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Cancer, Stanford News, Videos, Women's Health

The squeeze: Compression during mammography important for accurate breast cancer detection

The squeeze: Compression during mammography important for accurate breast cancer detection

After nearly 30 years of reluctantly enduring the pain of mammography, I finally understand why I shouldn’t complain. In fact, I think I should embrace the pain and ask the technician to squeeze my breasts even more tightly between the shelves of the mammography machine.

It’s only a brief moment of pain, after all, but it can make the difference between a breast cancer detected and a breast cancer missed. In a recent video on the topic, Stanford Health Care’s Jafi Lipson, MD, an assistant professor of radiology, explains the very important reasons for women to step up and take the squeeze without complaint. It will only take 30 seconds of your time – and it might save your life.

Previously: Despite genetic advances, detection still key in breast cancer, NIH Director highlights Stanford research on breast cancer surgery choices and Breast cancer patients are getting more bilateral mastectomies — but not any survival benefit

Cancer, Neuroscience, Stanford News, Technology, Videos

Stanford celebrates 20th anniversary of the CyberKnife

Stanford celebrates 20th anniversary of the CyberKnife

Just about 30 years ago, Stanford neurosurgeon John Adler, MD, traveled to the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden, home to Lars Leksell, MD, and a device Leksell had invented called the Gamma Knife. Leksell had long been a visionary figure in neurosurgery, and Adler – inspired by the device that enables non-invasive brain surgery - began to imagine a next step, driven by the addition of computer technology.

Coming up with an idea, of course, can happen in a matter of minutes. Adler had no idea that it would take 18 years before his next step, the CyberKnife, would treat its first patient. Stanford Hospital was the first to own a CyberKnife, and Adler unhesitatingly admits that without the agreement of hospital administrators to purchase that very first device – designed to treat tumors, brain and spine conditions, as well as cancers of the pancreas, prostate, liver and lungs - its development would not have been completed.

This year, Adler and his Stanford colleagues are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the CyberKnife. Stanford has two, one of just a handful of medical centers with that distinction, and it has accumulated the longest and largest history of patient care with the device. To honor Adler and those Stanford physicians who continue to explore its ever-lengthening list of applications to patient care, a new video featuring Adler was created. It’s a quick glimpse of the determination – and luck – required to make that leap from inspired idea to groundbreaking therapy.

Previously: CyberKnife: From promising technique to proven tumor treatment

Cancer, Genetics, Stanford News, Videos, Women's Health

Despite genetic advances, detection still key in breast cancer

Despite genetic advances, detection still key in breast cancer

Just a few years before the launch of the first national breast cancer awareness month, I found a small lump in my left breast. I still remember the cold chill that ran through me – and stayed with me until several days later when a surgeon discovered that the lump was not a tumor. His parting words have never left me: “Remember how you’ve been feeling.” He wanted to make sure I would go on to have regular mammograms.

Spreading the word about the disease and the importance of detecting it in its early stages was – and is – the point of the national awareness campaign. In the almost 30 years since that first campaign, advances in imaging technology have enabled earlier detection of breast cancer, genome sequencing has identified some of the mysteries behind the development risk, and selecting the most effective surgery and chemotherapy is more and more of an individualized choice.

Stanford has a powerful team of physicians addressing all aspects of breast cancer science and care. On Oct. 16, breast-imaging specialist Jafi Lipson, MD, assistant professor of radiology, and breast cancer surgeon Amanda Wheeler, MD, clinical assistant professor of surgery, will give a free lecture, “The Latest Advancements in Screening and Treatment for Breast Cancer,” at the Sheraton Palo Alto. And throughout the month, Stanford Health Care will post short educational videos and infographics on a variety of breast-cancer topics, including types of breast cancer, options in surgical reconstruction, and why enduring the pain of compression in mammography is worth the effort. Today, Stanford Health Care kicks off the month with a video featuring Stanford breast cancer expert Alison Kurian, MD, explaining the role that genetics play in disease development (above).

