Treatment

Gamma Knife, Not a Knife At All

Gamma Knife Surgery Emory Saint Joseph's

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is performed at Winship at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital.

What is Gamma Knife radiosurgery?

Despite its name, Gamma Knife is not a knife or scalpel. With a Gamma Knife procedure, there is no incision, no blood and virtually no pain. Gamma Knife refers to the name of the machine that is used to treat benign or malignant tumors and functional disorders like Trigeminal Neuralgia or Parkinson’s disease. The Gamma Knife machine uses 201 targeted beams of radiation to destroy disease with unmatched precision. Healthy tissue surrounding tumors is spared. The procedure is so accurate that it is considered to be as good as surgery, or better.

Who is a good candidate for Gamma Knife radiosurgery?

Gamma Knife is used largely to treat malignant brain tumors (most commonly metastases to the brain), or benign brain tumors related to hearing and balance. The procedure offers an alternative for patients with tumors too difficult to remove surgically, who aren’t well enough to undergo traditional surgery, or who just prefer a less invasive treatment.

The goal of Gamma Knife therapy is to damage the cells of the tumor and prevent them from multiplying, while preserving the surrounding healthy tissue. Malignant tumors may decrease in size over a period of a few months. Benign tumors take longer to shrink, but the goal of Gamma Knife therapy is mostly to prevent any future growth.

What will does Gamma Knife treatment look like?

Treatment time is typically shorter than with conventional surgery. Patients receive MRI scans to pinpoint the exact location and amount of radiation that will be administered. A lightweight frame is attached to the head with four pins. Local anesthetic is used, but the patient remains awake during the procedure, which is painless and lasts from a few minutes to several hours, depending on size and location of the tumor. This treatment is typically carried out jointly by a Neurosurgeon and a Radiation Oncologist.

Where does Winship offer Gamma Knife radiosurgery?

We offer Gamma Knife radiosurgery at Winship at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital. Visit the Gamma Knife Center at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital or call (678) 843-5513 to talk to a Gamma Knife nurse navigator.

Learn more about Gamma Knife Radiosurgery!

About Dr. Kahn

Shannon Kahn, MDShannon Kahn, MD, is a board certified radiation oncologist in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA and treats patients at Winship at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital. Dr. Kahn practices general radiation oncology and specializes in the treatment of breast cancer, brain and spine tumors, and lung cancer. Dr. Kahn is skilled at Gamma Knife radiosurgery, partial breast irradiation and breast brachytherapy as well as stereotactic body radiotherapy in the treatment of early stage lung cancers. She has published and trained in the use of intensity modulated radiotherapy and its benefits in the minimization of treatment-related side effects.

Winship Cancer Institute is Georgia’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer center and has over 250 active clinical trials. Winship is ranked among the top 25 cancer hospitals in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report.

What is High Dose Rate Brachytherapy?

One of the most technically advanced and convenient options for cancer treatment is called high dose rate brachytherapy (HDR). It is a precise type of radiation therapy that is commonly used to treat localized gynecologic, lung, breast and prostate cancers that have not spread to lymph nodes. As opposed to low dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy, where tiny radioactive “seeds” are permanently placed inside or near a tumor, HDR brachytherapy involves temporarily placing high intensity sources of radiation inside the body with a catheter, for example, and then removing them once treatment is complete.

With short treatment and recovery times, HDR brachytherapy can help patients get back to their lives with minimal disruption. At Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, the therapy is usually performed on an outpatient basis and carried out in two short sessions over one to two weeks. This results in an extremely precise radiation dose and minimal toxicity to the patient. Patients considering HDR brachytherapy may wonder if they will be radioactive following treatment. The answer is no. The radiation flows like the light that shines from a flashlight; it is not present once the treatment session is completed and the device used to deliver the radiation is removed.

HDR brachytherapy is performed at Winship locations by knowledgeable radiation oncologists with special expertise and certification in brachytherapy. The Department of Radiation Oncology at Winship is the only program in Georgia with advanced credentialing recognized by the National Cancer Institute for both LDR and HDR brachytherapy administration and expert usage.

