May 07, 2012
By Terri Ades, DNP, FNP-BC, AOCN
We remember the phrase from the 1980s. It emerged from a substance abuse prevention program to teach students skills to resist peer pressure and other social influences. When Mrs. Nancy Reagan was visiting an elementary school in California and was asked by a schoolgirl what to do if she was offered drugs, the first lady responded by saying, "Just say no." Upon her husband's election to the presidency, Mrs. Reagan outlined how she wished to help educate the youth, stating that her best role would be to bring awareness about the dangers of drug abuse.
Mrs. Reagan was talking about drug abuse among our youth- she was not talking about the appropriate use of drugs to treat cancer-related pain. Yet patients are hesitant today to take pain-relieving medicines for their pain, and caregivers are reluctant to give them. Many are afraid of addiction. Are their fears related to this campaign from the 1980s? Probably not, but we know it is very difficult to change people's attitudes about taking pain-relieving medicines once those attitudes are formed. More...
April 26, 2012
By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD
In my work at the American Cancer Society, when I talk with people who've been diagnosed with cancer, they tend to ask me 3 things: what can I do to reduce the chance that my cancer will come back? What can I do to help me not develop some other kind of cancer? How can I help my family members reduce their own risk for developing cancer?
For many years, answering questions 2 and 3 was a cinch.
We've known for years that for people who don't smoke, the most important ways to reduce their risk of cancer are to strive to be at a healthy weight, live a physically active lifestyle, eat a diet made up mostly of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and watch how much alcohol is consumed (if any, at all). As a matter of fact, a recent study published by ACS researchers showed that non-smokers who most closely followed those recommendations had a significantly lower risk of premature death from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all causes when compared to people who followed the guidelines least closely.
So giving advice about how to reduce their risk of developing another type of cancer and providing information to pass on to their own family members was pretty easy, because that data has been around for many years.
Answers about how to reduce the risk of recurrence were not as clear. But they've recently gotten clearer. More...
April 09, 2012
By Terri Ades, DNP, FNP-BC, AOCN
Recently a colleague at work who had just returned from a getting a haircut mentioned to me that his hairdresser, who has lung cancer, was upset because her husband was very worried about her. The hairdresser explained that she had started having some memory problems - couldn't remember what she did yesterday or couldn't remember people's names. And she had started to tell her husband something and stopped in the middle of her story - not remembering what to say next. She too acknowledged being a little concerned and was seeing her doctor in 3 days, but she didn't know how to help her husband until then. I asked if she was receiving chemotherapy and was told yes, so I explained that she might have "chemo brain."
We've known for some time that radiation therapy to the brain can cause problems with thinking and memory. Now, we are learning that chemotherapy is linked to some of the same kinds of problems. Research has shown that some chemotherapy agents can cause certain kinds of changes in the brain. Though the brain usually recovers over time, the sometimes vague yet distressing mental changes cancer patients notice are real, not imagined. These changes can make people unable to go back to their school, work, or social activities, or make it so that it takes a lot of mental effort to do so. These changes affect everyday life for many people receiving cancer treatment. More...
February 23, 2012
By Lewis Foxhall, MD
Every cancer patient wants to successfully complete active treatment . Thanks to improved treatments and use of cancer screening programs (which can find cancer early, when it's most treatable), this goal is being reached more frequently than ever.
But to get the most out of treatment there is more you can do. A proactive approach to care for cancer survivors has developed over the last few years. This includes traditional follow up looking for any signs the original cancer has come back. It also includes active management of any lingering side effects of treatment, testing for new cancers, and addressing psychological and social problems that may develop or persist after treatment. This approach is intended to give you the greatest benefit from your treatment so you can live longer, and better. More...
January 24, 2012
By Michele Szafranski, MS, RD, CSO, LDN
"Well, I could stand to lose some weight." As a cancer dietitian, I have heard this more times than I can count in the past 10 years. But most people are surprised when I explain to them that losing weight during their treatment may not be the best time. While getting to a healthy weight over the long run can be a healthy thing to do, it can actually be harmful before and during cancer treatment.
