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Genetic Testing for Cancer, is it the Right Decision for You?

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Knowing something is almost always better than not knowing. Cancer will impact one in three people over their lifetime; a statistic that suggests that contacting the deadly disease is a matter of random chance. Knowledge that one is in the “more likely to get” column can be seen as good news, resulting in closer monitoring and additional testing that could potentially lead to earlier discovery and therefore an increased chance of treatment and survival.

Most cancer risks are directly related to personal behaviors such as using tobacco or over exposure to the sun or other cancer-causing substances and activities. Family cancer syndrome (inherited cancer) can occur when inherited gene mutations that are passed from generation to generation increase the odds of contracting the disease. Only about 5% to 10% of all cancers are thought to result directly from gene mutations inherited from a parent.

Family history of the same type of cancer; cancers developing at earlier ages; multiple family members contacting identical or rare cancers or cancers experienced in multiple generations are some cancers thought to be indicative of family cancer syndrome. Cancer occurrence within close relations is more cause for concern than those in distant relationships. For some rare cancers, the risk of a family cancer syndrome is relatively high with even one case. Some types of cancers have no known mutations linked to an increased risk and others may have known mutations, but no way to test for them.

Genetic testing can be performed by either a blood or cheek swab sample and do not detect whether a person has cancer; testing indicates whether a person carries a change in one of their genes which can increase cancer risk. Most people will not benefit from genetic testing for cancer, but those who have a strong indication of family gene mutations may be able to take actions that lower the risk of the disease.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the most common genes involved in hereditary breast and ovarian cancers and a positive connection to these genes can also indicate a higher risk for other cancers, but nearly 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of the disease. No genetic test can determine whether a person will develop cancer with certainty.

The results of genetic testing can be beneficial in making medical decisions for cancer treatment, additional screening and prevention. Selecting the correct test and interpreting the results accurately can be complex, and the decision to have the test may impact personal relationships with other family members. For these reasons, the decision to undergo genetic testing is a very personal one, and one that should be made after considering all unique circumstances.

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.

Immunotherapy Drug Is Providing Exciting Results in the Treatment of Lung Cancers

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Alex was in his early 40s when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. A non-smoking, healthy man, who exercises regularly and eats relatively well is not who most people think of when they think of lung cancer.  However, people exactly like Alex are the new faces of lung cancer diagnoses. Alex is also one of a select few who qualified for a new targeted therapy drug recently approved by the FDA.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death globally, causing 1.7 million deaths a year. In the United States, it is expected to kill more than 154,000 people in 2018, but recent studies are producing credible progress in finding new drugs that, when combined with more traditional chemotherapy, are greatly improving the survival rates among lung cancer patients. The findings are dramatically changing the way physicians are treating lung cancers. “What it suggests is that chemotherapy alone is no longer a standard of care,” said Dr. Leena Gandhi, a leader of the study and director of the Thoracic Medical Oncology Program at the Perlmutter Cancer Center at New York University Langone Health.

So far, four drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, which unleash the patient’s own immune system to kill malignant cells, have been approved by the FDA. “I’ve been treating lung cancer for 25 years now, and I’ve never seen such a big paradigm shift as we’re seeing with immunotherapy,” said Dr. Roy Herbst, Chief of Medical Oncology at the Yale Cancer Center.

In the trial, patients with metastatic nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who received the drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda) plus chemotherapy had improved overall survival and progression-free survival compared with just chemotherapy alone.  The results from the KEYNOTE-189 clinical trial were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Chicago on April 16 and published concurrently in the New England Journal of Medicine.

One of the main factors in the high rate of death due to lung cancer is that the disease is most often undetected until it has spread to other organs of the body. Lung cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer in men and women and the top cancer killer among both sexes. In addition to the encouraging results from immunotherapy drugs, a newly discovered protein is showing promising results in detecting lung cancer earlier, providing new advanced treatment options to patients at the earliest stages of the disease. “The use of CKAP4 as a biomarker could change current practices regarding the treatment of lung cancer patients, and the diagnostic accuracies may be markedly improved by the combination of CKAP4 and conventional markers,” says Yuichi Sato, Division of Molecular Diagnostics, Kitasato University.

