Remembering Ellen Stovall, Cancer Survivor Advocate

By Otis W. Brawley, MD, FACP

Ellen Stovall, a long-time cancer survivor advocate, died of heart failure last week.  She was 69 years old.  As is the case these days, word of her death spread through email.  We at the American Cancer Society were saddened to hear of her death, but for me and for many others this one was extremely personal.

I first met Ellen more than 25 years ago when I was a young oncologist at the National Cancer Institute. She would become a good friend.  Over the years, she would encourage me.  She often gave me emotional and intellectual support especially when I took unpopular stances on issues.

Shortly after I first met Ellen she founded the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.  She and some other courageous survivors would demand that consumers be included in medical and scientific research decision-making and they would get a seat at the table.

In a world where people come and go, Ellen stayed pertinent for more than 25 years.  Ellen was disruptive.  She was quiet and polite, but effective. She was not a politician, but she was the consummate insider.

Ellen would eventually define and get us all to accept that a person is a cancer survivor as soon as they are diagnosed with cancer.… Continue reading →

New Year, New You: Cancer.org Can Help

Hand on a Scale

It’s that time of year again. The time when many of us set new goals, start positive lifestyle changes, or seek to improve our lives in one way or another. Whether you choose to make a New Year’s resolution or not – now is a great time to take a look at your health and habits and think about what you could be doing better.

But sometimes it is hard to know where to start. Cancer.org offers a wealth of information to help you be healthy. Here’s a roundup of our 10 most popular health and wellness articles to get you going:

  1. If you’re trying to quit smoking: Kicking the habit is hard. But our guide to quitting smoking walks you through all you need to know about how to successfully stop.
  1. If you’re working on cutting calories: Eating the right amount of nutritious foods can help you get to and stay at a healthy weight – which is important to your overall health and can help prevent cancer. Use our calorie counter tool to get an estimate of how many calories you need.
  1. If you’re looking for motivation to lose weight: If you are trying to lose weight this year and need some extra motivation, review our information about how being overweight or obese can raise your risk for certain types of cancer.
Continue reading →

Smokers: Make the Choice to Improve Your Life Today

By Cliff Douglas, JD

Stopping smoking is hard. For many smokers, it may take multiple tries to break the addiction for good. And often, getting support from friends, family, and experts is what smokers need to make the life-saving choice to quit.

That’s why the American Cancer Society gives extra inspiration to smokers nationwide each year through its Great American Smokeout – a day when smokers are encouraged to quit for the day and make a plan to quit for good.

Quitting even for one day is an important step towards a smoke-free life, but even that can prove difficult.

As someone who has been in the fight against tobacco for more than 25 years, I have seen just how challenging it can be for smokers to quit. I have helped pass laws making airplanes smoke-free, worked to defend local smoke-free restaurant and workplace laws, and consulted to United States government leaders about what more we as a nation can do to put an end to the harms of tobacco use.

But even with all of the progress we have made, for those who smoke, quitting is still a hard-fought battle to win. Some people are able to quit on their own, without the help of others or the use of medicines.… Continue reading →

More on hot dogs and health

By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD

Nearly five years ago, I wrote a blog about reports that rotisserie chicken was worse for you than hot dogs. It wasn’t strictly true then, and now there’s even more evidence that choosing that hot dog may not be the best choice.

Hot dogs are in the news again. You’ve probably seen the recent headlines: “Bad Day For Bacon: Processed Meats Cause Cancer, WHO Says.”  “Bacon, Hot Dogs as Bad as Cigarettes.”  Or Time Magazine’s cover:  “The War on Delicious.”

Consumer and industry reaction was fast (and furious in some cases, if the Twittersphere is any indication). What prompted all of this? The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), recently released a report classifying processed meat as a carcinogen (something that causes cancer) and red meat, a probable carcinogen.

Red meat (think beef, pork, lamb) and processed meats (think hot dogs, bacon, deli meats) have been linked with cancer, colorectal (commonly called colon cancer) particularly, for a number of years. And the American Cancer Society has recommended since the early 1990s that consumers limit consumption of these foods.

This new report was generated by 22 experts from 10 countries who reviewed more than 800 studies to reach their conclusions.… Continue reading →

Does hormone therapy for breast cancer affect the brain?

By Jeffrey D. Bbottle blurlaustein, PhD

 An important treatment for many breast cancer patients – called hormone therapy, or what I call anti-hormone therapy for reasons that will become clear  – may have side effects that impact brain function – an issue that often gets overlooked.

The vast majority of breast cancers (60-80%) contain estrogen receptors (ERs), so they are referred to as ER-positive. Treatment for ER-positive breast cancer aims to block estrogens in one way or another. These treatments are referred to as hormone therapy.

ER-positive breast cancer patients may get hormone therapy for different reasons. For post-menopausal women, they may be given this treatment after surgery to try to keep the cancer from coming back. In premenopausal women, treatment is typically an estrogen receptor blocker.

While hormone therapy can be effective, as with most drugs, it may also cause possible side effects that can affect quality of life, which you and your oncologist should consider when choosing (or not-choosing) treatment.

