Archive for April 26, 2012

The truth about melanoma

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May is Melanoma Awareness Month. Often caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight, melanoma accounts for only 4 to 5 percent of skin cancer cases, but is responsible for most skin cancer-related deaths.

When detected and treated in its earliest stages, however, melanoma is often curable. The key is to avoid overexposure to UV rays – by limiting time outdoors during the peak hours of sunlight and wearing sun-protective clothing and sunscreen – and to be on the lookout for changes in moles and other blemishes that can be an early sign of the disease.

As with many forms of cancer, melanoma is often misunderstood. Dr. Jennifer Y. Lin of Dana-Farber’s Melanoma Treatment Program sets the record straight on five of the most common myths about melanoma. Read more

Cancer biologist finds links between science, art

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As a cancer biologist, Dr. Kornelia (Nelly) Polyak pores over countless images of breast cancer cells and their surrounding tissues, data tables, and graphs – visuals that only a scientist can find beautiful.

But when she sits down to paint, Polyak fills large canvases with a riot of vivid and deeply saturated colors, with thick brushstrokes rendering landscapes like purple fields of lavender in France, red-tiled houses on the Italian coast, and lush English gardens.

Polyak’s chosen medium is acrylic paint applied with little water and so thick that it resembles oils. She has been inspired by the Impressionist painters, including Monet and Manet and especially Van Gogh, with his bright colors and wide brush strokes. Read more

Prostate cancer: At what age should you be screened?

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What age is appropriate to get screened for prostate cancer and begin treatment? Recent news surrounding Warren Buffett’s diagnosis, including a report on Boston.com, has some asking if age should factor into these decisions.

Dr. Philip Kantoff, chief of the Division of Solid tumor at Dana-Farber and director of Dana-Farber’s Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology, speaks about PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) screening and the benefits associated with undergoing active surveillance, instead of opting for radiation or surgery in appropriate patients.

 

 

 

Brain tumor doesn’t slow this fitness enthusiast

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Bryan Reilly has a full-time job and a passion for exercise. He skis, climbs mountains, works out regularly, and runs a mile in under 8 minutes.

Any 56-year-old could be proud of being so fit. But for Reilly, it’s a special triumph: Less than two years ago he was diagnosed with an often-lethal and aggressive brain tumor.

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How do genes get their names?

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Chinese scientists recently found a gene that encourages the growth of a form of lung cancer by switching on a circuit that includes a gene called sonic hedgehog. How do genes get their names?

When a scientist discovers a new human gene, he or she submits a proposed name to the Human Gene Nomenclature Committee (HGNC), an international panel of researchers with exclusive authority over this area. Guidelines were established in 1979 by the HGNC and have been updated periodically. (The HGNC itself operates under the auspices of the Human Genome Organization, an international association of scientists involved in human genetics.)

Although the rules are fairly lengthy, they basically require that names be concise and convey the character or function of the gene without trying to describe everything known about it. Despite the call for brevity, some names are rather unwieldy – ATP-binding cassette, sub-family A (ABC1), member 1 is an example. As a result, many genes are better known by their acronym or symbol: the symbol for the above-mentioned gene is ABCA1. Symbols are not permitted to be offensive, confusing, or spell actual words.

Even with these rules, gene nomenclature can be confusing. Sometimes, the names bestowed by the HGNC have little meaning for researchers in the field, who continue to use genes’ more familiar names. The gene officially dubbed Smarcb1, for example, also goes by the symbols Snf5, INI1, and Baf47. Even TP53, one of the most “famous” genes for its role as a tumor-suppressor, is best known by its nickname, P53.

However, the rules governing the names of genes for other (non-human) organisms are somewhat looser, allowing scientists to indulge their sense of whimsy. Fruit flies, for example, have the genes tinman and tribbles, while zebrafish boast the genes backstroke, einstein, and tiggywinkle hedgehog.

Two dads, one cause, and a whole lot of love

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Malia Jusczyk and her dad, GlenNo one would choose the way Glen Jusczyk and Greg Kelly became friends: at the bedsides of their little girls with cancer. Yet these extraordinary circumstances created not just a friendship, but a desire to give back to the place providing their children’s care.

On April 16, these dads, who consider themselves “out of shape,” will run the 116th Boston Marathon® as two of more than 550 runners on the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team to raise money for the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research at Dana-Farber.

Jusczyk’s daughter, Malia, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer that forms in nerve tissue and mostly affects young children, when she was just 2 years old. The family moved from Orlando, Florida, to Boston shortly after the news so she could be treated in the Neuroblastoma Program at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, which provides research and the latest treatments.

“We packed our bags as soon as we could,” recalls Jusczyk. “We have family in the Boston area and we wanted Malia to be at the best cancer center in the world for her disease.” There, Jusczyk met Kelly, whose 5-year-old daughter, Charlotte, was across the hall fighting the same type of cancer.         Read more

Family bonding in the Jimmy Fund Clinic

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By Sara Dickison Taylor

When our daughter Emily was diagnosed with leukemia at age 5, we found solace and support from other families facing pediatric cancer at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

Our visits to Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic became a well-rehearsed play. If it was Friday, it was clinic day. Instead of going to kindergarten or playing with her friends like most 5-year-olds, Emily had her vital signs taken, had blood drawn through her Port-a-Cath, and received a weekly infusion of chemotherapy, platelets, and blood. It was difficult at times, but making friends with other families going through the exact same thing made it bearable.

It takes a village to help you through a child’s cancer treatment, and that includes other families as well as our clinical care team. The Jimmy Fund Clinic usually schedules appointments so that children come in on the same day each week – giving their patients and families a real sense of continuity. We forged relationships with many other “Friday families.” Seeing familiar faces lifted us up and offered a sense of comfort that was just as important for us parents as for the kids. The clinic became a small community for us – our own village. Read more

Does sugar feed cancer?

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Cancer cells have a voracious appetite for glucose, a form of sugar, and consume it in much greater amounts than normal cells do. The knowledge of cancer cells’ zest for sugar has led some people to wonder if eating less sugar would restrain tumors’ growth.

While cancer cells do rely on a large intake of glucose to fuel their growth and proliferation, reducing sugar in your diet won’t curb tumors. Read more

Cancer research updates from AACR

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The American Association for Cancer Research recently held its annual meeting in Chicago. Dr. Loren Walensky of Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center talks about some of the highlights, including personalized medicine and a new grant that’s helping his team develop new technology to target cancer.

Mattel announces hairless version of Barbie doll

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Mattel Inc., maker of Barbie dolls, last week announced that it would create a bald version of the popular fashion doll to support people battling cancer.

The announcement came a few months after Beautiful and Bald Barbie, a Facebook group that petitioned Mattel to make a hairless version of the doll, gained mass support online. Their mission was simple:

We would like to see a Beautiful and Bald Barbie made to help young girls who suffer from hair loss due to cancer treatments, alopecia or trichotillomania. Also, for young girls who are having trouble coping with their mother’s hair loss from chemo. Many children have some difficulty accepting their mother, sister, aunt, grandparent or friend going from long-haired to bald.

“A hairless doll could really present a great opportunity for families and medical providers to talk about illness and hair loss with kids facing those issues,” says Cori Liptak, PhD, a psychologist in the Division of Pediatric Psychosocial Services at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. “It could also be an interactive way for some children to express their emotions about their own medical experience.” Read more