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A more comfortable mammogram

Good communication between patients, providers also can help ease the pressure of the procedure

Nov. 24, 2014 | By Dr. Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

A more comfortable mammogram

Up to 35 percent of women report pain from a mammogram, according to a 2008 report, which may cause them to delay or avoid the procedure altogether.

Photo by BSIP / UIG via Getty Images

Julie Clemons has an appointment for her second mammogram this week and she’s really anxious. Her first mammogram, when she was 38, was no walk in the park.

“It was just agonizing,” recalls the 45-year-old farm owner from Canaan, New Hampshire. “It felt like my skin was going to tear. It was an awful, awful panicky feeling … The whole thing still makes me angry seven years later.”

Clemons ended up with bruises covering her chest after her mammogram. Although pain that extreme is on the far end of the spectrum, many women report pain or discomfort from the test.

Studies on mammography pain and discomfort vary, but according to a 2008 review, up to 35 percent of women report pain from the procedure. Although many women deal with it, some may delay or avoid recommended mammograms altogether.  One study found that among women who didn’t return for their second annual mammogram, 46 percent cited a painful first screening as the reason.

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Fred Hutch announces Dr. Gary Gilliland as new president and director

'Everything I've done in my career has pointed here,' says the renowned physician-scientist

Nov. 20, 2014 | By Linda Dahlstrom / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Gary Gilliland

Fred Hutch’s incoming president and director Dr. Gary Gilliland addressed a standing-room-only crowd of staff and faculty Thursday in Seattle. Gilliland said he is excited to be at the Hutch. “This is the perfect time and perfect place to develop curative approaches for cancer,” he said. “Everything I’ve done in my career has pointed here.”

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

She was only 42 and she was married to a snowplow operator.

The years fall away and the details come into sharp focus as Dr. Gary Gilliland recalls meeting the patient who would shape the trajectory of his career.

She’d been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, then given chemotherapy, went into remission – and relapsed six months later. The follow-up treatment wiped out her leukemia but her bone marrow never came back and the severe fungal infections she developed were killing her.

Gilliland, a young intern at the time, was at her side when her family arrived to say goodbye. He watched her children climb into bed with her for the last time. About 20 minutes later, she died.

“We had all the best intentions, but she died of complications from the chemotherapy we gave her,” he said. “I just thought there has to be a better way. We have got to develop better treatments for people like her.”

Now, all these years later, after decades of research, cures for cancer are in sight -- particularly at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, he said.

On Jan. 2, Gilliland will become the new president and director of Fred Hutch where he’ll play a key role in helping those cures he once dreamed of become reality. The research center announced his new position today, following a national search.

“This is the perfect time and perfect place to develop curative approaches for cancer,” said Gilliland, a physician-scientist. “Everything I’ve done in my career has pointed here.”

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Kicking butt: a look at smoking cessation through the decades

From ‘grandma groups’ to pharmacotherapy to online interventions, people will try just about anything to kick the habit

Nov. 19, 2014 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Aversion therapy -- being put in a small room full of cigarette butts and being forced to chain smoke while getting shocked with each puff -- is just one way people have tried to kick the habit over the years.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

When it comes to kicking the smoking habit, people will pretty much try anything. Some go cold turkey. Others try Wild Turkey – bourbon flavored e-cigarettes, that is. Still more turn to hypnosis, nicotine gum, pharmaceuticals or phone lines.

Shawn Burke, a 54-year-old Seattle meter reader who smoked for 23 years, was so desperate to dump his three-pack-a-day cigarette habit back in the mid-1980s he went to the Schick Shadel Hospital for their now-discontinued smoking-aversion therapy.

“They put me in a small room full of cigarette butts and forced me to smoke one cigarette after another for an hour while getting shocked with every puff,” he said. “You weren’t even allowed to put the old ones out. They continued to [smolder] and light the other cigarettes on fire. I thought I was cured but about 10 minutes into my drive home, I lit up.”

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Stopping Stiff Person Syndrome: Alabama woman turns to stem cell transplant for help

Experimental Fred Hutch treatment aims to ease symptoms of rare, debilitating condition that causes rigid limbs, searing pain

Nov. 18, 2014 | By JoNel Aleccia / Fred Hutch News Service

Sally and Spears Rhodes

Sallie Rhodes and her father, Spears Rhodes, share a moment after her stem cell transplant in Seattle.

A young Alabama woman with a rare disorder that leaves her body literally as stiff as a board is the first Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center patient to receive a stem cell transplant in hopes of helping – if not curing – her devastating condition.

Sallie Rhodes, 26, was diagnosed more than a year ago with Stiff Person Syndrome, or SPS, an oddly named neurological autoimmune disease that strikes about one in every million people worldwide and leaves some sufferers so rigid they can’t walk or move on their own.

It’s a bizarre disease in which severe muscle contractions can be triggered by loud noises or sudden scares, sending victims crashing to the ground, unable to break the fall. Rhodes has suffered concussions, cuts and other injuries after what she calls “lock-ups” – searing spasms that make her legs stiff, her head and neck rigid, the muscles in her torso so tense she can barely breathe. 

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A life takes flight: Leukemia survivor folds origami cranes to mark 30 years since transplant

Leukemia survivor folds 1,000 origami cranes to celebrate 30 years of life, raise funds

Nov. 16, 2014 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Linda Binder

Linda Binder poses with one of the origami cranes she folded in order to raise money for cancer patients.

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch

Along with lives, cancer can steal a person’s identity. Or try to, anyway.

Linda Binder was a 19-year-old Colorado State University freshman when she was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). Suddenly, she was no longer a college student cramming for finals; she was a cancer patient with a terminal diagnosis.

She was also a bit of a guinea pig, signing on for a then-experimental treatment known as a bone marrow transplant.

The grueling procedure saved Binder’s life but also took something away: her fingerprints.

“My hands turned red and got inflamed and then peeled and I noticed my fingerprints were gone,” said Binder, who, despite the “identity theft” remains very much her own person. “When I had a background check a few years ago, they were swabbing my fingers for prints and the guy looked at me and said, ‘What is with your fingers? Were you in a fire? What happened to you?’”

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When diseases collide: Less than half of cancer survivors have been tested for HIV

Not knowing HIV status can affect treatment and prognosis of two debilitating conditions, finds CDC study of adults younger than 65

Nov. 13, 2014 | By JoNel Aleccia / Fred Hutch News Service

HIV testing

“There are 14 million people living with cancer in the U.S. today. Those people, particularly those under the age of 65, should have had a recent HIV test and communicated that with their caregiver,” said Fred Hutch's Dr. Polly Newcomb.

Photo by Mario Tama / Getty Images

Despite known links between cancer and the virus that causes AIDS, less than half of cancer survivors in the U.S. younger than 65 have been tested for HIV, a first-ever government study finds.

Overall, only 41 percent of cancer patients surveyed reported having blood or saliva tests to tell whether they were infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, a factor that could affect everything from the treatment they receive to their risk factors for additional disease — and death.

That means about 60 percent had never been tested at all.

"I expected to see more, a higher percentage tested," said Dr. Jun Li, a CDC epidemiologist and lead author of a study published Thursday in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Awareness of HIV status is vital at the time of cancer diagnosis or recurrence to avoid treatment-related complications, including drug interactions and the potentially damagiing effects of chemotherapy on the CD4 cell count and HIV viral load, he added.

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