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Fertility after cancer: Young women less likely to be told about options

New study finds young male cancer patients twice as likely to be counseled on preserving fertility

July 27, 2015 | By Sabin Russell / Fred Hutch News Service

Rose Ibarra and son, August

Rose Ibarra, a 29-year-old cancer survivor, shown with her 2-month-old son, August. While she was counseled on options to preserve her fertility before starting chemotherapy, many young women aren’t, a new study finds.

Photo by Lynette Johnson

Sometimes you’ll find a gender gap where you least expect it.

For young men and women diagnosed with cancer, many face the prospect of chemotherapy that can leave them infertile for life.

Yet a new nationwide study by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s reveals that young male patients were twice as likely as young women to be counseled on ways to preserve their fertility, such as freezing sperm or eggs.

And while about one-third of the male cancer patients in the study went on to bank their sperm, that fertility preservation rate was four to five times higher than that of young women cancer patients choosing to have their eggs harvested and stored, found the study, which was published online Monday by Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society.  

“It was disappointing to hear that, but I’m not surprised,” said Rose Ibarra, a 29-year-old Seattle woman who had her eggs frozen in 2011, just two days before she began chemotherapy for stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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‘Made a difference’: Stem cell donor meets her tiny recipient

Canadian woman’s stem cells helped cure severe immune disorder in baby Savanna

July 27, 2015 | Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

Pam Dicaire holds Savanna

Savanna, 23 months old, is hugged by her stem cell donor, Pam Dicaire during Fred Hutch's Bone Marrow Transplant Survivor Reunion on Saturday. Savanna's mom, Athena Gomez, left, holds flowers as Dicaire's daughter and husband look on.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

On stage, the spunky girl cradled flowers, a thank you present for the woman who traveled 3,500 miles just to meet her.

Then, that woman stepped on the stage. Pam Dicaire immediately glimpsed the bouquet – and the toddler headed her way.

Dicaire wept. For the first time, she could see the living results of her own gift, a stem cell donation. She had saved Savanna.

“She’s so beautiful,” Dicaire said Saturday night at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry. Their meeting offered an emotional conclusion for the seventh Bone Marrow Transplant Survivor Reunion, an event hosted by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. 

“I’ve always wanted to say thank you for saving my daughter’s life,” Savanna’s mother, Athena Gomez, said before the event. “Without it, Savanna wouldn’t be here.”

In January 2014, Savanna had received Dicaire’s donated stem cells. The transplant eventually cured an immune disorder that otherwise would have killed the girl.

Under the rules of donation, their identities were kept mutually anonymous – until Saturday when, finally, they shared a hug.

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Bone marrow transplant reunion draws hundreds to Fred Hutch

BMT survivors and donors huddle, hug amid weekend celebration

July 25, 2015 | Fred Hutch News Service

2015 Fred Hutch BMT Survivor Reunion

The 2015 Fred Hutch BMT Survivor Reunion kicked off Friday with a welcome reception in Fred Hutch's Mundie Courtyard.

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Several hundred people have gathered this weekend in Seattle for the party of many lifetimes – the seventh Bone Marrow Transplant Survivor Reunion at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Attending are 276 transplant survivors, as well as their donors, families and caregivers. 

The survivors were transplanted between five and 42 years ago. They’ve come to connect with each other and, in some cases, with their donors. 

On Saturday night, during the culminating celebration at the Museum of History and Industry, one BMT survivor will, for the first time, meet the donor whose gift saved her life.

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Why cancer research needs business development – now more than ever

Meet Fred Hutch’s Dr. Niki Robinson, the woman who’s helping make it happen

July 24, 2015 | By Dr. Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Niki Robinson

Dr. Nicole (Niki) Robinson joins Fred Hutch Monday as the new vice president of business development and industry relations.

Bo Jungmeyer / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Nicole (Niki) Robinson remembers a period in her childhood when she wanted to be a bus driver.

