Jefferson University Hospitals

Frequently Asked Questions

When considering brachytherapy for prostate cancer treatment, we prefer patients be presented with all their options before making their decision.

What is Jefferson's implant consulting process?

Used as a treatment option for prostate cancer, brachytherapy is a procedure that involves implanting tiny radioactive seeds at the site of the tumor, which, compared with external radiation for prostate cancer, allows for a higher dose of radiation to be safely administered.

What kind of physician typically performs the radioactive seed implantation procedure & in what kind of setting?

Radioactive seed implantation is performed in our hospital setting by a team consisting of a radiation oncologist, urologist and a radiation physicist. This is a highly operator dependent procedure and can reflect on the experience of the team.

What should a patient look for in an implant program?

The implant process is the summation of the skill and expertise of the team, which includes a radiation oncologist, urologist and radiation physicist. Because achieving optimal results with this type of radiation for prostate cancer requires substantial technical skill, patients should look for a program with a proven track record.

At Thomas Jefferson University Hospital we have devoted a great deal of time and energy to our implant program, which is recognized nationally and internationally for the research that has resulted from our work.

Describe the planning procedure.

Imaging of the prostate is the first step, which is performed with a CT and /or ultrasound. These images are used to estimate the number of radioactive seeds that will be required for a successful implant.

On the day of the implant, the radiation oncologist, urologist and physicist perform an ultrasound study of the prostate in the operating room to determine the exact location of each needle and seed. A prostate brachytherapy treatment plan is generated carefully based upon this information.

After a careful review of the treatment plan by each member of the team, a coordinate map of the prostate is created, which describes the location coordinates for needle and seed. This treatment plan is used in the operating room and followed closely. Needle and seed placement is confirmed with both ultrasound and fluoroscopy during the procedure. Additional seeds are available in order to make adjustments at the time of the implant.

Describe the length of the procedure & the type of anesthesia.

Typically, the procedure takes about 1½ - 2 hours and is done under general anesthesia. We prefer general anesthesia because our patients seem to tolerate it quite well. Generally, there is no sensation of pain after the procedure and painkillers are unnecessary.

What can the patient expect to feel like after the brachytherapy procedure?

Patients can expect to feel some tenderness and bruising in the affected area. Most patients require no prescription pain medications. After brachytherapy, most prostate cancer patients are somewhat tired and want to relax. Patients are not limited in their activity level after the procedure.

What side effects might occur days after the brachytherapy procedure & how long do they last?

As a result of the brachytherapy procedure, some men experience mild discomfort in the groin area for two to three days, which is managed very effectively with mild analgesics. Some blood may be seen in the urine and sperm for a few days after the procedure. This is normal and stops after two to three days. The scrotal and perineal area can also become swollen/bruised or black and blue.

The side effects of the radiation from the seeds usually begin one to two weeks after seed implantation. The main symptoms are urinary difficulties, such as frequency, urgency, weak stream or slight pain. These can last for two to six months. These can usually be effectively managed with simple medications.

What are the advantages of permanent seed implantation as compared to other treatment options?

For most patients, seed implantation is a one-time, non-surgical, low-impact procedure. Patient can return to normal activity, including work, within one to three days, with little or no pain.

When else might permanent seed implant therapy be considered?

This procedure is an alternative for men who have early-stage prostate cancer with a low risk of disease outside the gland. Permanent seed implantation is also an attractive option for men whose poor health precludes radical prostatectomy.

Does the radiation from permanent seed implants pose any danger to organs or tissue surrounding the prostate?

Because seeds are implanted accurately into the prostate, they pose little risk to surrounding organs or tissue. The radioactive isotopes used in this procedure (Iodine and Palladium) decay over a period of a few months.

What are uterine fibroids?

Uterine leiomyomas, or fibroids, are non-cancerous, smooth muscle tumors. Fibroids grow within the uterus, and may occur as solitary or multiple tumors. Fibroids may range in size from microscopic to over twelve inches.

Physicians classify fibroids on the basis of their appearance and location within the uterus. Submucosal fibroids grow just underneath the interior lining of the uterine cavity. Intramural fibroids grow within the intermediate, muscular layer of the uterus. Subserosal fibroids grow just underneath the uterus’s outer lining. A subset of fibroids that grow on stalks are considered pedunculated, and are seen both within the uterine cavity and on the outside of the uterus. Most fibroids are intramural or subserosal.