Watch the short video below to learn more about how HDR brachytherapy is used to treat prostate cancer.

Find a Doctor

HDR Brachytherapy is performed at Winship locations by the following physicians:

For more information regarding HDR brachytherapy treatment at Winship Cancer Institute, please visit Emory Radiation Oncology.

In addition to regular treatments, a voluntary research study is being conducted to help men with recurring prostate cancer by using advanced imaging technology called FACBC to guide radiotherapy and determine the best possible course of treatment. Read more>>

About Dr. Rossi

Peter Rossi, MDPeter Rossi, MD, is a board certified radiation oncologist and the Medical Director of Radiation Oncology at Winship at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital. Dr. Rossi specializes in the treatment of prostate cancer, cervical cancer and ovarian cancer, and his expertise is in the use of external radiation therapy and brachytherapy for treating prostate and gynecologic tumors. Dr. Rossi is on the Quality Assurance Committee of the American Brachytherapy Society. He lectures, proctors and mentors physicians on the use of HDR brachytherapy for the treatment of prostate cancer at Winship and internationally.

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New Tests to Improve Decision Making in Prostate Cancer Treatment

This blog was originally posted June 3, 2015 AACR Press Office.

Prostate Cancer Cells

Prostate Cancer Cells

A diagnosis of prostate cancer can often result in difficult choices for both patients and physicians. Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer diagnosed in American men, with over 200,000 diagnosed cases and almost 28,000 deaths per year. A major reason why prostate cancer is diagnosed so frequently is that the FDA-approved blood test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is widely used and is highly sensitive. However, the PSA test cannot distinguish prostate cancers that are aggressive from indolent cases that will not spread if left untreated.

It has been estimated that about 50 percent of men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer as a result of PSA testing would remain asymptomatic if left untreated. Furthermore, the side effects of surgery or radiation therapy can be significant, and include urinary incontinence and sexual dysfunction. These side effects from overtreatment without clear survival benefit led the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) to recommend against PSA screening. As a result, there is a pressing clinical need for new prostate cancer biomarkers that can discriminate aggressive from indolent disease to prevent overtreatment of indolent cases and undertreatment of aggressive cases. This is one example of how precision medicine can both improve cancer care and reduce overall health care expenditures.

While single biomarkers can be useful, quite often using a panel of many genes is more robust, predictive, and informative than a single biomarker such as PSA. Moreover, RNA is generally much easier to detect and quantitate than protein, even at low amounts, and RNA-based assays can test many targets simultaneously. RNA-based approaches to prostate cancer biomarker discovery include the analysis of which genes are switched on and off in a cancer cell, as well as measurement of previously unappreciated RNAs that do not code for proteins, and detection of known genetic mutations.

Biopsies themselves carry some risk of infection, discomfort, and expense. Consequently, less invasive biomarkers that can use blood or urine samples are more desirable, and likely to be adopted more broadly, resulting in better patient compliance and follow up. Many researchers are thus looking for prostate cancer biomarkers that can be readily measured from biofluid specimens.

There are several different clinical questions that new biofluid biomarkers for prostate cancer could potentially address. First, if I have a high PSA, do I really need a biopsy? Second, if my biopsy looks indolent, am I a good candidate for active surveillance, or do I really need surgery or radiation? And third, if I do need surgery or radiation, will it be curative, or should I think about enrolling in clinical trials? These are all important questions that many scientists and physicians are currently pursuing in their biomarker research.

Recent research in our lab has identified a gene panel that can predict whether a patient is likely to have a recurrence after surgery, and we are currently working on determining if this panel can also identify good candidates for active surveillance. This research is using advanced sequencing technologies on both urine and biopsy samples, and could make it easier for patients and their doctors to safely decide that surgery or radiation are unnecessary, reducing side effects and unnecessary treatments. A number of other commercially available panels are already in use including Prolaris, Oncotype Dx, and Decipher, though none are currently FDA approved. Hopefully, with additional research to determine the best biomarkers of cancer aggressiveness and approval of such tests, patients and physicians can be confident in the treatment decisions that they make, leading to the best possible health outcomes.

