Beating chemo-related hair loss with Scalp Cooling

Posted by in Looking Good, News, Treatments, Well being | 1 comment

When cancer survivor Lizelle Knott was diagnosed with breast cancer, there was one thing that she just couldn’t accept: losing her hair. Again. At age 16, Lizelle had been diagnosed with Stage IV Lymphoma, and the treatment made all her hair fall out – a devastating experience for a young girl. Now a wife and mother, Lizelle had no choice about fighting cancer a second time – but this time, she made up her mind to hang onto her hair. Like so many who have grieved the loss of their hair, for Lizelle this wasn’t about vanity, it was about privacy. Having the right to decide who gets to know that you are sick, and how they learn about it. With a fifteen month old toddler to consider, Lizelle also wanted to look “normal” for his sake. Psychiatrist Dr Tanveer Baig of the Royal Marsden Hospital in London says that hair loss is the symptom associated with the most distress two months after surgery; as many as 8% of cancer patients say they considered refusing treatment because of expected hair loss. On the other hand, according to Dr Baig, there is increased tolerance for the other side effects of chemotherapy if hair loss can be reduced. Lizelle had heard about a non-invasive treatment which can prevent hair loss during chemotherapy, and decided to try it with the support of her oncologist in East London. The principle is simple: Hair grows from follicles lying just below our scalps. They are energy rich and require a good blood supply. If the scalp can be kept cold enough, growth activity in the follicle is suppressed, reducing blood flow. What’s more, the small blood vessels around the follicles constrict, allowing minimal blood to get through. The first few hours of a chemotherapy treatment is a critical time to protect the hair roots so that hair does not fall out. So how hard can it be, just to keep a cool head for those few hours? In practice, it was far from simple to rescue her crowning glory! The use of Cold Caps to prevent hair loss during chemotherapy was trialled in Europe as long ago as 2000 and is now going through further tests in California and New York. So far, the trials have shown an 81% success rate. As many as 50 000 patients worldwide have tried scalp cooling, yet it’s still not well known nor offered in most cancer treatment centres. Undeterred, Lizelle persisted with the help of resourceful staff at GVI Oncology in East London, who put her in touch with GVI Cape Town (Sandton Oncology Centre in Johannesburg can also help). East London had two Elastogel Hypothermia Caps, and...

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Breast Cancer: The most important facts

Posted by in Authors, Blog, Diagnosis, Prevention, Treatments | 0 comments

Sometimes, it can seem as though breast cancer is everywhere: everyone knows someone, everyone’s family is touched by it. The chord struck by breast cancer is evident in the avalanche of pink ribbons that’s everywhere from the Internet to our streets, and the many stories of those who have survived as well as tributes to those who did not. There are many spin-offs from this high level of public awareness, and one of them is ready funding for more research, which is showing great results. But even though the general public may be more aware of “breast cancer” than is true for most other forms of cancer, international research shows that most women who have been treated for breast cancer, do not know what kind of tumour they had. Yet from any doctor’s point of view, this is first-ranking information! Momentum Health’s JUMP magazine recently interviewed some top South African breast cancer specialists to find out what they regard as the most important facts about breast cancer (see Issue 1, 2015). So here’s what you should know: * Don’t panic. The great majority of lumps that appear in breast tissue are not cancer. But don’t ignore a lump either – expert advice is needed to determine whether or not you need further treatment. * Like any other cell, a cancer cell has its own specific programming which tells it how to behave: its genetic material or DNA. This includes the likelihood of spreading to other organs, the speed at which it grows and divides to form new cancer cells, and even how it will respond to various forms of treatment. That’s another reason to get immediate expert help, because no matter how small it may be, an aggressive tumour will soon become a much worse problem. * Patients should know about the four main types of breast cancer and the treatment you can expect for each one – if you are able to catch it at an early stage. 1. Luminal A: The most common type affecting around 70% of patients and especially older women. Treatment is by cutting off the supply of oestrogen (female hormone) that feeds it; you’ll be on anti-oestrogen medication for up to five years but you won’t need chemotherapy or any other treatment. 2. Luminal B: This less common type also needs oestrogen to thrive but can continue to grow without oestrogen, so in addition to anti-oestrogen medication you will be offered a course of chemotherapy to achieve a better result. 3. HER2: This is a form of breast cancer that usually has a family history. It is treated – with much success – by a combination of chemotherapy and “molecular therapy” targeted specifically...

