Cancer Treatment Gift Guide

 

Want to do something for a loved one who’s undergoing chemotherapy but don’t know what to do, what to get, or even what to say? I recently struggled with these questions when a friend who lives out of state told me she has cancer and has been on chemo for the last few months. This is just the beginning for her, as she has multiple surgeries scheduled for when she recovers from the infusions.

I chose get well gifts tailored to combat the effects of chemo and make her more comfortable during the treatment. Since my friend has surgeries after chemo, I hoped some of the items could help in her recovery as well.

Gift ideas:

Robe and slippers – To wear when feeling sick after chemo or surgery. Robes with pockets can hold drains if the patient will have them.

Ginger candies or butterscotch – Both help combat dry mouth as well as the metallic taste chemo leaves in the mouth.

Peppermint tea, nausea drops or queasy pops – Most people are nauseous during and after chemotherapy.

Head scarves, beanies, hat – This one is obvious, but when chemo patients lose their hair, they are frequently cold. A pashmina wrap can double as a headscarf or shoulder wrap.

Ways to pass the time – Treatments can take up to 8 hours and can be very boring sitting in the same room for that long. Items like magazines, audiobooks, crosswords or playing cards can help pass the time and distract the patient. If the person is crafty or hands-on, think about an embroidery kit, knitting supplies or an adult coloring book with markers or colored pencils.

Notebooks and notepads – Many patients get “chemo brain” (see article about that here) and their memories are foggy and they become forgetful. Writing things down will help them remember and give them more control over their daily lives.

Eye mask, earplugs, neck pillow, blanket, socks, slippers – Feel comfortable and for naps in the chemo chair and block out other patients who make them uncomfortable (i.e. snorers).

Unscented lotions – Chemo can lead to dry and itchy skin. Choose unscented lotions and creams, as patients can be sensitive to smells.

What are your thoughts on gifts for cancer patients? We’d love to hear your ideas, so feel free to leave them in the comments section.

What is Chemo Brain?

Photo credit: iStock.com

Photo credit: iStock.com

What Is Chemo Brain?

Chemotherapy can help you beat cancer, but side effects are almost certain. It’s common for you to have a cloudy mind, called “chemo brain,” during and after treatment. Maybe you have a hard time remembering names or can’t multitask as well as you used to.

As many as 3 out of 4 people with cancer say they’re not as mentally sharp. It’s often caused by chemotherapy medicines, but it can come from the cancer itself or other problems like infection, low blood counts, fatigue, sleep problems, or stress.

Symptoms

Chemo brain can cause thinking and memory problems. Symptoms include trouble with:

  • Concentrating and paying attention
  • Remembering names, dates, and everyday things
  • Finding the right word or doing simple math (like balancing your checkbook)
  • Doing more than one thing at a time
  • Mood swings

Diagnosis

If you’re in a mental fog, talk to your doctor. They will ask about your symptoms and will also want to know when your problems started and how they affect your everyday life.

Your doctor may ask what makes your symptoms worse and better. Do you, for example, feel better in the morning than at night? Does it help when you’re active, when you eat, or after you’ve rested?

Bring a list of all the medicines you take, even if they aren’t for cancer.

Treatment

If chemo brain is disrupting your daily life, your doctor may suggest a counselor or psychologist. There are other things that can help too, including:

  • Some stimulants and antidepressants
  • Exercise — even 5 minutes a day
  • Plenty of sleep and rest
  • Exercising your brain with puzzles, playing an instrument, or learning a new hobby

Memory Aids

Simple strategies can help with memory loss and confusion. Try these tips:

  • Carry a daily to-do list with reminders.
  • Don’t multitask. Do one thing at a time so you’re not distracted.
  • Put sticky notes around your home and office. Set reminders on your smartphone, too.

How Long Does It Last?

Often, the fogginess will fade when your chemo ends. But for some people, the fuzzy feelings will linger for several months or sometimes a year or more.

If you still have chemo brain a year after chemotherapy and you’ve tried all the self-help tips, talk with a neuropsychologist. This is a doctor who specializes in the brain and can help with attention span and memory. He will find areas where you need help and tell you if other treatable problems like depression, anxiety, and fatigue are to blame.