About Dr. Moreno

carolos moreno, phdCarlos S. Moreno, PhD, is an associate professor in the Departments of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, and Biomedical Informatics at the Emory University School of Medicine. He is a member of the Cancer Genetics and Epigenetics research program at Winship Cancer Institute. Moreno specializes in cancer bioinformatics and systems biology, cancer genomics, cancer biomarkers, and transcriptional networks. He is the informatics project leader for the Emory Molecular Interaction Center for Functional genomics (MicFG) as part of the Cancer Target Discovery and Development (CTD²) Network to identify protein-protein interaction networks.

Moreno has been a member of the American Association for Cancer Research since 2003 and received an AACR Minority Scholar Award in 2006.

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Massage Therapy Used to Combat Breast Cancer-Related Fatigue

cancer and massage therapyFatigue is the most common side effect of cancer treatment according to the National Cancer Institute. Many breast cancer survivors describe their fatigue as more intense than the feelings of being tired that we all experience from time to time. Reported characteristics include feeling tired, weak, worn-out, heavy, slow, or lack of energy and difficulty getting-up-and-going.

Currently, researchers from Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University are investigating the benefits of massage therapy on breast cancer survivors with extreme fatigue.

“We decided to look at massage therapy for cancer fatigue because cancer-related fatigue is one of the most prevalent and debilitating symptoms experienced by people with cancer,” explains Mark Rapaport, MD, principle investigator for this study. “Many studies investigating massage for patients with cancer have been focused on depression, anxiety or pain.”

“We already know that frequent massage can enhance the immune system and reduce anxiety, and it has been reported that massage therapy can stimulate energy, and reduce symptoms such as nausea and pain,” says Mylin Torres, MD, associate professor in Emory’s Department of Radiation Oncology, serves as a co-investigator on the study. “We believe that there are many positive effects to be gained by therapeutic massage and we hope to prove that, among other biological advantages, massage may diminish the incapacitation that cancer-related fatigue can cause for our patients.”

Participants in the six-week study are post-surgery breast cancer patients, between the ages of 18 and 65, who have been treated with standard chemotherapy, chemoprevention and/or radiation, and are suffering with breast cancer-related fatigue. They are broken into three groups.

  • Group one receives a typical Swedish-type massage
  • Group two does not receive a massage
  • Group three receives a light touch massage.

Throughout the clinical trial, participants’ vital signs are taken and blood drawn to check for immune markers. The study staff also regularly checks in with each participant to record any changes in their life or their health. So far, the findings are promising.

View this Fox21 news clip to learn more about recent findings from the cancer fatigue trial!

 

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Takeaways from the Pancreatic Cancer Live Chat at Winship

Pancreatic Cancer Chat

Thanks to everyone who joined us Tuesday, May 12th for the live online pancreatic cancer program chat at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University hosted by Drs. El-Rayes & Kooby.

Drs. El-Rayes & Kooby answered several of your questions about pancreatic cancer risk factors, symptoms and therapy. There are a variety of treatment options for pancreatic cancer; for some patients, a combination of treatment methods may be used. Check out the conversation by viewing the chat transcript! Here are just a few highlights from the chat:

Question: Who is at the most risk for pancreatic cancer?

David Kooby, MDDr. Kooby: Pancreatic cancer can affect anyone. People with a family history of pancreatic cancer in first degree relatives have an increased risk. Smokers are at risk, as tobacco appears to be a causative factor. Other groups who have an elevated risk of getting pancreatic cancer are those with new onset or long-standing diabetes mellitus and those with one of several uncommon genetic syndromes: BRAC2, HPSS, FMS, Peutz Jegher. Other associations include age over 60, chronic pancreatitis, and obesity. Many of the symptoms for pancreatic cancer are vague, which makes this a difficult disease to diagnose.

Question: When surgery is not an option, are there any treatments beyond chemo and radiation?

