Genes don’t cause cancer, but genetic mutations can. Our cells have about 22,000 genes, which consist of DNA packed into chromosomes inside the cell nucleus. These genes control a wide range of functions, including cell growth and division. When the genes misbehave or mutate, cancer can develop. Read more
Archive for Uncategorized
What’s a cancer scientist doing earning an award for diabetes or cardiovascular research?
The two Dana-Farber scientists who received the prizes in early June say they are great examples of how research that isn’t tied to specific goals can lead to unanticipated discoveries in other areas. They argue that just as their unrestricted pursuit of scientific questions in cancer biology has paid off in two different fields of biomedicine – diabetes and heart disease – research that originally wasn’t related to cancer has shed light on the roots of malignant diseases. Read more
By Timothy Rourke
Most parents treasure the big moments in a child’s life: first steps, first word, first day of school. I, on the other hand, treasure every moment with my son, Declan – the simple act of eating breakfast together, watching him do his homework, or taking him to ice-skating lessons. This is because Declan is a cancer survivor.
It’s hard enough to learn your child has cancer. One minute your world seems fine, and the next, you’re falling into chaos and fear. But when my wife and I got the news, after Declan had a seizure on Father’s Day 2006, we had the added distinction of a cancer diagnosis so rare that only 30 or so families receive it every year.
Declan, then 15 months old, had an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (AT/RT), a rare cancer that affects the brain and central nervous system. At the time of his diagnosis, researchers could count on one hand the number of long-term survivors. Like a lottery nobody wants to win, we suddenly found ourselves in a category of cancer so small, so remote, that it was easy to think there would be no place for us to turn.
The New Hampshire oncologist who diagnosed our son saw a different picture.
“I have no ego when it comes to kids,” he said. “If the best treatment for their cancer is in France, I send them to France. If it’s in Germany, I send them to Germany. It just so happens that, for your son, the best treatment is just 45 minutes away at Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center in Boston.”
With those words came hope for beating a disease that had inflicted so few, and yet taken so many.
Declan immediately began a year-and-a-half of treatment under the care of Dr. Mark Kieran, Dr. Susan Chi, and Dr. Anupama Narla at Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center. The regimen was brutal: 52-plus weeks of high-dose chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation, and half a dozen surgeries at Children’s Hospital Boston, where surgeons work in partnership with Dana-Farber oncologists. There were feeding tubes, ports in his chest and head, and more blood and platelet transfusions than I can count.
And yet, our family was emboldened by the courage of a group of specialists that dedicated time – and resources – to such a rare disease. And we found comfort in the knowledge that although there were so few cases of atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor a year, this team had the expertise to give Declan the best possible care.
As I type these words, my son – now seven – sleeps peacefully in his bed. He has been out of treatment since October 2007, and currently shows no evidence of disease, according to his doctors. As of today, he is one of the only long-term AT/RT cancer survivors in the world.
A world turned upside down is once again right side up. Of course, we dread every check-up and MRI scan that brings a threat of relapse. That’s one downside of being the rarest of the rare; survivorship cannot be taken for granted. We meet other AT/RT families who shared our hope for a cure that, for them, proved elusive.
Tomorrow the sun will rise. My son will open his eyes and greet the day. I’ll find him near his 6-month-old sister’s crib, where she will glance his way, hear his voice, and squeal with glee.
To most parents, the sight would be sweet. But I am not most parents. I am the parent of a cancer survivor. The moment will blind me with its beauty, and bring tears to a man who knows how lucky he is.
Timothy Rourke is a member of the Pediatric Patient and Family Advisory Council at Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center.
Treatment with three relatively new “targeted” cancer drugs has been linked to a slightly elevated chance of fatal side effects, according to a new analysis led by scientists at Dana-Farber.
The study looked at three drugs: sorafenib (Nexavar), sunitinib (Sutent), and pazopanib (Votrient). Sorafenib is approved to treat kidney and liver cancer, sunitinib to treat kidney cancer and gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), and pazopanib to treat kidney cancer.
Dr. Toni Choueiri, the lead author of the study, says that patients should be aware of the risks and speak with their doctor.
As we recognize World Cancer Day today, it’s important to remember that one-third of cancer deaths worldwide are tied to lifestyle and diet, making them largely preventable.
Many women who discover a lump in their breast confide in a friend or family member before talking to their doctor. They may be told that if a breast lump hurts or is sore, it probably isn’t cancer. To find out whether this urban legend holds any truth, we checked with Beth Overmoyer, MD, FACP, of the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers.
If a lump in the breast does not feel sore or tender, does that mean it isn’t cancer?
Dr. Overmoyer: Between 2 and 7 percent of patients with a painful lump in their breast will be diagnosed with breast cancer. A lump is usually hard or firm compared with surrounding breast tissue. The presence of pain should not be reassuring – anyone who notices a new lump in her (or his) breast should contact a doctor. It’s unclear why some breast cancers are painful and others aren’t, but pain is not an indication of cancer being more or less aggressive. The most likely reason is that the cancer is irritating the nerves within the breast, but the true cause isn’t known. Read more