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Proper Screening and Lifestyle Changes Can Impact Cancer Risk

women wearing pink for breast cancer awareness

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.

clinical trials screen

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.