While the news of earlier discovery and new treatment options is very good, reducing risk factors for the disease remains the best approach to avoiding cancer. Exposure to tobacco smoke is one of the leading causes of lung cancer. Smoking marijuana and using electronic cigarettes may also increase the risk of lung cancer, but the actual risk is unknown. People who work with asbestos in a job such as shipbuilding, asbestos mining, insulation, or automotive brake repair and who smoke have a higher risk of developing cancer of the lungs. Exposure to radon has been associated with an increased risk of some types of cancer, including lung cancer. Having your home tested for the presence of Radon is a good and economical method for reducing the risk. Some people also have a genetic predisposition for lung cancer. People with parents, brothers, or sisters with lung cancer could have a higher risk of developing the cancer themselves.

Understanding cancer and how to treat it is constantly evolving toward the day when a cure is discovered. The cure is not here yet, but treatment options have greatly improved in recent decades. The treatments and methods used in clinical trials are promising in every environment in which they are tested. For more information on advancements in cancer detection and treatment, visit https://gettysburgcancercenter.com/.

What is Your Cancer Stage and Why is it Important to Know?

 

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One of the many new terms that patients hear when receiving a cancer diagnosis is “stage”. Along with a long list of other medical terminology used by caregivers to describe cancer, the stage of cancer is used to describe the level at which the cancer has progressed. The stage of cancer will determine where the disease is located, if or where it has spread, what other parts of the body it may have affected, and the patient’s estimated survivable rate. The stage is the most credible indication of the cancer’s progression at a given period of time and is determined by patient procedures and tests such as physical examinations, imaging scans, biopsies, blood tests, surgery or other genetic testing. Even though this is extremely important information, nearly half of the patients diagnosed with cancer in the past two years are unaware of their disease’s stage.

The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) recently released the latest edition of its cancer staging manual with new and updated staging for many types of cancer. Most cancer treatment centers started using the updated manual on January 1, 2018.

The specific stage of cancer can be determined by tests conducted prior to diagnosis or after a surgery has been performed. It can provide answers to questions concerning the size of the primary tumor, whether it has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body and if the cancer is more or less likely to spread. The cancer’s stage will help determine the specific course of treatments, establish the likelihood of recovery, the estimated time to recovery and permit the patient to develop a roadmap for the challenges that lie ahead.

Most types of cancer have four stages:

  • Stage 0 is the stage that best describes cancer that is still located in the place it started and has not spread to nearby tissues. This stage of cancer is often highly curable, usually by removing the entire tumor with surgery.
  • Stage I cancer is usually a small cancer or tumor that has not grown deeply into nearby tissues. It also has not spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body and is often referred to as early-stage cancer.
  • Stage II and Stage III refers to larger tumors that have grown more deeply into nearby tissue and those that may have spread to the lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body.
  • Stage IV indicates that a cancer has spread to other organs or parts of the body and is sometimes called advanced or metastatic cancer.

Understanding your cancer stage will provide critical insight on your future treatment options, the time and direction of recovery and ultimately your likelihood for survival. It is important to be informed about all aspects of your disease so that you can be an active and well-informed participant in your own care.

A Cancer Diagnosis Does Not Mean Life is Over

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In life it has been said that there are truly no absolutes. With time, all things change, nothing is forever the same. It is an outlook filled both with prospects of hope and dread but singular in its certainty. “Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes”, said Hugh Prather, author, lay minister, and counselor.

No one ever wants to be told they have cancer. The emotions of that moment cannot be fully understood until you have experienced it. For those born decades ago when such news brought little more than a prognosis of certain death, the diagnosis can elicit strong emotions of remorse, anger and depression. The lifetime probability of being diagnosed with cancer is 39.7% for men and 37.6% for women. “There is no denying that cancer is devastating news, but it does not mean your life is over. Millions of people cope with cancer every day. You are not alone.”

For Catherine, in 1999 and at age 31, life was good. Married with a good career, her life appeared to be tracking in a mostly positive direction. An examination to ferret out an explanation for a few minor health problems brought news that her life was about to change forever. Triple negative breast cancer wasn’t even known in 1999. The only certainty after the news was she needed chemotherapy as well as surgery and radiation to stem the progress of the disease. “My memories of that period in my life are that of anxiety underpinning and coloring everything I said and did,” says Catherine. “I was at a very low ebb at this stage and my family weren’t sure how we could overcome this, as all of us were flailing around trying to make sense of this terrible period in our lives.”