Remember, It’s Real

You’re not just imagining this. Studies show that cancer and its treatment causes changes in the brain. What you’re going through is normal.

Don’t be afraid to ask your family and friends for support and gentle reminders. Support groups are another great idea.

Article reposted from WebMD.com

Light scattering spectroscopy helps doctors identify early pancreatic cancer

Image from WebMD

Image from WebMD

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate among all major cancers, largely because physicians lack diagnostic tools to detect the disease in its early, treatable stages. Now, a team of investigators led by Lev T. Perelman, PhD, Director of the Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging and Photonics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), has developed a promising new tool capable of distinguishing between harmless pancreatic cysts and those with malignant potential with an overall accuracy of 95 percent. The team’s preliminary data was published online in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

The new device uses light scattering spectroscopy (LSS) to detect the structural changes that occur in cancerous or pre-cancerous cells by bouncing light off tissues and analyzing the reflected spectrum. The results could help guide physicians’ decision making when considering whether the presence of pancreatic cysts requires surgery, a high-risk procedure. Today, because of the lack of less-invasive diagnostic methods, more than half of these procedures turn out to have been unnecessary.

“About one-fifth of pancreatic cancers develop from cysts, but not all lesions are cancerous,” said Perelman, who is also Professor of Medicine and Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School. “Considering the high risk of pancreatic surgeries and the even higher mortality from untreated pancreatic cancers, there’s an obvious need for new diagnostic methods to accurately identify the pancreatic cysts that need surgical intervention and those that do not.”

In Perelman and colleagues’ series of experiments, the LSS technique achieved 95 percent accuracy for identifying malignancy. Cytology — the only pre-operative test currently availably — is accurate only 58 percent of the time. While the new technique requires further testing, LSS could represent a major advance against pancreatic cancer.

“This tool is a technology that is transformative in the evaluation of pancreatic cysts,” said co-lead author Douglas K. Pleskow, MD, Clinical Chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Director of the Colon and Rectal Cancer Program at the Cancer Center at BIDMC. “It provides a high level of precision in the detection of potential malignant transformation of these cysts.”

Pancreatic cysts are common, and today’s high-definition scanning technologies like MRI and CT imaging are detecting them with increasing frequency. Despite their high resolution, these scanners provide doctors with limited information about cysts’ malignant potential.

Currently, physicians rely on minimally-invasive fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsies to test pancreatic cysts for malignancy. The biopsy removes fluid from the cysts, which is then analyzed for cancer cells and other telltale signs of the disease, a process called cytology. However, the test fails to detect cancer about half the time, leaving high-risk surgery as the current gold-standard means of diagnosing pancreatic cysts.

To test the accuracy of the LSS system, Perelman and colleagues collected and analyzed the reflected light from 13 cysts taken from recent surgeries. Next, they compared their findings with the results from pre-operative imaging, FNA biopsies and post-operative tissues analysis. In all cases, the LSS diagnosis agreed with the post-operative analysis.

In a second experiment, the LSS tool was tested in 14 patients with pancreatic cysts who were undergoing the standard FNA biopsy. Measuring less than half a millimeter in diameter, the miniature experimental LSS fiber-optic probe was inserted in the FNA needle. Physicians spent two minutes or less measuring optical spectra from the internal cyst surface before collecting fluid from the cysts as part of the traditional biopsy. Out of nine patients whose cysts had been definitely diagnosed as either cancerous or benign, all were correctly identified by LSS.

Next, the researchers will assess the LSS system’s accuracy by continuing to analyze post-operative tissues as they become available.

Article from Science Daily, Story source: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Acute pancreatitis may reveal pancreatic cancer at earlier stage

Surgical intervention after 24.5 days of acute pancreatitis may be beneficial for reducing postoperative complications.

Surgical intervention after 24.5 days of acute pancreatitis may be beneficial for reducing postoperative complications.

Acute pancreatitis may be an indicator for pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage, according to a study published in Medicine.

