Spotlight on: Cancer Centers of North Carolina

April 17, 2008

With five locations around the Triangle, 17 knowledgeable physicians and 26 years of experience, Cancer Centers of North Carolina offers treatment facilities, clinical trials, and personalized care for local cancer patients.

What was started by Dr. William Berry as Raleigh Hematology Oncology on June 1, 1979,  has now grown to be associated with US Oncology, Wake Medical Center, Rex Hospital, and Duke Health Raleigh Hospital

The mission of the Cancer Centers of North Carolina is to “enhance the quality of life for people touched by cancer.” The experienced professionals at the Cancer Centers fulfil this goal not only by providing top of the line treatment services but also by their level of compassion for both patients, families and friends of cancer victims.

Services provided by the Cancer Centers of North Carolina include: medical oncology, chemotherapy, radiation oncology, surgery, diagnostic radiology and hematology. Also on-site are clinical laboratory trials which examine bodily fluids in order to detect, diagnose and make advances in treatment, and an educational pharmacy which aims to inform not only patients but other doctors and nurses.

Perhaps more importantly, Cancer Centers provides a comphrensive resource center about 20 different types of cancer, support groups,  social and physical issues that cancer patients and their family’s face, and ways that people can protect patient’s rights.

If you or a loved one is interested in seeking treatment at Cancer Centers of North Carolina, ask your primary physician for a referral so that Cancer Centers has access to your medical documents.


Duke Sophomore Calls Attention to Chordoma

April 3, 2008

Josh Sommer is not your average college student. In addition to being a Trinity Scholar at Duke University, receiving the USA Today All-USA Academic First Team Award, the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, the Coca-Cola Scholarship, and the AXA Achievement National Award, Josh was diagnosed with a clival chordoma in 2006, his freshman year at Duke.

Chordoma is a bone cancer that develops from leftover parts of embryonic notochord in the skull base and spine. Clival chordoma, which is the most frequent type, means that the cancer is located in the clivus, which is a bone in the middle of the head. The effects of this malignant cancer, when occurring at the base of the skull, are headaches, neck pain, double vision, and the paralysis of muscles in the face.

While only approximately 300 new cases of chordoma are diagnosed in the United States each year, Josh Sommer has brought national attention to the disease.  Since his diagnosis, Sommer has personally sought out a cure in a Duke oncology lab. In 2007, Sommer co-founded with his mother, Dr. Simone Sommer, the Chordoma Foundation.  

As there are currently no drugs which are effective in the treatment of this disease, and the survival rate is, on average, seven years, this cause is crucial to Josh Sommer’s survival. Even though Sommer underwent surgery to remove the tumor, in the “Our Story” section of the Chordoma Foundation’s Web site, Josh says, “For me, this is a high-stakes race to outrun my disease.”

In addition to organizing a nationwide collection of chordoma tumors, in order to grow their cells, and leading the first Chordoma Research Conference, Josh has raised more than $300,000 for researching a cure. His goal is to raise $3 million by 2009.

My attempts to contact Josh have been unsuccessful — if you happen to know him, tell him that I truly admire his courage and drive to find a cure, and as always feel free to leave a comment.

Construction update for UNC Hospitals

March 27, 2008

The expected date construction will be completed on the UNC Cancer Hospitals Physicians Office building is late April, according to Felicity Little assistant project manager for Martin Architectural, a subcontractor on the job. Drywall on the first floor of the Cancer Hospital itself began two weeks ago and all work is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2009.  

Little said that this project will make the UNC Hospitals one of the premier cancer hospitals in the southeast.

The physicians office building is five-stories high and will supply additional space for the support staff. The Cancer Hospital will include a treatment facility, using both traditional and state of the art technology. This research facility will allow local physicians to combine their knowledge and develop novel cancer resources. Hospital admistinstrators hope that this new facility will unite this state and it’s cancer research efforts.

SKANSKA is the general contractor for the project, while local subcontractors on the job include Martin Architectural, Precision Walls, Engineering Specialties, LLVann and Bonitz. One of SKANSKA’s main goals is to make sure that the hospital satisfies green building requirements.

The University Cancer Research Fund

March 20, 2008

On March 13, 2008, the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center announced its partnership with the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) and other researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill to use image analysis techniques to help doctors fight against melanoma.

The project, called Image Analysis to Assess Melanoma Heterogeneity, is one example of how the University Cancer Research Fund (UCRF) strives to save and improve the lives of North Carolinians.

The UCRF was established by the North Carolina General Assembly in July 2007 for cancer research at UNC Hospitals and/or UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. In 2007 the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center received $25 million. In 2008 they will receive $40 million and in 2009 they will be given $50 million.

“We are honored that the state gave us this money and we want to be very smart about how we spend it,” said Dianne Shaw, Director of Communications for UNC Lineberger Cancer Center.  “We have held listening sessions in different geographical regions of the state to find out what North Carolinians want.  We keep their opinions in mind when deciding how to allocate funds.”

