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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month Around the World

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Billed as the most common cancer in women, breast cancer is impacting the lives of one in eight women in the United States. The second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer, breast cancer most commonly occurs in women 50 years of age and older. Breast cancer is caused by a genetic mutation in the DNA of breast cancer cells but how or why this damage occurs isn’t fully understood. Some mutations may develop randomly over time, while others are inherited or may be the result of environmental exposures or lifestyle factors. More than 3.5 million women are living in the U.S. with a history of breast cancer.

Early detection remains the most important factor in the successful treatment and survivability of breast cancer. Caught early when known treatments have the best chance of success, breast cancer is survivable. Successful treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy. “Risk factors include being female, obesity, a lack of physical exercise, drinking alcohol, hormone replacement therapy during menopause, ionizing radiation, early age at first menstruation, having children late or not at all, older age, and family history.” With the clear lack of knowledge for its causes, early detection of the disease remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) was founded in 1985 by the American cancer Society and what is now known as AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals. Held each October, the event is an attempt to increase the awareness of breast cancer and to aid the solicitation of funds for research and treatment of the disease. NBCAM unites cancer organizations around the world in providing information and support for those suffering from the cancer. Breast Cancer Awareness is represented by the display of pink ribbons, first introduced by the Susan G. Komen Foundation at its New York City race for breast cancer survivors in 1991.

The effort by so many to bring worldwide attention to the disease appears to be having a positive impact. A new report from the American Cancer Society finds that death rates from breast cancer in the United States have dropped 39% between 1989 and 2015. The overall declines in breast cancer death rates have been attributed to both improvements in treatment and early detection by mammograms. The American Cancer Society recommends women find breast cancer earlier when treatments are more likely to be effective. While there is a lack or definite agreement on when and how often screening is most effective, The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends annual screening beginning at age 40.

The professional team of oncologists and staff at Gettysburg Cancer Center supports the efforts of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in its world-wide goal to provide the latest information, research, treatment options and support for those who suffer from breast cancer.

Cancer Research: Not Always an Exact Science

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It is the question most frequently asked of doctors by patients who have just received a diagnosis of cancer, “Why me?” It is usually asked by those who thought they were living a healthy lifestyle and had little expectation of receiving the devastating news. Others may have been aware of near or distant family members who had a form of cancer.

While much progress has been made in the effort to understand multiple forms of cancer and the development of effective treatments, the answer to why some people get the disease and others do not remains predominately an elusive mystery. Cancer is known to be caused by changes, or mutations, to the DNA within cells that can cause the cell to stop its normal function and may allow a cell to become cancerous. Some faulty genes that increase the risk of cancer, known as inherited cancer genes, and genes that increase the risk of cancer called cancer susceptibility genes can be passed on from parent to child. But most of genetic mutations appear to occur after birth and aren’t inherited.

Environmental influences such as smoking, radiation, viruses, persistent exposure to cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens), obesity, hormones, chronic inflammation and a lack of exercise has been proven to provide a more definitive answer to the “Why Me?”. Even with this accepted knowledge, some people who share one or more of these environment factors appear to avoid a cancer diagnosis altogether.

Why do some cancers spread and kill patients, while many remain docile?  Seeking the answer to this question has researchers redirecting their approach for answers from why some get cancer to why so many do not. Ruslan Medzhitov, an Immunobiologist at Yale, says “You can inject the same virus into different hosts and get vastly different responses.”

Diagnosis and treatment becomes art and science. Researchers continue to develop and identify predictive tests based on gene mutations and patterns of gene regulation.  These tests assist in targeting the right therapies and treatments for each patient.  Research related to the micro-environments in which the cancer lives and spreads will provide beneficial to the prevention and early detection of cancer.

The field of oncology remains focused on a holistic approach factoring in the environment, genetic factors, and physiology, in the hopes of finding a concrete, science based answer to the “Why Me?”

To learn more about the clinical trials and research that Gettysburg Cancer Center offers its patients, click here.

Targeted Radiation Therapy Effective For Breast Cancer Patients

A new cancer research project funded by the United Kingdom is revealing some very positive results for breast cancer patients. The study (IMPORT LOW trial), led by The Institute of Cancer Research, London and the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre indicates that breast “cancer patients who received radiotherapy targeted at the original tumor site experience fewer side effects five years after treatment than those who have whole breast radiotherapy, and their cancer is just as unlikely to return.” The results which were recently published in The Lancet, an independent, international weekly general medical journal. “This approach could spare many women significant physical discomfort and emotional distress,” says Professor Arnie Purushotham, Cancer Research UK. “One of the challenges when treating early stage breast cancer is trying to minimize the side effects that can have a real impact on a woman’s life, without affecting the chances of curing her.”