Bassel El-Rayes, MDDr. El-Rayes: A number of novel therapies are currently on clinical trials and those include drugs that stimulate the immune system or drugs that target specific molecular abnormalities in cancer (targeted therapies). In addition, in certain situations there are options to use therapies that ablate (physically destroy the tumor). These include nano knife.

 

Question: Are qualifying patients given the option to participate in these trials Dr. El-Rayes?

Bassel El-Rayes, MDDr. El-Rayes: When we evaluate patients in the clinic, we always discuss with them the different options of therapy, including, standard therapy vs. clinical trials. For patients to participate in clinical trials, they have to meet predefined criteria. If patients are interested in clinical trials, we will screen them to determine whether or not the meet these criteria.

 

Question: My sister and brother have both been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer within months of each other. There are three remaining siblings. Can you address how we can be tested?

Bassel El-Rayes, MDDr. El-Rayes: The first step would be to see a genetic counselor to look for a possible genetic link. There, they can test for specific genes that might indicate a higher risk in the family.
David Kooby, MDDr. Kooby: If the genetic testing doesn’t yield any abnormality, the second step would be to consult with a pancreatic cancer specialist. These specialists are either gastroenterologists or medical oncologists. Currently, there are no set guidelines on how frequently family members of current patients should be tested. Your specialist can outline a plan that works best for you and your family. Researchers at institutions like Winship are actively working on better methods for screening for pancreatic cancer.

If you missed this chat, be sure to check out the full list of questions and answers on the web transcript. For more information go to the Pancreatic Cancer at Winship Cancer Institute website or 404-778-7777 to learn more from a registered nurse.

If you have additional questions for Drs. El-Rayes & Kooby, feel free to leave a comment in our comments area below.

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What is Radiation Therapy and How is it Used to Treat Cancer?

Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that is used to shrink tumors and stop the growth of cancer cells. High energy x-rays are aimed directly at cancerous cells or tumors. According to the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), the technique is so effective in treating many different types of cancer that nearly two-thirds of all cancer patients will receive radiation therapy at some time during the course of their cancer treatment.

Depending on the type of cancer being treated, radiation may be used as a stand-alone treatment and often it is the only treatment needed. Or, it may be used in combination with surgery, chemotherapy and/or other targeted therapies. For example, doctors may use radiation therapy to shrink a tumor before surgery, or after surgery to stop the growth of any cancer cells that may be left behind.

Watch the video below to learn about the types of radiation treatments available to patients at Winship Cancer Institute:

Visit the new mobile-friendly Emory Radiation Oncology website to learn more about treatments and services offered in the Department of Radiation Oncology and what to expect as a new patient.

About Dr. Godette

Karen Godette, MDKaren Godette, MD, is a board certified radiation oncologist in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Godette practices general radiation oncology and specializes in breast and gynecological malignancies, prostate cancer and soft tissue sarcoma. Within these areas, her expertise is brachytherapy. Dr. Godette treats patients at Winship at Emory University Hospital Midtown where she has served as medical director since 2001.

Kidney-Saving Robotics & Education

Saving kidneys from cancerous tumors and stones using minimally invasive techniques is my specialty. I’ve performed nearly 200 kidney operations in the last year alone and I recently launched a robotic kidney tumor program for Winship Cancer Institute at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital. Kidneys are essential to life but most people aren’t aware of their extraordinary function until there’s a problem. As a vital organ, kidneys are a filter for the body and they make urine to rid the body of waste toxins.

How would you know if you have a possible kidney concern? Check for a change when going to the bathroom. Kidney cancers in the early stages usually do not cause any signs or symptoms, but patients will sometimes experience signs that should be brought to a doctor’s attention, such as:

  • Noticing blood or very dark urine
  • Flank/back pain on one side (not caused by injury)
  • A mass (lump) on the side or lower back
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss not caused by dieting
  • Fever that is not caused by an infection and doesn’t go away

Contact your doctor if you see changes like these. Recognizing your body’s warning signals can reduce your risk of serious disease, but the best option of all is prevention.