Shaojun Li, M Med, and Bole Tian, PhD, from the West China Hospital in Sichuan, China, identified 47 consecutive patients with  pancreatic cancer who presented with acute pancreatitis between January 2009 and November 2016. Of the patients, 35 (74.5%) were men with a mean age of 52 years. Clinical features, clinicopathologic variables, postoperative complications, and follow-up evaluations of patients were recorded from the database.

Clinical features of acute pancreatitis include abdominal pain, jaundice, and weight loss. The timing of surgery was identified by receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve. Preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative parameters were collected to determine operative timing of surgical intervention. Survival curves were plotted using the Kaplan—Meier method, and survival data were analyzed using the log-rank test.

Of the 47 patients included, acute pancreatitis was clinically mild in 45 (95.7%) and severe in 2 (4.3%). Radical surgery was performed in 32 (68.1%) of cases, palliative surgery in 7 (14.9%), and biopsies in 8 (17.0%). A total of 2 (8.0%) patients were needed for vascular resection and reconstruction. The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer occurred at a median of 101 days, and 27 (57.4%) patients were diagnosed in less than 2 months after acute pancreatitis diagnosis.

The timing of surgery was calculated from the date of the first attack of acute pancreatitis to the surgery. The best cutoff point was 24.5 days according to the ROC curve. A total of 25 (64.1%) patients received surgery at or before 24.5 days from diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Postoperative complications occurred in 12 (30.8%) patients. The median follow-up for patients was 24 months with a patient survival rate at 1 year of 23.4%. The median survival in patients with vascular resection and reconstruction was 18 months, compared with 10 months in patients without vascular resection.

According to the authors, “this retrospective study supports the assumption that acute pancreatitis is the early presenting clinical symptom of pancreatic cancer.”

By Madeline Moore at Clinical Advisor

Dr. Oliver McDonald, of NMF’s Medical Board, Publishes New Study

Oliver McDonald, M.D., Ph.D., Kimberly Stauffer, left, Anna Word and colleagues are studying how metastatic pancreatic cancer changes its metabolism to become more malignant. (photo by Joe Howell)

Oliver McDonald, M.D., Ph.D., Kimberly Stauffer, left, Anna Word and colleagues are studying how metastatic pancreatic cancer changes its metabolism to become more malignant. (photo by Joe Howell)

Metastatic pancreatic cancer — cancer that has spread from the pancreas to other tissues and is responsible for most patient deaths — changes its metabolism and is “reprogrammed” for optimal malignancy, according to new findings reported Jan. 16 in Nature Genetics.

It may be possible to reverse the malignant reprogramming to treat metastatic pancreatic cancer, said Oliver McDonald, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at Vanderbilt, and lead author of the study.

The researchers have identified a compound that reverses the reprogramming and prevents tumor formation in model systems.

“We are not aware of other agents that selectively act on aggressive, distant metastatic disease, so this was a huge surprise to us,” McDonald said. “We’re very excited about developing more selective compounds for pre-clinical studies.”

McDonald and close collaborators from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine sought to understand how pancreatic cancer progresses from a primary tumor in the pancreas to metastatic disease in distant tissues.

The prevailing theory of cancer progression — that it’s driven by the accumulation of genetic mutations that increase tumorigenic “fitness” — holds true for the early stages of cancer progression, but metastases seem to find new ways to increase their fitness, McDonald said.

“Intensive DNA sequencing efforts to find the genetic ‘drivers’ of metastasis, which is what kills patients in up to 80 percent of cases, have thus far been disappointing, to say the least,” he said.

Instead of looking for genetic changes during cancer progression, McDonald and his colleagues examined epigenetics — modifications of chromosomal DNA and proteins that control gene function.

“Epigenetics can be thought of as the software that programs function into the DNA hardware,” McDonald said.

The researchers studied a unique set of matched primary and metastatic pancreatic cancer samples collected (by rapid autopsy) from patients who died from aggressive, widely metastatic disease.

Christine Iacobuzio-Donahue, M.D., Ph.D., now at Memorial Sloan Kettering, began collecting the patient samples and studying the primary and metastatic tumors when she was a faculty member at Johns Hopkins.