The study included more than 2,000 women aged 50 or over who had early stage breast cancer that was at a low risk of coming back. Radiation therapy or radiotherapy uses ionizing radiation as part of cancer treatment to control or kill malignant cells. A common and effective treatment for breast cancer for many decades, large field radiotherapy is relatively painless in its application, but often the treatments produce side effects that range from low, short term to more severe, long term in nature. Depending on the intensity of the radiation, higher doses can cause varying, acute side effects for months or years following treatment. The nature, severity, and longevity of side effects depend on a number of treatment factors and the individual patient.

Precisely targeted radiation therapy can eradicate all evidence of disease in patients with cancer that has spread to only a few sites. Because radiation destroys cells, targeting the treatment to specific cancer cells limits the collateral damage to areas not affected by the cancer, reducing the side effects suffered by the patient.

The IMPROT LOW trial found that women who received partial radiotherapy reported fewer long term changes to the appearance and feel of their breast, than those who had radiotherapy to the whole breast. Dr. Charlotte Coles, Reader in Breast Radiation Oncology at Cambridge University, chief investigator for the trial and first author of the publication, said, “We started this trial because there was evidence that if someone’s cancer returns, it tends to do so close to the site of the original tumor, suggesting that some women receive unnecessary radiation to the whole breast. Now we have evidence to support the use of less, but equally effective, radiotherapy for selected patients.”

The technique, delivered by standard radiotherapy equipment, may lead to increased use of this treatment at cancer centers across the country and around the world. Professor Judith Bliss, scientific lead for the study within the Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “We’re delighted that the results of this trial have the potential to lead to a real change in the way selected breast cancer patients are treated.”

Gettysburg Cancer Center is actively working with researchers on clinical trials, providing alternative treatments for its patients. For more information on clinical trials at Gettysburg Cancer Center, click here.

Support Groups Can Help Cancer Patients Regain Sense Of Normalcy

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be one of the most traumatic and stressful moments of a lifetime. Often the unknown aspects of treatment and the potential outcomes can trigger strong emotional feelings of shock and anger. The sense of “why me” is often a common initial experience for many cancer victims when they are informed of their disease. The disruption of daily social patterns due to the regiment of treatments that follow diagnosis can add additional strain and stress to the patient and their immediate family members.

Daily routines, family roles and future plans will be determined by a regiment of treatments and medications that often pose additional physical symptoms and challenges to everyday living. The support of family and friends during this process is critical to help the patient regain a sense of normalcy and maintain emotional stability and can provide assistance to reduce distress that can play a critical role in determining the patient’s clinical outcome.

Formal support groups can help people with cancer feel less depressed and anxious about their disease, help them feel more hopeful and enable them to manage their emotions better. Support groups can be peer-led (facilitated by individual group members), professional-led (by trained counselors) or informational, led by doctors and professional facilitators who focus on providing disease related information. Some groups will be organized around the type of cancer, age of the patient or the stag of the disease. Some groups are also available for family members and care givers because a cancer diagnosis doesn’t only affect the patient but also their family and friends.

“Support groups can be effective in many ways,” says Claire J. Casselman, Social Work Coordinator and Complementary Therapies Clinician, University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Meeting and talking with other people whose lives are affected by cancer can create a sense of community or commonness that helps relieve the stress of isolation that many people experience.”

For those who find the formal group setting uncomfortable or cumbersome, online support groups can offer group forums to those who live in rural areas, who are too ill to attend a meeting in person, those who are without access to transportation or patients who seek a certain amount of anonymity. Most online support groups are available 24-hours a day. When looking to the internet for a support group, a certain amount of due diligence should be exercised to verify their credibility.

Often the most effective emotional support comes from those who provide the care. As a teenager in 2015, Chandler Banko’s was diagnosed with advanced, stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A positive and outgoing personality, Chandler found treatment and personal emotional support he needed at the Gettysburg Cancer Center in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. At Gettysburg Cancer Center, he found experienced professionals who were dedicated to treating not only the science of his disease but the personal emotional conditions that often accompany a cancer diagnosis and regiment of treatment. Chandler says of his battle with cancer, “No One Fights Alone.”