Kidney cancer prevention starts with smoking cessation and being aware of any history of kidney cancer in your family. The National Cancer Institute also identifies obesity as a known risk factor for kidney cancer, so take steps to manage your weight, exercise as a doctor prescribes for your individual condition, and eat whole foods that are rich in nutrients. Everyone should get regular check-ups.

When tumors or stones do develop, my job is to preserve this vital organ by using a minimally invasive procedure such as laparoscopic or robotic surgery (see video below). Not every tumor in the kidney is cancerous so options other than removing the entire kidney should be evaluated. Emory surgeons have been pioneers in using technologies like these to do organ-sparing cancer surgeries and complex stone surgeries.

As a specialist, I typically see patients after they are found to have a tumor or mass in the kidney or start experiencing symptoms. Let’s make prevention a part of your routine.

See Dr. Pattaras discuss this special type of organ-sparing robotic surgery:

About Dr. Pattaras

pattarasJohn G. Pattaras, MD, FACS, is an Associate Professor of Urology at the Emory University School of Medicine, Chief of Emory Urology services at Saint Joseph’s Hospital and Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery.

As the Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery, Dr. Pattaras started laparoscopic and robotic urologic surgery program at Emory University. Over the past 14 years, the program has expanded to become the premier laparoscopic and robotics program in Atlanta serving patients from Georgia, neighboring states as well as international patients. The program offers highly specialized minimally invasive surgery that includes organ-sparing cancer surgery and complex stone surgery. Patients attending Emory Urology for cancer treatment have the unique opportunity to be cured of their disease while at the same time preserve their vital organs, their functionality and quality of life.

Dr. Pattaras is a diplomate of the American Board of Urology (2002) a Fellow of the American College of Surgery.

In addition to his dedication to Emory patients, Dr. Pattaras is also involved in humanitarianism outside Emory. On an annual basis, he volunteers his time to organize and head a team of Emory medical students to Haiti. The team provides free urologic care including surgical treatment to indigent Haitian patients with urologic conditions.

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“Top Secret” Cancer Facts Worth Sharing

cancer secretsIt’s time to stop being embarrassed about the 3rd most commonly diagnosed cancer and the 3rd leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. More than 140,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year and nearly 50,000 will lose their battle to the disease according to The American Cancer Society.

It’s colon cancer awareness month – share the facts about how a colorectal cancer screening could save your life.

A study, published in JAMA Surgery and recently reported in the NYT, showed that incidences of colorectal cancer have been decreasing by about 1 percent a year since the mid 1980s. Simply said, more people under the recommended screening age of 50 are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

Colon cancer is not embarrassing. There’s simply no sense in keeping secrets from your physician. If you have a history of colorectal cancer in your family or have particular symptoms that you’re unsure about then it’s time to get the facts from your doctor. Speak openly about your risk factors, prevention, early detection, and treatment.
Prevention and early detection of colorectal cancer are possible by appropriately scheduling a colorectal cancer screening. A conversation with your doctor is always confidential; make it honest and candid.

As a Nurse Practitioner in gastrointestinal cancers, I have had many patients who have stated that they wish they had gotten a colonoscopy as recommended for colorectal cancer screening. They also say they now preach to everyone they know to get their colonoscopies.

Find a primary physician through our Emory Healthcare Network or call Health Connection at 404-778-7777 to learn more from a registered nurse. No topic is top secret or off limits.

About Ms. Brutcher
Edith Brutcher

A chemotherapy infusion specialist and adult nurse practitioner, Ms. Brutcher’s clinical specialties include gastrointestinal and aerodigestive cancers. She has 27 years experience as a Registered Nurse, and 8 years as an Adult Nurse Practitioner with Medical Oncology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing Adult Practitioner, specializing in oncology and immunology, at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Colon Cancer Chat Transcript
An Intro to Colorectal Cancer Part I: Risk Factors, Symptoms & Diagnosis
An Intro to Colorectal Cancer Part II: Prevention, Diagnosis & Treatment
Winship Cancer Institute – Colon Cancer Resources

When Your Partner Fails You

Cancer Support(This blog was originally posted on Friday, February 20, 2015 on the WebMD website)

Along with the worries, sadness and frustrations of dealing with cancer, many patients experience the heartbreak of their loved one failing to support them. How could a life partner or spouse fail you during cancer? There are many ways, some more obvious than others.

