Saturday, June 28, 2008

Magnificent Hummingbirds

These fellows are actually called Magnificent Hummingbirds (Eugenes fulgens), as far as I can tell from my bird book. They’re mesmerizing to watch—they zip straight up about thirty feet into the air then dive back down at featherneck speed and stop on a dime. Sometimes they will fly directly into your face and levitate a few inches in front of your nose, then abrupt fly off sideways. They make a little teek sound and they do not seem to play well with others. Usually there is a dominant bird who bosses the others around and pushes them out of the feeder so he can eat. They love sugar---we feed them a cup of the crystal octane to about three cups of water. That gives them the buzz to act like bomber pilots.

This has nothing to do with breast cancer, except to provide perspective and a little beauty. I took the picture on the deck of our Colorado cabin at dusk as a storm was brewing in the background. I could try for some metaphors here:

We should embrace life like these winged creatures and fly freely, focusing just on the present
. Bleach. Let’s all chirp “namaste.”

If a hummingbird, which weighs about an ounce and measures four inches long, can fly from Colorado to Mexico for the winter, doesn’t this dwarf the challenges we face? Maybe, maybe not. Personally, I would love to be able to fly. Wouldn’t you? I bet I would be really skinny if I could exercise by flying. Of course, if could fly, others probably could as well and then the skies would be a mess of people in business suits and briefcases buzzing above. Occasionally a woman with sensible heels would lose a shoe and it would pop you on your head. Next metaphor….

Hummingbirds maintain a healthy body mass index through strenuous exercise. OK, this isn’t a metaphor. And, besides, they might have a nice BMI, but look at their tummies.

As storm clouds build, look to one another for sustenance. Or look to a whole lot of sugar.

Nature’s beauty is its own reward. A truism, not a metaphor. But true indeed.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hormone-Negative Breast Cancer Can Return As Hormone-Positive

Doctors have long assumed that, if a woman’s breast cancer recurred, it would return with the same receptor status. New research presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 44th Annual Meeting, shows that a fairly high proportion of recurrences—28 percent—had changes in receptor status: estrogen, progesterone, or HER2.

Interestingly, doctors said that most women do not get additional biopsies for relapsed or metastatic breast cancer. This new information, though, suggests that all new cancers should be biopsied, as changes in receptor status can mean significantly different treatment. For example, if you had been estrogen and progesterone negative, doctors would not treat you with hormone therapy such as tamoxifen. If cancer returns as positive for either estrogen or progesterone, such therapy could be beneficial. Likewise, if you were originally estrogen and progesterone positive and your cancer returned as negative, hormone therapy would not help.

The research was done on tissue samples of women in British Columnia who had relapses between 1986 and 1992.

Forty-five of the original 160 samples showed some type of change. Of these, 11 were local recurrences—at the site of the original tumor—and 34 were regional or distant relapses—in other parts of the body. Of the 34 regional or distant relapses:

11 changed from ER/PR positive to ER/PR negative
14 changed from ER/PR negative to ER/PR positive
3 changed from HER2 negative to HER2 positive
6 changed from HER2 positive to HER2 negative.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I had an article in the January/February issue of Mamm on chemobrain. I enjoyed writing it and learned a great deal--mainly, that chemo does not cause chemobrain, so it is more aptly called cancer brain.  Researchers are learning fascinating stuff about genes, our brains, and cancer.  


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Traditional Chemo Better Than New Drug for Hormone Negative

Patients taking a new cancer drug for operable hormone-negative breast cancer faced a far higher risk of death or recurrence than those on standard chemotherapy drugs, according to research presented at the 2008 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Xeloda (capecitabine) was found to be far less effective than the traditional regimen of AC (doxorubicin/cyclophosphamide) or CMF (cyclophosphamide/methotrexate/fluorouracil) in a test of women aged 65 and older. Xeloda is an oral drug, so it has a bit more appeal than AC and CMF, which are administered intraveneously.

Thirty-four percent of the patients in the study were hormone receptor-negative. Those on Xeloda faced a five to six times greater risk of recurrence and death than those on standard chemo.  Among all participants, the risk was two times higher, so the effects of the drug were especially reduced among women with hormone-negative breast cancer. This is consistent with previous research that has shown a greater benefit from chemo for hormone-negative patients than for hormone-positive.

Patients were studied for two years. Enrollment in the study was stopped after the first 633 patients because the results showed reduced benefit from Xeloda.