For some people with cancer, keeping weight stable can feel like an uphill battle since there are many factors that can contribute to weight loss even before patients are diagnosed. For instance, the cancer itself may produce chemicals called "cytokines" that can give you less of an appetite or cause nausea. Or the location of a tumor may place pressure on the digestive tract, making you fill up on food easily or have a hard time swallowing. After receiving a diagnosis, anxiety about the diagnosis and upcoming treatment can take away appetite. Then once treatment begins, side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, taste changes, and sore throat can change what and how much people are eating. More...
January 18, 2012
By Durado Brooks, MD, MPH
Imagine being told by your doctor, "You have cancer." Then imagine that their next words are "... but we probably don't need to do anything about it." Many people would immediately start looking for another doctor. But hold on just a moment.
Last month the National Institutes of Health (NIH) brought together experts from around the world for a summit to examine the state of our scientific knowledge on "active surveillance" as a management strategy for prostate cancer. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, active surveillance essentially means monitoring the cancer closely and delaying active treatment (surgery or radiation, for instance) until there are signs it is needed; the delay may be months, years, or forever. This summit pointed out that while there is still much we need to learn about this once-controversial approach, there is a wealth of data supporting the potential value of active surveillance for a large number of the 240,000 men in the United States who are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. More...
November 29, 2011
By Terri Ades, DNP, FNP-BC, AOCN
As an advanced practice oncology nurse, I've been asked many interesting questions about cancer at cocktail parties. While I've never been asked about palliative care, my sense is that more people should be asking about it. Opinion surveys indicate that the public does not understand palliative care. So what? Well, if the public doesn't understand it, then when they or a family member need it, they may be missing out on care they should be receiving.
Palliative care is care given by specialized health professionals to improve the quality of life of individuals and families who face a serious illness. Palliative care addresses the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs of a person from the time of a diagnosis to the end of life. It is the care that occurs to relieve symptoms (like pain, nausea, and fatigue) when someone is undergoing therapy to cure their cancer, or to address their emotional suffering when they are told their cancer has progressed, or the social suffering they experience with limited income and health insurance, or their spiritual suffering when they have lost hope. More...
November 08, 2011
By Greta Greer, MSW, LCSW
In my last blog, I provided general tips for communicating with someone diagnosed with cancer. In this blog, I talk about the added importance of good, open communication when you are caring for a loved one with cancer.
When it comes to being a cancer caregiver, I've found that caregivers often have the same questions and concerns as the person with cancer. Is he [am I] going to die? What if I can't handle this? Where's the money coming from for treatment? Is the cancer his [my] fault? I told her to go [I know I should have gone]...to the doctor... stop smoking... lose weight...get a colonoscopy, mammogram, Pap smear...use sunscreen! I'm so angry...scared...overwhelmed. Is cancer contagious? However, both those with cancer and those who care about them may not share these concerns with one another. Why is that? More...
September 20, 2011
By Greta Greer, MSW, LCSW
Nearly 12 million people living in the United States today were diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives; some are undergoing active treatment and others are living cancer free. Most of us know at least one person with cancer, but how confident are you in your ability to communicate well with someone who has recently been diagnosed or is in treatment for cancer?
Feeling insecure about how to communicate well with a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker who is facing cancer is quite common. If I only had a nickel for every time I've heard "I don't know what to say!" And it's especially confusing if you heard about the diagnosis "through the grapevine."
Communication is challenging even in the best of circumstances. So when cancer enters the picture, lots of deep emotions and concerns take it to a new level. It raises the stakes in terms of how it can affect your relationship. Saying or doing the "wrong" thing takes on added significance to your partner, family member, or friend when they have cancer. What you don't say or do is equally important. More...
August 23, 2011
By Rebecca Kirch
"We don't beat the Reaper by living longer. We beat the Reaper by living well." Professor Randy Pausch, who died from pancreatic cancer at age 48, made this declaration in a commencement address shortly after enjoying a remarkable and viral reception to his "Last Lecture" at Carnegie Mellon in 2007. His sage words still resonate today, and, in my view from my role with the American Cancer Society, capture so eloquently the heart and soul of what most patients, survivors, and families facing cancer really want. Sadly, that's not the case for many patients and survivors who endure untreated pain, breathlessness, fatigue, nausea, depression, and stress as a result of cancer and its treatment. Which got me thinking...what would be that one magic law to boost quality of life and prevent suffering so that our health system delivers truly patient-centered and family-centered care? More...