Cancer and Collaboration

Levy_MiaOne of the bedrocks of our organization is encouraging collaboration between scientists and institutions. We feel strongly that we will find a cure faster when great minds work together. That is why we are so excited about this news from our partners at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, who have joined an international consortium of leading cancer centers to share genomic data from patients in an effort to accelerate the pace of cancer research and improve precision medicine.

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) launched the AACR Project Genomics Evidence Neoplasia Information Exchange (GENIE) to facilitate data sharing among major cancer centers and researchers.

VICC’s participation in AACR Project GENIE has been spearheaded by Mia Levy, M.D., Ph.D., Ingram Assistant Professor of Cancer Research and director of Cancer Health Informatics and Strategy, pictured here.

“As physicians we are all generating massive amounts of data about patients and the genetic mutations in their tumors, along with patient response to medications and other treatments. But much of that data is kept in silos and has not been shared. AACR Project GENIE is one of the first efforts to make some of this data available for cancer researchers so that we can accelerate the pace of discovery,” Levy said.

Click here to read more.

Helping Cancer Patients Through Psycho-Oncology, by CEO Laura Heatherly

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAQvAAAAJDc2Nzc3ZWRmLWFjZTItNDRhNS1hYmUxLWE0YWMxOTg1YWE2ZgRecently in the New York Times, I read an article written by Susan Gubar regarding her bout with cancer and dealing with occupational therapy.  Basically, after eight years of physical therapy, she felt that she had not received any professional assistance for many of the issues that come with being diagnosed with cancer such as fear, weakness, fatigue, insomnia, etc.

Each year 12.7 million people discover they have cancer which is one of the most mysterious and terrifying diseases in our lifetime.  Thanks to research, scientists work round the clock to find new discoveries that will turn into clinical trials and new drug discoveries that will save lives.  However, patients are living daily with fear – the fear of dying, fear of coping with the disease while taking care of their families, fear of the unknown and more.

Thanks to Dr. Jimmie C. Holland who is the Wayne E. Chapman Chair in Psychiatric Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, she pioneered ways in which counseling, psychosocial interventions, and medications can reduce the distress experienced by cancer patients and their families.  As a psychiatrist for more than 30 years, Dr. Holland has devoted her career to helping patients, their families, and medical staff as they cope with the psychological burden of cancer and its treatment.

The T.J. Martell Foundation has been supporting psychiatric oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for many years and has navigated patients to getting the help they need to be able to deal with their disease.  Our goal is to create positive energy in hopes that patients can overcome their fear and anxiety and tackle their disease.

Believe me, Dr. Jimmie Holland is a pioneer – she is from my home state of Texas and she is one of the best people that I know who are helping to change the world in the way we deal with cancer .

We are Proud of our Commitment to Excellence

BlogThe T.J. Martell Foundation has contributed to many scientific achievements in leukemia, cancer and AIDS research over the past forty years. We are also focused on funding the brightest minds that will be the leaders in scientific research of tomorrow.

To read more about the life-saving research we are funding with your support, please click here.

New Blood Test Shows Promise in Cancer Fight

In the usual cancer biopsy, a surgeon cuts out a piece of the patient’s tumor, but researchers in labs across the country are now testing a potentially transformative innovation. They call it the liquid biopsy, and it is a blood test that has only recently become feasible with the latest exquisitely sensitive techniques. It is showing promise in finding tiny snippets of cancer DNA in a patient’s blood.

“Liquid biopsies offer real promise. Sometimes even the tissue biopsy obtained by the surgeon can fail to show the mutation which will predict that a patient will have a good response to a targeted agent. Indeed, liquid biopsies may allow oncologists to predict the emergence of drug resistance even before a tumor grows on x-rays. A formidable new technology,” says Dr. Gregory Curt, Chairman of the T.J. Martell Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee.

For the full article in The New York Times, please click here.

HPV-Positive Head and Neck Cancer Patients May be Safely Treated with Lower Radiation Dose

A new study suggests that lowering the dose of radiation therapy for some head and neck cancer patients may improve outcomes and cause fewer long-term side effects.

The research was presented by lead author Anthony Cmelak, M.D., professor of Radiation Oncology at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC), during the 50th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), held recently in Chicago.

The study focused on patients with newly-diagnosed oropharyngeal cancers related to the human papilloma virus (HPV). More than two-thirds of new head and neck cancer patients have HPV-positive tumors and the number of these patients is on the rise. Cmelak’s prior cooperative group study found that patients with HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer have significantly longer survival rates than patients whose tumors are HPV negative.

For the new study, 80 HPV-positive patients with stage III, or IVa,b squamous cell cancer of the oropharynx received induction chemotherapy, including paclitaxel, cisplatin and cetuximab.

After chemotherapy, 62 of the patients showed no sign of cancer and were assigned to receive a 25 percent lower dose of intensity-modulated radiation therapy – an advanced technology that targets the radiation beam more accurately to treat the tumor without harming surrounding tissue. The rest of the patients received a standard IMRT dose. The drug cetuximab was also given to both groups of patients along with the IMRT treatment.