She and her colleagues sequenced genomic DNA in the tumor samples but did not find any new driver gene mutations in the metastatic samples compared to the primary tumor samples, said McDonald, who completed clinical training under Iacobuzio-Donahue at Johns Hopkins.

After moving to Vanderbilt, McDonald continued working with Iacobuzio-Donahue and Andrew Feinberg, M.D., MPH, who is also at Johns Hopkins and is a recognized pioneer in the field of cancer epigenetics.

“It was an incredibly productive collaboration that brought together Chris’s genetics expertise and amazing patient samples, Andy’s expertise and world-class sequencing facilities, and our experimental work and data analysis at Vanderbilt,” McDonald said.

The researchers were surprised to find massive epigenetic changes across the genome of distant metastases (those resulting from spread of cancer cells through the bloodstream), compared to matched primary tumor cells and peritoneal “carcinomatosis,” a localized form of intra-abdominal metastasis that is not thought to spread through the bloodstream.

The genome-wide epigenetic changes clustered in certain chromatin domains and controlled “gene expression changes that specify different malignant traits, including the ability to form tumors,” McDonald said. “Much of the epigenome gets reprogrammed right at the point of metastasis.”

To further explore the reprogramming, McDonald performed metabolic studies on the samples, with collaborators at Duke University. By painstakingly analyzing long lists of metabolites, McDonald and Vanderbilt undergraduate student Anna Word discovered that distant metastases altered their metabolism by consuming excess amounts of glucose and directing it through the pentose phosphate metabolic pathway. A particular enzyme in the pathway — phosphogluconate dehydrogenase (PGD) – turned out to be key, enabling the conversion of glucose to metabolites that “can directly fuel tumor growth,” McDonald said.

The researchers demonstrated that blocking the PGD enzyme genetically or with a pharmacologic inhibitor reversed the epigenetic reprogramming and malignant gene expression changes detected in distant metastases, and also strongly inhibited their tumor-forming capacity, with no effect on normal cells or peritoneal pancreatic cancer controls. Kimberly Stauffer, a graduate student at Vanderbilt, played an important role in uncovering the inhibitor effects.

The findings may help explain a clinical enigma — the observation that metastatic tumors often seem to progress very rapidly compared to primary tumors.

The current research suggests that pancreatic cancer cells that spread to organs that receive a blood supply rich in glucose and other nutrients, such as the liver and lungs, acquire metabolic adaptations to use these “natural resources” to increase their tumorigenic fitness.

“Our laboratory findings on Chris’s autopsy patient samples suggest that metastatic cells in these patients evolved an incredibly aggressive combination of metabolic, epigenetic and gene expression changes that allowed them to form numerous tumors in a short amount of time,” McDonald said. “However, if you hit the PGD enzyme, at least in the experimental setting, then you block their ability to do that.”

McDonald is working with medicinal chemists at Vanderbilt to develop more selective and potent PGD inhibitors for testing in animal models, with the ultimate goal of moving these inhibitors into clinical trials for pancreatic cancer patients.

This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (CA038548, CA140599, CA179991, CA180682), and by the AACR Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Vanderbilt GI SPORE and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

by Leigh MacMillan for Vanderbilt University Research News | Jan. 19, 2017

Nutrition’s Role In Managing Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

imagesDecember 12, 2016

Nutrition, though often overlooked, plays a key role in mitigating the symptom burden of patients with pancreatic cancer. 

When diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one of the last things on a patient’s mind may be diet and nutrition, yet these are two key components that medical experts say can affect the outcome of treatment.

Patients with pancreatic cancer often experience weight loss, loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, as well as back and belly pain. The cancer itself plays a large role in preventing patients from having a normal diet and nutrition.

During a live broadcast of CURE Connections, held during the Seventh Annual Ruesch Center Symposium: Fighting a Smarter War on Cancer on Dec. 3 in Washington, D.C., a panel that included an oncologist, a nurse, an oncology dietitian and a patient advocate discussed the importance of nutrition when trying to manage a long list of symptoms.

