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Lifestyle Tips for Cancer Prevention

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It has been estimated that nearly half of the deaths due to cancer in 2017 could have been prevented. While much progress has been achieved in the diagnostics and treatment of a wide range of cancer types over the past decade, prevention remains the most impactful way individuals can stem the risk of contacting the deadly disease.

It is common and universally accepted knowledge that smoking or using tobacco products significantly increases the likelihood of getting cancer, and efforts to increase awareness of the health related risks of tobacco use has had an impact on the occurrences of lung and other respiratory cancers. Some studies are indicating that rising levels of obesity due to inactivity and sedimentary lifestyles are having an unfavorable effect on the rise in esophagus, colorectal, breast, endometrium and kidney cancers.

Diets high in fruits and vegetables have shown to be effective against many cancers. Regular physical activity and the maintenance of a healthy body weight, along with a healthy diet, considerably reduce cancer risk. Reducing alcohol use, avoiding environmental pollution, limiting occupational exposure to known carcinogens and careless exposure to radiation are other factors that will impact the risk of getting cancer.

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) is making its cancer prevention recommendations in order to help people live cancer-free lives and to encourage public policies that reduce the incidence of cancer more widely. “Our Cancer Prevention Recommendations come from our latest Expert Report and from the conclusions of an independent panel of experts – they represent a package of healthy lifestyle choices which, together, can make an enormous impact on people’s likelihood of developing cancer and other non-communicable diseases over their lifetimes,” says Professor Martin Wiseman, Medical and Scientific Adviser. The recommendations help people reduce the risk of developing cancer and are based on the latest science available.

“The Cancer Prevention Recommendations are the centerpiece of our new report,” says Dr. Kate Allen, World Cancer Research Fund International’s Executive Director of Science & Public Affairs. “They form a global blueprint, a package that people can follow to help reduce their risk of cancer. They are useful to scientists because they can help determine future directions of research. They are useful to policymakers because they can inform the development of policy to help people follow them. They are useful to communities and families and individuals to help them reduce their cancer risk, and also to cancer survivors to highlight the best ways to further reduce their cancer risk. They are also helpful to health professionals in their work with cancer patients and the general public.”

The well-worn adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is sage advice when attempting to lower the risk of getting cancer.

American Cancer Society Updates Colon Cancer Screening Recommendations

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Colorectal Cancer is the fourth most common non-skin cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of death due to cancer. Generally colorectal cancer most impacts those over age 50, but recent studies have revealed that the number of cases in young people has increased 51 percent since 1994. Andrew Wolf, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Virginia says, “We don’t know why it’s going on, but it’s increasingly clear that it is happening.” Most of the nation’s 140,000 annual cases and 50,000 deaths from colon and rectal cancer still occur among people over age 55, but the share of cases involving younger adults is concerning.

Some researchers believe the consistent rise in colon cancer in younger Americans is the result of poor diet and obesity. Whatever the cause, the result of recent studies has led the American Cancer Society to reevaluate its long-standing guidelines on colon cancer screening.  While the overall costs and benefits of earlier screening remain a topic of debate within the cancer care community, the message that early screening is important rings true. David Weinberg, chairman of medicine at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia says, “The bottom line is that if you regularly participate in colon cancer screening, you have a reduced risk of getting and dying from colon cancer.”

The American Cancer Society (ACS) is now recommending that all adults at average or low risk get screened for the disease at the age of 45, instead of 50 as it previously recommended. Those in good health, at average risk, and who have a life expectancy of more than 10 years should continue screening through the age of 75. Men and women at high risk, such as patients with a family history of colorectal cancer, may require a more aggressive screening program.

A colonoscopy has long been the most common form of testing a patient for colorectal cancer but is a procedure that many avoid or delay. New prescreening solutions are now available which can alleviate the discomfort of the pretest requirements. Several other tests are available by prescription, including stool tests that can be administered at home, eliminating the time spent in a clinic or hospital and the risk of bowel perforation and complications from anesthesia.

The professional staff and Oncologists at Gettysburg Cancer Center (GCC) understand the importance of prevention as well as treatment of cancer. With Medical Oncology, Radiation Oncology, Diagnostic Imaging and an onsite laboratory and pharmacy, GCC offers comprehensive screening and treatment options.

Availability of Oral Chemotherapy Drugs on the Rise

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When we think about chemotherapy (chemo) treatment for cancer, more often than not we harbor visions of intravenous (IV) injections of chemicals with complicated names, usually being administered in sterile medical environments with the patient surrounded by attending oncology professionals. But advances in chemotherapy drugs over the past decade are quickly changing the perceptions most of us have developed about chemotherapy and how it is administered. The fact that chemotherapy is available in oral (pill) form for numerous types of cancer is a surprise to many. In fact, an estimated 30% of cancer drugs in development are oral, and the trend is increasing.

