All posts by Albert Mak MD

Getting Back to Normal After Cancer Treatment

How to Get Back to Normal After Cancer Treatment Ends

After Cancer TreatmentAs you approach the end of your cancer treatment, you probably can’t wait for things to get back to normal. But returning to a normal way of life takes time. Often, the side effects of treatment can last for several months after treatment ends, especially if you’ve had chemotherapy or traditional radiation treatment. You may also experience lasting emotional effects of cancer treatment, due to the stress of the experience. It’s important to know what to expect and how to cope.

Be Aware of the Late Effects of Cancer Treatment

Late effects of cancer treatment are those effects that appear after treatment ends. They may occur weeks, months, or even years after your treatment has ended, and they’re not always predictable. Some late effects go away after awhile, while others are more lasting.

You should talk to your cancer treatment team about any potential late effects you can expect to experience, especially since these effects can vary depending on what treatment or treatments you may have received. You can expect the lowest rate of late effects with CyberKnife, since it targets the cancerous tissue and leaves healthy tissue undamaged.

After Cancer TreatmentGet Emotional Support

As your cancer treatment draws to an end, you may experience pleasant emotions like relief, excitement, and joy. You may look forward to resuming a more normal routine, spending more time with your loved ones, trying new things, traveling, or simply enjoying what you love most in life. But many survivors face less pleasant emotions after cancer treatment.

You may worry about the cancer coming back. You may feel lonely and isolated even in the company of friends and loved ones, because they don’t understand what it’s like to survive cancer. You may feel anger, grief, depression, a lack of confidence, or uncertainty about the future. Get support from friends and loved ones, attend counseling, or join a support group. Other ways to cope with your emotions include journaling, expressing yourself creatively, and exercising.

Take Care of Your Body

Cancer treatment can be a massive physical drain, and it can take a long time for your body to recover. After cancer treatment ends, take care of your body by getting enough rest, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet. If you drink alcohol, you may want to consider quitting, or at least keeping your consumption within recommended guidelines. If you smoke, quit smoking.

Be Patient

Your body may not bounce all the way back immediately after cancer treatment, and that’s normal. Make sure that family, friends, and neighbors understand that you may not be able to immediately resume your normal activities and commitments. A general rule of thumb is that recovery from the effects of cancer treatment can take about the same length of time as that which passed between the day when you or your doctor first suspected you might have cancer and the day of your last treatment. So, if you first received suspicious test results in January and you finished treatment in August, you may not be completely physically recovered for a full eight to nine months after your final treatment.

You may be looking forward to your last cancer treatment, but that doesn’t mean your life will return to normal right away. Be patient, get support, and take it easy, and soon you’ll find yourself living a full and vibrant life after cancer.


Therapies that Complement Lung Cancer Treatment

5 Alternative Therapies That Complement Lung Cancer Treatment

Alternative therapies are popular — according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, four in 10 American adults reported using some form of alternative or complementary therapy within the year prior to the survey. The most popular treatments were deep breathing exercises and natural products, but other popular alternative therapies include acupuncture, massage, meditation and yoga.

Can alternative and complementary therapies help with lung cancer treatment? They can, but it’s important to realize that alternative therapies alone may not be as effective as traditional cancer treatments like radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. Nevertheless, many patients fighting lung and other cancers choose alternative therapies to help them manage pain, stress, and cancer treatment side effects.

Make sure you discuss any alternative therapies you may be considering with your treatment team before you get them. Some therapies may not be appropriate for all patients, or can interfere with your treatment. Alternative therapies like the ones discussed below can be a beneficial part of your comprehensive treatment plan, and help you get the most out of lung cancer treatment.

1. Yoga

Yoga is a form of strength training exercise that involves physical postures and breathing exercises. It is a meditative practice that has been found to promote relaxation and increase physical fitness. It may help you sleep better, and if you’re trying to quit smoking, yoga may help you learn to manage cigarette cravings. Yoga may help to relieve symptoms of physical pain and can help you manage cancer treatment side effects. In recent studies of cancer survivors, yoga has been found to greatly improve quality of life.

If you have never done yoga before, you should take classes from a qualified instructor. You can also practice yoga poses at home on your own.

Acupuncture for Lung Cancer2. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves inserting needles into acupuncture points on the skin, or applying heat, pressure, or other stimulation to those points. Acupuncture during lung cancer treatment can help relieve chemotherapy symptoms, including vomiting and nausea, and ease pain associated with cancer. You should receive acupuncture from a licensed practitioner who uses new, disposable needles for each session. If you are taking blood thinners or have low blood counts, you shouldn’t have acupuncture.

3. Hypnosis

Hypnosis has a number of applications for use in cancer treatment. Not only can it help you learn to manage pain, it can also help you come to terms with psychological symptoms like anger, anxiety, frustration, guilt, depression, and fear of death. You can use hypnosis to help you deal with cancer treatment side effects like nausea. You can receive hypnosis from a psychotherapist or other professional, or learn self-hypnosis.