The Importance of Connecting Patients with Clinical Trials in Cancer Research

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Clinical Trials are at the heart of medical research and are critical to finding new paths to prevent, detect and advance new treatment methods and medications for debilitating diseases. Patients with an illness or disease participate in Clinical Trials in order to receive the benefits of the newest treatment options for recovering from their disease and to offer the best opportunity for researchers to find better treatments for others in the future. Treatments may involve new drugs or new combinations of drugs, new surgical procedures or devices, or new ways to use existing treatments. The goal of clinical trials is to determine if a new test or treatment works and is safe and may also investigate other aspects of patient care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses.

Providing information to patients, who have been diagnosed with a serious disease, about the specifics and availability of important Trials that may be of benefit to them is proving to be challenging.  ClinicalTrials.gov is a registry and results database of publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants being conducted around the world and currently lists 247,989 studies with locations in all 50 States and in 201 countries. But accessing, understanding and utilizing this important data can be difficult and challenging for the average patient undergoing the emotional and physical experience of a recent diagnosis.

Former FDA commissioner Dr. Robert Califf recently delivered a talk, “Finding the Right Balance in Learning about Therapies”, at a conference in New York City. In his address he said, “Our country is experiencing an unprecedented divergence of health outcomes that mirrors gaps in wealth and education…wealthy, highly educated people are benefiting from information that allows them to lead longer, more functional lives, while others are suffering. The clinical trials enterprise has gone awry,” he said. “It’s become unnecessarily expensive, cumbersome and arcane” In his opinion the system has become so costly and onerous that most of the important questions go unasked. “Doctors are heavily conflicted between patients and the institutions they work for,” says Dr. Robert. “The rosy view that doctors and patients are discussing all options and making the best decisions flies in the face of all evidence.”

The research and pharma industry is attempting to create new pathways to connect patients with the data and, most importantly, help them understand which clinical trial is best for their particular disease. The “Innovation and Clinical Trial Tracking Factbook 2017”, is an Assessment of the Pharmaceutical Pipeline listing the thousands of new drugs currently under trial across the U.S. and around the world. VitalTrax taps into a global database of clinical trials and ultimately organizes the complex web of information into a platform that allows patients, physicians, caregivers, and families to search for relevant trials in relevant locations – in a language they can understand.

Zikria Syed, CEO of VitalTrax says his company is taking an “Open Table” approach to enrolling patients in clinical trials. “We’re making a big bet on the fact that patients would appreciate tools that put the information, and an ability to learn about clinical trials and enroll, in their own hands.”

In smaller communities around the country local oncology providers are shortening the gap of distance and time for patients seeking the benefits of clinical trials. At the Gettysburg Cancer Center (GCC), Clinical Trials are available to patients who want to participate in this important process. The localized opportunity voids the often long drive to large regional healthcare centers for Trial participants and enhances the patients understanding of the technical and practical elements of the process in a personalized but highly qualified environment.

GCC, a leader in Oncology Care across the Central Pennsylvania region since 1989, is actively involved in providing the latest in clinical trials to their patients throughout their community.

The Resulting Dread of Cancer Survival

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One of the most prolific progressions in research and development over the past decade has been the discovery and development of new treatments and drugs for cancer, for good reason. According to National Cancer Institute (NCI) statistics, cancer has a major impact on our society, both in the United States and around the world.  In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people died from the disease. Nearly 39.6% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. It is rare to find anyone who has not dealt with the dreaded disease personally or had a family member or acquaintance suffer from one type or another of cancer.

To answer the call for action in defeating the disease, researchers, oncologist and drug companies have turned-up the pace of research and discovery. Over the past 5 years, 68 new cancer drugs have been approved for various cancers, many producing significant improvement in outcomes for patients. In just the last ten years, drug developers and regulators have successfully shortened the R&D path for approving new cancer drugs safely and efficiently. The global market for cancer immunotherapies, cancer drugs that enlist the body’s immune system to improve patient survival rates, are expected to grow more than fourfold globally by 2022. The number of new drugs in the cancer pipeline has swelled by 45% over the past decade alone.

With the increased activity and availability of promising new therapies for the masses suffering from cancer, one would expect that a downward trend in costs would be a positive result of the new competitive environment. But increased competition and quicker access to market is not producing the expected. In previous decades, new drugs might cost around $10,000 for a year’s treatment. However, according to one recent study, today’s newly approved cancer drugs can cost a patient a staggering $120,000 to $170,000 per year.

The result of this revolution appears to come at a high cost for patients. In the past decade patients paid just 5% of healthcare provider revenue. Today the shifting responsibility to patients for these costs has risen to 35%, and the trend is expected to continue as employers continue to transfer the high cost of healthcare insurance to their employees, the trend to higher insurance deductibles and rising operating and regulatory costs. The result is that too many Americans are struggling to afford the care. Many healthcare consumers are avoiding or delaying needed care or abandoning treatment because of concerns about their ability to pay.