An often-overlooked, and also understudied, side effect of hormone therapy is its negative impact on the brain. Research has shown that estrogen-blocking treatments may have a variety of side effects on the brain including possibly increasing the likelihood of depression and anxiety and decreasing verbal memory and fluency.… Continue reading →

Do elephant genes hold the key to stopping cancer?

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By Ted Gansler, MD, MBA, MPH

The DNA of every plant and animal contains the instructions for the chemical reactions that take place in its cells and is essentially the chemical blueprint of that organism. Some of those chemical reactions control how, when, and where cells grow.If those instructions are damaged or deleted, cells can grow and spread abnormally, leading to the diseases we know as cancer. Much of the recent progress in oncology is based on progress in understanding the changes to certain genes in our DNA that cause cancer.

A recent study by researchers from the University of Utah and their colleagues at several other institutions explains how genes in elephants’ DNA might reduce their risk of developing cancer. The elephant gene in question, TP53, is also present in humans, and is damaged or deleted in more than half of all human cancers.

Why elephants matter to cancer researchers

Every time a cell divides, it needs to copy its DNA so that both of the new cells have a full copy of the genetic instructions they need. Cells divide for 2 main reasons – to replace damaged or worn-out cells, and so the plant or animal can grow larger.… Continue reading →

You can do it: fitting in walking has so many benefits

By Alpa Patel, PhD

I just got in from taking a walk with friends on a picture-perfect day with blue skies and the feel of autumn in the air. Let me start by telling you how rejuvenating it is to begin working on a blog after a dose of fresh air!

Last week, the U.S. Surgeon General published a Call to Action to specifically promote walking. I was pretty excited about this because my research largely focuses on physical activity and health, and well, because I personally love walking. But not everyone knows how beneficial physical activity is to your overall health so I wanted to share some of that evidence through this blog.

The notion of regular physical activity being good for us is not new information. In fact, more than 60 years of scientific evidence supports that engaging in regular moderate to vigorous physical activity has a wide range of health benefits, including lower risk of early death overall and prevention of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. As a result, our American Cancer Society Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.… Continue reading →

Of Tennis Shoes, Sidewalks, and Crosswalks

By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD

I wrote this blog in my head first, while I was on a walk. I was thinking about how fortunate I am to live in an area that I can walk – safely – for fitness and fun, for date nights and errands. But it wasn’t always that way.

My family and I used to live in a neighborhood where we could not walk to anything from our home. Besides having no stores, restaurants, schools, dry cleaners – you name it – within a reasonable walking distance, the road leading to our neighborhood was narrow, had no sidewalks, and people sped down that road with reckless abandon.

When we decided to move “in town,” we were ecstatic. I could walk or ride my bike to work, our kids could bike to school, and we could even walk to the gym to get our workouts in. We saved lots of money by not having to fill up our gas tanks so frequently. We felt less stress from not having to drive as often on traffic-packed highways and roads.  Physical, financial and quality of life benefits — all from living in an area where we could get out and walk, safely, and for multiple purposes. 

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action

All this has been on my mind because a new report is being released today: The Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Walking and Walkable Communities.… Continue reading →

When Cancer Spreads: Understanding Metastasis

By Louise Chang, MD

How does lung cancer reach other areas of my body? Why did breast cancer show up in my bones? What does it mean to have metastatic cancer?

It can be hard to understand how cancer starts in one place and also shows up in other places in the body that are far from where it started. The ability to spread, called metastasis, speaks to the aggressive nature of cancer and the challenge it poses.

Cancer starts from cells in our body that have gone rogue. The body has ways to monitor and dispose of abnormal cells that develop, but cancer cells are able to avoid the body’s defense system. They grow out of control and form into cancerous tumors.

As cancer cells multiply, they can get into the bloodstream and lymph system. This allows the cancer cells to travel and settle in other parts of the body. When cancer spreads like this, it is described as “metastatic” – because cancer cells have moved to a different location in the body. But metastatic tumors are still considered to be the same cancer type as where the cancer first started. This is why breast cancer that has spread to the bone or lungs is still breast cancer.… Continue reading →

Can Vitamin D prevent cancer?

By Marji McCullough, ScD, RD

You may be aware that Vitamin D is important for helping make strong bones. But vitamin D often appears in the media because of its potential role in a host of other health effects, from preventing cancer, diabetes, and heart disease to simply living longer.  However, most of these “non-skeletal” (not having to do with your bones) roles of vitamin D are not clearly established and remain a topic of active investigation and debate. To add to the confusion, several recent scientific reviews of the vast data on vitamin D arrived at different conclusions about whether it helps prevent disease or not.

In this blog, I am going to focus on the evidence on vitamin D and cancer prevention, highlight some key unresolved questions, and give some advice to consider while we await more solid answers (which may take a while).

Where does vitamin D come from?

People can get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, from certain foods, and from supplements.

Current vitamin D recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the organization tasked with developing the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), are 600 International Units (IU) per day for most adults, and 800 IU of vitamin D per day for those over age 70.… Continue reading →