Massages can complement lung cancer treatment4. Massage

Research into the benefits of massage for cancer treatment show that it can relieve anxiety, stress, pain, fatigue, and depression. It can enhance feelings of well-being, promote relaxation, relieve stiffness, and enhance mobility. You may want to look for a massage therapist who specializes in helping cancer patients. You shouldn’t have massage if you’re taking blood thinners or if you’re suffering from low blood counts.

5. Meditation

Meditation is a practice in which you use self-reflection or mental concentration to calm the mind and relax physically. It can help you cope with sleep problems and chronic pain brought on by cancer treatment. It may also relieve anxiety and stress while improving immune function and mood. There are many forms of meditation. Free guided meditations are available online and in many communities.

Alternative therapies can be a powerful complement to traditional cancer treatments. They can help you cope with the psychological, emotional, and physical side effects of cancer treatment. Like many cancer patients, you may find these therapies so valuable that you continue to include them in your daily life, even after cancer treatment is complete.


New Hope for Trigeminal Neuralgia Sufferers

Nonsurgical Treatment Brings New Hope to Trigeminal Neuralgia Sufferers

Treating Trigeminal NeuralgiaTrigeminal neuralgia has been nicknamed the “suicide disease” because the pain it causes is said to be so bad that it drives sufferers to suicide. While there is a widespread myth about the number of people who commit suicide because of this disease, the pain of this condition can range from mild to excruciating and can be brought on by such innocuous stimuli as touching your face, eating, drinking, or talking.

While standard pain medications do little to mitigate trigeminal neuralgia pain, drugs like oxcarbazepine or balcofen may bring relief of symptoms. However, these drugs can lose their effectiveness. Surgical procedures are available for trigeminal neuralgia, but until recently, these were invasive. A study published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery showed that radio surgery with CyberKnife can relieve trigeminal neuralgia pain in most patients.

What Causes Trigeminal Neuralgia Pain?

Trigeminal neuralgia is most often described as a sharp, shooting, or electrical-shock-like pain that affects the cheek, teeth, jaw, gums, lips, eye, or forehead on one side of the face. Pain is usually brief in duration, lasting up to several seconds, but it’s recurrent, and can be brought on by speaking, chewing, brushing the teeth, or touching the face. Trigeminal neuralgia symptoms can recede for months or years and then return without warning.

The pain usually occurs due to pressure on the root of the trigeminal nerve, which serves the face and mouth. Such pressure usually comes from an artery or vein pressing on the root of the nerve, though a tumor may also be the culprit. Age is a risk factor for trigeminal neuralgia.

Treating Trigeminal Neuralgia

Relief for Trigeminal NeuralgiaWhile drugs can relieve the pain associated with trigeminal neuralgia, they can become less effective over time or cause side effects like confusion, dizziness, drowsiness, double vision, or nausea. A surgery known as microvascular decompression can be used to remove or relocate veins and arteries that may be compressing the root of the trigeminal nerve, but this procedure is invasive and may not be effective for all patients. Side effects can include double vision, weakness, or numbness in the face, impaired hearing, and even stroke.

Radio surgery has been used to treat trigeminal neuralgia for some time. It works by administering radiation to the trigeminal nerve to dull its pain response. Previous techniques required patients to have an invasive procedure that involved mounting a frame in the skull, but new CyberKnife technology enables patients to take advantage of image guidance and tracking software to benefit from radio surgery without the need for a frame. Now you can get relief from trigeminal neuralgia pain with a non-invasive, non-surgical outpatient procedure.

For the study published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery, researchers looked at the effects of CyberKnife radio surgery on 17 trigeminal neuralgia patients aged 36 to 90 who received surgery between 2007 and 2009. These patients had failed to respond to other treatments, and had suffered between one and 11 years.

Fourteen of the patients said they experienced partial or total relief of symptoms, and the average patient began to experience symptom relief in about two months. Four of the patients experienced symptom relapse three to 18 months later. None of the patients reported any serious side effects, and only two reported mild side effects.

If you or someone you love is suffering from trigeminal neuralgia pain, there’s no need to undergo an invasive surgical procedure. For many who try CyberKnife radio surgery, symptom relief is total and permanent.



Overcoming the Stigma of Lung Cancer

How to Overcome the Stigma of Lung Cancer

Overcoming the Stigma of Lung CancerPeople with lung cancer face overwhelming stigma — much more so than those with other types of cancer. Even though as many as 20 percent of lung cancer sufferers never smoked in their lives, the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer is so strongly ingrained in the public consciousness that it’s often seen as a self-inflicted disease that sufferers “deserve” to have.

One study found that people with lung cancer are more likely than those with prostate or breast cancer to feel that their behavior caused their cancer, whether or not they were current or former smokers. Lung cancer sufferers are also more likely to feel ashamed of their cancer, to believe that their loved ones feel ashamed, or to be too embarrassed to talk about their cancer. Lung cancer stigma can be so powerful that some sufferers delay treatment out of shame.