Up to 25 percent of reproductive aged women in the United States have clinically symptomatic fibroids, and up to 75 percent have fibroids overall. Many women have multiple fibroids in their uterus. Fibroids are seen two to five times more often in black women, with overweight women also having a higher incidence of the tumors. Fibroids are detected in most women during their 30’s or 40’s.

What are the signs & symptoms of fibroids?

As many as 25 percent of women experience symptoms related to uterine fibroids. Irregular menstrual cycles are the most common. This may present as menorrhagia, menometrorrhagia or dysmenorrhea. Menorrhagia means heavy menses. Menometrorrhagia means heavy, prolonged and irregular vaginal bleeding. Dysmenorrhea means painful menses. Because large fibroids also enlarge the uterus, many women experience a sensation of lower abdominal fullness or pelvic pressure. This pressure may also affect adjacent pelvic structures, leading to more specific symptoms like frequent urination, incontinence, constipation, or pain during sex. Some women may notice low back pain.

Fibroids are associated with a number of reproductive problems, which relate in part to the tumor’s volume and distortion of the uterine cavity. These may include infertility, miscarriage, recurrent pregnancy loss, preterm (early) delivery, fetal malpresentation (breech), and complications during labor (obstructed labor, hemorrhage, …).

How are fibroids diagnosed?

Clinicians are able to diagnose fibroids by appreciating an enlarged or irregularly shaped uterus. This may be done manually through a pelvic examination or through imaging studies such as an ultrasound, MRI or CT. Sometimes, tests like hysterosalpingography (HSG) and sonohysterography (SHG), which use both fluid and imaging to better visualize the uterine cavity, may provide additional information. Direct visualization of the uterine cavity is sometimes necessary and may be achieved with hysteroscopy, a technique that involves insertion of a small camera into the uterus through the vagina. Visualization of the outside of the uterus is similarly enabled by laparoscopy, a procedure in which a small camera is introduced into the abdominal cavity through an incision in the umbilicus.

What causes fibroids to grow?

Current research links fibroid growth to a number of hormones. Estrogen and progesterone have long been accepted as major factors influencing fibroid growth. Newer research now suggests that growth factors and other hormones may also play a role in promoting cell growth in already established fibroid tumors.

High levels of estrogen and progesterone have been shown to independently enhance fibroid growth. Interestingly, fibroids express higher levels of estrogen and progesterone receptors than normal uterine tissue, suggesting enhanced sensitivity and responsiveness to these hormones. Absence of estrogen and/or progesterone correlates with decreased fibroid size.

From a clinical and therapeutic perspective, these findings support observations that fibroids expand in high estrogen and progesterone states such as pregnancy and generally throughout the reproductive years. Conversely, fibroids decrease in size when levels of these hormones drop, such as during menopause and with certain drug therapies.

Will my fibroids continue to grow?

Because fibroid growth is linked to the levels of female hormones in the body, mainly estrogen and progesterone, fibroids usually will continue to increase in size in women who are pre-menopausal.

Will my fibroids shrink when I enter menopause?

Most, but not all, women experience an improvement in fibroid-related symptoms after menopause. This change is thought to be secondary to the decreased estrogen and progesterone levels that accompany menopause. While fibroids often stop growing and decrease in size at this time, women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may not have the same degree of regression of their fibroids.

Do fibroids become cancerous?

No. Most uterine leiomyomas or fibroids are not cancerous. They are usually considered benign (non-cancerous) tumors and pose almost no increased risk of future uterine cancer. One study of hysterectomies performed for suspicious fibroids found only a 1/400 incidence of cancerous fibroids (leiomyosarcoma).

How can the Jefferson Fibroid Center help me?

The Jefferson Fibroid Center is here to aid in the diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of your fibroids. We are available to discuss treatment options, and to help you decide which one is right for you. We offer a full range of therapies, from expectant management to medical therapy to all surgical treatments to uterine artery embolization. We offer full follow-up care, both short and long-term, with the goal of helping you to obtain the greatest improvement in your fibroid-related symptoms. Our physicians are nationally and internationally recognized experts in the treatment of fibroids, with multiple publications and presentations at national and international meetings. Unique amongst fibroid treatment centers, our physicians include obstetrician gynecologists, infertility specialists, and interventional radiologists.

