It is truly an exciting time in cancer discovery.  Discoveries in cancer genetics, immunology, and cancer stem cells are leading us to new, personalized therapies that target the specific cells and cellular alterations that drive the cancer.  For children, this represents a huge step forward, as this new generation of treatments will not be as toxic to healthy tissue and cells, and, therefore, may spare young patients the lasting side effects that often result from cancer treatment.  These discoveries also offer new opportunities to better understand and make real progress against those pediatric cancers that do not respond to existing treatments.

Pediatric Cancer Research Advances of 2010

BREAKING NEWS – First Pediatric Cancer Genome Mapped

Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers have led the world in mapping the genetic blueprints of several common adult cancers, and now, our scientists have become the first to decipher the genetic code of a pediatric cancer. Their findings were reported in the December 16, 2010, issue of the journal Science. Using sophisticated new gene sequencing technologies, the team mapped the genetic sequence of medulloblastoma, the most common type of pediatric brain cancer. As suspected, this analysis clearly shows that genetic changes in pediatric cancers are remarkably different from adult tumors. The work revealed fewer genetic alterations than are typically found in adult tumors, and the researchers believe this may make it easier to use the findings to develop new therapies. The research also uncovered epigenetic alterations, biochemical variations that occur to the environment of genes and have the ability to turn genes on and off without mutating them, as a more significant culprit in pediatric cancer than commonly thought.  Using drugs to block the abnormal biochemical activity can return normal gene function and stop the development of cancer cells. Information like this, gained from gene sequencing technology, could potentially help our team change the course of some relentless childhood cancers. As a result, we hope to continue this work in other pediatric cancers.

Continue reading “Promise, Progress, and Hope for the Youngest Cancer Patients” »

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There are few cancers that are as tough to beat as pancreatic cancer.  When it is found, the disease has usually spread, and only about 20 percent of newly-diagnosed patients are eligible for surgery.

But if there is ever a time when there are high hopes for new ways to detect and treat it, the time is now.  Scientists at Johns Hopkins decoded the pancreatic cancer genome, revealing more clues to how the disease develops and spreads.  These same scientists sequenced the genomes of patients with pancreatic cancer and uncovered a new genetic link to one patient's cancer, setting the stage for developing ways to personalize pancreatic cancer therapies.  More recently, these scientists found that the time it takes for a pancreatic cancer to develop, grow and spread is far longer than previously thought -- around 10-20 years -- providing a window of opportunity to catch these cancers earlier and intervene with life-saving treatments.

It was this discovery of the timeline of pancreatic cancer that was mentioned at the beginning of a recent episode of the Dr. Oz Show.  Wednesday's program featured a discussion with Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee, who is working with Dr. Daniel Laheru and other colleagues at Johns Hopkins, to develop a new treatment for pancreatic cancer that uses the body's immune system to attack the disease.  With new evidence about the genetics of pancreatic cancer and rapid improvements in medical and scientific technology, these dedicated clinicians and scientists are working harder than ever to make an impact in this relentless disease.

Watch the Dr. Oz Show

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Elissa Bantug

Elissa Bantug

Five weeks into radiation, I decided that the hair on my legs had become so long that an intervention was necessary.  Going somewhere to have my legs waxed was too overwhelming in my current state, and cutting myself while shaving seemed like a small risk, as I’d internalized my doctors’ advice about the compromised nature of my immune system.  I enlisted my sister to help; although neither of us had ever done anything like this before, we decided the best thing would be an at-home waxing party…This very quickly became one of those situations where the task at hand seemed like a good idea in principle but turned out to be a very, very bad idea.  The wax was either too hot or not hot enough, we put the strips on backwards, and we had only minimal results.  Wax went everywhere; we made a huge mess; and ended up in nothing but our t-shirts in fits of hysterical laughter on the kitchen floor.  We managed to sort-of passably wax a small piece of my shin before I had to throw in the towel and retreat to my room for a nap. 

My fatigue hit an all time low towards the last week of treatment.  During this time, I had one burst of energy—a precious state of mind and body that had felt on hiatus for many weeks—and I decided that I needed to go grocery shopping. 

Continue reading “Fatigue” »

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It’s the time of year when we think about New Year’s resolutions…typical ones might include losing weight, spending more time with family, quit smoking.   But our Cancer Center nurses have given new meaning to the New Year’s theme – their recent trip to Guatemala to give their time and talents to help people build a new life, is something we can all admire.

Continue reading ““New” Resolutions” »

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The Top Ten of 10

As we look ahead to a 2011 filled with new cancer discoveries, let’s take a moment to revisit the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center’s top advances of 2010:

#1:  Personalized Cancer Medicine Becomes a Reality

World renowned investigator Bert Vogelstein, M.D., and team pioneered the science that has led to personalized therapies for cancer patients. Within the next few years all cancer patients at the Kimmel Cancer Center will have their tumors analyzed to reveal a unique genetic “fingerprint” that represents the combination of genetic and epigenetic alterations specific to their cancer.  Targeting these alterations, say the scientists, will improve treatments outcomes, thwart cancers before they develop, and speed new cancer drug discoveries.

Continue reading “The Top Ten of 10” »

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Three stories top the list of major developments in cancer research during the past month.  Listen to these topics discussed in the most recent Cancer News Review podcast

First, to treat or not to treat is the question for low-risk prostate cancer.  Whether to give aggressive treatments for low-risk cancer contained within the prostate is a controversy that many experts in the field still debate. Prostate cancer expert and Kimmel Cancer Center director William Nelson reviews a study analyzing how treatment decisions for these cancers are made and how quality of life expectations are communicated.  He says the current problem is that screening, which has helped decrease mortality from prostate cancer, has identified some men who could live their entire lives with prostate cancer but die of other causes.  He believes there are certain groups of men who should consider active surveillance programs to carefully monitor low-risk, organ-confined prostate cancer.

Continue reading “Cancer News Review: Top Stories” »

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I got into this business 25 years ago, when my husband was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease.  I was a newlywed, and at 22-years-old, I faced the prospect of being a widow.  The evening we learned the shocking news, I remember leaving the hospital to return home. I was numb with fear.  I went into our bedroom and picked up the T-shirt he had casually dropped on the bed before we left for what we believed would be a brief doctor’s visit.  I didn’t expect to be returning to our home alone. I pressed the shirt to my face and breathed in his scent and sobbed uncontrollably.

Continue reading “Getting Personal About Personalized Cancer Medicine” »

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Louise Knight

Louise Knight, MSW, LCSW-C, OSW-C

You may be confused by the list of letters after the word Medicare.  A, B, C, D...  Who can keep them straight?  There is a web page that can give the answers.  It is www.medicare.gov

Let's Talk D:  Let me give you the important Medicare D news for 2011.    I am going to start with the letter D and the reason is:  the deadline to apply ends soon.

Continue reading “Medicare, The A,B,C,D’s…Let’s Talk D” »

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What makes an outstanding cancer center?  How can patients and referring physicians determine which is best? 

Continue reading “7 Tips on Top Cancer Centers” »

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In Kimmel Cancer Center director Bill Nelson's podcast, top stories included studies on pancreatic, colon and kidney cancer.

Continue reading “Top Cancer Research News: November” »

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