Freedom from Cancer

Fireworks_Fourth of JulyThis Fourth of July holiday, we’re not only celebrating the red, white and blue that honors the independence and freedom of our country, but also freedom from cancer and the cancer “blues.” Feeling this sense of freedom may mean that you’re cancer-free or that you’re unwilling to let a cancer diagnosis define you.

To be cancer-free means that tests show no evidence of any cancer remaining in the body, a term coined “complete remission.” In some cases, it is possible to complete treatment but still have some evidence of the cancer. This is called “partial remission.”

At Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, many of our patients and their families experience a wide range of emotions during and after treatment for kidney, prostate, bladder and testicular (genitourinary or “GU”) cancers. Often, freedom from cancer is both something to celebrate and something that comes with an air of caution. That’s because the joy of being cancer-free may be accompanied by fear that the cancer may return.

Some cancers can and do come back after treatment. This is called “recurrence.” Recurrence can depend on several factors, including the type of cancer, whether it has spread from the original source and how the cancer responded to treatment. While there is no foolproof way to keep cancer from coming back, there are many things you and your healthcare team can do to monitor what’s going on in your body.

You may feel differently than you did before treatment, both physically and mentally. And that’s okay. It’s important to be in tune with your body and your new normal so that you can be mindful of any bodily changes.

It’s also important for cancer patients and survivors to lead a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a healthy diet, being physically active (under the supervision of your healthcare team), and regularly following up with doctors’ appointments and routine medical tests. Cancer survivors can live very long and full lives, so routine medical tests and appointments aren’t limited to following up with your oncologist and getting scans and imaging tests. It’s important to also get regular physical exams and monitor other markers for diseases such as cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Routine follow-up tests may also identify the recurrence of cancer even before symptoms develop. Since cancer can come back in the same part of the body or in another part of the body, signs and symptoms may differ from those involved with your original diagnosis. For instance, an increase in fatigue, the development of new pain or worsening of existing pain, weight loss, urinary changes (including blood in urine), and other changes in the way you feel should be discussed with your physician, especially those that persist.

This Independence Day, as you enjoy time with your family, watching fireworks, and celebrating other traditions, take a moment to think about independence from cancer. Our support groups can help by providing a safe space and community for prostate cancer and kidney cancer survivors, patients and their families.

Have a wonderful holiday!

Matters of the Bladder: 9 Facts about Bladder Cancer

Bladder_ImageThe bladder is an organ comprised of several layers of cells, and its main job is to store urine. When it’s full, it lets you know. But, chances are there are many other things about the bladder that you may not know. In honor of bladder cancer awareness month in May, here are 9 facts:

  1. There are different types of bladder cancer. Tumors typically form within the different cell layers of the bladder. The name of the specific type of bladder cancer refers to where the cancer started. That’s why bladder cancer is sometimes referred to as urothelial (one of the layers) carcinoma (a fancy word for cancer).
  2. Blood in the urine is a red flag. The most common sign of bladder cancer is blood in the urine (also called hematuria) that can be seen by the naked eye. Usually it is painless. But, bladder cancer isn’t the only culprit for blood in the urine. It can also be caused by an infection or kidney stones. Blood in the urine requires evaluation by a healthcare professional.
  3. It’s common. Bladder cancer is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates 76,960 new cases of bladder cancer and 16,390 deaths from the disease in 2016.
  4. But lacks funding for research. It is through research that we are able to develop new treatments and ultimately cures. Despite being the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S., bladder cancer ranks 23rd in terms of federal funding.
  5. Some people are at increased risk. Smoking is the greatest risk factor. The good news is you can reduce your risk if you quit. We even have a program to help you get started. Bladder cancer is 3x more common in men than in women, and Caucasians are 2x as likely to develop bladder cancer than African Americans or Hispanics. Risk also increases as you get older and if you have a family history. Visit the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network to learn more about additional risk factors.
  6. It is diagnosed through different tests. These typically include imaging tests such as ultrasounds, MRIs or CT scans to better see your bladder, urine testing to determine the presence of cancer cells and a biopsy to remove a sample if an area contains cells that appear suspicious.
  7. Treatment will depend on the type of bladder cancer and how advanced and aggressive it is. Treatments vary by stage and include surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
  8. Immunotherapy offers promise. Immunotherapy is a very encouraging approach for treating bladder cancers and other tumors arising from the renal pelvis and ureters. There are a number of different types currently in clinical trials and the FDA just approved a new treatment called atezolizumab (brand name: Tecentriq). Our team recently presented and published our findings on another form of immunotherapy for bladder cancer, an antibody drug conjugate called IMMU-132.
  9. We are dedicated to and on the forefront of bladder cancer research. At Weill Cornell Medicine, we are committed to research in order to improve outcomes for patients with this disease. The newest member of our Genitourinary Oncology team, Dr. Bishoy Faltas, is dedicated to understanding the genetic makeup of bladder cancer. He’s currently focusing on the genomic changes that happen as the tumors become resistant to chemotherapy. We’re also trying to understand why some patients respond well to immunotherapy, while others do not.

