How to help your kids cope with your cancer

For people with cancer, deciding how, and what, to tell others about the diagnosis can be a challenge. How do you tell your loved ones, or your employer, that you have cancer? For parents, there’s another degree of difficulty: What do you say to your children? How much will they understand, and what’s the best approach? Susan Englander, LICSW, a social worker at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute who specializes in working with young adult patients — many of whom have children — offers these tips to parents with cancer on how to talk to their kids and help them through the …

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Pregnancy and breast cancer: One mother’s story

Rebecca Byrne had waited years for a doctor to tell her, “You’re pregnant.” She never imagined that just a few months after she first heard those words, she would hear four more: “You have breast cancer.” Byrne still tears up when telling the story, but smiles when her 20-month-old daughter, Emelia, leaps into her lap. Emelia is the happy outcome of a painful period of Byrne’s life, when the joys of pending and early motherhood were shadowed by chemotherapy treatments, hair loss, radiation, and uncertainty.

Do friends, family affect your health?

In low-income, minority communities, tight-knit social connections can lead people to eat right and be physically active — but they can also sometimes be an obstacle to a healthy lifestyle, according to new research by investigators at Dana-Farber and the Harvard School of Public Health. The findings present a mixed picture of the benefits and potential downsides of social ties as they relate to a healthy lifestyle.

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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The truth about melanoma

May is Melanoma Awareness Month. Often caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight, melanoma accounts for only 4 to 5 percent of skin cancer cases, but is responsible for most skin cancer-related deaths. When detected and treated in its earliest stages, however, melanoma is often curable. The key is to avoid overexposure to UV rays – by limiting time outdoors during the peak hours of sunlight and wearing sun-protective clothing and sunscreen – and to be on the lookout for changes in moles and other blemishes that can be an early sign of the disease. As with …

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Cancer biologist finds links between science, art

As a cancer biologist, Dr. Kornelia (Nelly) Polyak pores over countless images of breast cancer cells and their surrounding tissues, data tables, and graphs – visuals that only a scientist can find beautiful. But when she sits down to paint, Polyak fills large canvases with a riot of vivid and deeply saturated colors, with thick brushstrokes rendering landscapes like purple fields of lavender in France, red-tiled houses on the Italian coast, and lush English gardens. Polyak’s chosen medium is acrylic paint applied with little water and so thick that it resembles oils. She has been inspired by the Impressionist painters, …

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Prostate cancer: At what age should you be screened?

What age is appropriate to get screened for prostate cancer and begin treatment? Recent news surrounding Warren Buffett’s diagnosis, including a report on Boston.com, has some asking if age should factor into these decisions. Dr. Philip Kantoff, chief of the Division of Solid tumor at Dana-Farber and director of Dana-Farber’s Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology, speaks about PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) screening and the benefits associated with undergoing active surveillance, instead of opting for radiation or surgery in appropriate patients.      

Brain tumor doesn’t slow this fitness enthusiast

Bryan Reilly has a full-time job and a passion for exercise. He skis, climbs mountains, works out regularly, and runs a mile in under 8 minutes. Any 56-year-old could be proud of being so fit. But for Reilly, it’s a special triumph: Less than two years ago he was diagnosed with an often-lethal and aggressive brain tumor.

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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