In a system where the patient first learns of the price of their treatment after it has been rendered, many are shocked at the staggering high price and confused and amazed by a complicated and convoluted system of service codes and the seemingly unending list of often unseen providers.  The euphoria and promise of this revolution of discovery is leading many to dread the unfathomable price of recovery and survival.

Gettysburg Cancer Center takes pride in seeking alternative financial resources that can assist its patients in managing the costs of their cancer treatment. To learn more, please contact: Erin or Kasey by calling 717.334.4033 or visiting the website at http://gettysburgcancercenter.com/patients/patient-assistance/.

“No One Fights Alone”

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a shocking experience even for those in more advanced life stages. It is a situation that most of us fear at some point in our lives. However, for those that receive a diagnosis at an early age when transitioning from adolescents to young adulthood, the ability to cope and process the significance of the news must be particularly challenging.

As a teenager in 2015, Chandler Banko’s was diagnosed with advanced, stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. An athletic and seemingly healthy seventeen year old, Chandler’s news that he had cancer wasn’t made any easier to understand by knowing that the most common age of diagnosis of this cancer is between 20 and 40 years of age.

Hodgkin lymphoma, also known as Hodgkin’s disease, is a type of cancer affecting the lymphatic system which occurs “when the lymph node cells or the lymphocytes begin to multiply uncontrollably, producing malignant cells that have the abnormal ability to invade other tissues throughout the body.” Generally more common in males than females, the exact cause of Hodgkin lymphoma is not known. Nearly 574,000 people reported having the cancer in 2015, a disease which presents in about 2 percent of the Nation’s population. Because of progress in treating Hodgkin lymphoma, most people with a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma will be long-time survivors. For those under twenty, the survival rate is 97 percent.

A positive and outgoing personality, Chandler found help and treatment at the Gettysburg Cancer Center in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There he found experienced professionals who are dedicated to treating not only the science of his disease but the personal emotional conditions that often accompany a cancer diagnosis and regiment of treatment. “My experience with GCC was way beyond my expectations” Chandler says in his testimonial video. “They never failed to support me and made sure I kept fighting”.

Chandler, his family and friends established a trust fund for the purpose of paying his unreimbursed medical expenses as well as support for education expenses. A student at nearby Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmittsburg, Maryland, Chandler is active as a personality at the Universities WMTB Mount Radio as he pursues a degree in Cyber Security and Business. All while holding down a job at a local sports apparel shop.

Recently the “Ladies” at Gettysburg Cancer Center gifted him a bunch of balloons in celebration of his 20th birthday. They all surprised him during a follow-up appointment by singing Happy Birthday. “Love these people!!!” said Chandler.

Looking back on his fight to survive his cancer, Chandler speaks of his experience. “If I had one thing to take away from this past year, it’s to never turn back and keep looking forward. To everyone who walked with me, fought with me, prayed for me and supported me, thank you. Today, I am officially done with everything pertaining to my fight. I completed my final surgery and I am proud to say: I am clear, I am healthy and I am moving on. I can now focus on living my life and enjoying everything it gives me. Life can be short, life can throw you around…. but it all depends on how you take those negatives, and build yourself up.”

Cancer of the Vallecula Can be Difficult to Treat

The Vallecula is an anatomic term for a crevice, furrow or depression and while several vallecula can be located in several areas of the body the term is most commonly used to describe a depression just behind the root of the tongue between the folds in the throat. Cancers involving the vallecula are classified as oropharyngeal cancers.

When David Magee was diagnosed with cancer of the vallecula in March 2016, he learned that his cancer was particularly difficult to treat, given the close proximity of the vallecula to the base of the tongue and voice box. “I was particularly nervous going into it (treatment) for that reason, says David. Early stage cancers of the oropharynx are generally treated with radiation therapy because of the difficulty of surgical access. Squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity and pharynx accounts for over 48,250 cases per year in the United States with approximately 9,575 deaths per year. Symptoms of head and neck cancers include: persistent pain, difficulty swallowing, voice changes, mouth sores, dry mouth, changes in appearance, and/or taste changes. Patients with a history of tobacco and alcohol use are at a high risk for these cancers.

David sought treatment at Gettysburg Cancer Center in Gettysburg Pennsylvania, a small town in the central part of the state famous for the great Civil War battle. “I have recommended others to come over here to this Cancer Center who may have sought treatment elsewhere at places like John Hopkins or Hershey Medical Center or places like that. People don’t always realize that there are places with this kind of expertise right here in Gettysburg.”