Because one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, I would urge all of us to keep in mind the reality of this disease – and to honor those we know who have survived, or not, by paying attention.

Previously: NIH Director highlights Stanford research on breast cancer surgery choicesBreast cancer patients are getting more bilateral mastectomies —  but not any survival benefitBreast cancer awareness: Beneath the pink packaging and At Stanford event, cancer advocate Susan Love talks about “a future with no breast cancer”

Cardiovascular Medicine, Patient Care, Stanford News, Technology, Videos

“Liberated from LVAD support”: One patient’s story

“Liberated from LVAD support”: One patient’s story

One of the first things I noticed about Donna Jackson — 68 years old when I met her in 2011 — was her decisive nature. She had a schedule filled with activity, and regardless of how many people (many of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, in-laws and friends live very near at hand) came to visit in her modest home in Central California, she was a certain force of calm. She was also someone who did not like restrictions on what she could do.

Back then, she was just a few months out from surgery at Stanford Hospital to implant a mechanical pump, a left ventricular assist device or LVAD, on her heart. She knew it had saved her life, but she chafed at the battery, back-up battery and controller she had to wear at all times. Before the surgery, she had been a regular at a water aerobics class, and she loved to swim with her grandchildren. Even in those early months, Jackson was leaning on her Stanford doctors to find a way to get her back in the water. She asked her cardiologist, Dipanjan Banerjee, MD, to consider allowing her to swim in a wetsuit.

Banerjee did her one better. It had become apparent to him that she could be one of that small percentage of LVAD recipients whose heart recovers after the rest that the LVAD gives it and who no longer need the device. (He had been waiting, he said, to find a patient “who can be liberated from LVAD support.”) By Spring 2013, a little less than three years after her LVAD implantation, Banerjee and Jackson’s surgeon, Richard Ha, MD, put Jackson in an even smaller percentage. She became the first person to have her LVAD deactivated by catheter in the most minimally invasive approach yet.

The challenge set by Jackson for her Stanford team — and its groundbreaking procedural response — appears today in the August issue of the Annals of Thoracic Surgery. The lead author of the paper is Sanford Zeigler, MD, a cardiothoracic surgery resident.  Ha, surgical director of the hospital’s Mechanical Circulatory Support Program is the paper’s senior author, and Banerjee, medical director of Mechanical Circulatory Support Program, is a co-author. As they explain in the paper, Jackson, nearing 71,  was a high surgical risk for complete removal of the implant — that would have required them to crack open her ribs again — a procedure that’s followed typically by a long and sometimes painful recovery.  So, her doctors instead threaded a slim plastic tube through a small incision to her femoral artery in the groin and up to her aorta, allowed them to plug the flow of blood to the LVAD. Then, they cut, cleaned and capped the wiring powering the LVAD so it no longer emerged from an opening in her abdomen. (The LVAD remains inside Jackson’s chest.)

The new catheter-based deactivation of the LVAD has value beyond Jackson’s way of life, as the paper explains. She inspired the team to begin research on how to predict which LVAD patients might be like her and reach a point where they no longer need the LVAD. “If we can find out which patients are going to recover sooner, we can be more aggressive with them so they can be liberated from the LVAD,” said Banerjee, “and many of these patients will not want or be able to tolerate a complete removal of the LVAD.”

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Ethics, Events, Health Policy, Stanford News, Transplants

At Stanford Health Policy Forum, panelists dig into the issue of organ donation

At Stanford Health Policy Forum, panelists dig into the issue of organ donation

Sally Satel, MD, was a practicing psychiatrist with a long history of scholarly research and policy-making in health care when a diagnosis of kidney failure popped her across the line that separates doctors from patients. Without a transplant or dialysis, the 16 percent of function left in her kidneys wouldn’t last long, and she became one of the 60,000 people in the U.S. waiting for a deceased donor kidney. That was in 2004.

One decade later, there are more than 100,000 people on that list. Last year, according to the National Kidney Foundation, just over 14,000 people received donated kidneys, a number that has remained flat since 2007. About 18 people die every day waiting on the list; another 12 are taken off the list daily because they have become too sick to survive transplant surgery. Satel was lucky – an acquaintance volunteered after others had bowed out – and Satel did receive a life-saving kidney transplant.

