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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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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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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Dating Advice from Young Adults with Cancer

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Navigating the dating world is difficult regardless of one’s age or circumstances. But dating or maintaining a relationship as a young adult living with cancer is particularly tricky. How should you tell a potential partner about your disease, and when? How do you maintain normalcy as a couple when you’re planning dates around treatment schedules, or treatment-related side effects? The Young Adult Program at Dana-Farber recently hosted a Twitter chat for young adults with cancer to discuss these challenges. Here is some of their advice. Be open about your diagnosis in the beginning, it can help in the long run …

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FDA Approves New Therapy for Metastatic Breast Cancer

New drug approved for metastatic breast cancer

  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new treatment  for women with advanced (metastatic) breast cancer. The new therapy, palbociclib, will be used to treat postmenopausal women with metastatic estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) breast cancer who have not received previous treatment. Palbociclib, which is marketed under the name Ibrance, will be used in combination with another breast cancer drug, letrozole. “This is a new class of drugs that has been effective in treating this particular pathway in cancer, and it has improved outcomes for patients with advanced ER-positive breast cancer, one of the most common forms of the …

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Collaborative Effort Helps Develop More Effective Treatment for Brain Tumors

The information used in diagnosing a brain tumor takes many forms. At Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), patients’ brain tumor tissue undergoes a broad range of diagnostic tests: not only standard pathology exams in which tumor cells are viewed under a microscope, but also next-generation scans for mutated genes and misassembled chromosomes, as well as whole-genome searches for surplus or missing copies of genes. Such extensive testing helps pinpoint the exact type and characteristics of a particular tumor. The more specific the diagnosis, the more precise the therapy can be. But such a wealth of test results is only …

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Important Terms Every Breast Cancer Patient Should Know

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After a breast cancer diagnosis, it can sometimes be hard to wrap one’s mind around all of the terminology used by doctors and nurses. In fact, a recent study from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found a significant lack of knowledge among breast cancer patients about the basic characteristics of their disease, including how advanced it is (stage), the grade, and the subtype (e.g. whether it is hormone receptor-positive or HER2-positive). The study surveyed 500 women in the California Cancer Registry who had early-stage breast cancer. Between 56-58 percent of women knew the correct stage and receptor status of their tumor, and …

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