Today, we found out that the University of Arizona Cancer Center became the first institution in Southern Arizona (and only the fourth in the entire state) to be awarded a three-year term of accreditation from the American College of Radiation.

It’s a prestigious, well-deserved honor for our tremendous Radiation Oncology team, which has been working hard for years to earn this accreditation.

From the official ACR release:

The ACR is the nation’s oldest and most widely accepted radiation oncology accrediting body, with nearly 500 accredited sites, and 25 years of accreditation experience. The ACR seal of accreditation represents the highest level of quality and patient safety. It is awarded only to facilities meeting specific Practice Guidelines and Technical Standards developed by ACR after a peer-review evaluation by board-certified radiation oncologists and medical physicists who are experts in the field.

Patient care and treatment, patient safety, personnel qualifications, adequacy of facility equipment, quality control procedures, and quality assurance programs are assessed. The findings are reported to the ACR Committee on Radiation Oncology Accreditation, which subsequently provides the practice with a comprehensive report they can use for continuous practice improvement.

UA Cancer Center earns ACR accreditation (ArizonaCancerCenter.org, April 30)
UA Radiation Oncology


Dave Dravecky had a special left arm.

Think about it. There are nearly 7 billion people on Earth. Less than one percent of them – a fraction of a fraction – will ever throw a Major League fastball. Dave Dravecky was one of them.

He grew up idolizing Sandy Koufax and Vida Blue – other lefties who could fire off 90-plus mile-per-hour fastballs. He spent most of the 1980s sharing the same occupation as his heroes: big-league pitcher. Incredible.

It all came to a heartbreaking halt on Aug. 10, 1989, when Dravecky suffered one of the most horrifying injuries anyone can suffer on a baseball diamond. His left arm – that special, gifted arm – snapped in half. Dravecky, a desmoid tumor survivor, pulled off one of the most incredible comebacks earlier that season, defying the odds and returning to the mound 10 months after his diagnosis.

But that cancer had weakened his deltoid to the point where his arm could no longer survive the torque of a 90 mile-per-hour fastball. After the injury, the cancer reappeared (along with dozens of surgeries and a brutal 10-month staph infection) and claimed his arm for good. In order to survive, the doctors would need to amputate. That left arm that made all of his dreams come true was now threatening to ruin his life.

For some people, that could be too much to bear. For Dave Dravecky, it started him on a path of spiritual and personal discovery.

Dravecky told his story on Thursday morning at the annual NACCDO-PAN conference in Denver. With nearly every American cancer center represented in the audience, Dravecky delivered a moving, emotional, and at times laugh-out-loud hilarious speech that reminded us what it takes to defeat this awful disease.

Dravecky took us through the dizzying highs of his professional baseball career, along with the heartbreaking lows of the identity crisis and depression he went through when he lost his ability to pitch.

“We’re all on a journey for a common goal, and that’s to find a cure for cancer,” Dravecky said at one of the speech’s most emotionally charged moments. “It’s teamwork that will help us achieve that goal.”

Dravecky also relayed a story about the time he met his idol, Sandy Koufax. He wanted to shake his hand for serving as such an inspiration in his life. As a young, baseball-loving child growing up in Wyoming, I remember watching Dravecky pitch through the 80s and how devastatingly sad I was to witness Dravecky’s injury on television in 1989. Seeing him speak today was one of the more inspiring moments of my life.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a hand I need to shake.



Just about everyone who smokes has tried to quit at some point. Last week, we had a post covering how some folks seek out massage therapy to kick the habit. We’ve also done posts on the hidden financial burden smokers endure, as well as the added health hazards smokers face.

We’ve even covered the proposed smoking ban at the Arizona Health Sciences Center.

Today, we explore the technology route.

Judith Gordon, PhD, a behavioral psychologist with the Department of Family and Community Medicine in the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, is seeking participants to help test a mobile phone app designed to help people take medication to quit smoking.

Study participants will spend two hours testing the app, called RxCoach, in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, and will be compensated for their time. Knowing how to use a smart phone is required. It will be a plus – but not required – for a participant to be a smoker, former smoker and/or using the prescription drug Chantix to curb their nicotine cravings.

Dr. Gordon, a recognized leader in smoking-cessation research, is principal investigator on the study, which is funded with a National Institutes of Health Small Business Technology Transfer Grant. She is partnering with InterVision Media of Eugene, Ore., which is programming the app.



Some people will try anything to put an end to their tobacco habit — patches, gum, self-help books, hypnosis. Can something as relaxing and wonderful as massage therapy help, as well?

Recently, some Tucson massage therapists completed training in a research project to combat tobacco use, the No. 1 preventable cause of disease and death in the United States.