With cancer survival rates consistently increasing over the past decade, cancer is becoming a chronic illness for cancer patients. The ability to receive extended cancer therapy protocols at home and by mouth is beneficial in time, convenience and cost that accompanies typical IV administered treatments. Oral anticancer medications (OAMs) have become available to treat many different cancers, including lung, leukemia, colorectal, kidney, and prostate and have been shown to be as effective as other forms of treatment. “The efficacy of chemotherapy pills … are similar to the traditional intravenous therapy, with research showing that the overall survival with oral chemotherapy is the same as patients would have with traditional intravenous chemotherapy,” says Dr. Hannah Luu, California-based oncologist and CEO and founder of OncoGambit.

However, OAMs shift much of the responsibility for proper administration from attending medical professionals to the patient and family members. Dr. Luu cautions, “Chemotherapy pills have the potential to cause the same serious toxicities as intravenous chemotherapy. If used incorrectly, they can potentially have fatal outcomes. It’s important for patients to be aware of their treatment plan and take their chemotherapy drugs accordingly. It’s even more important that the patient doesn’t take the missed pills with the next dose.”

Doctor appointments are still necessary with the use of OAMs, to perform regular scans or blood tests to ensure the medication is working safely and effectively. Handling of these oral medications requires careful attention as well as consistent adherence to the treatment regimen. Not skipping doses is critical to effective treatment.

A recent study showed that both providers and patients face barriers from insurance carriers on the use of OAMs. Some insurers cover OAMs as a prescription drug benefit, rather than a medical procedure. Delays in getting approval may be labor intensive and take several weeks. Out-of-pocket costs can vary and may require additional administrative support to overcome.

Gettysburg Cancer Center, a leader in oncology care across south central Pennsylvania since 1989, is dedicated to providing all-encompassing oncology and hematology programs and a complete range of diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care for patients. For more information call (717) 334-4033.

Cigarette Smoking a Leading Cause of Preventable Death in United States

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On the last Sunday in November 2017, television viewers and print media readers experienced a dramatic moment that continues into this year. The three major U.S. tobacco companies were ordered by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to issue the first in what will be a series of five “corrective statements” about their products. The corrective statements are the result of a federal racketeering lawsuit brought against the tobacco companies in 1999 by the Department of Justice. These court-ordered statements, which cover five different topic areas, explain in detail and in plain language the reality of the health harms inflicted by tobacco products upon users. Not that the harmful effects of cigarette smoking on a smoker’s health is anything new. Since the 1960’s, smokers and non-smokers alike have been bombarded with packaging warnings, public awareness campaigns and tobacco advertising bans. In case someone missed the multitude of discussions, the new statements should leave little doubt about the dangers of smoking tobacco.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, causing nearly 30 percent of cancer deaths across the country. Of the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful, including hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia. Among those, at least 69 can cause cancer. While we are all aware that smoking causes cancer, smoking also harms nearly every bodily organ and organ system in the body and diminishes a person’s overall health. Among the cancers caused are: lung, esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, colon, and rectum, as well as acute myeloid leukemia. Smoking also causes heart disease, stroke, aortic aneurysm, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (chronic bronchitis and emphysema), diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts, and worsens asthma symptoms in adults. There is no safe level of smoking. Smoking even just one cigarette per day over a lifetime can cause smoking-related cancers and premature death.

Despite all the good reasons to quit, kicking the smoking habit is extremely difficult. Studies show that most smokers picked up the habit as a teenager. Cigarettes contain various amounts of Nicotine, the highly addictive drug primarily responsible for a person’s addiction to tobacco products, so quitting can be very difficult even for those already diagnosed with cancer. A study by American Cancer Society researchers found that about 1 in 10 cancer survivors still reports smoking about 9 years after a cancer diagnosis. Lead author Lee Westmaas, PhD, American Cancer Society Director of Tobacco Control Research, says, “Doctors and health care providers must continue to ask survivors about their smoking and provide resources, including medications and counseling, to help them quit.”

Cessation has immediate benefits to a smoker. Ex-smokers suffer from fewer illnesses, lower rates of pneumonia and are healthier overall than people who continue to smoke. Regardless of age, smokers can substantially reduce their risk of bad health. Smokers who quit before age 40 reduce their chance of dying prematurely from smoking-related diseases by about 90%, and the reduction for those who quit by age 45-54 is about two-thirds.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and other agencies and organizations can help smokers quit. For more information on organizations that can help you quit smoking, contact the NCI Smoking Quitline at 1–877–44U–QUIT (1–877–448–7848) for individualized counseling, printed information, and referrals to other sources.

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.

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.

Cancer Diagnosis: A Second Opinion Can Often Lead to the Best Treatment Plan

Most of us would not consider making a major modification to our home without consulting a number of professionals or contractors. After all, getting more than one perspective on the scope of work can reveal a clear understanding of the costs, the potential inconveniences of the process, better prepare for the complexities of the work and more clearly define our expectations. Few of us would argue against the benefits of investing the time and patience in getting a second opinion.