Two years after treatment, the survival for the low-dose IMRT patients was 93 percent.  Those who did not have complete resolution of cancer following induction and went on to get full-dose radiation had an 87 percent two-year survival. Eighty percent of the low-dose patients and 65 percent of standard IMRT patients also showed no evidence of tumor recurrence.  Ninety-six percent of those who had minimal or no smoking history had no evidence of tumor recurrence after two years following treatment, and long-term side effects were minimal.

The investigators concluded that patients with HPV-positive cancer who had excellent responses to induction chemotherapy followed by a reduced dose IMRT and cetuximab experienced high rates of tumor control and very low side effects particularly for those with a minimal smoking history.

Treating tumors in the delicate head and neck region often causes side effects that can be troublesome and long-lasting, including difficulty swallowing, speech impairment, dry mouth, problems with taste and thyroid issues, so any therapy option that reduces these side effects can have an impact on patient quality of life.

“Treatment for head and neck cancer can be quite grueling, so it’s very encouraging to see we can safely dial back treatment for patients with less aggressive disease and an overall good prognosis, particularly for young patients who have many years to deal with long-term side effects,” said Cmelak.

He noted that lower-dose IMRT is not recommended for patients with HPV-negative cancer or larger tumors.

The authors note that further studies of reduced-dose IMRT in HPV-positive patients are warranted.

Other investigators include Jill Gilbert, M.D., VICC; Shuli Li, Ph.D., Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts; Shanthi Marur, M.D., William Westra, M.D., Christine Chung, M.D., The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland;  Weiqiang Zhao, M.D., Ph.D., Maura Gillison, M.D., Ph.D., The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; Julie Bauman, M.D., Robert Ferris, M.D., University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute; Lynne Wagner, Ph.D., Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois; David Trevarthen, M.D., Colorado Cancer Research Program, Denver;  A. Demetrios Colevas, M.D., Stanford University, California; Balkrishna Jahagirdar, M.D., HealthPartners and Regions Cancer Care Center, St. Paul, Minnesota;  Barbara Burtness, M.D., Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Funding was provided by The National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health (CDR0000665170).

 

Monday, April 7th is World Health Day

Dr. Margaret Cuomo is the author of “A World Without Cancer: The Making of a New Cure and the Real Promise of Prevention.”

World Health Day, April 7th, is a great opportunity to focus our attention on what should be an American priority: cancer prevention.

Scientific evidence tells us that over 50 percent of all cancers are preventable by applying what we know right now. Attention to diet, exercise, avoiding alcohol, protecting our skin from the sun, managing stress and, of course, ending smoking all contribute to significantly reduce cancer risk. These are the “broad strokes” of cancer prevention. The devil is in the details, and people need to know which foods, what kind of exercise, how to manage stress, etc. There are highly-effective strategies to prevent cancer, but we need to learn them. We should be teaching our children about the kinds of foods that reduce cancer risk and encouraging them to stay physically active to prevent cancer and other diseases. Anti-smoking education should focus on the young as well as adults, emphasizing that “It’s not cool to smoke, because there’s nothing cool about cancer.”

Learning that whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables can help prevent many cancers, including cancers of the prostate, breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, lung, colon, kidney, pancreas, thyroid, gallbladder, and probably other cancer types is a powerful lesson that can have a significant impact on children’s lives. In many cases, children who have been taught about cancer-preventing strategies can become the role models and teachers for their parents.

Our fruits, vegetables and grains should be free of harmful pesticides that promote cancer. Our cattle, poultry and fish should not be exposed to antibiotics or hormones that will be harmful to their human consumers. Our personal care products, such as shampoo and deodorant and toothpaste; cosmetics, such as lipstick, mascara and eyeliner; and our household cleaning products should be free of chemicals that disrupt our hormones, and increase our cancer risk.

The scientific and medical community, including the World Health Organization and the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Reproductive Society, are speaking out against the harmful chemicals in our environment.

In a joint Committee Opinion issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in September 2013, obstetricians and gynecologists were urged to advocate for government policy changes to identify and reduce exposure to toxic environmental agents.

Among the reproductive and health problems associated with exposure to these toxic chemicals, these powerful medical groups listed childhood cancers, miscarriage and stillbirth impaired fetal growth and low birth weight, preterm birth, birth defects, cognitive/intellectual impairment and thyroid problems.

In 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel issued a scathing report entitled, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” in which it stated: “The true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.”

