A life saved by second opinions, experimental treatments, and a touch of luck

By James Bond “How long will I live?” I asked my oncologist in Ohio in 1992, when I was 44 and diagnosed with multiple myeloma. “Three years,” he answered. Instead, I enjoyed 10 more years of active living. Then my disease began to overtake me; my kidneys were failing, I was unable to eat solid foods, and I had fevers of 105 degrees. Having already had three stem cell transplants, I seemed to be out of options. My wife Kathleen and I were advised to seek hospice care.

‘Encyclopedia’ charts genetics of cancer

The Encyclopedia Britannica may have published its last print edition, but a group of Dana-Farber scientists and their colleagues recently produced one of the first encyclopedias to help researchers determine which subtypes of cancer are likely to respond to current drugs. The freely available, online encyclopedia lists hundreds of cancer subtypes – each with a unique set of genetic abnormalities that define it – along with drugs that are known to target those defects. The data, described alongside a similar catalog developed by another team of investigators, will guide researchers in designing clinical trials – improving the chances that the …

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How do genes get their names?

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 …

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Cancer research updates from AACR

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.

Counting cells at lightning speed

At many supermarkets, you can dump a pocketful of change into a machine that rapidly counts your coins, sorting them into pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters and computing the total amount. Imagine something similar in a research lab. In the past, cells had to be manually studied and counted under a microscope. But the development of flow cytometry technology, beginning in the 1960s and continually improving, has brought automation to counting and sorting human cells that’s reminiscent of the coin machine. Flow cytometry today is routinely used in medical diagnosis of certain cancers, like lymphomas and leukemias, and as a …

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Men unite to cure women’s cancers

For most people, getting involved with a cause means thinking about what type of organization they’d like to support. But this is a story about what happens when a cause selects you – taps you on the shoulder and asks you to engage in battle. It began in 1998 when my wife Amy, then 40, was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer. Our two daughters were 5 years and 15 months old. Amy battled for 15 months, and died in 1999. Like many spouses of women who die of cancer too young, my next few years were all about balancing the …

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Alcohol and breast cancer: What’s the risk?

For many women who enjoy a glass of wine, research showing that relatively small amounts of alcohol can raise their risk of breast cancer are disconcerting, to say the least. And confusing, too. How much drinking is OK? Isn’t a glass of red wine a day good for your heart — and couldn’t that be more important? In the past five or 10 years, knowledge about alcohol and breast cancer has been changing as studies produce new results and are publicized, sometimes over-dramatically, in the media. At the same time, there’s growing evidence that moderate drinking can be healthy for …

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Specialists recommend regular colonoscopies

If you’re over 50, have you been screened for colorectal cancer?  If not, the month of March would be a great time to talk about screening with your doctor. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer in men and women in theUnited States. In 2012, an estimated 141,210 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 49,380 will die of the disease. But it’s also a very curable cancer when it’s caught early. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February that tracked patients as long as 20 years shows that colonoscopy screening …

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From old drugs, new cancer treatments

When it comes to finding better drugs for cancer, Dana-Farber oncologist Dr. David Frank is not a patient man. While new cancer science promises to bring novel, improved therapies to the bedside, it can take many years — and Frank isn’t willing to wait. “We need to get new treatments to patients as soon as possible,” he says.

When Doctors Encounter Diseases without Names

The complicated meaty machine that is the human body can break down in a remarkable variety of ways. The 9th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9) includes more than 16,000 afflictions – everything from the bite of a venomous tropical millipede to injury by falling spacecraft debris. With all of these dangers, it is truly a wonder that any of us can get out of bed in the morning. And yet any doctor who cares for patients knows that there are many other diseases that ICD-9 has never heard of – medical terra incognita, disorders that have yet to …

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