“These cancers are well-known to release hormones that we don’t fully understand that rob a patient of their appetite,” said Michael Pishvaian, M.D., director, Phase 1 Clinical Trials Program, Division of Hematology/Oncology, Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. “It makes them feel like they don’t want to eat or drink anything. It robs them of their calories even if they are very conscientious about getting enough nutrition in. It can even cause changes to taste, so a patient with pancreatic cancer will often complain about an abnormal taste sensation long before they even start chemotherapy.”

Pishvaian explained that the pancreas creates digestive enzymes that help digest food properly. When the cancer invades the pancreas, this disrupts proper digestion. The lack of digestion also leads to bacterial overgrowth lower down into the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and can cause a lot of discomfort, gassiness, bloating and diarrhea, he added.

There are ways to try to manage these symptoms before, during and after the cancer journey. The panel recommended patients make it a priority to meet with a dietician one-on-one. Some cancer centers already have a dietician in place.

“Often pancreatic cancer patients will undergo a surgery called a Whipple Procedure (pancreaticoduodenectomy), which can impair a patient’s ability to digest certain foods like fats, carbohydrates and proteins – particularly in fats,” said Rachel Wong, R.D., oncology dietician, Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

She added, that this is where digestive enzymes, which help break down fats, proteins and carbohydrates, should be consumed with meals and snacks.

Patients should consume energy-dense nutritious foods such as quinoa, oatmeal and avocado, which all have healthy fats. As far as sugars go, they should continue to eat fruits, but stay away from simple sugars like candy bars.

It is also recommended that patients with pancreatic cancer eat small, frequent meals, eat slowly and also keep a diary of everything they are eating and drinking each day.

Patricia Reilly, a holistic health counselor, nutrition expert and patient advocate, says the best way a caregiver can be there for a loved one with pancreatic cancer is to help with nutrition. She became that person for her husband, who had pancreatic cancer.

“We recognized that he wanted to feel good every day. As a caregiver, I looked at the foods,” Reilly said. “I want my doctor to know about those clinical trials. I want him to be on top of that and let me create a team to support my husband in terms of what he’s eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner, again looking for nutrient-dense foods that will support him to be stronger so he will get to that clinical trial.”

The panel also opened up the discussion on marijuana and if there is a benefit there for patients with pancreatic cancer, which they agreed there is.

“We are seeing that their appetite goes up, their sense of well-being is greater and their pain levels are reduced,” said Pishvaian. “It is not a treatment for their cancer, but universally makes them feel better. Try things, see what works and stick with it.”

By Katie Kosko for Curetoday.com

Coping with Cancer During the Holidays

1419370395896Holidays are traditionally viewed as a time to celebrate. Many people enjoy reuniting with family and friends, giving and receiving gifts, and celebrating religious traditions during this time. However, sometimes people with cancer and their loved ones feel “out of step” from the rest of the world during the holidays. In fact, the holiday season can prompt new questions, such as: How do I take care of the holiday rush and myself at the same time? How can I celebrate when I have so many other things on my mind? What will my life be like next year? Sharing these concerns with the people you love and who love you can help you feel more connected.

Here are some additional tips for coping with cancer during the holidays:

Make plans to get together with friends, family or co-workers over the holidays. Trying to celebrate alone can be very difficult, so accept some invitations from others, or join an organized group activity through your local YMCA, YWCA, church or synagogue. Find the right balance between celebrating with family and friends and spending the time you may need on your own. Give yourself permission to pace your activities and to decline an invitation or two so that you have the energy to enjoy the gatherings that are most important to you.

Create a new holiday season tradition that makes the most of your energy.Change your usual holiday activities so you relieve yourself of some of the pressures of entertaining. Have a “pot luck,” with family members each bringing a dish for the meal, have someone else host the meal, or suggest eating out at a favorite restaurant.

Enjoy special moments. Try to focus on new traditions that have been established, rather than dwelling on how cancer has changed a holiday or special occasion.

Talk to your health care team about upcoming special events. They may be flexible about appointments in order to accommodate travel or other needs.