Planning a normal future beyond the cancer diagnosis is pre-empted by the promise of months or even years of invasive treatments, drug protocols, clinical trials and the accompanying continuing life-maintenance issues. Taking out the trash, mowing the lawn and getting the kids to soccer practice suddenly takes on a different perspective and position in life’s scale of importance. However, planning for and visualizing a future can be the very act that can assure and expedite recovery. After fourteen years, Catherine received news that her cancer was out of remission.

“I figured that this must be the beginning of the end as I was lucky to get nearly fourteen years remission. This time around, I was told my tumor was triple negative breast cancer. I was horrified and terrified on reading the statistics. I could not think past a month at a time, and holidays and family events were all abstract events. Again my mind went into a tailspin as I tried to deal with my worst fear. I then realized I probably had triple negative breast cancer before but didn’t realize how aggressive it was back in 1999 and I survived. What is not to say that this can happen again?” She is approaching her 50th birthday and no longer thinks of the future. “I have opened myself to all possibilities and am letting life happen. One of my goals was to start blogging once I felt well again and hopefully bring hope to some of my fellow triple negative breast cancer survivors.”

As a teenager in 2015, Chandler Bankos 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 by knowing that the most common age of diagnosis of this cancer is between 20 and 40 years of age. 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.

Chandler speaks of his year-long experience with cancer treatment. “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.”

For Catherine and Chandler, cancer diagnosis didn’t mean their lives were over. Through all the pain of treatment and the turmoil it brought, they moved forward in their belief that a new life of joy and accomplishment was just beyond the struggle against their disease.

Limit Exposure to Harmful Ultraviolet Rays to Lower Your Risk of Skin Cancer

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The most common type of cancer diagnosed each year in the United States is skin cancer. Most skin cancers are the result of too much exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet rays. In recent decades people have become aware of the cause and have taken steps to avoid over exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun or from tanning beds and tanning lamps.

There are three types of skin cancer.  Basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of cancer, presents itself as a recurring and sometimes bleeding sore.  Squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common type of skin cancer, begins in squamous cells (thin, flat cells) that are most commonly found in the tissue on the surface of the skin. Neither of these skin cancers spread to other parts of the body and can generally be successfully treated with surgery, radiation or topical chemotherapy.

Melanoma, which originates from pigment-producing skin cells (melanocytes), is the least common but potentially deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanomas can develop anywhere on the skin, but are often present on areas of the body which receive the most exposure to sunlight. The National Cancer Institute estimates about 87,110 new melanomas were diagnosed in 2017.

Some people are more prone to melanoma than others; those with fare skin tone and high freckle density, red or light-colored hair and those with a family history of the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 60,000 early deaths occur each year worldwide because of excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. An estimated 48,000 of these deaths are from malignant melanoma. Early detection can be difficult but regular inspections of the skin for alterations in appearance can detect signs of the disease. Look for skin changes, such as a new spot or mole or a change in color, shape, or size of a current spot or mole; a skin sore that fails to heal or becomes sore of painful to the touch, or a lump that looks shiny, waxy, smooth, or pale. Others may bleed or appear ulcerated or crusty to the touch.

Melanomas that are undetected and untreated will spread to other parts of the body and may become life threatening if not caught and treated in the earliest stages. Surgery is often the first approach. Lesions and surrounding tissue are removed, and a biopsy is taken to determine if the cancer has spread into the lymph nodes. In less common cases, chemotherapy or immune therapy is warranted.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved the drug nivolumab for stage III melanoma. An adjuvant therapy for stage III melanoma, studies have indicated that the immunotherapy delayed recurrence of the disease with fewer side effects.  Awny Farajallah, MD, head of U.S. medical oncology for Bristol-Myers Squibb, says, “We’re very excited about the approval of adjuvant nivolumab. To date, 71 to 85 percent of stage III patients will have a recurrence, and this gives us an important additional option to bring those numbers down. Adjuvant therapy is an important part of our efforts to advance cancer treatment through immuno-oncology, with the ultimate goal of providing a potential cure.”

As with all cancers, lessening exposure to the risk factors is the best plan of action. Avoid sun burns. Wear clothing that protects exposed areas of the body. Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 20-30 and a 4 or 5-star UV rating. If you have a job that exposes you to constant sunlight, take all available precautions to minimize your exposure.

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.

Proper Screening and Lifestyle Changes Can Impact Cancer Risk

GCC February Blog Image 2 (640x427)When Cheryl and her husband of thirty-five years sold their business and headed off to retirement, they looked forward to having more time to dedicate to their three children and four grandchildren. Discovering a lump in her left breast while on vacation dramatically altered their retirement plans and her outlook on the future. With no family history of breast cancer, the results of her mammogram were stunning. Cheryl was diagnosed with Stage 2 triple negative ductal carcinoma breast cancer.

