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Clinical trials can often serve as most fascinating – and mutually beneficial – step in the scientific research process.

It’s at the clinical trials stage where some of the biggest breakthrough advancements in patient care can take place. It’s also where patients can receive treatments that may not have been available to them in any other way.

But before any patient even begins to consider enlisting in a clinical research study, he or she must become informed. The Center for Information & Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP) provides all of the pertinent information for anyone looking to enroll in a clinical trial.

Here are a handful of questions the CISCRP recommends each patient asks prior to enrolling:


Does the study involve a placebo or a treatment that is already on the market?

How long is the study going to last and what will I be asked to do as a participant?

What has been learned about the study treatment and are any study results published?

Do I have to pay for any part of the study? Will my insurance cover these costs?

Is there any reimbursement for travel costs or childcare?

Will I be able to see my own doctor?

Will I receive any follow-up care after the study has ended?

What will happen to my medical care if I stop participating in the study?

Does the physician/investigator have any financial or special interest in the clinical study?

The clinician scientists of the University of Arizona Cancer Center are engaged in more than 200 clinical trials, investigating a broad spectrum of new diagnostic, prevention and treatment strategies. We strive to provide high quality care and ensure both scientific integrity and ethical conduct in all clinical trials.

So before diving into any clinical trials database, educate yourself on what treatments might work best for you.

The Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP)

 

 
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“If the PIKEs had not picked up the [CATWalk], the event would have been dropped.”

That’s what legendary former Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson had to say about the Phi Kappa Alpha fraternity and their efforts to keep the CATWalk alive.

The original CATWalk took place in 2001, shortly after Lute’s wife, Bobbi, passed away from ovarian cancer. She was one of the campus’s most beloved individuals, and the CATWalk turned into a way for the entire community to honor her.

The event was nearly called off last year, but the PIKEs stepped up and put on the 13th annual CATWalk on Dec. 1, raising $14,500 for the UA Cancer Center to go toward women’s cancer research. The PIKEs present Olson with the check on Friday, Jan. 25.


Patrick Weber, a systems engineering junior and the new director of PIKE, is already planning the nextCATWalk.

“It is the most meaningful and enriching event I have ever participated in because the people I have met just through coordinating this, from Dr. [David] Alberts, the director of the Arizona Cancer Center, to Lute and Kelly Olson, to business owners, and to actual cancer survivor patients, you just see the passion these people have to fight this horrible disease,” Pfeiffer said.

Thanks to everyone who helped keep this terrific event going. We’re looking forward to the next CATWalk.

• PIKE donates thousands to UA Cancer Center (Arizona Daily Wildcat, Jan. 26, 2013)

 

 
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Myra Christopher

Cancer Today is a publication that specializes in top-shelf features, and profiles. The latest edition is no exception, and it features one of the more thought-provoking stories I’ve read in quite some time.

Freelancer Charlotte Huff profiled a uniquely fascinating cancer survivor in Myra Christopher. Two years ago, Christopher had a six-inch ovarian tumor removed and has been steadily working through the treatments. But she is far from what anyone would call a passive patient.

Christopher helped launch the Center for Practical Bioethics in 1984, serving as its executive director and later as president for nearly three decades through 2011. She’s spent the majority of the past two decades speaking on behalf of patients’ rights and helping them gather the best possible information so they can make the choices that best suit each situation.

“I won’t go to a doctor who won’t give me their cell phone number,” she told Huff.

Unfortunately, Christopher’s tumor was not isolated to her ovary. Doctors “discovered a stage 1C tumor that had shifted painfully onto her spine.” She refused to be rushed into treatment and elected to evaluate all of her options before making a decision.


After mulling over the available research, Christopher agreed to chemotherapy, but decided early on that she did not want to get snagged by what she dubs “the treadmill” of repeated treatments. If the cancer recurred soon, within the first year after chemotherapy ended, she told Truman, she likely wouldn’t submit to additional cycles. 

Christopher fought for the right oncologist, the right treatment plan, the right situation for her and her family. “Her subsequent chemotherapy regimen consumed the first half of 2011, with six cycles total of carboplatin and Taxol (paclitaxel), administered every three weeks. Her memories of the side effects remain vivid: the head-constricting sensation of her first wig and the sores and metallic taste that chemotherapy left in her mouth. Only coffee ice cream ‘by the pint’ appealed.”

But her insistence on receiving the exact care she requested paid off. She’s been in remission for more than a year and her blood work has shown no indication of a recurrence. She avoided “the treadmill.”

Christopher’s history with patients’ rights is fascinating, as well. I highly recommend you click over to Huff’s story and read about this remarkable woman.