By giving $190,000 from the UCRF to research and develop treatment for skin cancers, North Carolinian’s voices have been heard. The money from this research will go towards evaluating more than 1,300 cancer patients worldwide, including 214 from North Carolina. The analysis from the cells of these patients will lead to models of melanoma cell descriptions, which will help with tumor classifications.

I invite you to comment on this site with your thoughts on how the research money from UCRF should be used. 

19th Annual Franklin 5K

March 6, 2008

Start of Race

The UNC chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha’s 19th annual Franklin 5K to support breast cancer research and education was Saturday March 1st.

Registration for the race, which included a commemorative navy blue T-shirt, was $15 in advance and $20 on the day of the race. Proceeds from the event benefited the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center for Breast Cancer Research, the Arc of Orange County, and the Zeta Tau Alpha Foundation, Inc. Lauren Kelley, a senior in Zeta Tau Alpha and this year’s 5K director, hopes that proceeds from the race exceed last year’s total of more than $35,000. 

Participants met at Bynum Circle off of Cameron Avenue to check-in, get an ankle bracelet that contained chip technology to calculate runners’ times, grab a bite to eat and store their gear. Cancer survivors were provided with pink survivors bracelets to wear during the run. The race kicked off at 9 a.m. and concluded in the same place with an awards ceremony and celebration.  

To see pictures and hear the sounds of race day, click here!

***Disclosure:I am a member of Zeta Tau Alpha at UNC.***

The Gene Girls

February 28, 2008

Carlye From, 23, and her sister Courtney, 27, don’t have breast cancer yet. But they have tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene which passes breast cancer from generation to generation.

For Carlye, a Meredith College student, this means that she has an 86 percent chance of developing the disease. Additionally, the breasts and ovaries are linked genetically, so her chances of developing ovarian cancer are increased.

In a phone interview, Carlye said to reduce her risk she is exercising more and eating healthier than she used to. She said that she takes better care of her body than most people think is necessary for her age group.

Carlye is under careful observation by doctors at UNC Hospitals, who constantly screen her with mammograms and MRIs. She had another mammogram just last week and everything checked out fine. “It is such a relief every time I leave a check-up knowing that for now I am OK,” Carlye said. “It is something I will deal with if and when the time comes, but for now it is not something I think about everyday.”

Carlye’s mom, Rivka was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2004. After undergoing a mastectomy and oophorectomy, Rivka is now cancer free. But as Rivka’s mother died of ovarian cancer, doctors suggested genetic testing for rest of the family. Carlye’s uncle has also tested positive for the mutation, but since men have less breast tissue than women, his risk of developing breast cancer is not as high as the female members of his family.

It was surprising to Carlye that her family has BRCA 1 as opposed to BRCA 2, which is more common for Ashkenazi Jews like her family. The self proclaimed Gene Girls speak nationally about genetic testing at synagogues, health care centers and cancer organizations. Look for them to speak at 6:30 p.m. on Monday March 3 at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Pharmacy.

The Gene Girls are in the process of creating a Web site and are writing a book to tell their story. According to Carlye, their goal is to empower people and educate others about genetic testing. The book will give perspectives from each age group, which is what they speak about.

“Don’t wait to get stage 4 cancer when you can get tested and be on top of your health,” advises Carlye. “The earlier cancer is detected, the more likely treatment will be successful. Medicine has gotten so advanced that receiving a diagnoses is no longer a death sentence. Of course it is still scary, but it is scarier not to know.”

Cancer Sucks ’08

February 21, 2008


What a perfect way to spend a Tuesday night- supporting a good cause, listening to upbeat music by local bands, and beer for those over 21! The first Cancer Sucks benefit concert was held Tuesday night at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro.

A trio of bands: The Future Kings of Nowhere, The Sammies and The Honored Guests, volunteered their time to perform at the concert. All proceeds raised from the concert planned by UNC-Chapel Hill senior, Amy Bugno, went to Relay For Life and the American Cancer Society.

Cat’s Cradle charged $250 for the sound equipment, and with tickets at $5 a pop, Bungo said that she hoped to raise a few thousand dollars. By 10 p.m. there were more than 100 members of the audience, meaning $250 of had already been raised. There was also a stand set up selling Relay For Life and band memorabilia as well as pizza for $1 per slice (again benefiting Relay For Life). T-shirts saying “cancer sucks” and “Great Breasts are worth fighting for” sold for $12 apiece or two for $20.

As the Event Chair for the UNC-Chapel Hill chapter of Relay For Life, Bugno came up with the idea for the concert after finding out that Relay would no longer be receiving money from the Breakfast with Roy fundraiser. Bugno says other fundraising events in the works include a bar night on February 21 at Coffee Shop, a barbecue with a fraternity, a campus outreach event about skin cancer awareness on March 3 — before everyone leaves on spring break, and a dodgeball tournament in April.

