All posts by Albert Mak MD

New Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Patients

Targeted Therapy Could Bring New Hope to Pancreatic Cancer Patients

Pancreatic CancerResearchers at Rice University and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center are working on a treatment that will use short, pristine carbon nanotubes to deliver chemotherapy drugs to the interior of pancreatic cancer cells. Once inside the cells, doctors would be able to agitate the nanotubes using sound, in a process known as sonication. This process would trigger the release of the drugs, which would kill the pancreatic cancer cells from within.

A New Treatment Option for Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat, in part because it is so difficult to catch early and spreads so quickly. Many pancreatic tumors are inoperable, and it can be hard to target these cancer cells with chemotherapy drugs. Targeted radiation therapy is often one of the best treatment options for pancreatic cancer.

The nanotube research, led by Rice University chemist Andrew Barron and published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry B, may eventually offer another option for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Unlike many existing chemotherapy treatments, the nanotubes are small enough to slip through gaps in blood vessel walls and infiltrate the nuclei of cancerous cells, so they can carry the drugs right to where they’re needed.

Previous work taught the researchers it was possible to modify nanotubes to carry chemotherapy agents and release them through the process of sonication. The researchers also knew that it would be possible to control the rate at which the nanotubes release their payload of drugs. Thanks to this new research, the scientists now have a deeper understanding of exactly how the nanotubes need to be modified to do their work.

Cut to Size

The Rice and University of Texas researchers made several discoveries that should make it possible to develop a targeted chemotherapy treatment using nanotube technology. First, Alvin Orbaek, Rice graduate student, alumnus and study co-author, purified the carbon nanotubes with chlorine. This process removes any iron particles left in the tubes during their growth. These iron particles could damage the tubes and make them hard to use for any targeted treatment procedure.Pancreatic Cancer Treatement

Next, postdoctoral research associate and lead author of the paper, Enrico Andreoli, cut the nanotubes down to an average length of 50 nanometers using a thermal procedure. It’s important that the nanotubes not be too long, since that could make them hard to work with, according to R&D Mag. Researchers in Barron’s laboratory coated the nanotubes’ surfaces with polyethyleneimine (PEI). Laboratory tests showed that the tubes can be dispersed in liquid easily and that they can easily infiltrate the nuclei of live cancer cells.

It’s still unknown, however, whether the nanotube technology will work to treat human pancreatic cancer. Next, the researchers will test the technology on mice. The researchers will graft human tumor cells into the mice to create a situation that mimics human pancreatic cancer.

Researchers at Rice University and the University of Texas are working on a targeted treatment for pancreatic cancer that would deliver chemotherapy agents to cancer cells using nanotubes. The treatment would allow doctors to circumvent many of the physiological barriers that currently make chemotherapy difficult for pancreatic cancer. In the meantime, targeted radiation therapy can be used to shrink pancreatic cancer tumors while minimizing side effects and damage to healthy tissue.



Staying Healthy During Cancer Treatment

How to Keep Your Strength Up During Cancer Treatment

The treatments administered for cancer, including radiation and chemotherapy, can cause fatigue and nausea. While these side effects can make it difficult to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, it’s important you continue to eat healthy foods as much as possible and get some exercise as often as you can. Practicing good nutrition and exercise habits during cancer treatment can help improve your quality of life, relieve treatment side effects and keep up your strength throughout treatment.

Nutrition for Cancer Care

Chemotherapy is well-known for causing nausea, but radiation treatment can cause upset stomach and vomiting as well. Radiation treatment for brain cancer, spine cancer and cancers of the abdomen and digestive tract are notoriously crucial in the treatments of these diseases, but the stomach-upsetting side effects can be distressing.

Nutrition for Cancer CareThough it might be hard to eat and keep down food during radiation treatment or chemotherapy, it’s important you do your best. Good nutrition during cancer care helps you maintain your physical strength and can help mitigate fatigue. It can help you maintain a healthy weight, prevent nutritional deficiency, lower your risk of infection and speed your overall recovery. Maintaining proper nutrition during cancer treatment helps you maintain a good quality of life and makes you better able to cope with other side effects.

If you’re getting radiation treatment, you should always try to eat within an hour of going to treatment. You’ll tolerate the treatment better with something in your stomach. If you have to travel to the treatment facility, bring snacks with you. Focus on eating calorie-dense, nutritious foods like nuts, avocados, beans, seeds, cooked cereals and puddings.

If your treatment side effects make it hard for you to eat properly, try eating smaller meals every two or three hours instead of three large meals per day. Some cancer patients find that there’s a specific time of day, such as breakfast time, at which it’s best to eat the bulk of their calories for that day. You can add protein powders or nutrition supplements to your food to increase their calorie content. When you’re feeling nauseated, eat foods that soothe the stomach, like saltines, ginger ale or toast.