• Patients’ Rights Powerhouse (Cancer Today, Dec. 31, 2012)

 

 
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Photo courtesy of the NCI

Sadly, “youth” is not always synonymous with “health.”

Jan. 20-26 is National Teen Cancer Awareness Week, and the National Cancer Institute has set up a comprehensive resource for people to learn all of the relevant facts regarding adolescent/young adult cancer diagnoses.

Roughly 70,000 Americans ages 15-39 are diagnosed with cancer each year. It’s a particularly devastating diagnosis to receive at this stage of one’s life. It should be a time for beginnings — high school, college, first homes, marriage, children — not for hospital stays and chemotherapy treatments.

But a cancer diagnosis should not be considered the end of one’s youth. The NCI lays out the types of cancers most common in this age range, treatment and clinical trial options, coping techniques, and survivorship options.

Share this NCI link with anyone you might know who is dealing with these issues. There is some truly valuable information here.

• Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer (Cancer.gov)


 

 
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Do you think smoking is only bad for your lungs? Think again.

Our friends at SmokeFree.gov recently put together this handy interactive program detailing how smoking negatively impacts every facet of one’s health.

From the brain to the mouth to the heart to the bones to even the white blood cells — no aspect of human physiology can escape smoking’s wrath.

Here are a few examples:


Weakened immune system. Cigarette smoke contains high levels of tar and other chemicals, which can make your immune system less effective at fighting off infections. This means you’re more likely to get sick.

DNA. Every single puff of a cigarette causes damages to your DNA. When DNA is damaged, the “instruction manual” gets messed up, and the cell can begin growing out of control and create a cancer tumor.

Bigger belly. Smokers have bigger bellies and less muscle than non-smokers. They are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, even if they don’t smoke every day.

Muscle deterioration. When you smoke, less blood and oxygen flow to your muscles, making it harder to build muscle.

Become addicted. Nicotine from cigarettes is as addictive as heroin. Nicotine addiction is hard to beat because it changes your brain.

And the list goes on from there.

Check out the interactive program for yourself to find out all the ways smoking makes one’s life miserable.

Fortunately, the site isn’t all doom and gloom. Each interactive menu features a paragraph on the numerous benefits of quitting. For example, did you know that “[t]he large number of nicotine receptors in your brain will return to normal levels after about a month of [quitting]“?

Seriously, if you smoke, stop today. If you know someone who smokes, send them this link.

• Smoking health consequences (SmokeFree.gov)

 

 
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Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with Actinic Keratosis (a pre-cancerous skin lesion)? The University of Arizona Cancer Center is asking for volunteers to participate in a study aimed at helping researchers better understand the biology and treatment of skin cancer.

Study participants will be asked to complete questionnaires to answer questions about their personal characteristics, past medical history and risk factors. Compensation for time and travel will be provided to qualified study participants.

From the UACC’s official release:


The Skin Cancer Institute and the Skin Cancer Prevention Program at the University of Arizona Cancer Center are creating a sample repository or “bank” to be used for future research to better understand the biology and treatment of skin cancer.

This research will be based on the personal health information of the study participants, their medical and treatment history for skin cancer or pre-cancerous skin lesions, and the collection of their tissue and blood samples, which will be stored and then used for laboratory tests.

We are seeking study participants, ages 18 to 80, who have a history of actinic keratoses or “pre-cancers.”

For more information and to request a phone interview, please call the study coordinator at 520-321-7747.

• UACC creating skin cancer bank (arizonacancercenter.org, Jan. 14, 2013)
• UACC Skin Cancer Institute

 

 
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Evan Unger, MD

Evan Unger, MD, has spent the majority of his career on the cutting-edge of cancer research.

As co-leader of The University of Arizona Cancer Center Imaging Program, Dr. Unger is the inventor on more than 100 issued patents and has led the development of three compounds approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

In Dr. Unger’s world, there is no such thing as an “untreatable tumor.” It’s simply a tumor that hasn’t been solved, yet.

On Jan. 8, the Arizona Daily Star published a story detailing how Dr. Unger, through his company, NuvOx Pharma, is “planning clinical trials of an injectable drug that can infuse tumors with oxygen to make them more susceptible to radiation treatment.”

Oxygen is vital in tumor treatment. Low-oxygen, or “hypoxic” tumors, are often resistant to traditional radiation treatments. Dr. Unger specializes in creative solutions to infuse these tumors with oxygen, while reducing potential side effects.

The injectable dodecafluoropentane compound NuvOx has developed, known as NVX-108, has a lower boiling point and expands in the bloodstream, allowing a much smaller, safer dose than other oxygen-delivery systems, Dr. Unger said.

