Adult stem cells may hold key to better health

Sarah Knauss, famous for being among the oldest people in the world until her death at the age of 119, might have had more than just “good genes.” Dana-Farber’s Wayne Marasco, MD, PhD, says that adult stem cells – known for their healing and regenerative properties – might hold the key to a long and healthy life. Marasco shared his expertise on the subject at the recent International Vatican Conference on Adult Stem Cells in Vatican City, Italy, an event attended by a select group of cardinals, clergy, and leading researchers and physicians from around the world. “We have learned …

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What do you say when a friend has cancer?

A year ago today, I went to see my doctor about a lump that was growing scarily fast inside my mouth. Twelve days later, I was in a hospital bed with a cocktail of chemo drugs moving through an IV in my arm. Over the next few weeks, I adjusted to the fact that I had squamous cell carcinoma; that it was most likely curable; and that I had a long road of chemotherapy and radiation ahead. But one thing I couldn’t get used to was telling people I had cancer.

HPV linked to head and neck cancer

Traditionally, patients with oral cancers tended to be older individuals with a long history of smoking and heavy alcohol use. In the past decade, however, that picture has changed dramatically. Today, infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancer in the U.S. and Western Europe. Oropharyngeal cancers affect the back of the throat (i.e. the tonsils and base of the tongue). HPV is the same virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer in women. Patients with HPV-related head and neck cancers are often relatively young, not heavy drinkers or smokers, and come from all …

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Do viruses cause cancer?

In 1958, when scientists linked an aggressive form of leukemia to infection with a particular virus, some researchers took the discovery as evidence that nearly all cancers are caused by viruses. A cover story in Life magazine in 1962 proclaimed, “Cancer may be infectious.” Today, it is estimated that viruses are responsible for almost 20 percent of cancer cases worldwide. Seven viruses have been connected to specific types of malignancies; it’s now known, for example, that the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer and some types of head and neck cancer. While viruses can cause cancer in a variety of …

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If a breast lump is painful, is it not cancer?

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 …

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The benefits of vitamin D

Activated by sunlight and present in some foods and supplements, vitamin D has been associated with healthy bones and reducing the risk of diabetes and cancer. But a new study says that the recommended dose of vitamin D needed to reap these health benefits remains unclear. To help shed some light on the topic, we talked to Dana-Farber’s Kimmie Ng, MD, MPH, who has been studying the connection between cancer and vitamin D use, as well as other lifestyle factors. What is the connection between cancer and vitamin D? There is a large amount of scientific and observational data that …

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The War on Cancer, 40 years later

Friday, December 23, marks the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of a national “War on Cancer.” On that date in 1971, Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, which allocated $1.5 billion over three years for cancer research and control. He declared, “I hope that in the years ahead we may look back on this day and this action as being the most significant action taken during this Administration.” Forty years later, the War on Cancer can claim countless successes against one of the most resilient and recalcitrant enemies mankind has faced. Some cancers that were once almost invariably …

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What are the best vitamins for cancer patients?

Walk down the vitamins and supplements aisle of a pharmacy or grocery store, and you’ll see a mind-boggling array of options. It can be hard to know which one is best. And if you’re a cancer patient looking for the right dietary supplement, there are even more issues to take into account. How do you know what’s the best – and safest – choice? Whether you are a cancer patient or survivor, these tips can help you avoid unforeseen side-effects:  Tell your doctor which vitamins you are taking. Studies have shown that some supplements can decrease the effectiveness of cancer …

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Blood cancer research may lead to new treatments

At this year’s American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting, Dana-Farber scientists presented major findings that could one day improve diagnosis and treatment of blood cancers, extend life, or even cure some diseases. Among the highlights: Steven Treon, MD, PhD, and his colleagues identified a gene mutation that underlies the vast majority of cases of Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia, a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The results suggest that new, effective treatments are now possible for people with Waldenström’s. Read more about Dr. Treon’s Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia research breakthrough. Catherine J. Wu, MD, co-led investigators who discovered nine new gene mutations that could help …

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Breast cancer specialist discusses treatment advances

Harold J. Burstein, MD, PhD, a Dana-Farber breast cancer specialist, discusses some of the important studies presented at the 2011 CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. The five-day meeting includes more than 1,000 scientific presentations, seminars, and posters, with a focus on emerging treatments in hard-to-treat populations, patients with metastatic breast cancer, and breast cancer prevention and risk. Around 8,000 breast cancer experts from 90 countries are attending the symposium to learn about the latest developments in breast cancer care and research.