD Anderson and globally.

Where you go first for skull base tumor treatment matters

Skull base tumors are curable. But it’s much harder to treat them when you’re dealing with a cancer that has come back or one that never really went away to begin with. So, getting the right treatment up front makes all the difference. Your chances of survival are higher, and your results and quality of life are better.

That’s why, for me, performing surgery on patients with skull base tumors today is far more than just a technical exercise in removing cancer from a difficult area.

It’s about stepping into someone’s life at a very vulnerable point — possibly the most-vulnerable point — and guiding them safely through the storm.

Ehab Hanna, M.D., is vice chair of Head and Neck Surgery at MD Anderson and co-director of the Skull Base Tumor Program.

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

Liver cancer: What you should know

The liver is your body’s largest organ. It’s responsible for digestion, blood clotting and helping get rid of toxins. But unlike other organs, it has two blood sources. This makes the liver vulnerable to cancer cells moving through the bloodstream. The cancers that most commonly spread to the liver through the bloodstream are colorectal, breast and lung cancers.

When cancer starts in the liver, it’s called hepatocellular carcinoma. This type of liver cancer can start as a single tumor or as multiple spots on the liver caused by heavy drinking, obesity or a long-term hepatitis infection. These conditions cause scarring and permanent damage, known as cirrhosis of the liver.

To learn more about liver cancer symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, we spoke with Emma Holliday, M.D. Here’s what she had to say.

What are common symptoms of liver cancer?

Many patients don’t experience any symptoms in the early stages of liver cancer. When symptoms do develop, they may include abdominal pain or bloating, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and yellowing of the skin or eyes, known as jaundice. Keep in mind that these symptoms vary from person to person.

Are some people more likely to develop liver cancer?

Hepatocellular carcinoma is more common in men than women, and the average age of diagnosis is 63.

Patients with cirrhosis of the liver are more likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma, so it’s important to understand what can lead to cirrhosis:

  • Alcohol consumption: Alcohol should be avoided. Talk with your doctor about what that means for you.
  • Chronic hepatitis infection: Hepatitis B and C increase your risk, so it’s important to seek treatment if you have either of these infections. New antiviral medications can treat both types.
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: This is caused by a buildup of fat in the liver. You can lower your risk by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a plant-based diet and staying active.
  • Genetic conditions: Hemachromatosis, Wilson disease, Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, porphyria and other rare conditions can lead to cirrhosis. If you have a family history of liver cancer, talk with your doctor about whether you should meet with a genetic counselor.

What are screening options are available for liver cancer?

National guidelines recommend routine screening liver cancer screening for patients with cirrhosis. This includes a blood test for a cancer marker called alphafetoprotein as well as an ultrasound looking for any suspicious liver masses. This screening regimen is typically done every six months. Your doctor can advise if this is right for you.

How is liver cancer diagnosed?

Talk to your doctor if you have any liver cancer symptoms. Your doctor may order a CT scan or an MRI along with an alphafenoprotein blood test to look for cancer. In some cases, CT scans or MRI results, along with blood test results, may be enough to make a diagnosis. But if the images aren’t clear, your doctor may remove a tissue sample for closer examination by doing a biopsy.

How is liver cancer treated?

The type of liver cancer treatment your doctor recommends will depend on the tumor’s size and location, whether you have cirrhosis, and your overall health.

If the cancer is early stage and your liver is healthy, surgery may be an option. If the tumors are small and haven’t spread to nearby blood vessels, your doctor may suggest a liver transplant.

Sometimes surgery isn’t an option, especially if the tumor is too large to be removed safely or is in a difficult location. In these cases, your doctors may recommend radiation therapy, which uses an external beam of X-rays or protons to destroy tumors. They may also suggest radiofrequency ablation, which uses a needle-thin probe to deliver electric currents directly to the tumor, heating it until it’s destroyed.

Another approach is to prevent blood flow from reaching tumors through a process called chemoembolization. A needle is inserted into an artery in the groin, and a tiny tube is threaded into the artery that leads to the liver to deliver drugs to the tumor. Afterward, the artery is blocked to prevent blood flow to the liver. In some cases, patients may instead undergo radioembolization, where the doctor injects liquid containing tiny radioactive spheres that treat the tumor. 

Chemotherapy and immunotherapy may also be options for some patients.

What’s next for liver cancer treatment? Tell us about promising research developments and clinical trials here at MD Anderson.

Unfortunately, liver cancer is one of the most rapidly increasing types of cancer in the U.S. But we’re hopeful for the future based on new research. At MD Anderson, we have several clinical trials exploring new liver cancer treatments.

One clinical trial is comparing chemotherapy with a type of radiation called stereotactic body radiotherapy, which delivers a high dose of radiation precisely to the tumor while limiting exposure to healthy cells.

Another clinical trial is comparing proton therapy with intensity-modulated radiotherapy, and others are looking at T-cell therapy for patients with advanced liver cancer. MD Anderson is also investigating using microscopic glass beads called TheraSpheres to target tumors with internal radiation in a treatment called radioembolization.

What advice do you have for liver cancer patients?

There are many liver cancer treatment options, but not all options are right for all patients. And weighing through these treatment options can be overwhelming, so make sure you find a team of doctors you trust who can answer your questions and help you choose the right treatment for you.  

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

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