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Know your cancer, beat your cancer

Posted by in Authors, Blog, Diagnosis, Treatments, Well being | 0 comments

Breast cancer patients tend to be a well informed bunch, who turn up to medical appointments with print outs and well considered questions. However, a recent study in California found that only a small minority of breast cancer patients understood all the key aspects of their tumours. The stage, grade and sensitivity of your tumour determines the type of treatment you will have. Whilst thorough patient education would not necessarily change the outcome of the treatment in a direct way, it is likely to improve the patient’s experience of that treatment as well as her ability to stick with it. All of this key information is available soon after you have your first surgery. Staging indicates the spread of the tumour – how big it has grown as a single clump of cells, and/or how much it has been able to travel to other areas. Sensitivity to Oestrogen (Estrogen in America), to Progesterone and to Epithelial Growth Hormone or HER-2 is a key element of treatment because if cancer cells need these hormones for “fuel” then by blocking the hormones the growth of the cancer cell will also be blocked. Grading refers to the general aggressiveness of a tumour. If it’s made up of cells that are fairly similar to the healthy cells around it, but different to cells in other body organs, that is a low grade, less aggressive cancer. Cells that are more abnormal – more dedicated to being a cancer cell than to the function of the tissue they’re in – are higher grade and more aggressive. Knowing more about your cancer enables you to feel “part of the team” and to take more responsibility for your treatment, as well as to know what questions you want to ask (or not ask). This will ease your stress – you’ll feel much less helpless – and may help you deal with difficult side effects of the treatment such as hormone changes or chemo side effects. For most people today, the idea that “doctor knows best” is no longer enough. We want our doctors to be experts but we want to be knowledgeable as well! For doctors, this means that patient education is an important part of the treatment, time consuming as it may be. Just a treatment is individual – there is no “one size fits all” in breast cancer – so patient education also needs to be individualised. The level of explanation that is helpful for a University professor isn’t likely to be as helpful for a domestic worker, but both women need to be as informed as they can about what’s going on with the cancer and the process of treatment. There’s good news for...

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Birthday parties – 14 million of them

Posted by in Blog, Diagnosis, Prevention, Treatments, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Any excuse to celebrate, and millions of birthday parties around the world tell the story – cancer, though still a big public health concern, is not a death sentence. Since reaching a peak in the early 1990’s, cancer death rates have been steadily falling – at around 20% for women and over 25% for men. This is according to Cancer Research UK and the American Cancer Society. Probable reasons for this improvement are: – fewer people smoking – improved screening and early diagnosis for common cancers – more treatment options – targeted drug and/or radiotherapy treatment – new surgical techniques – more effective treatment and prevention of co-occurring conditions such as diabetes, obstructive airways disease, stomach ulcers, chronic infection and so on “We needed to give patients more options and better news about their future. I was impatient for more advances sooner and I still am. But clearly we’re moving in the right direction” – Prof Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK There are still challenges. Pancreatic cancer appears to be on the rise, and amongst women, lung cancer has increasing by around 8% (whilst falling amongst men). This is thought to be the tragic harvest of 1960’s cigarette marketing, which successfully targeted millions of women by promoting tobacco smoking as an aid to slimming. Whilst older women tend to take better care of their health, younger women sometimes fail to notice or to report symptoms that could serve as early warnings of cancer. These include: – unexplained weight loss – bloating – breast changes: lumps, thickening, persisting rash, discharge, nipple changes – unusual bleeding – skin changes (moles, pigmentation, scaling) – difficulty swallowing – blood in urine or stool – gnawing abdominal pain especially associated with depression (may indicate pancreatic cancer) – indigestion for no apparent reason – white patches or spots in the mouth (especially if you are or were a smoker) – unexplained pain: not likely to be cancer but get it checked out – a swelling under the armpit, in the neck, or anywhere else – unexplained fever (sometimes associated with early blood cancers) – persistent fatigue, even if you think you have reasons to be so tired – persistent coughing There are a few ‘wild cards’ in our future whose effect on rates of cancer diagnosis and death are still unknown. The most worrying of these is the so-called “obesity epidemic”, especially insofar as it affects younger people. Recent research has connected excessive sugar consumption with a variety of conditions including auto-immune and inflammatory conditions which may predispose to some forms of cancer. We really need to start dealing with this!  ...

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Short course of radiotherapy equally effective

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A large British study of almost 4500 women treated with radiotherapy for breast cancer has found that a three-week treatment is just as effective as the more usual five-week treatment, but causes less side effects even though larger “doses” are given. The study followed patients over ten years after completing treatment, comparing those who received 15 doses of radiotherapy over three weeks, with patients who were given 25 doses over five weeks. Professor John Yarnold of the Institute of Cancer Research in London said that giving patients their radiotherapy over three weeks was not only “more convenient and less tiring for patients”, but that the results were comparable to the longer treatment, which until recently has been the standard approach for breast cancer. “We’ve shown conclusively that less can be more in breast cancer radiotherapy”, said Professor Yarnold. “These 10-year results reassure us that three weeks of radiotherapy is as good as the five weeks still used in many countries, with less damage to nearby healthy tissue, as well as being more convenient for women – shorter waiting lists and fewer hospital visits – and cheaper for health services”. It may even be possible to reduce the treatment period even further, giving larger doses over as little as seven days. Kate Law of Cancer Research UK said that not only would these new treatment plans save women from going through the physical and emotional stress of extra hospital visits, but the ever-increasing number of long term cancer survivors has changed the way cancer treatment is viewed, with more emphasis on prevention of side effects. Campbell, D. “Breast cancer treated just as well by short radiotherapy course, say experts”. The Guardian, Thursday 19 September, 2013....

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