Of course Relay’s biggest event of the year is the actual Relay itself. This years event at UNC-Chapel Hill will be held on March 28 at 6 p.m. on Fetzer Field-Belk Track.

Vaccines for cervical cancer

February 14, 2008

Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among women. The FDA estimates that it causes more than 470,000 new cases and 233,000 deaths worldwide per year. About 3,400 women in the United States die from cervical cancer every year. Regular Pap smear testing has reduced the number of women in the United States who are diagnosed with cervical cancer to about 10,000 per year. According to the FDA, for women who develop cervical cancer, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is generally the cause.

The American Cancer Society suggests that women begin cervical cancer screening about three years after they begin having vaginal intercourse, but no later than age 21. Screening should be annual with the regular Pap test. At age 30, women who have had three normal Pap test results in a row may reduce screenings to every two to three years. About half of all females diagnosed with cervical cancer are between the ages of 35 and 55 years old. However exposure often occurs during these women’s teens or 20s.

Lucky for those who fall in this age range, Merck & Co. developed the Gardasil vaccine which protects against the four most dangerous strains of HPV: 6, 11, 16 and 18. Types 16 and 18 are responsible for causing about 70 percent of cervical cancers and types 6 and 11 cause about 90 percent of genital wart cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80 percent of the infections clear up, but one in six of those infected with HPV will develop genital warts while one in 1,000 will be diagnosed with cervical cancer.

How Gardasil works:

Gardasil is a recombinant vaccine, which is created by genetic engineering in which the genetic material of an organism is manipulated. According to the FDA Web site, the genes which code for a specific protein from each of the four virus types of HPV are expressed in yeast in order to create large quantities of the protein. The body’s immune response to the recombinant proteins then protects against infection by the naturally occurring virus.  

The vaccination consists of three shots, administered intramuscularly in the upper arm or thigh, which are given over a period of six months. Two months after the initial dose, the second dose is administered. The third dose is given six months after the first dose. The vaccine reaches its peak protection about one month after the third shot and lasts for at least five years.

But just how effective is Gardasil:

The American Cancer Society reported in February 2007 that most HPV infections, even carcinogenic ones, resolve without treatment. About 75 percent of infections in adults and 90 percent of those in adolescents disappear on their own. The vaccination is most effective before the onset of sexual activity but is recommended regardless of sexual history. If the vaccine is given before sexual activity has begun, it protects nearly 100 percent against an infection by the four genital HPV strains. For those who are already sexually active, the vaccine boosts the immune system and helps the body shed the virus.

There are over 100 different strains of HPV. It is important to remember that Gardasil does not protect against the types of HPV that are not included in the vaccine, which can also cause some cancers. Additionally, women are not protected if they were previously infected with the HPV type(s) which are covered by the vaccine, prior to vaccination. Furthermore, Gardasil is not a treatment for HPV, only a preventative measure. But if a female is currently infected or has been in the past with a vaccine-related HPV type, the vaccine will protect her against the remaining HPV types contained in the vaccine.

Information for college students:

  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides information to students about HPV and Gardasil during freshman orientations. Additional information is available at student health services. UNC-CH charges $426 for the three Gardasil shots. 
  • At North Carolina State University, information about HPV is provided only when students go to the center’s women’s health services. NCSU charges $453 to administer the three shots. 
  • Duke University student health center offers information sessions about HPV and cervical cancer twice a week. Those interested in being vaccinated can receive their first shot immediately following the session. Duke charges $420 for the vaccine.

New Development:

GlaxoSmithKline, which has its U.S. headquarters in Research Triangle Park, also has a cervical cancer vaccine in the works. Their version, Cervarix, will exclusively target the HPV strains which can cause cervical cancer.

Hello and welcome!

February 8, 2008

Almost everyone is affected by cancer in one way or another.  Whether you have cancer yourself or know a cancer patient, victim or survivor, cancer is a topic constantly on our minds. The hope for this blog is to provide stories and information about cancer, outline research and philanthropic efforts being conducted in the area and provide a network of support for people in need.

Profile of cancer in North Carolina:

Heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic lung disease are the leading causes of death in this state, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Resources Division of Public Health. These chronic diseases account for 58 percent of all deaths in N.C.

According to the Health Profile of North Carolinians: 2007 Update, 16,675 North Carolinians died of cancer in 2005 alone. Of these deaths, 5,253 were due to lung cancer, 1,483 were caused by cancer of the colon and rectum, 1,262 were due to breast cancer, 949 were caused by pancreatic cancer, and 787 were by prostate cancer. These deaths account for 22.4 percent of deaths by the top 10 leading causes of death in the state.

This same report estimates that 40 percent of North Carolinians will develop cancer in their lifetime. In 2006, more than 40,800 North Carolinians were projected to receive a cancer diagnosis, which equates to approximately 112 new cases each day.

Death tolls from this disease can be reduced if cancer is diagnosed at an early stage. The hope for this blog is to provide information relating to cancer in order to minimize the risks and maximize the understanding.