Can you tell me a little about the Infusion Center?

The Center features spacious, light-filled treatment bays, individual flat-screen TVs and relaxing décor. There are 20 reclining chairs in the unit along with chairs for anyone who may have accompanied you. There are curtains around each unit that can be used for privacy.

The Infusion Center tends to be cold. We can provide blankets if you are feeling chilly or feel free to bring a blanket from home if it will make you feel more comfortable.

Laptops and cell phones are permitted and can provide instructions on how to connect to the Internet through our Hospital Wi-Fi system, Jeff Guest.

Can I bring a family member with me?

On the day of treatment, we encourage you to bring one family member or friend with you. Depending on the length of treatment and medication administered, you may be too tired to drive home. Please understand that many of our patients are at an increased risk for infection from viruses due to compromised immune systems. It is for this reason that a strict policy has been implemented that no children under the age of 16 may be permitted in the Infusion Center unless they are receiving treatment themselves.

Am I allowed to eat before treatment?

There are no restrictions on what you can eat on the day of treatment and you can eat anything during the treatment process. You can bring in your own food or eat what is provided by the Infusion Center. We have snacks, juices, coffee, tea and sodas available at all times and sandwiches are available at lunchtime.

There are also many places outside of the Infusion Center where you may purchase food.

Am I allowed to take my medications on the day of treatment?

If you are taking any prescription medications for any conditions, you are permitted to take those on the day of treatment unless your oncologist has instructed otherwise. If you are unsure, contact your doctor.

Where can I park?

Valet parking is available on 10th street between Market and Chestnut Streets in the Rothman Building. The cost of parking is dependent upon the length of stay. Your parking ticket will be validated at the end of your stay and costs can range anywhere from $2.00 to $4.00. You may also self-park in the Laz Parking Garage on 10th and Chestnut Streets.

What is the check-in process at the Infusion Center?

Upon arrival you will check in on the 2nd floor. At the reception desk, you will see a computer monitor and you need to enter your name in the computer and take a seat in the waiting room. If you have any questions on how to do this, one of the receptionists can help you.

Within a short time, someone will call your name and you will be asked to verify your identity and contact information some questions and asked to provide copies of insurance cards, referrals if needed and any co-pays to complete your registration. Once you have completed the registration process, you take a seat in the waiting room until your name is called to have your lab work done. If you do not have a port, you will be brought back to have a phlebotomist or nurse draw your blood.

If you do have a port, you will be taken into the Infusion Center to have your labs done via your port by an assigned registered nurse.

If you are seeing your physician on the same day of your treatment, you will do that after your labs have been drawn. The physician offices are located on the 3rd or 4th floors.

Once you have completed your physician visit, you will come back to the Infusion Center where you will be seated and treatment will begin.

What lab work will I need done?

Your physician will order blood work to be drawn prior to each treatment to ensure that your lab values are within range to proceed with treatment. Labs will either be drawn from our highly skilled phlebotomists or by a registered nurse if you have an infusaport.

Once the labs are drawn and sent to the lab, it will take approximately 60 to 90 minutes for your physician to get the results. We encourage: You can ask your doctor to have your lab work done several days prior to treatment to avoid the wait time and to speed up your treatment process.

How long can I expect my treatment to take?

The length of your treatment is dependent on the type of chemotherapy your physician has ordered based on your type of cancer.

On your first visit, your chemotherapy is mixed specifically for you and your type of cancer at our onsite pharmacy. The pharmacist does not start mixing the chemotherapy until they receive a checklist from your assigned nurse.

This checklist contains your lab results and weight, which needs to be a certain range for you to receive treatment. If the lab values and weight are acceptable, the pharmacist will mix the therapy. This process can take approximately 30-60 minutes depending upon the type of chemotherapy you are receiving.

Overall you can expect to be there anywhere from an hour to several hours.

Will I need an IV to receive treatment?

When you come in for your treatment a registered nurse will be assigned to you. They will determine whether you require an IV or if you have a port that needs to be accessed.

What happens if I miss my appointment?

If you miss your appointment, please be sure to notify your physician so you can be rescheduled for another time. Please contact your physician’s office directly to reschedule.

What if I am running late for my appointment?