The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute and conducted by the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, is called Project Reach. According to the Arizona Health Sciences Center, participating licensed massage therapists are better equipped with the skills and knowledge to help their clients quit tobacco, and to help clients help a loved one quit tobacco.

As part of Project Reach, participating massage therapists took part in training sessions and received client information handouts so that the massage therapist can help their clients quit tobacco. Massage therapists also learned about communication skills to encourage and support behavior change – rather than threaten or lecture the smoker. They learned how to provide essential information about quitting techniques and local resources for extra support.

“We want to express our appreciation to these massage therapists, and recognize their efforts and commitment to being a quit-tobacco resource for the Tucson community,” says Myra Muramoto, MD, professor of family and community medicine and director of Project Reach.

A directory of massage therapists, acupuncturists and chiropractors who completed Project Reach training is available at www.fcm.arizona.edu/reach. For more information about Project Reach, please call 520-626-9895, or email reach@email.arizona.edu.



Here’s how scientific research works, in a nutshell. Each time a new, potentially groundbreaking cancer treatment surfaces, the scientific community attempts to poke holes in it, searching for ways that it could fail or otherwise harm patients. This kind of skepticism is a vital part of the scientific method.

This time, it’s the treatment itself that is poking holes.

Researchers are currently experimenting with a process called irreversible electroporation (IRE), which uses millions of electrical pulses per second to kill cancer cells but spares nearby tissue.

An April 15 article in the British paper the Daily Mail calls IRE a “minimally invasive cancer treatment that punches microscopic holes” in tumors, but doesn’t harm surrounding healthy tissue.

Dr. Constantinos Sofocleous, an interventional radiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, “completed all 30 treatment sessions with no major complications, showing IRE to be safe enough for further investigation in larger clinical trials.” He presented his findings at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s 38th Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans.

This treatment method involves generating strong electrical pulses to make microscopic holes in the cancer cell membranes, which throws the tumor cell into total disarray, as the lack of balance between the molecules inside and outside that cell leads to its demise.

Dr. Sofocleuous: “The combination of minimally invasive surgery and IRE allows for faster recovery with less tissue injury, and it is hoped, a better long-term outcome than with traditional surgery.”

Cancer treatment that punches holes in tumours could be latest weapon in war against disease (Daily Mail, April 15, 2013)


This morning, thousands of people are voicing their support for medical research.

The Rally for Medical Research is taking place at the Carnagie Library grounds in Washington DC, where some of the field’s most respected researchers, including University of Arizona Cancer Center Director David Alberts, MD, are taking part in this unified call to action to raise awareness about the critical need to steadily increase investment in the NIH to improve health, spur more progress, inspire more hope and save more lives.

From the Rally’s official website:

“Today’s rally will serve as strong reminder to Congress that the health of our nation depends on medical research,” said Donna Arnett, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., president of the American Heart Association.  “Unless we restore NIH funding now, the treatment or cure you or your family will desperately need in the future may never be discovered. We will not give up this fight.”

The NIH is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world and has been a driving force behind many decades of advances that have improved the health of people in every corner of America. In addition, the NIH is creating hundreds of thousands of high-quality jobs through its funding of thousands of scientists at universities and research institutions in every state across America and around the globe.

To watch a live stream of the event, head over to the AACR’s YouTube page, or view the embedded video below:


REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Roger Ebert died on Thursday at the age of 70. Everyone knew him as the film critic with a famous thumb. I knew him through his writing — that lovely, open-hearted writing that couldn’t help but inspire anyone who used art as a way to try to understand life.

Ebert is the type of public figure who will leave many lasting legacies, as he meant something different to everyone. Among his most important accomplishments? He proved that a cancer diagnosis shouldn’t prevent someone from living a happy, productive life.

Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002. That cancer claimed his jaw in 2006, leaving him unable to speak or enjoy food and drink, which led to this touching essay in 2010. He turned to Twitter, gaining a large, loyal following as he used social media to connect with people in a way that few others have been able to replicate.

He continued to write. When he wasn’t writing, he was brainstorming things he could write about. He kept reviewing films, exposing more and more of himself — his thoughts, fears, passions — in his critiques. He somehow became more productive after his diagnosis.

This was a man who took nothing for granted. He knew he had a gift, and he knew how to share it. Cancer was not the end of the line for Roger Ebert. In many ways, his cancer diagnosis helped amplify his best qualities — his curiosity, work ethic, and compassion.

Many wonderful writers cite Ebert as a primary inspiration. Here is Will Leitch’s story. Here is Chris Jones’s landmark Esquire piece, “Roger Ebert: The Essential Man.” There are dozens more, as Ebert’s influence runs wide and deep throughout our culture.

In the 11 years Ebert lived with cancer, he produced more A-level content than most writers do in a lifetime. We’ll remember him not only as America’s most important film critic, but as a man who never let cancer stand in his way.