The Blog

New York Times: Our feel-good war on breast cancer

i Apr 26th No Comments by

This article by Peggy Orenstein is a must-read for all of us working to raise funds and awareness for any type of cancer, not just breast cancer. You would hope that your favorite non-profit has the best intentions, but where the money goes is so important. The Woiner Foundation is dedicated to supporting research initiatives in the Pittsburgh area and we’re working directly with the doctors and researchers to make sure it’s making the biggest impact.

Here’s an excerpt:

I used to believe that a mammogram saved my life. I even wrote that in the pages of this magazine. It was 1996, and I had just turned 35 when my doctor sent me for an initial screening — a relatively common practice at the time — that would serve as a base line when I began annual mammograms at 40. I had no family history of breast cancer, no particular risk factors for the disease.

So when the radiologist found an odd, bicycle-spoke-like pattern on the film — not even a lump — and sent me for a biopsy, I wasn’t worried. After all, who got breast cancer at 35?

It turns out I did. Recalling the fear, confusion, anger and grief of that time is still painful. My only solace was that the system worked precisely as it should: the mammogram caught my tumor early, and I was treated with a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation; I was going to survive.

By coincidence, just a week after my diagnosis, a panel convened by the National Institutes of Health made headlines when it declined to recommend universal screening for women in their 40s; evidence simply didn’t show it significantly decreased breast-cancer deaths in that age group. What’s more, because of their denser breast tissue, younger women were subject to disproportionate false positives — leading to unnecessary biopsies and worry — as well as false negatives, in which cancer was missed entirely.

Those conclusions hit me like a sucker punch. “I am the person whose life is officially not worth saving,” I wrote angrily. When the American Cancer Society as well as the newer Susan G. Komen foundation rejected the panel’s findings, saying mammography was still the best tool to decrease breast-cancer mortality, friends across the country called to congratulate me as if I’d scored a personal victory. I considered myself a loud-and-proud example of the benefits of early detection.

Sixteen years later, my thinking has changed. As study after study revealed the limits of screening — and the dangers of overtreatment — a thought niggled at my consciousness. How much had my mammogram really mattered? Would the outcome have been the same had I bumped into the cancer on my own years later? It’s hard to argue with a good result. After all, I am alive and grateful to be here. But I’ve watched friends whose breast cancers were detected “early” die anyway. I’ve sweated out what blessedly turned out to be false alarms with many others.

Read the full article at

Dr. Paul Brenner: You are not your cancer

i Apr 26th No Comments by

We loved this Stand Up To Cancer blog post by Dr. Paul Brenner, and we immediately shared it with our favorite cancer fighters and survivors.  We hope you’ll take the time to read it and share it, too.  Remember, “We can never allow cancer to dominate or define who we are, as it can negatively impact us on both a physical and spiritual level.”

Here’s an excerpt:

Even when we are in the best of physical health, our minds can be filled with negative thoughts about the future and the past, obscuring the present moment. How often do you find yourself worrying about something that hasn’t even happened, or that happened long ago? Try keeping track over the course of a day. You’ll probably start losing track once you hit the hundreds.

Understandably, that negative tendency seems to get amplified tenfold when people are diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly a whole new slew of questions is introduced:

“When is my next blood marker?”

“How about my PET or MRI?” “

“What if I had eaten better?”

“Am I going to make the wedding?

“Will I live to see my grandchild?”

I am a psychosocial oncologist at the UCSD Health Systems San Diego Cancer Center, where I sit with my patients – or as I like to call them, my “patient-teachers.” One of the most important messages I can give someone in my office is you are not your cancer.

Cancer is a disease of more than the body; following a diagnosis, both patients and survivors can face myriad emotions of anxiety, sadness, and depression that can impact their health and quality of life negatively. I have been a physician for over fifty years; having had my start as an obstetrician, I came to believe that a newborn child is not only a miracle, but also love made visible. That essence continues throughout our childhood and into adulthood. Cancer should not and cannot overtake it.

We can never allow cancer to dominate or define who we are, as it can negatively impact us on both a physical and spiritual level. Fear is a product of our perceptions. If, for instance, you see a car swerving off the street to hit you on the sidewalk, you correctly perceive it as a threat. In turn, the brain produces chemicals that prepare the body to react to each given stress. This is called the “fight or flight” response. This intermittent response to an immediate fear can be lifesaving if you are, for example, about to be hit by the aforementioned car. But if stress and fear become chronic over something that may or may not happen (i.e. cancer taking over your body), it takes a toll on the body, diminishing the expression of the immune system and literally weakening your body’s ability fight back.

Read the full article at

FDA gives ‘breakthrough’ designation to Merck skin-cancer drug

i Apr 25th No Comments by

An experimental Merck & Co. (MRK) skin-cancer drug was designated as a “breakthrough therapy” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which could ease the treatment’s path to market.

The drug, lambrolizumab, showed promise in an early-stage clinical trial of people with advanced melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer, according to results released in November that formed the basis of Merck’s request for breakthrough designation. A mid-stage trial is underway to test further the drug’s efficacy and safety; it hasn’t yet been approved for marketing.

Merck hopes the FDA’s new breakthrough designation will speed the drug’s path to market, though the company couldn’t quantify how much time might be shaved off the drug’s development.

“It opens up opportunities and lines of communication with the agency for creative ways to move development forward as quickly as possible,” said Gary Gilliland, senior vice president and oncology franchise head in Merck’s research division.

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New bill would ban minors from using tanning beds in Pennsylvania

i Apr 10th No Comments by

Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon) held a press conference in Harrisburg on Monday to unveil her legislation that would safeguard young people from the dangers of ultraviolet radiation and the development of skin cancer by restricting tanning bed use for minors.

“Indoor tanning bombards the skin of its clients with DNA-altering radiation, yet it is currently unregulated in Pennsylvania,” said Swanger.  “This exposure to ultraviolet radiation is known to be particularly dangerous for teenagers, who are at greater risk of developing skin cancer from indoor and outdoor tanning.  Tanning beds are essentially cigarettes for the skin.”

House Bill 977 would require indoor tanning establishments to register with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and become licensed by the department.  It would require the department to perform an initial inspection of an indoor tanning facility, and would allow the department to re-inspect randomly, at the request of an operator or to investigate a complaint.

The legislation also would require indoor tanning facilities to post warning signs about ultraviolet radiation and its dangers, and provide a written warning to each customer.  Additionally, tanning devices would be required to meet federal standards.

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Study: Plant-based diets linked to lower risk of cancer

i Apr 3rd No Comments by

Plant-based studies link to lower risk of cancer but research has not shown that plant-only diets – vegetarian diets – lower cancer risk. But the latest study on the topic suggests that among a population known for having a healthy diet, eating a vegetarian diet may reduce overall cancer risk modestly compared to meat-eaters. The study was published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention.

For the study, researchers analyzed the eating patterns among almost 70,000 Seventh-day Adventists, a group that traditionally does not smoke or drink alcohol. Many of this religion are vegetarians or eat a plant-based diet.

When participants joined the study, which began in 2002, they answered questions on their eating habits. Participants were then classified into a dietary category, such as vegan, vegetarian, pescotarian (fish eating), and non-vegetarians. Slightly over half of the participants were vegetarians. The non-vegetarians consumed red meat, poultry and/or fish at least once per week.

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