Weighty Matters: The Kidney Cancer-Obesity Connection

By Shayne Robinson, R.D., C.S.O, C.D.N

In March, we celebrate both National Nutrition Month and Kidney Cancer Awareness Month. This makes it the perfect time to talk about whether what we eat can play a role in preventing kidney cancer.

So is there a connection between diet, exercise and kidney cancer?

The World Cancer Research Fund International Continuous Update Project seeks to find out. They analyze global cancer prevention and survival research linked to diet, nutrition, physical activity and weight to determine whether certain lifestyle factors affect cancer risk. They then release reports based on the evaluation of this worldwide data.

Map Kidney Cancer Obesity
Image credit: American Institute for Cancer Research,

When it comes to the kidneys, there is strong evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing kidney cancer. In fact, the latest findings showed that maintaining a healthy weight could prevent 24% of all kidney cancers in the United States. The report also found that there was an association between body fatness and kidney cancer, such that the more overweight people were, the greater their risk of developing kidney cancer. Being overweight or obese was assessed by body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio.

The good news is that this means that we can make healthy lifestyle changes to lose weight and reduce our risk of developing kidney cancer.

Wondering if you should lose weight?

See where you stack up on a BMI chart and measure your waist circumference. To measure waist circumference, place a tape measure around your waist above the tip of your hipbone. Measure your waist after exhaling. For women, a waist measurement of 31.5 inches or more indicates high risk for obesity. For men, a waist measurement of 37 inches or more indicates high risk for obesity. If your BMI is over 25 or your waist circumference is above these numbers, talk to your physician or Registered Dietitian about starting a weight loss program.

Here are 6 tips to get started with a weight loss plan:

  1. Lose pounds the healthy way. Move more and eat less. Avoid fad diets.
  2. Avoid high calorie, energy-dense beverages. This includes fruit juice, soda, sweetened coffee beverages, lemonade and sweetened tea. These beverages don’t provide the satiety you will get from eating solid foods.
  3. Eat your veggies! Cut back on energy-dense, high-calorie foods by making half your plate raw or steamed, non-starchy vegetables. These high-fiber vegetables will fill you up without weighing you down.
  4. Portion control is key. Scale back on portion sizes, except the non-starchy vegetables. Using smaller plates can help.
  5. Get movin’ — Increase your physical activity. For some people, this may mean starting by walking to the mailbox and back. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity a day. If you can’t do 30 minutes, start small and increase as your fitness improves.
  6. See a professional. Nothing replaces the individualized counseling you will receive from working with a registered dietitian (RD). To see a dietitian at the NewYork-Presbyterian Outpatient Nutrition Practice call (212) 746-0838. A physician referral is required.