If you are running late, please notify the front desk. The telephone number is 215-955-8874. You will not be cancelled but you may be delayed in being seated.

How many times will I need to receive chemotherapy treatments?

Your physician will discuss your treatment and determine how often you will need to receive treatment. Depending upon your type of cancer, a chemo cycle could be every week, every two weeks or every three weeks.

What is a Complete Blood Count (CBC)?

This is a lab value that helps your physician determine if you are able to receive treatment. It looks at your white blood count, hemoglobin (the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs.) and platelets (important for blood clotting). If any of these values are extremely low, treatment may be delayed and you will be rescheduled in a week or so to give your counts time to recover.

If your white blood count is too low, you may receive an injection that will boost your count to prevent you from developing an infection or your physician may put you on antibiotics. If your hemoglobin level or platelet count are too low, you may require a blood transfusion.

Where do I go for blood transfusions if I need one?

If you need a blood transfusion because of a low hemoglobin level or platelet count, a blood specimen is drawn and sent to the Blood Bank so that they can match your blood type.

Once your blood type is matched, a bag is prepared and we are notified that it’s ready. Your physician may order pre-medication (Tylenol or Benadryl) prior to the infusion to avoid a possible blood transfusion reaction. Typically the doctor will order 2 units.

This entire process can take up to 4 hours.

What if I have a problem after I get home?

If you have any issues after you receive your treatment please call 215-955-8874 and you will be directed on what to do.

If it is an emergency, please call 911 immediately or go to the nearest hospital.

What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

You may experience some side effects after receiving your treatment. The most commonly reported symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, peripheral neuropathies, and fatigue. Before your treatment begins, you will be given anti-nausea medications, which will help you during your stay.

It’s important to remember that everyone is different and you may experience none of these effects, some or all. It’s important to share the side effects with your physician who may be able to help you manage the side effects with medications. If your symptoms are severe, please contact your physician immediately.

Also, the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine offers an Integrative Cancer Care Program that provides complementary therapies such as vitamins, special diets, herbs and acupuncture that may help with some of your symptoms.

You also have access to oncology social workers who are trained in individual and family therapy and are available to meet with you to assist with the psychosocial impact of cancer treatment, and can provide a valuable link to available community resources.

I understand I may lose my hair after treatment. Where can I purchase a wig?

Jefferson's Wig Program for Cancer Patients was created to help ease the stress and/or embarrassment of sudden hair loss experienced by our patients. If you are being treated for cancer, either as an inpatient or an outpatient at Jefferson, and you have hair loss, we are happy to provide you with a free synthetic wig, turban or hat.

To make an appointment, place call Patient Services at 215-955-7777 or 5-7777 (from inside the Hospital).

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer occurs when the normal action of cells division becomes uncontrollable, and a mass of tissue called a tumor forms.

Malignant tumors are cancers, which can invade and damage nearby lymph nodes, tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also break away from a malignant tumor and enter the bloodstream, spreading to other parts of the body where they can form new tumors. Build up of fluid around involved lung, or plural effusion, could be an indicator of lung cancer.

It is also possible to have a non-cancerous (benign) tumor in the lung which rarely poses a threat to life. Despite that such lesions still may need to be removed to make sure that no malignancy is present in that area.

What causes lung cancer?

Research has shown that certain risks increase a person's likelihood of developing lung cancer: 

  • Tobacco smokers
  • Secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Asbestos, radon and air pollution exposure
  • Being age 65 or older
  • People who drink water containing arsenic
  • Prior history of lung cancer
  • Family history of lung cancer

What are the types of lung cancer?

Nearly all lung cancers are carcinomas – cancers that begin in the lining or glandular tissues of an organ.

Lung cancers are generally divided into two major groups: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. The tumor cells of each type of lung cancer grow and spread differently and each type needs different treatment.

Nonsmall cell lung cancer is the more common of the two groups. The three main types of nonsmall cell lung cancer are named for the type of cells in the tumor:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma, also called epidermoid carcinoma, is the most common type of lung cancer in the United States and many other countries. This disease often begins in the bronchi, or large air tubes leading to the lungs. It usually spreads less quickly than other types of lung cancer.
  • Adenocarcinoma usually begins along the outer edges of the lungs and under the lining of the bronchi. This is the most common type of lung cancer in women and in people who have never smoked. The incidence of adenocarcinomas is on the rise.
  • Large cell carcinomas, which usually begin along the outer edges of the lungs, are a group of cancers with large, abnormal-looking cells.