“That was a pretty fleeting moment though,” laughed Robinson, who will join Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Monday as the new vice president of business development and industry relations.

Short-lived dreams of public transit notwithstanding, the 39-year-old research commercialization expert has always loved science. Robinson fell in love with the exploration behind basic biological research in college at Miami University. She later realized that her true interests lay in how to translate those research discoveries to help patients.

“I knew (since I’m not) a clinician that wasn’t something I was going to do — I wasn’t going to take the research literally from the bench to the bedside — so I started looking for other ways to help,” Robinson said.

Between that realization and her decision to move to Seattle to lead Fred Hutch’s Business Development and Industry Relations office (formerly known as Industry Relations and Technology Transfer), Robinson traveled an impressive career path that included earning a Ph.D. in cell physiology from the University of Chicago and nine years heading the technology transfer and commercialization development team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where her leadership garnered more than $60 million in licensing revenue for the hospital.

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Nation's top oncologists take aim at sky-high drug costs

Cancer patients praise scathing report; experts from Fred Hutch, other top treatment centers decry cancer care's financial burden

July 23, 2015 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

HICOR Director Dr. Scott Ramsey

“This lets patients know they’re not alone," Fred Hutch's Dr. Scott Ramsey said of a report, published Thursday and signed by 118 of the top oncologists in the U.S., targeting the skyrocketing costs of cancer drugs. Ramsey is Director of the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, or HICOR.

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Cancer patients were quick to praise a scathing report from the country’s leading oncologists decrying the skyrocketing cost of cancer drugs.

“[The report] is definitely a validation that these medications are ridiculously expensive,” said Erin Havel, a 38-year-old chronic myeloid leukemia patient from Seattle who had to declare bankruptcy due to the high cost of her cancer drugs. “Patients don’t really have much say. We should. We’re the consumers, but we’re more of a vehicle for companies to raise money. It feels like we’re a cash cow for Big Pharma.”

The editorial, published today in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, was signed by more than 100 leading cancer experts from top treatment centers around the U.S., including six physician scientists Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

“The high prices of cancer drugs are affecting the care of patients with cancer and our health care system,” it stated. “This increase is causing harm to patients with cancer and their families.”

It goes on to matter-of-factly lay out the harsh financial realities many people face after a cancer diagnosis, a suite of diseases that will affect 1 in 3 individuals over their lifetime. While the cost of new drugs has soared to well over $100,000 a year, the out-of-pocket expenses patients are expected to bear have also gone up to 20 to 30 percent. Because of these costs, about 10% to 20% of patients with cancer do not take the prescribed treatment or compromise it. 

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Meeting someone who saved your life

Bone marrow transplant recipient and reunion volunteer shares story of meeting her donor

July 23, 2015 | By Megan Herndon / Fred Hutch News Service

Photo of Dena Fantle

Dena Fantle met Ethan Lax, the 23-year-old who saved her life, this summer at the 15th annual Partners for Life Gala in New York City.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

When Dena Fantle accepted flowers from Ethan Lax, the 23-year-old who saved her life, cheers and tears filled the crowd. This pair met for the first time earlier this summer at the 15th annual Partners for Life Gala to benefit the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation in New York City.

A year earlier, Lax swabbed his cheek at a bone marrow donor drive while he was studying abroad in Israel. He returned to the states after his year overseas, cheek swab long forgotten.

While Lax was registering as a bone marrow donor, Fantle, 56, was hoping she wouldn’t need one. She had beaten her heavy chain amyloidosis, a condition where proteins fold abnormally, and was ready to get back to her life as a mother and a senior project manager at an international financial and professional services firm in Seattle. But after some checkups, her blood cell counts were unusually low. Dr. Pamela Becker, a specialist in blood cancers at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s patient-care arm, diagnosed this second condition as severe aplastic anemia. Initial treatments were ineffective for this rare illness, in which the bone marrow doesn’t make enough blood cells for the body. Fantle needed a stem cell transplant.  

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