Research shows that half of the patients diagnosed with serious illnesses such as cancer, never seek a second opinion before embarking on a series of treatments for a sometimes life threatening disease. The data reflects that only three percent considered a second opinion to be essential before accepting a diagnosis or course of action. Considering complexities of cancer and the importance of selecting the right course of action for each specific type, it is not just a good idea to initiate a second opinion, it is imperative to understanding all your options and establishing confidence in your final decision. Such important health decisions should be made only after you have learned all you can about your diagnosis, prognosis, available and treatment options.

Several reasons why so many fail to seek a second opinion can be easily explained. A cancer diagnosis is scary; and many patients feel a need to act immediately on a course of treatment to have the best chance of survival. But while in some cases taking immediate action is imperative, most cancer patients have time to learn all there is about their disease before setting out on the treatment journey. Others feel a sense of unquestioned confidence in their personal physician’s ability to diagnose and treat their condition. They often feel that questioning their results could be seen as an insult to their doctor.

Medicine is not an exact science. Even new advancements in treatment options, even the most dedicated and conscientious of practitioners cannot be expected to have the latest science at their fingertips. Many doctors are not only very comfortable with their patients seeking a second opinion, most routinely recommend the action. The results of  “a 2006 study found that when breast cancer patients came to a specialty center for a second opinion, recommendations for surgery changed for more than half, a result of different interpretations and readings of mammograms and biopsy results.”

After Greg Walde received an initial oncology evaluation and treatment at a local oncology center in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania he was told, that due to the advanced stage of his disease, he had little time to live. He was informed that there simply were no effective 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 his situation he decided to seek another opinion at The Gettysburg Cancer Center just down the street from where he had previously received the bad news. In Greg’s case the value of a second opinion included new treatment options and more time at living his life.

When faced with a cancer diagnosis it becomes critical to find the right oncology center with the experience and dedication to provide the latest and most appropriate medical treatment and support available to fight the battle. At his Gettysburg Cancer Center in Gettysburg, PA, Dr. Satish Shah, Medical Oncologist/Hematologist says, “We understand that every person is unique. Our team is dedicated to providing the latest approaches to treatment in a caring environment for patients and their families to insure the best possible outcome for their cancer treatment.”

For more information on the Gettysburg Cancer Center, visit www.gettysburgcancercenter.com.

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.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: CANCER AWARENESS MONTH

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Cancer awareness month has its origin in the 1980’s when a small grassroots organization, Susan G. Komen, was formed to raise money and public awareness for breast cancer. The group created the now famous pink ribbon in order to create “brand awareness” for breast cancer and to generate much needed funding for cancer research, early detection and ultimately the diseases eventual cure.

The breast cancer program’s success spawned an important and growing expansion of the awareness campaign to cancers across the diseases spectrum. Many non-profit cancer organizations have gravitated towards the goals of the program and have originated specific colors and month of the year to represent their individual identities. The month of May represents three brands of cancers; Brain Cancer, Melanoma/ Skin Cancer and Bladder Cancer.

Brain tumors are growths of abnormal cells in tissues which originate in the brain or spinal cord. Tumors may be benign or malignant and affect nearby areas of the head and neck but rarely spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms vary and are dependent upon where the tumor forms, its size, how fast it is growing, and the age of the patient. More than 150,000 people are living with brain cancer with less than one percent of men and women likely to experience brain and nervous system cancer in their lifetime. Nearly 34 percent of brain cancer victims can expect to survive five years or more with early detection and aggressive treatment. Brain cancer is an extremely complex disease requiring a team of multi specialists including oncologist, primary care physicians and radiation oncologist. Each patient treatment protocol depends on the location of the tumor, its size and type, the patient’s age, and the overall medical condition of the patient. Brain Cancer is represented by the color grey in the month of May.

Melanoma, represented by the color black, is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and is most often caused by over exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds. Cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells initiate mutations that multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. Discovered in its early stages and treated, skin cancer is almost always curable. But left untreated it can advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal. Depending on the stage of the disease treatments may include; surgery, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy and radiation.

Bladder Cancer originates when healthy cells in the bladder lining change and grow rapidly forming a tumor. Malignant tumors may spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. The three most common types of bladder cancer are; Urothelial carcinoma, Squamous cell carcinoma and Adenocarcinoma. Represented by the awareness color Marigold/Blue/Purple, bladder cancers are most often detected in patients by the presence of blood in the urine, frequent or burning sensation when urinating or lower back pain. Treatment options include; surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation. Treatment protocols are dependent upon the stage of the cancer, patient’s health, treatment preferences and potential side effects.  Bladder cancer mostly affects older people with an estimated 79,000 adults expected to be diagnosed with bladder cancer in the United States each year. With early detection the 10 year survival rate for bladder cancer is 70 percent.

Increased awareness has had a proven and positive effect on early diagnosis and treatment of various cancers and has resulted in a better educated and prepared patient. Utilizing this marketing approach the stigma once associated with cancer has been greatly diminished.

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.