Exercise During Cancer TreatmentStaying Healthy During Cancer Treatment

No one’s expecting you to hit the gym every day while you’re going through cancer treatment, but for many cancer patients, regular physical activity can have multiple benefits. Regular exercise during cancer treatment keeps your body strong and can help prevent anxiety and depression. It can also relieve side effects like nausea and improve fatigue. Talk to your doctor and treatment team about whether you should exercise and how much exercise is appropriate. Start slow, and stick to gentle activities like walking, riding a bike slowly, walking a well-behaved dog, dancing or going to yoga. Plan your exercise program to include both aerobic activities, like walking, and strength-training exercises, like yoga or gentle weight lifting.

Good nutrition and regular gentle exercise can go a long way toward helping you maintain your physical strength and fight off fatigue during cancer treatment. The better you’re able to care for yourself, the more you’ll enjoy your life and less vulnerable you’ll be to the fear and uncertainty that a cancer diagnosis can bring.


What to Know About Head/Neck Cancer

Here’s What You Need to Know About Treating Head and Neck Cancer

Head & Neck CancerThe term “head and neck cancer” is typically used to describe cancers that occur in the larynx or voice box, throat, sinuses, mouth or nose. Cancers in other areas of the head and neck, such as brain cancer, parathyroid cancer, eye cancer and esophageal cancer, aren’t usually included in this category because their diagnosis and treatment can be very different than for cancers of the mouth, throat, nose, sinuses and larynx. Most head and neck cancers are squamous cell cancers, meaning they start in the flat or squamous cells that form the surface layer of tissues in the head and neck.

Facing a cancer diagnosis is never easy. If you’ve been diagnosed with head or neck cancer, there are three main treatment options available: surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Usually, some combination of surgery and radiation therapy is recommended as the primary treatment, while chemotherapy is administered as a complementary treatment. However, your specific treatment modalities will depend on the stage of your cancer and its location.

Will Your Cancer Require Surgery?

Not all head and neck cancers require surgery. If your cancer is in its early stages and has not yet spread, you may be able to avoid surgery. At this early stage, most doctors recommend choosing either radiation therapy or surgery to remove the cancerous tumor.

When surgeons remove a cancerous tumor, they usually remove a large amount of the healthy tissue surrounding the tumor. This is done to prevent the recurrence of the cancer. However, when it comes to head and neck cancers, this type of surgical approach can mean losing a large portion of the oral and facial structure. You might need reconstructive surgery following your tumor excision, and even with reconstructive surgery, your appearance might be changed and you might suffer from some impairment of function.

Traditional radiation treatment for head and neck tumors is effective, but untargeted radiation therapy can cause damage to healthy tissues. Precision-targeted radiation therapy for head and neck tumors can kill the cancerous tissue, while minimizing damage to the healthy tissue surrounding the tumor.

What Can You Expect During Radiation Treatment?

Before radiation therapy, you will need to visit with a radiation oncologist who will take your medical history and perform a physical exam. You’ll also consult with other members of your treatment team and at this time, including a pathologist, radiologist, dentist and head and neck surgeon.

Treatment planning will begin with a CT scan or X-ray to help your treatment team plan where to direct the radiation. You will usually begin radiation therapy one or two days later and will receive treatments up to twice a day, five days a week for five to seven weeks. Your first couple of treatments may take one to two hours, but subsequent treatments will probably take less than an hour.Treating Head & Neck Cancer

Side effects of radiation treatment usually appear at least two weeks after you begin treatment. The most common side effect of radiation treatment for head and neck cancer is a sore throat. New targeted radiation technologies can help protect your healthy tissues from damage and prevent side effects. Nevertheless, you should mention any side effects, pain or discomfort to your treatment team so you can receive the appropriate palliative care.

Radiation treatment alone is often effective for head and neck cancers that have not spread. The newest treatment modalities allow doctors to target the cancerous cells, leaving healthy cells intact. Medication can provide relief from any side effects.


Patch for Oral Cancer Treatment

How a Patch Could Revolutionize Oral Cancer Treatment

Oral Cancer TreatmentResearchers working with the University of Michigan and Ohio State University have agreed to partner with Venture Therapeutics, Inc., an Ohio-based company, to establish a new company for the purpose of developing and marketing, worldwide, a new pharmaceutical treatment for precancerous oral lesions.

Thirty percent of precancerous oral lesions go on to become oral squamous cell carcinoma, a type of oral cancer that typically requires invasive surgical treatment. The new pharmaceutical treatment, which consists of a medicated patch that could be applied to the precancerous site at home, could deliver medication to the lesion without causing any of the adverse side effects associated with more invasive oral cancer treatments.

Treatment for cancers of the head and neck has evolved rapidly in recent years. Each year in America, 42,440 people are diagnosed with oral cancer. The new medicated patch could stop many cases of oral cancer before they develop, eliminating the need for head and mouth surgery. The patch will soon be moving into clinical trials.

A Less-Invasive Alternative

For those patients whose precancerous lesions progress into full-blown oral cancer, surgical treatment can be very invasive. Surgery for cancers of the mouth often requires significant removal of mouth and facial structures. Afterward, appearance is altered and function is impaired. Chemotherapy treatment for oral precancerous lesions causes the same side effects associated with other chemotherapy treatments.