We need a transparent, safe and ethical system of exchange

From that unexpected experience, Satel wrote a book, ‘When Altruism Isn’t Enough: The Case for Compensating Kidney Donors,” to highlight the shortage. She also became a vocal advocate for changes in the organ donation system that could improve those increasingly dire numbers. This week, she joined a couple of thousand health professionals and interested others at the 2014 World Transplant Congress in San Francisco and also came here to participate in a Stanford Health Policy Forum on organ donation. She spoke alongside David Magnus, PhD, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, and Tom Mone, former president of the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations.

The forum was hosted by the office of Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school. “Our Health Policy Forums were created to serve as a platform for experts from Stanford and across the globe to discuss important and sometimes controversial medical topics,” he said in a post-event interview. “Our hope is that fostering dialogue on issues of critical importance to our clinicians and patients will take us one step closer to developing solutions.”

At the forum, moderator/Stanford professor Keith Humphreys, PhD, began the conversation by asking Satel what it was like being on the waiting list. “It was extremely difficult,” she answered. “You’re really put in a position of facing years of dialysis (and the wait for a deceased donor kidney) can be five years. In Los Angeles, it’s almost 10 years. The average person doesn’t survive that long.” Asking friends and family isn’t easy either, she said: “You are asking someone to give you a body part.”

Satel has proposed a system of rewards – “not, a check, but some sort of in-kind incentive like a contribution to a charity or a 401k,” she said. “We need a transparent, safe and ethical system of exchange.”

The ethics of such a compensation system is what worries Magnus, who told the audience:

Every time we’ve drawn a line — ‘Here’s what we think is acceptable’ — [it’s] almost always been erased and moved somewhere else… Because of the incessant drumbeat of need, there’s a tendency to move and move the line, and maybe those moves are okay and appropriate, but it makes the slippery slope very, very, very steep. We have had only two absolutes: the rule that prohibits taking organs while people are still alive and the prohibition of payment. Both of these principles are now under attack.

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Cancer, Dermatology, Events, Public Health, Stanford News

Free skin cancer screening being held Saturday

Free skin cancer screening being held Saturday

sunbatherScreening for skin cancer is advised for people with many moles or atypical moles, fair skin or a history of excessive sun exposure, a personal history of skin cancer or precancerous spots, or a parent or sibling who has had skin cancer. Each year, Stanford dermatologists offer a free screening for those in the local community, and this year’s event – being held tomorrow, May 31 – will offer more than the experienced eyes of skin clinicians.

Understanding that many people have concerns about one particular spot, the organizers are debuting a form of fast-track evaluation for just such concerns. During the Spot Check service, clinicians will use and study a new Stanford-developed smartphone-based device. As Justin Ko, MD, co-chief of medical dermatology at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, explained to me, “The device allows a user to capture clinical images of a skin lesion with their smartphone previously possible only with specialized, expensive devices typically used by dermatologists. We’ll be doing some studies to validate what we believe may well ‘democratize’ ability to capture and send medical-quality images of skin lesions by making this technology accessible and easy to use.”

The screening event (.pdf) will also include information on SUNSPORT, a collaboration of the Stanford Cancer Institute, the medical school’s Department of Dermatology, Stanford Athletics, and Stanford Hospital & Clinics, which provides student-athletes with information about their heightened risks for sun-related skin damage and works with the teams’ coaches and athletic trainers to reinforce skin-protection practices on a daily basis.

For local readers: The event runs from 8-11 AM at the Stanford Medicine Outpatient Center in Redwood City. Call (650) 723-6316 for more information.