Jan’s husband never came to any appointments, ever. He never learned about her diagnosis, her treatment plan, the side effects of the medicines or the recommendations for how she might improve her energy and strength. He blamed the lymphedema in her arm after her surgery on her “lazy lifestyle.” He told her that support groups were for “wimps” and even took some of her pain medicine for himself.

Sally’s partner came to every appointment – he would never let anyone else bring her. He kept a medical notebook with her test results and argued with every doctor about each treatment plan. He would not let her eat any ice cream or cookies because he thought the sugar would make her tumor grow, even though Sally was at a very healthy weight and ate a very balanced diet.

Gary’s girlfriend would never stop talking about herself. At appointments with the oncologist she would ask questions about breast cancer even though Gary had lymphoma. She repeatedly complained about Gary being at home instead of work, “having him around the house all day is making me crazy, I need my space!” She had no understanding of cancer fatigue: “he looks fine, no vomiting or fever – he should be able to do more!” In the past Gary had been able to participate in his girlfriend’s extremely busy social schedule, but after lymphoma, he asked his girlfriend about limiting their social time to just close friends. His girlfriend insisted on accepting every invitation, and started leaving Gary at home, alone.

Some spouses and partners don’t get it, but they want to, which is huge. If a loved one wants to do better, there is hope for the relationship. If you’re the partner — not the patient — in this scenario, and you’re wondering how to recover from your initial missteps, here’s what I would suggest: Start by setting aside time when there are not any children yelling or bills to be paid or dishes to be done. Begin with a question, “so how are things going for you?“ Wait for an answer. Listen. Then ask “Anything I can do to help?” Breathe, pause, listen. Maybe put your hand on your partner’s shoulder, gently, in order to emphasize you are listening. If you start getting yelled at for being late once 6 months ago, breathe deeply, and respond simply, “I am sorry I was late, but now I really want to help, and do better. Let’s keep talking, but no yelling please.” Make eye contact and smile.

Sally’s partner took the advice above, he set aside the time, took several deep breaths, and listened. He listened closely because he really did love her, and wanted to know how she was doing. He admitted that he had hoped to stop the cancer by controlling everything about her medical care and diet. Sally was able to explain she did appreciate the help with scheduling and tracking her medicines, but she did not want to be treated as an invalid or a small child. Sally’s partner was eventually able to become the partner she needed – a partner interested in caring for her but also respectful of her autonomy.

Gary spent a lot of time after cancer treatment thinking about what kind of life partner he wanted. Reflecting back over the years, he was able to see that his girlfriend had always been self-absorbed. Friday nights, she chose the restaurant; Sunday morning she picked the breakfast; and during the week she rarely asked how Gary was doing at work. Gary realized that he would rather be alone than in a relationship with someone who only cared about herself. “After everything I have been through, I deserve real love.”

Jan always knew that her husband drank too much, but she had hoped he would stop on his own. Through her cancer treatment Jan was terribly embarrassed that her husband was not at appointments. On the day Jan came home to tell her husband that the oncologist told her she was cancer free, he was passed out on the couch. Not being able to share the journey, or the joy in the recovery, pushed Jan to tell her husband that she wanted a divorce. When he realized Jan was actually planning to leave him, he knew he had to get sober. The addiction to alcohol had robbed Jan’s husband of the chance to be a support when his wife really needed him. The only hope for the marriage was for him to get completely sober, and with medical care, Jan’s husband finally stopped drinking. Once sober, he returned to being the kind of husband Jan remembered from when they were first married. He cooked pasta dinners, rubbed her feet in the evening, and actively listened when she talked about her health concerns and hope for the future.

