Archive for January 31, 2014
Immunotherapy – stimulating the body’s defenses to recognize and destroy disease-causing cells and proteins – was dubbed the “breakthrough of the year” in 2013 by Science magazine. Dana-Farber researchers have contributed many important discoveries over the years about how the immune system works. Now, they are building on these insights to develop immunotherapy against tumors – known as immuno-oncology.
In 2005 Dana-Farber established the Cancer Vaccine Center (CVC) under the leadership of Ellis Reinherz, MD, Jerome Ritz, MD, and Glenn Dranoff, MD. The mission of the CVC is to translate the promising insights from basic immunology into therapeutics that benefit cancer patients. The CVC undertook a series of clinical trials exploring the biologic activity of autologous tumor cell vaccines and antibodies targeting negative immunoregulatory pathways in patients. These investigations contributed to the foundation underlying the FDA approval of the first therapeutic cancer vaccine (Provenege) and the first antibody antagonizing a negative T cell checkpoint (ipilimumab).
Joanne Wolfe, MD, MPH, founded the Pediatric Advanced Care Team (PACT) in 1997 to help ensure children who are living with life-threatening diseases like cancer, and their families, enjoy the best quality of life. The program, a part of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center and the Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, and Wolfe, were featured recently in The New Yorker. We spoke with her about the benefits of pain and symptom management, and palliative care for pediatric patients.
Q. What is PACT?
A. PACT is a group of physicians, social workers, and nurse practitioners. We provide an extra layer of support to children with serious illness and their families throughout treatment, ensuring that the child’s quality of life is a top priority for families and medical teams making difficult care decisions.
We make sure we bring attention to the whole patient and family as children are undergoing treatment for their illnesses.
When cancer develops in someone with other diseases, it can be more serious, according to a recent annual report from several national cancer organizations.
“Cancer does not occur in isolation,” says Lawrence Shulman, MD, in commenting on the report. “It occurs in a human being, who may have other medical problems.”
If you’ve ever donated blood or platelets, there’s a reasonable chance that your donation went to help a cancer patient. That’s because cancer and certain treatments can damage blood cells, which means some patients may need transfusions of one or more types of blood components:
Cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy, can make eating well and enjoying food a challenge for many patients. Food may start to taste strange, appetite may diminish, and other symptoms, such as fatigue, bowel changes, nausea, and mouth sores, may make finding nutritious, delicious foods difficult.
“During chemotherapy, it’s very common for patients to not feel like eating, for appetite to be low, or the taste of food to be off,” says Dana-Farber nutritionist Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, who stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy diet to manage symptoms. In the video below, Kennedy explains how to combat symptoms by incorporating tart or sour flavors, eating small and frequent meals, and staying hydrated:
Chemotherapy and radiation are often prescribed because they are both very effective at destroying cells that grow rapidly, such as cancer cells. Unfortunately, they can also harm healthy cells that grow quickly, such as the cells lining the inside of your mouth. Patients undergoing chemo or radiation treatment often report mouth problems, such as sores, dry mouth, or infections, because the treatments make it difficult for the mouth to heal itself and fend off germs.
To help prevent or minimize mouth problems, consider these tips:
When it comes time for x-rays at the dentist, the technician or hygienist always covers the patient with a lead apron before leaving the room. This precaution often sparks the question as to whether the radiation from dental x-rays can increase the risk of cancer.