“Over a billion dollars was spent studying the other materials, and they all failed because they had high doses and eventually caused side effects in patients,” Unger told Star reporter, Dave Wichner. “Ours is less than one two-hundredths of the dose (of the others), and we completely reverse radiation resistance in hypoxic tumors.”

The Phase II portion of clinical trials could begin within the next nine months.

In an October, 2011 story in our Act Against Cancer publication, we detailed Dr. Unger’s work with “microbubble technology,” a procedure he spent two decades developing in order to inject millions of tiny bubbles into a patient’s bloodstream that would act as “little mirrors for ultrasound or as delivery systems for drugs or oxygen.”

“The average cancer patient undergoes roughly 28 radiation treatments, so we’re also hoping this oxygen therapy allows patients to undergo far fewer treatments and recover much faster,” Dr. Unger said.

• Tucson tech: NuvOx drug that aids radiation treatments set for clinical trials (Arizona Daily Star, Jan. 8, 2013)
• Under the microscope: Dr. Unger’s bubbles (Act Against Cancer, Fall 2011)


 

 
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On Monday afternoon, the National Cancer Institute released its Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, the most comprehensive and detailed report of its kind with regard to cancer trends.

This year’s report shows that “overall cancer death rates continued to decline in the United States among both men and women, among all major racial and ethnic groups, and for all of the most common cancer sites, including lung, colon and rectum, female breast, and prostate.” On the rise? Melanoma of the skin (among men only) and for cancers of the liver, pancreas, and uterus.

The report, produced since 1998, is co-authored by researchers from the American Cancer Society (ACS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR). It appears online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

This year’s report also featured “special feature section on human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated cancers,” which showed that “incidence rates are increasing for HPV-associated oropharyngeal and anal cancers and that vaccination coverage levels in the U.S. during 2008 and 2010 remained low among adolescent girls.”

“The continuing drop in cancer mortality over the past two decades is reason to cheer,” said John R. Seffrin, Ph.D., chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. “The challenge we now face is how to continue those gains in the face of new obstacles, like obesity and HPV infections. We must face these hurdles head on, without distraction, and without delay, by expanding access to proven strategies to prevent and control cancer.”

Click “Read More” to view a PDF of the full report, as well as a comprehensive Q&A document detailing the report’s methodology.

• Report to the Nation shows U.S. cancer death rates continue to drop; Special feature highlights trends in HPV-associated cancers and HPV vaccination coverage levels (Cancer.gov, Jan. 7, 2013)



 

 
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When a patient sees his/her doctor for treatment, the patient simply assumes the proper medication will be available to complete treatments.

Sadly, this is not always the case.

The United States is in the midst of a major prescription drug crisis, as many potentially life-saving medicines are simply, well, out of stock.

A recent study, which appeared in the Dec. 27 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that “young cancer patients who couldn’t get a key medicine because of a national drug shortage were more likely to suffer a relapse than others who were able to get the preferred treatment.”

It’s the first evidence of a prolonged drug shortage resulting in an impact on cancer treatment. The study involved more than 200 children and young adults with a blood cancer called Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a disease with an 80-percent cure rate with the proper diagnosis and treatment.

The new study, led by Dr. Monika Metzger of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, gives the best evidence so far that patients are suffering.

The study focused on “mechlorethamine, or nitrogen mustard … Doctors compared results among 181 Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients who received the drug to 40 others who were given a different chemotherapy, cyclophosphamide, when the first choice was unavailable. Only 75 percent of those given the substitute drug stayed free of cancer for two years, versus 88 percent who received the preferred treatment.”

The American Society of Health-System Pharmicists keeps a detailed list of current drug shortages, so if you or a loved one depends on a specific medication, please be sure to check this list frequently, as “shortages can adversely affect drug therapy, compromise or delay medical procedures, and result in medication errors.”

• Drug shortage tied to cancer patients’ relapse (AP, via Arizona Daily Star, Dec. 27, 2012)


 

 
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Greetings, friends, and welcome to 2013!

“Act Against Cancer,” the University of Arizona Cancer Center’s health and wellness blog, took a little bit of a break during the holidays, but I wanted to take a minute to thank each and every person who visited, read, bookmarked, shared, or subscribed.

Starting a blog from scratch isn’t always easy, but we’ve carved out a bit of a niche for ourselves. It’s been roughly six months since the blog went live, and during that time, we’ve seen roughly 10,000 visitors. A few of them have even started corresponding with me, and we hope to have some guest posts coming in the near future.

Thanks again to everyone who has taken the time to stop by. If you have any suggestions for how we can make this blog better, please get in touch by using the “Contact Us” link on the top-right portion of the page.

Here’s to a happy, healthy and cancer-free 2013!