It takes a village to support cancer prevention. Government and the industries producing our food, personal care products and cosmetics, household and industrial cleaning products, fertilizers and pesticides should be partners in the effort to ensure that our food is pure and healthful, and that the products used on our bodies and our farms, in our homes, schools and businesses aren’t cancer-causing. Less Cancer, a not-for-profit organization founded by Bill Couzens, seeks to educate individuals and raise awareness that results in the protection of human health, the environment, and our economy. Less Cancer’s work on health and the environment spans a wide range of issues, including specific contaminants, pollution sources and also healthy lifestyle choices, such as diet, exercise, and smoking cessation. While we work to protect all communities, our approach is particularly relevant to at-risk populations, such as children, low-income communities, and workers. Less Cancer’s ultimate goal is to reduce incidences of diagnosed cancer in all people. As a Less Cancer board member, I am honored to be a part of this vital mission.

A World Without Cancer, the book I wrote in 2012, is my personal journey with cancer as a doctor, a diagnostic radiologist and experiencing cancer’s horrific effects on my patients, friends, and family. The good news is that cancer is not an inevitability for us. Whether we are adults or children, members of the media or medical community, government, industry or cancer advocacy group, we can all contribute to a healthier environment, a stronger, more vibrant society, and ultimately, to a world without cancer. If we fully dedicate ourselves to the prevention of cancer, this impossible dream will become a reality.

Margaret I. Cuomo, M.D., is a board-certified radiologist and served as an attending physician in diagnostic radiology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. for many years. Specializing in body imaging, involving CT, Ultrasound, MRI and interventional procedures, much of her practice was dedicated to the diagnosis of cancer and AIDS. She is the daughter of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and Mrs. Matilda Cuomo and sister to Governor Andrew Cuomo and ABC’s Chris Cuomo. She resides in New York. Cuomo’s book, A World Without Cancer, was published October 2012 by Rodale.

A World Without Cancer – Guest Post

Dr. Margaret Cuomo is the author of “A World Without Cancer: The Making of a New Cure and the Real Promise of Prevention;” she is a board-certified radiologist who served as an attending physician in diagnostic radiology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. for many years. She was the keynote speaker at the T.J. Martell Foundation’s inaugural Women of Influence Awards at Riverpark in New York City.

We are honored to share her perspective here on Angelina Jolie’s courageous decision regarding the discovery of her BRCA1 genetic mutation and subsequent bilateral (aka “double”) mastectomy, as well as the implications for the cancer community.

Dr. Margaret Cuomo is the author of “A World Without Cancer: The Making of a New Cure and the Real Promise of Prevention.”

Angelina Jolie has my admiration for her courage in publicly describing her decision to undergo a bilateral (aka “double”) mastectomy. Her BRCA1 genetic mutation significantly increases her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

According to Jolie’s New York Times op-ed piece, her doctors estimated that she has an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. Women who have inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations account for 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers and 10 to 15 percent of ovarian cancers (for white women) in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Knowing that her own mother died at the age of 56 following her battle with cancer, Angelina Jolie, the mother of six children, decided to be pro-active, and decided to sharply reduce her risk of breast cancer by undergoing the mastectomy.

The question that I hope many women are asking is: “Is this the best that we can do in the 21st century?” After 41 years and more than 90 billion dollars spent since the War on Cancer was declared, we should expect more effective and less invasive solutions to reducing breast cancer, and all cancers.

Are the National Cancer Institute and the pharmaceutical industry committing enough of their intellectual and financial resources to the discovery of safe, new ways of detecting breast cancer and ovarian cancer in their earliest stages?  If a patient has a BRCA1 or BRACA2 mutation, are there techniques available to “turn-off” the faulty genes?

Is there a sense of urgency about finding new tests to detect breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and other cancers, that do not involve radiation – a known carcinogen?

The prevention of cancer should be our ultimate goal and it should have the full benefit of the National Cancer Institute’s and industry’s vast resources.

Our children are our future, and we should expect that their generation will prevent cancer without the traumatic solution that Angelina Jolie felt obliged to accept.

How Do You Thank Someone Who’s Saved a Life?

At the T.J. Martell Foundation, we are proud to fund a group of truly excellent research doctors across the country. These outstanding individuals improve the lives of the leukemia, cancer and AIDS patients who they treat, and many more who they never meet because the implications of their innovative research are boundless.

Those of us who have been touched by illness know just how important doctors are and how hard they work to heal. If a doctor has made a difference in your life, I hope you will take a moment to make a gift to our Foundation in honor of one of these amazing physicians and they will receive a note of gratitude on your behalf. Thank you for joining us in saluting our doctors!

Vanderbilt Researchers Find Potent Genetic Risk Factor for Breast Cancer

Researchers at Vanderbilt University have found a powerful new genetic risk factor for breast cancer.

Using data from population-based studies of women in Shanghai, China, Jirong Long, Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine, and colleagues discovered a deletion in a cluster of genes, called APOBEC3 genes, that are known to trigger DNA mutation and which have previously been implicated in cancer.

If a woman has a deletion in one of the two sets of genes she inherits from her parents, her risk of breast cancer increases by 31 percent. If the deletion is present in both sets of genes, her risk increases by 76 percent.

“This is the first copy number variation or CNV identified for breast cancer and is one of the strongest common genetic risk variants identified so far for breast cancer,” the researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

For the full article, please click here.