Be an innovative shopper or gift giver. Use mail order catalogues, shop over the telephone, or try online shopping this year. You can also make a gift of sharing your thoughts and feelings. Write a short note or make a phone call to let others know that you are thinking about them.

Express your feelings in ways that help you receive the support of the important people in your life. Tears can bring a sense of relief. Laughter can be relaxing. Sharing can be comforting. It is common to experience a mixture of anticipation, excitement and apprehension about the future. Let your feelings breathe, and talk them over with a loved one, friend or professional counselor.

Celebrate strengths you and your loved ones have developed. Many families who face the day-to-day challenges of cancer discover strengths and courage they didn’t know they had. Reflect on the strengths you have developed, and build on them during the holidays.

Article reposted from cancercare.org

Weight loss: When cancer immunotherapies are rendered ineffective

A pair of female feet standing on a bathroom scale

Nov 10, 2016

According to a new study, a weight loss condition that affects cancer patients could make immunotherapy ineffective. It explains why the approach of boosting a patient’s immune system to treat the disease fails in a lot of people.

Cancer immunotherapies involve activating a patient’s immune cells to recognize and destroy cancer cells. They have shown great promise in some cancers, but so far have only been effective in a minority of patients with cancer. The reasons behind these limitations are not clear.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have found evidence that the mechanism behind a weight loss condition which affects patients with cancer could also be making immunotherapies ineffective. The condition, known as cancer cachexia, causes loss of appetite, weight loss and wasting in most patients with cancer towards the end of their lives.

However, cachexia often starts to affect patients with certain cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, much earlier in the course of their disease. Scientists found that that even at the early stages of cancer development in mice, before cachexia is apparent, a protein released by the cancer changes the way the body, in particular the liver, processes its own nutrient stores.

“The consequences of this alteration are revealed at times of reduced food intake, where this messaging protein renders the liver incapable of generating sources of energy that the rest of the body can use,” said Thomas Flint, from the University of Cambridge’s School of Clinical Medicine.

“This inability to generate energy sources triggers a second messaging process in the body — a hormonal response — that suppresses the immune cell reaction to cancers, and causes failure of anti-cancer immunotherapies,” Flint said. “Cancer immunotherapy might completely transform how we treat cancer in the future — if we can make it work for more patients,” said Tobias Janowitz, from University of Cambridge.

“Our work suggests that a combination therapy that either involves correction of the metabolic abnormalities, or that targets the resulting hormonal response, may protect the patient’s immune system and help make effective immunotherapy a reality for more patients,” said Janowitz. “If the phenomenon that we have described helps us to divide patients into likely responders and non-responders to immunotherapy, then we can use those findings in early stage clinical trials to get better information on the use of new immunotherapies,” said Duncan Jodrell, from the Cambridge Cancer Centre.

“Understanding the complicated biological processes at the heart of cancer is crucial for tackling the disease — and this study sheds light on why many cancer patients suffer from both loss of weight and appetite, and how their immune systems are affected by this process,” said Nell Barrie, from Cancer Research UK.

The research was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Thanksgiving Meals for patients and their families

l-ncjbmzrwlnsfcfjz-copyBeing from Texas, Nikki chose to go home for Christmas and stay in Nashville for Thanksgiving. She started a tradition for her friends with a home cooked meal for “Friendsgiving”. It was one of her favorite things to do and her friends who had family out of town had a warm, inviting place to go. Having pancreatic cancer, going to treatments and feeling sick didn’t stop her from this tradition. She made sure there was a Friendsgiving meal for everyone.

This year we are doing the same thing for cancer patients –  Nikki’s foundation is providing a “Friendsgiving Meal” for PC patients and those living with them. NMF is asking you to donate to the Bridge of Wings program. In addition to helping cancer patients with their daily living expenses, we’re providing holiday meals for them and their families.

MATCHING DONATIONS – A loyal supporter of NMF who has been impacted by pancreatic cancer has pledged to match donations up to $2500! 

To donate to our Bridge of Wings program for Thanksgiving meals, click here and to learn more about BOW, check it out here.