Previously: Skin cancer images help people check skin more often and effectively, Working to protect athletes from sun dangersStanford clinic addresses cancer-related skin issuesAs summer heats up take steps to protect your skin and Man’s story shows how cancer screenings saves lives
Photo by Tom Godber

Cancer, Patient Care, Stanford News, Videos

When a rash isn’t just a rash: A patient’s battle with mycosis fungoides

Paul Raffer, MD, is a doctor, accustomed to avoiding the kind of leap that non-physicians often make by assuming common symptoms are something far more serious. So he saw the rash that appeared on his body a few years ago as nothing to worry about. The irony, of course, is that the rash turned out to be something quite serious: mycosis fungoides, a form of blood cancer that shows itself in the skin. It’s a common form of cutaneous lymphoma but it is considered rare, appearing at a rate of 3.6 cases per million people each year.

Raffer’s belief that the rash was benign changed, as he told me for this story, when that rash spread over his entire body and began to itch continuously. “I stopped being able to sleep. My skin started flaking and peeling. I also started getting very thick plaques, with lesions all over my back, my abdomen and my arms. But the worst part was the itchiness. And there was nothing that worked very well to control it.”

Because mycosis fungoides is rare, specialists are not plentiful. But what encouraged Raffer, who lives in Arizona, was when his doctor instructed him: “Go to Stanford. See Dr. Youn Kim. If not one of the world’s experts, she is certainly the West Coast guru for what you have.”

Once Raffer was evaluated at the Stanford Multidisciplinary Cutaneous Lymphoma Clinic, he received another blow: His condition was at Stage IV. (Mycocis fungoides can progress quite slowly, but Raffer’s had advanced to an aggressive form called Sézary syndrome.) “Your insides fall out when you hear Stage IV of anything,” Raffer said. But, three years later, Raffer is healthy again.

Events, Global Health, Stanford News, Women's Health

2014 Stanford Women’s Health Forum to focus on global health

2014 Stanford Women's Health Forum to focus on global health

I’ll be spending next Wednesday afternoon at the Fifth Annual Stanford Women’s Health Forum, where the best thing about the event is also its most frustrating: There are a lot of good speakers. How does one choose between hearing about the power of training adolescent girls to say no to unwanted sexual advances, and learning from Shuchi Anand, MD, MS, a Stanford nephrologist and epidemiologist who tracks gender-related risk factors for chronic disease in developing regions?

Such difficult choices have been typical of the abundant schedule for each year’s forum, organized by the Stanford WDSM Center, previously known by its longer title, the Stanford Center for Health Research on Women and Sex Differences in Medicine. WSDM selects a theme for the forum and doubles the opportunities for audiences by offering two talks each hour. Last year’s forum focused on breast cancer and featured keynote speaker Susan Love, MD, a breast cancer specialist and leukemia survivor. This year’s theme is global health, and the impressive list of speakers begins with Ruth Levine, PhD, director of the global development and population program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

In addition to the talks, whose moderators include Jesse Draper, creator and host of “The Valley Girl Show,” the event features  informational presentations on the Stanford Health Library, Stanford Hospital’s Aging Adult Services and Navigation Services programs, lung CT screening, new breast cancer screening technologies, peripheral artery disease diagnostics, and the medical application of the latest in immersive 3-D technologies.

The free event is held at the Arrillaga Alumni Center on the Stanford campus, and those who are interested can register here. For those who can’t make the event, WSDM will post videos of its forum on its YouTube channel.

Previously: Empowerment training prevents rape of Kenyan girls, Videos from Stanford 2013 Women’s Health Forum available online and At Stanford event, cancer advocate Susan Love talks about “a future with no breast cancer”

Patient Care, Stanford News, Transplants

Living long term with transplanted organs: One patient’s story

Living long term with transplanted organs: One patient's story

Organ transplant has been a life-saving option for decades now, but its science is still evolving. One of the most pressing questions is why some people with transplants surpass the standard expectations. I recently spoke with David Weill, MD, director of Stanford’s Center for Advanced Lung Disease, and Bruce Reitz, MD, the Stanford physician who performed the first successful adult heart-lung transplant in 1981, about one patient who has definitely exceeded expectations.

