Finding the Right Words at the Right Time

SMALL_Staff Portrait Justin Sanders October 2014

This is an excerpt from a perspective published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Feb. 12, 2015. By Justin Sanders, MD, MSc When Ms. C. died, I was sad but not surprised. I had met her 4 years earlier, when I was an intern and she was the first patient who identified me as “my doctor.” She did so enthusiastically, asking the inpatient medical teams who frequently cared for her to run every decision by me. As a trainee, and given her complex needs, I found those requests both absurd and overwhelming. By 65 years of age, Ms. …

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Helping Cancer Survivors Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Eric Zhou, PhD- SMALL

Sarah Boczanowski was tired. Her turbulent relationship with sleep, dating back to her childhood, had only worsened since her leukemia diagnosis at age 18. Through biopsies and chemotherapy, she found sleep elusive. “With nurses and doctors coming in and out, and beeping noises from my IVs, it was impossible to sleep,” she says. Boczanowski is not alone. For many cancer patients and survivors, chronic insomnia is a common side effect of living with cancer – possibly triggered by several factors, including the cancer diagnosis, side effects of treatment, fear of recurrence, hospitalization, or chronic pain. Research shows that more than …

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Five Things You Need to Know About Oral Chemotherapy

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As cancer treatments advance, more patients are taking anti-cancer medications, including oral chemotherapy, at home. Unlike the traditional IV infusion chemotherapy given in a clinic, oral chemotherapy is a drug taken in tablet, capsule, or liquid form. It has the same benefits and risks as chemotherapy given by infusion. Oral chemotherapy may be easier than taking a trip to the clinic, but the pills are just as strong as intravenous forms of chemotherapy. Here is some key information to know about oral chemotherapy: 1.    Understanding your drugs is important Before beginning oral chemotherapy, talk with your doctor or nurse to learn …

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Whirlwind Week Ends in Reassurance for Breast Cancer Patient

Breast cancer treatment

It was a Monday when Katie Lazdowski got the news no 33-year-old mother expects to hear: “You have breast cancer.” Waiting is never easy, but waiting to find out what’s next after a cancer diagnosis can be excruciating. After meeting with a local oncologist in Amherst, Mass., about two hours west of Boston, on Wednesday, Katie called Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. The next day she met with her treatment team, and had both a plan of attack and a sense of reassurance. “Once I met my team, I knew Dana-Farber was where I wanted to be,” says Katie, who …

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What You Need to Know for Life After Childhood Cancer Treatment

SMALL_Lisa Diller, M.D.

Completing cancer treatment can bring a range of emotions for pediatric patients and their families. While they may be relieved to finish chemotherapy or radiation, there is often anxiety about relapse, returning to “normal life,” or how to handle side effects that occur years down the road. “Finishing treatment can be a very scary time,” says Lisa Diller, MD, chief medical officer of the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. “There is something about regular clinic visits that is very reassuring. When families don’t have to return for a couple of months, they can sometimes feel anxious knowing they …

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How to Manage Health Insurance When You Have Cancer

Clipboard, paper and pen. Stock shot.

Learning you have cancer means you’ll want to work with a medical team that can help you create the best possible treatment plan. But it also means you need to understand your health insurance coverage. Like any complex health condition, treating cancer can involve many different types of care, and you’ll want to be sure your providers and treatments will be covered. Start by calling your insurance company. The level of coverage for exams and other medical procedures will vary depending on your specific health plan. Dial the customer service number on the back of your health insurance card and …

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If a Lump in the Testicle Is Painful, Is it Cancer?

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Men who notice a lump, heaviness, or pain in the testicle are often not convinced to see a doctor until a partner insists, but men should take note of changes in the testicles, says Clair Beard, MD, director of the Testicular Cancer Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. “Unlike with breast cancer, where many women feel lumps that turn out not to be cancer, most men don’t feel a lump, they just notice the testicle is different somehow,” says Beard, who adds that men who do find lumps may notice that they stick out or feel like a marble …

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Five Things You Should Know About Precision Medicine

precision medicine

When President Barack Obama rolled out his Precision Medicine Initiative, it included an increased funding request of $215 million in the 2016 federal budget. Precision medicine is changing the way cancer is studied and treated. Here are five important things to know about it. 1. Precision medicine can improve diagnosis and treatment  Physicians have long recognized that the same disease can behave differently from one patient to another, and that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Precision cancer medicine makes diagnosis of cancer and other diseases more accurate, and evaluates the specific genetic makeup of patients (and, in cancer, of their …

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New Treatment Option for Patients with Rare Blood Cancer

Steven Treon, MD, PhD

It’s commonly thought that targeted therapy for cancer requires the development of separate drugs for each type and subtype of cancer. The recent approval of the drug ibrutinib (Imbruvica®), however, for Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia (a rare form of lymphoma) shows the opposite to be true: a single agent can be effective against multiple types of cancers, providing they spring from the same molecular mechanism. Last month, Waldenström’s became the fourth cancer for which ibrutinib has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 2013 and 2014 the drug was successively approved for patients with mantle cell lymphoma who have …

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Forty Years After Introduction, Breast Cancer Prevention Drug Still Effective

Erica Mayer, MD

Nearly 40 years after its introduction, tamoxifen continues to prove its value as a breast cancer prevention drug. The most recent evidence comes from the International Breast Cancer Prevention Study 1 (IBIS-1), which for 20 years has been tracking breast cancer occurrence and survival rates in more than 7,000 women who had a higher than average risk of developing breast cancer at the time of enrolling in the study. Half the participants were randomly assigned to take tamoxifen for five years, while the other half took a placebo, or inactive pill, for the same period. (Participants didn’t know which pill they’d …

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