Cheryl is not unlike many thousands of women who receive an unexpected breast cancer diagnosis. While aware of the disease and its impact on the lives of those suffering from it, the thought of receiving the bad news is one stuck in the back of the mind, hopefully never to be realized.

In 2018, an estimated 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 63,960 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. Death rates have been decreasing since 1989, but approximately 40,920 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2018 from breast cancer. About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. The two most common risk factors are gender and growing older. While you can’t change some breast cancer risk factors there are some risk factors that you can control.

Personal behaviors, such as diet and exercise, and taking medicines that contain hormones can impact the chances of getting breast cancer. Drinking alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Being overweight or obese increases the risk in women after menopause. The American Cancer Society recommends you stay at a healthy weight throughout your life and avoid excess weight gain by balancing your food intake with physical activity. Moderate and vigorous physical activity lowers risk for postmenopausal breast cancer. Vigorous physical activity lowers risk for pre-menopausal breast cancer, according to the recently released American Institute for Cancer Research “Breast Cancer Report.”

Early detection of breast cancer is the leading factor in the historic decline in cancer deaths. With screening mammography, treatment can be started earlier in the course of the disease, possibly before it has spread. Results from randomized clinical trials and other studies show that screening mammography can help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer among women ages 40 to 74.

“The importance of love and life hits you square in the face and it takes a strong toll on your body and spirit,” says Cheryl of her diagnosis and treatment regimen.  Today she is more than one year cancer free.

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, treatment, and follow-up care for all types of cancer.

Cancer Mortality Rates Continue to Decline in The U.S.

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Continuing a positive trend for the last two decades, cancer death rates declined again last year. According to annual statistics reported from the American Cancer Society, the cancer death rate for men and women combined has fallen 26% from its peak in 1991. This decline translates to nearly 2.4 million deaths averted during this time period.

“Cancer Statistics, 2018,” was published in the American Cancer Society’s journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The information is also available in a companion report, Cancer Facts and Figures 2018, and on a website, the Cancer Statistics Center. Although cancer death rates continue to decline, a total of 1,735,350 new cancer cases and 609,640 deaths from cancer are projected to occur in the US in 2018.

The decline is mostly due to steady reductions in smoking and advances in early detection and treatment. “This new report reiterates where cancer control efforts have worked, particularly the impact of tobacco control,” said Otis W. Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. “A decline in consumption of cigarettes is credited with being the most important factor in the drop in cancer death rates. Strikingly though, tobacco remains by far the leading cause of cancer deaths today, responsible for nearly 3 in 10 cancer deaths.”

Lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers are leading the way in lower death rates. Lung cancer death rates declined 45% from 1990 to 2015 among men and 19% from 2002 to 2015 among women. Early detection of breast cancer resulted in a 39 percent decline in death rates in women for the same period. Prostate and colorectal cancer experienced a 52 percent reduction between 1970 and 2015, primarily due to increased routine screening.

According to the report, the reduction in death rates is not equal across all ethnic, racial and social economic classes of population. The rates of new cancer occurrence are generally highest among African Americans and lowest for Asian Americans.

Cancer remains the second most common cause of death among children ages 1 to 14 in the U.S. Leukemia accounts for almost a third of all childhood cancers, followed by brain and other nervous system tumors. While child death rates due to cancer have continuously declined since 1975, cancer incidence rates increased in children and adolescents by 0.6% per year for the same period.

The report also reveals that the lifetime probability of being diagnosed with cancer is 39.7% for men and 37.6% for women. The most common cancers to be diagnosed in men are prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers. The most common cancers to be diagnosed in women are breast, lung, and colorectal cancers. Breast cancer accounts for 30% of all new cancer diagnoses in women. Liver cancer incidence continues to increase rapidly in women, but appears to be stabilizing in men.

The good news is particularly rewarding to the professionals at Gettysburg Cancer Center where their understanding of cancer and how to treat it is constantly evolving toward the day when they have a cure. Testing new procedures for identifying and diagnosing certain diseases and conditions, finding ways to prevent certain diseases or conditions before they have a chance to develop, and exploring new methods of supportive care for patients with chronic diseases are at the core of the ongoing clinical trials at the Center.

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.