Steve Rasmussen was a 28-year-old Santa Cruz resident when cystic fibrosis finally claimed his lungs in 1988. The best solution then was a heart-lung transplant. Twenty-six years later, Rasmussen is now celebrating the 25th anniversary of his transplant – and his remarkable record of transplant longevity. (Earlier this year, Stanford’s lung transplant program hit a milestone of its own, marking its 500th adult transplant.)

As I wrote in my article about why Rasmussen has survived so long:

Reitz knows that Rasmussen’s transplant longevity is unusual. He thinks that it might be related to some kind of difference in Rasmussen’ immune system. Another possibility is the combination of a particular donor and a particular recipient. “Frankly, we don’t have any real clue what it is about the long-term survivors that has given them this tremendous gift,” Reitz said.

There’s more in the video above.

Previously: Life-threatening diagnosis leads to powerful friendship for two California teensA story from the edge of medical possibility: Operatic soprano sings after double lung transplant and Celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the world’s first lung-heart transplant

Ask Stanford Med, Autoimmune Disease

A closer look at the autoimmune disease vasculitis

When various forms of news media last week reported the cause of death of Harold Ramis, the writer/director/actor, as complications from the “rare autoimmune disorder vasculitis,” I can promise you there were many people who read that and said, “Huh?” for very personal reasons. These are people who, like me, knew that these reports weren’t quite right. Vasculitis is actually a family of at least 15 forms of this disease group and one not so rare when all those who have some form (perhaps as many as 3 million) are added together.

Research and clinical trials on vasculitis have been carried on in a handful of centers around the world. One long-time investigator in this area, also a teacher and clinician, is here at Stanford: Cornelia Weyand, MD, PhD, division chief of immunology and rheumatology. Wayand’s e-mail box was flooded last week, so we asked her to answer some basic questions here about the vasculitis family.

I understand the vasculitides are a family of diseases. Is there something all forms have in common?

A diagnosis of vasculitis means that there is inflammatory disease in the blood vessels.

All organ systems in the body have blood vessels. Therefore, all organ systems can be affected by vasculitis. Blood vessels provide oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. Inflamed blood vessels have a tendency to become blocked. In that case, the tissues do not get blood supply anymore, causing serious complications. In some cases, the inflamed blood vessel bursts, causing life-threatening bleeding. This complication is particularly serious if the body’s largest blood vessel, the aorta, is affected. A leak in the aorta is incompatible with life.

What insights into vasculitis have we gotten from research?

My research team has been involved in vasculitis research for the last decade. We have been trying to find answers to the questions most patients ask at one point in the course of their disease:

A. Why did I get this disease?

Vasculitis results from a faulty immune response. Cells of the immune system attack the blood vessel and cause tissue injury. The blood vessel responds to the attack by either closing up or by rupturing. We have been able to identify the immune cells that initiate and sustain vasculitis. Remarkably, cells that induce disease are identical to cells that protect the body. We have also learned that blood vessels have specialized sensor cells in them that keep a dialogue with the immune system and start the inflammation.

B. How can my disease be treated or prevented?

We cannot prevent vasculitis, but since the disease takes a course of flares and remission, we may be able to prevent the next disease flare.

Vasculitis is treated by suppressing the immune system. One of the most effective drugs is cortisone. Some patients need it in large doses and we are very cognizant of side effects.

We have devoted our research effort to develop new means of therapy. To accomplish that goal, we have developed a system in which we can induce vasculitis and then test new therapies. This system involves the transplantation of human blood vessels into mice. If such mice are supplied with immune cells from our patients, vasculitis develops in the engrafted blood vessel. We can treat that inflammation in the mice and can easily take a biopsy from the blood vessel to check what we have achieved and how therapy actually works.

C. How do you know whether my disease is active or not?

This is one of our greatest challenges as we take care of our patients. We cannot just go and take a tissue biopsy of our patients every time they come and see us. We have a research project in place which is aimed at developing biomarkers of vasculitis in a blood sample. We isolate out the immune cells of the patient and, by applying cutting edge technology, we assess these immune cells to get information how likely or unlikely these cells would cause inflammation.

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