Check out September cancer awareness pages

September is a busy month for cancer awareness. Organizations promoting awareness of prostate , ovarian and blood cancers share the month. The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center has created three websites to help the public learn more about these diseases and how they can be prevented.

Some highlights:

  • Prostate cancer is the most common major cancer diagnosed in men with more than 220,000 new cases each year; 79% of all of these cancers are discovered in local and regional stages. African-American men have higher incidence and at least double the mortality rate than men of other racial and ethnic groups. Learn more.
  • Ovarian cancer was long thought to be a silent killer because it presented no symptoms at its earliest, most treatable stage. However, researchers have recently discovered a cluster of symptoms–including bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, feeling full, and urinary problems–that may indicate the presence of cancer. Nearly 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. Learn more.
  • Leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma account for 9% of the 1.5 million new cancer cases each year. Treatment for these diseases–which affect the bone marrow, blood cells and lymphatic system–radically improved during the later part of the 20th century. However, as the recent lymphoma-related death of “Sparticus” star Andy Whitfield shows, more research is needed to develop better cures. Learn more.

Bone deep: Learn how to keep bones strong, even if cancer treatment increases osteoporosis risk

The results of Susan McDonald’s bone mineral density screening were troubling. Bone density had decreased 3 percent in her spine and 3.6 percent in her hips since a scan done two years earlier. Given her history of breast cancer and the potential that related treatments might further sap her bones’ strength, McDonald needed a plan to improve her bone health.

Her oncologist, Catherine Van Poznak, M.D., outlined some options to address the thinning in her bones, which in the case of her hips had progressed to a precursor of osteoporosis called osteopenia. McDonald, a 72-year-old Ann Arbor resident, decided to make a concerted effort to increase her walks from 20 minutes to 30 minutes per day, covering about a mile-and-a-half to a mile-and-three-quarters during each outing.

Two years later, McDonald’s bone mineral density was much improved.

“I’m a small, fine-boned woman who’s likely to get in trouble with bone problems,” McDonald said. “But they were talking about osteopenia in my hips two years ago; they’re not saying that anymore.”

Bone health may be of particular concern for people with a history of cancer, said Van Poznak, a University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center oncologist who specializes in breast cancer’s relationship to bone. People with breast or prostate cancer who undergo treatments that block specific hormones may be at higher risk of thinning bones. Also, certain chemotherapy drugs used to treat these or other cancers may induce ovarian failure in younger women, causing bones to thin as a result of early menopause and estrogen deprivation. In addition, steroids may also accelerate bone loss in both men and women.

Although cancer treatment may increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis — which may lead to painful bone fractures — many options are available to prevent it, Van Poznak said. The key is to talk to your doctor early to develop a plan of action. Here are six steps you can take to improve your bone health. Continue reading

Liver transplant offers new option for rare cancer

Christopher Sonnenday, M.D., M.H.S.

Robert “Buzz” Gehle thought the itchy rash he was experiencing was a recurrence of an earlier case of shingles. But when his doctor saw he was also jaundiced, he immediately knew there was a problem with Gehle’s liver.

Gehle was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma – cancer in the bile duct – in October 2009, and it soon became clear that traditional surgery would not be an option.

Instead, doctors at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center started Gehle on chemotherapy and radiation and ran him through a series of tests to determine if the 65-year-old was otherwise healthy enough for a possible new treatment – liver transplant.

Liver transplantation is often used for cancer that occurs within the liver. But U-M is one of a small number of centers around the country to offer a transplant for cancer of the bile duct, a long tube-like structure that connects the liver to the intestines.

Bile duct cancer can be extremely difficult to remove surgically, and even when surgery is an option, the cancer frequently comes back.

“This is a tumor we have always struggled with,” says Christopher Sonnenday, M.D., M.H.S., assistant professor of surgery at the U-M Medical School. Sonnenday, a transplant surgeon, is part of the Multidisciplinary Liver Tumor Clinic at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Historically, transplant has not been thought to be a great treatment for cancer. What we’ve learned in recent years is that if you select patients very carefully and find the right patients, those patients can potentially be helped by transplant,” Sonnenday says. Continue reading

Finding the right doctor to treat pancreatic cancer

Finding a doctor can be a daunting task, particularly if you’re facing a pancreatic cancer–a relatively rare, but deadly, diagnosis. Diane Simeone, M.D., director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s pancreatic cancer research program, recently offered tips to the Lustgarten Foundation about how patients can find the best care for them. The Lustgarten Foundation is a private organization that funds pancreatic cancer research. Each year, 38,000 Americans are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Visit the Cancer Center’s website to read the interview.


What’s the fallout: U-M radiologist answers questions about commonplace radiation exposure

For some cancer survivors, commonplace exposure to radiation induces pangs of worry. Will the chest X-ray ordered by a family doctor or a trip through the airport’s new security scanner increase your chance of developing a secondary cancer? What can you do to reduce your risks?

In the latest issue of Thrive, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s patient publication, we talked with Ella Kazerooni, M.D., U-M professor of radiology, about what people with cancer should know about everyday radiation exposure. Find out what she had to say.


PsychOncology Clinic offers tools for coping

After Michael Daly was diagnosed with cancer, he felt alone. He didn’t know what to expect with his treatment and, in the early days, some of his doctors didn’t offer much encouragement about his prognosis.

Daly was prescribed a medication to treat his anxiety and depression, but after a while, it stopped working.

“I found myself not wanting to get involved in my life and just vegetating,” Daly said. “I wanted to get back into control of it, because I didn’t want to spend my days waiting to die. I needed to get over that hump.”

By then, Daly had chosen a new approach to treatment that brought him to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. His oncologist suggested he consult with the Cancer Center’s PsychOncology Clinic.

Staffed by social workers, psychiatrists and nurse practitioners, the PsychOncology Clinic provides assessments to Cancer Center patients to determine their level of distress and individual needs. The team then develops an action plan to help patients get the assistance that’s right for them. Continue reading