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Screening tool aims to better identify distressed patients

Caring for patients doesn’t just mean physically; a new tool helps doctors find, and support, those struggling with depression and other forms of psychosocial distress

Feb. 5, 2016 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Moreen Dudley and Petr Horak in their SCCA office

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance's Moreen Dudley, a clinical operations director, and Petr Horak, a program administrator for the Palliative Care Service, collaborated with oncologist Dr. Elizabeth Loggers to implement psychosocial distress screening for patients.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on cancer and depression. Read part one here.

In a typical half-hour appointment with one of her sarcoma patients, Dr. Elizabeth Loggers has enough time to talk through a patient’s course of treatment and make sure she answers all their questions — and not much else.

But these matters are just one portion of the host of concerns that cancer unleashes on patients and their families: from depression and anxiety to loss of physical function from lymphedema to fears for their children.

It’s easy for doctors to run out of time, or just not ask the right questions to uncover these concerns, Loggers said. And this means that patients too often don’t receive — or even know about — supportive services that can help, such as psychological counseling, physical therapy or nutrition assistance.

To ensure that patients and their families are connected with supportive services that can improve their overall wellbeing, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance — Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s patient-care arm — is implementing systematic screening for psychological and social concerns, with referrals to supportive services, for all new patients.

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Good News at Fred Hutch

Celebrating faculty and staff achievements

Feb. 4, 2016 | By Fred Hutch News Service staff

Dr. Marco Mielcarek

Dr. Marco Mielcarek

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

New study led by Dr. Marco Mielcarek may change the practice of blood stem-cell transplantation

New findings from a study led by Dr. Marco Mielcarek and colleagues in the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center offer new hope for reducing the risk of graft-vs.-host disease, or GVHD, in patients who receive transplants of matched related and unrelated donor blood stem cells for leukemia and other high-risk blood cancers.

GVHD occurs when newly transplanted donor cells attack the organs of the transplant recipient, regarding them as foreign. It affects up to 80 percent of patients who receive donor stem cell transplants. Symptoms, including skin rashes, nausea, diarrhea, weight loss and liver problems, among others, may develop within a few months after transplant (known as acute GVHD) or much later, and symptoms sometimes last up to a lifetime (known as chronic GVHD), which can significantly reduce quality of life.

The study found that treating patients with an immune-suppressing drug called cyclophosphamide three and four days after transplantation, followed by another immunosuppressive drug called cyclosporine on day five, reduced the relative risk of chronic GVHD by more than half: from the expected 35 percent to 16 percent.

The researchers also found that this post-transplant treatment reduced the risk of severe acute GVHD from the expected 10 to 15 percent to zero. 

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Depression: cancer’s invisible side effect

Three in four depressed cancer patients don’t get enough help; survivors tell what it’s like to slip ‘down the rabbit hole’ — and how to climb back out

Feb. 4, 2016 | By Mary Engel / Fred Hutch News Service

Cancer patient Ruth Kaminski meets with Dr. Jesse Fann for a counseling session at the SCCA in Seattle.

Cancer patient Ruth Kaminski meets with Dr. Jesse Fann for a counseling session at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on cancer and depression. Part two will focus on a new screening tool to help identify patients at risk.

When Ruth Kaminski learned that the “spot of concern” on her mammogram was breast cancer, first she had a good cry. Then she tried to reassure herself, her stricken husband and her three grown children that the cancer was caught early. Her mantra became, “It’s no big deal.”

In January 2015, she had a lumpectomy. A month later, she started the first of what would be seven weeks of Monday-through-Friday radiation treatments.

On the outside, Kaminski, then 60, was her laughing, clowning self, “always sweet and smiling and up to shenanigans, trying to cheer up my radiation buddies,” she said. As long as she focused on others, she could pretend that everything was OK.

But everything was not OK. She took to crying in the shower.

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Zika virus: 6 key things we don’t yet know

From lack of data to inconclusive blood tests to the unique challenges of pregnancy, experts weigh in on the knowledge gaps in this emerging infection

Feb. 2, 2016 | By Rachel Tompa / Fred Hutch News Service

Mosquito spraying in Peru

A health worker fumigates against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, a vector of the Zika virus, inside a house in Lima, Peru, Friday, Jan. 29, 2016. The Zika virus causes only a mild illness in most people, but may cause the devastating birth defect known as microcephaly if pregnant women are infected.

Photo by Martin Mejia / AP

In the wake of the World Health Organization’s announcement Monday that Zika virus constitutes a public health emergency, research groups and public agencies are mobilizing to tackle the emerging infection and its suspected links to a devastating form of a birth defect known as microcephaly.

WHO officials emphasized the lack of a working vaccine, the absence of a reliable blood test for the virus and the dearth of natural immunity in the Western Hemisphere. Their recommended first steps are to control the disease’s vector, the mosquito known as Aedes aegypti, and for at-risk women to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

The sudden appearance of the virus in the Americas — and the seemingly new tie to the birth defect where infants’ brains don’t fully develop during pregnancy — underscore the huge gaps in our knowledge about the disease, said Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center virologist Dr. Trevor Bedford.

Any infection carries its own set of mysteries. But the Zika outbreak is frustratingly puzzling, even for a relatively new disease, Bedford said.

“At the moment it seems like there are a huge number of questions, more so than I’m even used to in these situations, [that is], emerging viral diseases,” he said.

To that end, we asked Bedford and other infectious disease experts at the Hutch to point out what we still don’t know about Zika — and how research groups may start to plug those holes in the effort to halt the virus’ spread.

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St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright receives 51st Hutch Award

Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk offers annual ceremony’s keynote speech at Safeco Field

Jan. 27, 2016 | By Susan Keown / Fred Hutch News Service

Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright collects the Hutch Award at Safeco Field in Seattle.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

From Randy Johnson’s 1990 no-hitter to Felix Hernandez’s perfect game in 2012, baseball-loving crowds in Seattle have been treated to impressive feats on the mound by some of the game’s finest pitchers.

With two Gold Gloves and a stratospheric strikeout tally, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright certainly stands among the great hurlers to have stepped on the field at the Mariners’ home ballpark. 

On Wednesday, a crowd at Safeco Field cheered not for Wainwright’s wicked cutter but for his activities off the field to help others. “Waino,” as he’s known in baseball, was honored with the 51st annual Hutch Award at the Hutch Award Luncheon, an annual event that raises money for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The 2016 luncheon raised gross proceeds of more than $545,000 for the center.

“This means so much more to me than any achievement on the field could possibly mean to me,” said Wainwright upon receiving the award. 

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Jimmy Carter’s grandson tours Hutch, talks science behind former president’s cancer treatment

Jason Carter accepts first honorary Hutch Award on behalf of former president

Jan. 27, 2016 | By Bill Briggs / Fred Hutch News Service

Jason Carter

Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, left, tours Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb's lab on Tuesday. Carter accepted an honorary Hutch Award for his grandfather on Wednesday at Seattle's Safeco Field.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

When Jason Carter scans his family tree, he sees service — the Peace Corps, the military, the Oval Office. He also sees cancer.

As his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter, continued treatment for advanced melanoma, Jason Carter toured Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on Tuesday with a message of gratitude and a sense of hope about looming cures.

“For me, this stuff hits close to home. My grandfather lost both of his parents and three of his siblings to pancreatic cancer. My father, my uncle, and my grandfather have had melanoma in the last year. So this stuff is a big deal to me,” said Jason Carter, 40, an Atlanta business lawyer.

“My kids are 9 and 7. And to watch the progress and to be part of a group of people who are participating so closely in that future and in that progress, it’s just exciting.”

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