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Why the flu hit hardest in middle-aged adults last year

Previous influenza infections in childhood may be the culprit, study finds

Oct. 20, 2014 | By Dr. Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

The flu hit hardest in middle-aged adults last year

Only 37 percent of adults aged 18-64 got a flu shot last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file

Last year’s flu season was particularly brutal, and a surprising population was hit the hardest: young and middle-aged adults. New research suggests that an immune response unique to this age group may be to blame for last year’s flu toll and points to possible improvements to the annual vaccine.

That poor immune response was shaped by the flu strains that people born before 1985 were exposed to in childhood, according to new work led by researchers at The Wistar Institute that involved investigators from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and elsewhere.

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To BSE or not to BSE?

What you need to know about breast self-exam and self-awareness

Oct. 20, 2014 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

A video produced by the Scottish government encourages women to get breast cancer screening and know their breasts.

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the airwaves and Internet are swirling with information on mammograms, and the benefits of early detection and screening.

But where does the humble breast self-exam fit into this picture? Should women still perform BSEs on themselves? Or do we put all of our “eggs” – if you’ll pardon the expression -- in one breast-screening basket?

“Mammogram is just one piece of the whole screening process,” said Dr. Julie Gralow, a clinical researcher and breast cancer oncologist with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and its treatment arm, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. “Screening involves visual inspection and breast self-awareness and knowing what’s normal for you.”

Heidi Trott, a nurse practitioner and three-time breast cancer survivor who counsels newly diagnosed patients, said SCCA encourages breast self-exam but that breast self-awareness is even better.

“I use the term awareness rather than examination,” she said. “It’s important to inspect the breast, to look at it in the mirror, to get a sense of what your breast tissue feels like.”

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The conversation: When talking about death means talking about life

Dr. Tony Back, featured in an upcoming documentary, teaches doctors to talk to their patients about end of life

Oct. 17, 2014 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Tony Back

Dr. Tony Back, a medical oncologist at Fred Hutch and the University of Washington, is featured in the documentary "Consider the Conversation 2: Stories About Cure, Relief and Comfort." He leads workshops around the country on talking to dying patients.

Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Dr. Anthony Back remembers precisely the moment he resolved to help fellow doctors learn to talk with their patients—and each other—about dying.

He was a young oncology fellow doing hospital rounds with a group of doctors in training when they came to an empty bed. The attending physician asked a resident what happened to the patient who had been there the day before.

“Oh, she died last night,” the resident said dismissively, then walked on, rounding the corner out of sight.

The group fell silent. Although her death was unexpected, no one wanted to talk about it.

“I thought, wow, this is really awkward,” Back recalled. “That’s how I got interested in the whole issue.”

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Surprise benefit of young kids: they may help ease hot flashes

Some menopausal women had fewer symptoms if they had kids under 13 at home, study shows

Oct. 16, 2014 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Exposure to young children may temper hot flashes, study finds

New research conducted by scientists at Indiana University and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that some menopausal women experienced fewer hot flashes and night sweats if they had children under age 13 at home.

Illustration by Kimberly Carney / Fred Hutch News Service

Ask any woman what her child or grandchild adds to her life and you’ll get a bunch of answers: Joy. Excitement. Love. Spaghetti all over the floor. (Again.) Here’s one more possible answer: fewer hot flashes during menopause.

New research conducted by scientists at Indiana University and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that some menopausal women  experienced fewer hot flashes and night sweats if they had children under age 13 at home.

While the study specifically focused on women who entered menopause because of a surgical procedure that removed their ovaries, the findings may translate to other menopausal women as well.

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Power of the personal: Medical advocacy can play lifesaving role for African-American breast cancer patients

New study demonstrates the impact of clear discussions, support from medical providers - and shows room for improvement

Oct. 15, 2014 | By Joely Johnson Mork / Fred Hutch News Service

Bridgette Hempstead, founder of Cierra Sisters Inc.

Bridgette Hempstead is founder of Cierra Sisters Inc., a support organization for African-American breast cancer survivors.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Bridgette Hempstead’s phone rang late one night. On the other end of the line was a distraught woman with breast cancer who’d been told by her oncologist to “get her things in order” because she likely had less than three months to live.

“She called me at 10 p.m., in despair and hopeless,” recalled Hempstead, president and founder of Cierra Sisters Inc., an African-American breast cancer survivor support organization based in Renton, Washington. “She told me she did not want to die.” Because of her doctor’s decree, however, this woman was faced with the possibility of giving up all hope.

Hempstead quickly helped secure an appointment with a second doctor for the woman, who was then able to ask more questions and get additional information about her condition. This doctor looked over her medical records and determined that there was, indeed, more that could be done for her.

“One year later,” said Hempstead, “and that woman is still living.”

New research suggests that this patient’s survival can be credited, in part, to the power of medical advocacy.

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Don’t be a boob: What not to say to a breast cancer patient

Tips from the trenches on how to be supportive to a loved one in treatment

Oct. 13, 2014 | By Diane Mapes / Fred Hutch News Service

Illustration by Victoria Comfort / Fred Hutch News Service

When a doctor told me three and a half years ago that I had invasive lobular breast cancer and would probably be losing both breasts (and who knows what else), I thought it was the most hurtful thing I’d ever heard in my life.  At least I did until I started sharing my diagnosis with others and was told things like “Yeah, my aunt had that and she died a horrible death” or “Look on the bright side, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow!”

Are comments like this meant to be hurtful? Absolutely not. But they can be, especially when someone is at the oh-so-shaky start of what’s euphemistically referred to as their “cancer journey,” (a phrase I heard so often after my diagnosis I began to wonder if breast cancer came with a free cruise). 

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