The new oral patch would deliver localized treatment directly to the precancerous area. Precancerous oral lesions are easy for the patient to see and feel. They typically present as white or red sores or lesions on the tongue, gums or lining of the mouth. Often, they’re sore and painful. A patient using the new medicated patch could simply apply it to the precancerous area to treat the disease locally with minimal side effects. This patch definitely meets a need for patients diagnosed with precancerous oral lesions, researchers say.

Multi-University Collaboration

The oral patch was developed by researchers working at the University of Michigan, Ohio State University (OSU) College of Dentistry, OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center, Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. The researchers put the needs of patients diagnosed with precancerous lesions first.

“This type of collaboration, involving multiple university partners with strong industry support, is increasingly essential to expedite the discovery, development and delivery of more targeted cancer therapies,” said Michael Caligiuri, MD, director of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and chief executive officer of the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. “There is no routine cancer, and today it takes the collective minds across disciplines, institutions and industry to move the field forward.”

The patch eliminates toxicity issues associated with chemotherapy and delivers chemotherapy medications directly to the precancerous tissue. The new pharmaceutical treatment has already moved past preclinical trials and is currently in clinical trials at OSU.Oral cancer In an uncommon business arrangement between a university and a pharmaceutical company, OSU and Venture Therapeutics are working together to develop the patch and will continue to work together to market and distribute the treatment. Venture Therapeutics is handling the development activities, while OSU performs the research, clinical trials and analysis of the treatment’s effects. It is hoped that the collaboration will help speed development of the drug and bring it to patients with precancerous oral lesions sooner.

Ohio State University, University of Michigan and Venture Therapeutics are working together to develop and market a medicated patch that could prevent most cases of oral cancer by delivering targeted treatment to precancerous lesions. In the meantime, increasingly advanced cancer treatments like those at Pasadena CyberKnife are giving oral cancer patients better and better odds.




Signs You Need a Cancer Support Group

6 Signs You Need a Cancer Support Group & How to Choose One

As you undergo treatment for cancer, your family and friends will undoubtedly provide plenty of help and support. Sometimes, though, you need to connect with others who are going through the same thing. You want to talk with someone who understands what you’re feeling and can offer firsthand insight and support.

That’s where support groups come in. A support group is a collection of individuals drawn together to discuss living with their disease. Members offer each other support and encouragement, new information and ideas and provide comfort, information and validation for patients who want to feel less alone in their journey.

According to the American Cancer Society, scientific evidence indicates that support groups actually extend life expectancy and survival rates for cancer patients, while also improving quality of life; this makes support groups a valuable addition to your successful cancer treatment. The key, though, is knowing when you need a support group and choosing the right one.

Signs You Need a Support Group

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, your family will most likely form the backbone of your support network. But no matter how loving and concerned they are, they do not have the unique experience of being a cancer patient. In that case, a support group may be a good option for you.

More specifically, if any of the following sounds familiar, you might want to look into your group options:

  • You’re experiencing emotions that you aren’t sure how to explain, or that your family cannot understand.
  • You want a safe place to discuss your fears without worrying your family members.
  • You have questions about coping that your family member or doctors cannot answer.
  • You want to feel less “alone” in your battle against cancer.
  • You want ideas on how to manage certain aspect of your disease and treatment that only another survivor or patient could understand.
  • You sense that your family members are experiencing compassion fatigue, and want to ease their burden.

While a support group will never take the place of a licensed medical professional in terms of offering medical advice, other cancer patients and survivors can provide insights and advice from an insider’s perspective.

Choosing a Cancer Support Group

Some cancer patients resist joining support groups because they feel uncomfortable sharing their experiences with strangers. Others resist out of a belief that the group will be a “downer,” and they will leave more frustrated or depressed than when they arrived. These are valid concerns, but if you do your homework, you can find a group that works for you.Choosing a Cancer Support Group

Start by asking your doctor about any local groups; most cancer treatment centers either host groups onsite or provide lists of local groups. Most patients find that support groups specifically related to their type of cancer are the most effective, as it is easier for a brain cancer patient to relate to others undergoing  brain cancer treatment than with those who have breast or prostate cancer, or vice versa. The best group size depends on your needs; some people thrive in a large group where they can hang back and do more listening than talking, while others prefer smaller groups where the participants can form stronger bonds.

Above all, any group should have a clearly defined purpose, strict confidentiality rules and a leader or facilitator who is capable of managing the discussing and keeping it on track and relevant. You may need to attend several meetings or talk with several leaders before choosing a group, but do not give up if the first group isn’t a good fit.

Most doctors and cancer experts agree that support groups are a valuable part of any cancer treatment plan. If you have questions about groups, or any other aspect of your treatment plan, make an appointment to meet with one of the specialists here at Pasadena CyberKnife in Los Angeles.