Don’t let lung cancer stigma hold back your recovery. Surround yourself with supportive people and try not to let the insensitive comments of others bother you. Put your treatment first, even if you feel responsible for your cancer because of past smoking. You can’t change the past, but you can take control over what happens today.

Dealing with lung cancerGet Support

When you’re coping with feelings of guilt or embarrassment about getting lung cancer, having an understanding shoulder to cry on can make all the difference. Talk your feelings over with a friend, loved one, counselor, or support group. If you are a current or former smoker, talking to a support group of other smokers who developed lung cancer can help you learn new ways to cope with feelings of guilt and regret.

Surrounding yourself with supportive people can also give you a sort of buffer against insensitive remarks. Plenty of people say unhelpful things like “I didn’t know you smoked” or “My aunt Margaret died of lung cancer” when they hear about your diagnosis. For the most part, these people are speaking out of ignorance or their own fear of cancer and don’t mean to hurt your feelings. If you have a hard time responding to these remarks, a supportive friend or loved one could respond for you by pointing out that there are many causes of lung cancer, that not everyone who gets lung cancer is a current or former smoker, or that you’re optimistic about your own treatment.

Let Yourself off the Hook

If you are a current or former smoker, you may feel that you caused your own lung cancer. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Up to 20 percent of lung cancers happen in people who never smoked — in 2013 alone, 45,638 Americans were diagnosed with lung cancer despite never having smoked. So there’s no guarantee that your lung cancer is the result of your smoking.

Even if it is, you can’t go back and un-smoke all those cigarettes. You were or are suffering from an addiction, which means that even though you knew smoking was bad for you, you were not or are not entirely in control of your behavior. If you quit smoking in the past but still developed lung cancer, know that you did the best you could. If you are still smoking, get help to quit, but don’t keep beating yourself up. Guilt isn’t going to speed your recovery.

The guilt and stigma associated with lung cancer are powerful enough to affect even those sufferers who never smoked. Whether or not you’re a current or former smoker, you can’t blame yourself for your lung cancer — and you can’t allow others to blame you either.


Treatment for Aggressive Prostate Cancer

How an HIV Drug Could Stop the Spread of Aggressive Prostate Cancer

Maraviroc for Prostate CancerProstate cancer is often a slow-growing cancer that requires little treatment. Up to 90 percent of men with prostate cancer will eventually die of some other cause. However, 10 to 15 percent of patients develop a more aggressive form of the cancer — one that spreads quickly to the bones or brain and causes pain, disability, and rapid death. New research suggests, however, that a drug called maraviroc, which is used to treat HIV, may be able to significantly slow the progression of aggressive prostate cancer.

Maraviroc Targets Protein Implicated in Prostate Cancer Spread

Researchers from Thomas Jefferson University believe that a protein known as CCR5 is responsible for helping prostate cancer cells spread. Earlier work by the same team of researchers found that CCR5 also drives the spread of aggressive breast cancer. The HIV drug, maraviroc, may slow the spread of prostate cancer by blocking CCR5 receptors on the surface of prostate cancer cells. The mechanism is similar to the way the drug works to treat HIV, since the HIV virus relies in the CCR5 receptors on white blood cells in order to invade and destroy those cells.

Drug Reduces Spread of Prostate Cancer in Mice

In order to test the efficacy of maraviroc in stopping the spread of prostate cancer cells, researchers tested the drug on mice suffering from metastatic prostate cancer. The researchers first genetically altered mouse prostate cells in order to encourage them to become aggressively cancerous. They then analyzed the cells in the lab to determine if they were behaving in a way similar to that of metastatic cancer cells.

Treating prostate cancerThe researchers also compared genetic activity in normal prostate cells with that of the genetically-engineered cancer cells, to see if genetic differences between the two could be contributing to the spread of prostate cancer in the mice. They found that a gene involved in the CCR5 signaling pathway was responsible for the spread of aggressive prostate cancer in the mice, and investigated whether blocking the action of the associated protein — CCR5 — might also stop the spread of cancer. Researchers believe that the CCR5 signaling pathway and protein may also be responsible for the spread of prostate cancer in humans. Blocking the spread of aggressive prostate cancer can significantly improve survival rates and can greatly expand treatment options. Almost 100 percent of men who are treated before prostate cancer spreads are still alive five years later.

When the researchers administered maraviroc to the mice with prostate cancer, the results were astonishing. They found that the drug blocked the action of CCR5 protein and stopped the spread of prostate cancer by more than 60 percent. Further research is needed to determine if maraviroc has a similar effect on prostate cancer in humans, but since the drug is already approved for the treatment of HIV, human trials can begin much sooner than if this were a drug still in development.

Prostate cancer affects one in seven American men, but it is a survivable cancer as long as it is treated before it has a chance to spread. A drug already used to treat HIV may help stop the spread of aggressive prostate cancers. For the 10 to 15 percent of men whose prostate cancers are aggressive, this drug could mean a second chance at life.