“No one has been more scared about the treatment process than I was…right away I was put at ease…I always felt that I was in great hands,” Said David. “I had thirty-five radiation treatments which were a little intimidating, but everything went well and I actually began to miss the people here when I was finished with my treatments.”

For David’s complete thoughts on his cancer and experience at the Gettysburg Cancer Center click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWe0x6PCwmQ.

The Value of a Second Opinion Provides Alternative Treatment to a Cancer Patient

When faced with a cancer diagnosis, it becomes critical to find the right oncology center that will provide the appropriate medical treatment and emotion support to fight the battle. One Gettysburg resident, when faced with a stage-4 cancer diagnosis, found the right support at Gettysburg Cancer Center (GCC), a growing comprehensive cancer center.

Greg Wale received an initial oncology evaluation and treatment at another local oncology center in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The diagnosis showed that cancerous tumors had grown to 4 and 5 inches in diameter and had migrated to the liver, bone, thyroid glands and colon. Greg was just 57 year’s old and was told by oncologists that he had little time to live. There simply were no treatment options for his advanced stage of cancer. The disease, he was informed, had just progressed too far.

“At that point,” Greg says, “I went home, very down about things”. After several weeks of distress and depression over the state of his situation, he drew upon his faith and was “spiritually lead” to the Gettysburg Cancer Center (GCC), just down the block from where he had previously received the bad news. It was here that the centers principle oncologist, Dr. Shah, sat down with Greg to review his case. “I felt very comfortable here where there was a lot of very concerned people with caring hearts,” recounts Greg.

He immediately felt the staff at GCC wanted to help and he sensed that things were going to be different in this place where everyone seemed like family. Dr. Shah and his expert team designed a plan to attack his disease and provide as much time as possible for Greg’s future. With no guarantees, the team embarked upon an individualized course of treatment. After a couple of months, new tests revealed that the progression of the disease appeared to be slowing. According to Greg, “None of us knows how much time we have but it looks like I’m going to have more of it than what was told to me when I was first diagnosed thanks to Dr. Shah and this facility.”

For more than 25 years, Gettysburg Cancer Center has been committed to providing cancer care in a community-based setting close to home. The all-encompassing oncology and hematology programs provide a complete range of diagnosis and treatment. “Here at Gettysburg Cancer Center we understand that each patient and their disease are unique, requiring different approaches to insure the best possible outcome for each patient. Our family of caring and educated staff strives to provide insightful, compassionate care to all of our patients.” says Dr. Shah.

In this case, the value of a second opinion meant a new treatment option and more time for this cancer patient. To view the full patient testimonial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=448eg4F_SEg&feature=youtu.be.

Finding the Emotional Support You Need to Recover From Cancer

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The discovery that you have cancer comes with many intense emotions, not only for the patient but also for close family members and friends. After the initial emotional and psychological effects of the news subsides, there is a realization that everything in your life is about to change. Daily routines, family roles and future plans will be determined by a regiment of treatments and medications that often pose additional physical symptoms and challenges to everyday living.

The support of family and friends during this process is critical to help the patient regain a sense of normalcy and maintain emotional stability. Efforts such as pier group support and individual therapy can help reduce distress and help cope with the personal emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis. Such support can play a critical role in determining the your clinical outcome.

Musa Mayer, a cancer survivor and patient advocate says, “Belonging to a group where you can discuss anything and everything is very freeing. You can talk about everything from medical treatments to lack of sexual interest, to fury at someone who has cut you off while driving. The loneliness and isolation that so many feel when they are going through the breast cancer journey can be helped, if not erased.”

Your doctor and their professional associates and nursing staff will also play a central role in providing coordination and support during treatment and recovery. “We have to look at a person’s medical care from a holistic perspective,” says Terri Ades, MS, APRN-BC, AOCN, director of cancer information at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. Nurses are a patient’s greatest advocate.” Whether an oncology nurse or a nurse practitioner, these specially trained medical professionals become an important facilitator in managing overall care.

At his Gettysburg Cancer Center in Gettysburg, PA, Dr. Satish Shah, Medical Oncologist/Hematologist provides all-encompassing oncology and hematology programs with a complete range of diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care. “It is our educated staff that set us apart from many other cancer centers,” says Dr. Shah, “We understand that every person is unique, each with their own set of psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs. Our team is dedicated to providing a caring environment for each individual patient and their families to insure the best possible outcome for their cancer treatment.”

In addition to your professional caregivers, The American Cancer Society has programs and services to help people with cancer and their loved ones understand cancer, manage their lives through treatment and recovery, and find the emotional support you need.