We all hope that our partner will step up and be there for us if we need them, but sometimes they don’t support us as we’d hoped. There are a variety of reasons why a loved one may fail during cancer treatment, and the psychological work is to realize the failure is about their issues, not about you or your self worth. If there is genuine caring, and a real desire for a loving relationship, a couple may get through the challenge of cancer. And if not, there may be grieving process if the relationship fails, but there is great beauty in a cancer survivor taking steps to be in the healthiest, most loving relationship possible. After cancer, you deserve it.

About Dr. Baer

Wendy Baer, MDWendy Baer, MD, is medical director of psychiatric oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, with appointments in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences in the Emory School of Medicine, and the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Winship.

In her work at the Winship Cancer Institute, Dr. Baer helps patients and their families deal with the stress of receiving a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. As a psychiatrist, she has expertise in treating clinical depression and anxiety both with medications and with psychotherapy to help people manage emotions, behaviors, and relationships. The fundamental goal of Dr. Baer’s practice is to promote wellness and maximize patients’ quality of life as much as possible. She believes strongly in the team approach to patient care and collaborates regularly with the doctors, nurses, and social workers that make up a patient’s care team.

Dr. Baer attended medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she graduated with honors. From UNC she went to the University of Pennsylvania, where she completed her residency in psychiatry and served as the chief resident in her senior year. Prior to moving to Atlanta, Dr. Baer worked with patients dealing with cancer at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, WA.

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Palliative or Supportive Care Can Improve Quality of Life for Cancer Patients

palliative cancer careI have been a dedicated palliative and supportive care specialist for the last seven years. When people ask me about palliative care, they often wonder if it is reserved for those patients who are dying. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Center for Palliative Care Excellence explains it this way: “palliative care provides relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness—whatever the diagnosis.” Simply put, I help people do and keep doing the things they love best for as long as they can.

People with cancer are more than their illness. They have lives with responsibilities, hopes, fears, and dreams beyond their diagnosis. As supportive care specialists, we are trained to recognize and partner with individuals to help them cope with and manage the physical, emotional and spiritual distress that can arise during and after cancer treatment. Our team-based approach focuses on the person as a whole.

An important concern we address is symptom management. Whether the goal is to cure or slow the progression of a disease, a cancer journey often can be fraught with distressing symptoms of pain, shortness of breath, nausea, anxiety and fatigue. Supportive care specialists work with the healthcare team to aggressively manage these symptoms. Our goal is to help a patient maintain quality of life while managing the disease, so we work closely with a person’s oncologist to develop an individualized symptom management plan that complements the patient’s treatment plan. The supportive care team can provide access to expert symptom management resources in the hospital, through clinics, and in some programs in the home. Most insurance companies typically cover referrals to supportive care specialists.

Supportive care can also provide symptom management after cancer treatment is completed or discontinued. Supportive care is available no matter where patients are in their illness, whether at diagnosis or late in the disease process. We also recognize the role of caregivers and families in providing support and try to add to this support by filling in the gaps.

Supportive care teams bring together doctors, nurses, social workers and a chaplain, to help a patient define and clarify his or her goals for care and treatment. The care team does this by helping a patient figure out what is most important and how that fits with a treatment plan. Supportive care can help individuals continue to have comprehensive care when disease targeted cancer treatment is no longer beneficial or what the individual wants.

If you are having symptoms from your illness or treatment that are difficult to control, or if you feel you are needing more support, talk to your doctor about getting a referral to a supportive care specialist. You deserve the best care that the medical system has to offer. Improving your quality of life by having an extra layer of support during your cancer journey can be an invaluable addition to your treatment plan.

About Dr. Kimberly A. Curseen

kimberly curseen, MDBoard certified in Internal Medicine, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care, Kimberly A. Curseen, MD, is the Director of Supportive and Palliative Care Outpatient Services for Emory Healthcare. She is the director and the primary provider for the Supportive Oncology Clinic. The clinic provides physical, emotional, and spiritual care for patients with cancer at any point in their disease process. The clinic also assists patients with complex decision making.

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