Healthcare – writing sample from “New Milford Hospital Newsletter”

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While the word cancer still makes people wince, the past few years have actually brought hope in treatment and prevention of the disease. One of the biggest advances is new knowledge doctors have about cancer. They now know much more about who gets cancer, how the diseases progresses, and ways to prevent future occurrences.

Medical oncologists and researchers at New Milford Hospital’s Regional Cancer Center have participated in cancer clinical studies related to genetic-types of cancer, as well as closely watching medical advances. While we still wait for a cure, doctors have a better understanding of the genetics of the disease, which gives them more options in testing and treating patients.

Much of the research has centered on certain types of cancer that have hereditary factors, especially in breast, colon and uterine cancer, and melanoma. Women with mutations in certain genes called BRCA1 and 2 are significantly more predisposed to getting breast cancer, as are people with gene mutations for colon and uterine cancer, called the Lynch Syndrome. Some people also have Familial Melanoma Syndrome, making them more at risk for the most serious type of skin cancer.

As the hospital’s Center marks its 10th anniversary this year, researchers and oncologists Debra Brandt, DO, and Ann Chiang, MD, PhD, spoke recently on “Cancer Research for New Treatment Options” as part of the Hospital’s community cancer education series.

Among the recent breakthroughs they discussed were:

  • A study of PARP (poly adenosine disphosphate (ADP) ribose polymerase) inhibitors for women with BRCA1 and 2 breast cancers. PARP is a drug that helps the DNA repair mechanisms, according to Dr. Chiang. Mutations in the BRCA1 and 2 genes cause a defect in DNA repair, which creates tumor growth. While PARP inhibitors are not yet approved by the Federal Food and Drug Admininistration, they are now being studied. Dr. Chiang expects approval within five years.
  • New testing for breast cancer patients considering Tamoxifen. CYP2D6 testing is available to women who might take Tamoxifen as part of their treatment to prevent subsequent occurrences of cancer. CYP2D6 testing is another category of options available to women. CYP2D6 is a gene that allows women to metabolize Tamoxifen. “Not all women metabolize Tamoxifen,” according to Dr. Chiang. “Some women do not get the full affects of the drug.” In these cases, women might not want to take it.
  • Use of Raloxifene vs. Tamoxifen. The STAR clinical trial, one of the largest national breast cancer prevention studies, found that Raloxifene worked as well as Tamoxifen in reducing breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. Dr. Brandt participated in this trial. She currently has studies under way on lung, breast and prostate cancers, along with lymphoma. Dr. Brandt strongly recommends that people consider participating in one of the trials. She said that there are a lot of myths about being in a trial, and most are based on fear. Trials are very safe, she said, and patients have an opportunity to be part of research for a cure. “Participating in clinical trials,” she said, “gives us increased hope for a cure. It makes a lot of sense.”
  • Testing for the Lynch Syndrome. Like women with the BRCA1 and 2 genes, some people also have a gene that puts them at increased risk for colon and uterine cancer. Lynch Syndrome is a rare inherited condition that increases one’s risk of colon and uterine cancer. Lynch Syndrome is also known as Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC). An estimated two to three out of every 100 colon cancers are thought to be caused by Lynch Syndrome. Both doctors suggest that people with a strong family history of colon cancer, especially under the age of 50, get a colonoscopy. This type of screening is proven to find pre-cancerous polyps before they become cancer.

While cancer is still a horrible disease, its treatment doesn’t have to be. “We have a lot of hope for the future,” said Dr. Brandt. “The way we all can make a difference is through education and participation in a clinical trial.”