Is Chemo Working If I Don’t Lose My Hair?

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It’s well known that many chemotherapy medications used to treat cancer can bring undesirable side effects, such as hair loss, lack of appetite, and fatigue. But experiencing such symptoms is not an indication of whether cancer treatment is working. Chemotherapy interferes with a cell’s ability to grow and divide, so it tends to kill rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells. However, some normal cells in our body also divide rapidly, such as hair cells and cells that create the stomach lining. Whether or not you will have side effects during cancer treatment depends on a variety of factors, including …

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Rising from the Ashes

5.12.14 Gerardo Martinez and familySMALL

By Gerardo Martinez In May 2013, I had surgery to rid my body of that insidious monster we know as cancer. It was a particularly difficult time. I struggled to make sense of the irony of being diagnosed at the same age my dear mother was when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My mother died at the age of 46 and I wondered if fate was mocking me. Instead of getting lost in self-pity and debilitating depression, I was determined to face this fear and rise stronger than ever. In September 2013, during my first post surgery check in, …

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Motherhood, Pregnancy and Breast Cancer

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While visiting her obstetrician in May 2012, 30-year-old Meghan Martin received life-changing news. The mother of two, who was seven-months pregnant with her third boy, learned she had breast cancer. “My first thoughts were: Will this baby live? Will I Live? Who is going to read bedtime stores?” Martin says. A day later, Martin began planning her treatment with the Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber. She had four doses of chemotherapy before giving birth to her “miracle baby,” Gavin. Martin continued her treatment a short while after …

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How to Cope with Side Effects of Aromatase Inhibitors

Staff portrait of Anne Kelly, MSN, NP

Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) are some of the most effective treatments for post-menopausal women with hormonally sensitive breast cancer, such as estrogen-positive breast cancer. Compared to tamoxifen, AIs like Arimidex, Aromasin, and Femara are less likely to cause blood clots or raise the risk of endometrial cancer. The drug also helps reduce the risk of recurrence. However, AIs often come with side effects, including joint discomfort, bone loss, hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Anne Kelly, MSN, NP, a nurse practitioner for the Breast Oncology Program in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber, provides some advice on how patients …

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Melanoma: Five Things You Need to Know

Stephen Hodi, MD

Although skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, melanoma accounts for less than 2 percent of all skin cancer cases. The disease, which will be diagnosed in around 76,000 Americans in 2014, is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. Melanoma begins in the melanocytes, which are found on the lower part of the epidermis. The disease can occur anywhere on the body and usually begins in a mole. “It is important that people protect themselves from the sun and make themselves aware of the signs and symptoms of melanoma to greatly reduce their risk of …

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‘Chemobrain’ Added to Cancer Survivorship Guidelines

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Cognitive dysfunction is a common and frustrating side effect for many patients who undergo chemotherapy. The condition – also called “chemobrain” – can create problems with memory, attention and concentration, information processing, and mental skills used for organizing and scheduling. For many years, medical professionals were skeptical that these cognitive issues were a real side effect of treatment, leaving patients frustrated by the lack of information and suggested remedies. However, numerous cognitive testing and brain imaging studies have demonstrated that cancer and its treatments do have a significant effect on cognition. As a result, physicians now recognize it as a widespread issue, …

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When Should I Begin Regular Mammograms?

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For women weighing whether to have a mammogram for early detection of breast cancer, the findings of some recent studies can seem especially confusing. This month, a team of researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School published a review of recent mammography studies. They concluded that, for women in their 40s, the benefits of mammograms aren’t as great as they’re often touted to be, and the potential downsides – such as the likelihood of having a repeat screening or biopsy that doesn’t find cancer – are greater than for older women. The benefits of mammography vary with …

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New Experimental Breast Cancer Drug Shows Promise

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Reports of an experimental drug that slowed advanced breast cancer in a clinical trial have stirred excitement at a national research meeting and breathed new life into a cancer-fighting strategy that had seemed to falter. In one study, the drug, palbociclib, doubled the length of time without disease progression in patients with metastatic estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer that had spread beyond the breast, compared with women who took only a hormonal treatment, researchers reported at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in early April. Women in the study who received palbociclib also took the hormonal treatment, letrozole. Palbociclib is the …

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Young Patient Inspires with Fashion and Beauty Blog

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When 15-year-old Karina Moreira sat down with Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen in December 2013, the two traded beauty tips, talked fashion, and took turns applying makeup. They spoke in their native Portuguese and laughed with family and friends. The experience, Moreira says, one that she will remember for the rest of her life. But the two talked about more than just eye shadow and clothes; they also talked about life and Moreira’s battle with bone cancer. Bundchen, who surprised Moreira at home, offered some advice for the young girl: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” “My life may be …

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How a Port Can Make Cancer Treatments Easier

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For more than five years, Sally Boyd had repeated needle punctures in her arm for blood draws, chemotherapy, and other procedures for multiple myeloma. “The nurses said I had good veins, so at first it was easy for them to insert the needle,” Boyd recalls. “But as time went on, my arms were bruised and sore.” Dana-Farber has led the way in introducing new therapies that have transformed this type of blood cancer from a fatal disease to a chronic illness. However, living with multiple myeloma or other types of cancer often calls for procedures involving needles. Today, Boyd has …

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