Small cell lung cancer grows rapidly and spreads quickly to other organs. This type of lung cancer accounts for 10 percent to 20 percent of all lung cancers.

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

At first, lung cancer usually doesn't cause symptoms. Doctors sometimes discover it in people without symptoms after a chest X-ray for another medical reason. Usually, however, lung cancer is found after the growing tumor causes symptoms to appear.

A cough, which is the most common symptom of lung cancer, is likely to occur when a tumor irritates the lining of the airways or blocks the passage of air. The person may have a “smoker's cough” that worsens.

Another symptom of lung cancer is constant chest pain. Other symptoms may include shortness of breath, wheezing, repeated bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis, coughing up blood or hoarseness.

A tumor that presses on large blood vessels near the lung can cause swelling of the neck and face. If the tumor presses on certain nerves near the lung, it can cause pain and weakness in the shoulder, arm or hand. Problems with vision could be an indirect sign of nerve involvement as well.

In addition, lung cancer symptoms may not seem related to the lungs. Like all cancers, lung cancer can cause fatigue, loss of appetite and loss of weight. If the disease spreads elsewhere, it may cause headache, pain or bone fractures.

Other signs or symptoms of lung cancer result from substances the lung cancer cells make. For example, certain lung cancer cells produce a substance that sharply reduces the level of sodium (a component of salt) in the blood. This can cause many symptoms, including confusion and sometimes even coma.

None of these, however, is a sure sign of lung cancer. Only a physician can tell whether a patient's symptoms are caused by lung cancer or another problem.

How is a lung cancer diagnosis determined?

A lung cancer diagnosis is made through a series of questions, examinations and tests. Your doctor will start by asking about personal and family medical background, as well as smoking and work history.

The physician also performs a physical examination and usually orders chest X-rays and other tests.

In addition, the doctor may order a computerized tomography (CT) scan, which is a series of X-ray images put together by a computer. These detailed pictures can reveal a tumor in the lung, but they cannot show whether the tumor is benign or malignant.

The only sure way a lung cancer diagnosis can be determined is to obtain cells from the lungs for examination under the microscope. Sometimes, cancer cells are in the sputum, a thick fluid that the patient coughs up from deep in the airways. Also, the doctor usually does a lung biopsy to remove a sample of cells from the lung.

When a lung cancer diagnosis is suspected, physicians will perform a biopsy, physicians use one of the following procedures:

  • Bronchoscopy – this permits the physician to look into the breathing passages through a bronchoscope, which is a thin, flexible, lighted tube inserted through the nose or mouth under local or general anesthesia. The doctor can brush or wash cells from the walls of bronchi or snip off small pieces of tissue for study under the microscope. Depending on the location of the tumor, transbroncheal biopsy of the tumor may be performed.
  • Percutaneous Needle biopsy – removal of tissue hard to reach with the bronchoscope. With the patient under a local anesthetic and using CT or X-ray fluoroscopy guidance, the doctor inserts a needle through the chest wall into the tumor to withdraw a small sample of tissue.
  • Thoracentesis – an examination of fluid from the pleura (the fluid-filled sac surrounding the lungs). With the patient under local anesthesia, the physician uses a needle to remove a fluid sample and to have it checked for cancer cells.
  • Mediastinoscopy – Permits surgeons to sample lymph nodes that drain the lungs and may be the first defense barrier to a tumor spread. It allows for better staging of lung cancer thus influencing treatment. Done under general anesthesia, media-stinoscopy does not require overnight stay.
  • Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS) – a minimally invasive procedure involving the introduction into the chest of a video camera that transmits a picture to a video monitor. This allows surgeons to see structures within the chest so they can remove tissue samples to have them checked for cancer. This procedure requires general anesthesia. Removal of certain lesions with this technique is a possibility as well.
  • Thoracotomy – the surgical opening of the chest that requires general anesthesia, used for some patients who require surgery for a lung cancer diagnosis or for lung cancer treatment.

If the physician feels an enlarged liver or swollen lymph nodes (small bean-shaped structures that store special cells to trap cancer cells or bacteria traveling through the body), these areas may also be biopsied. The doctor may also perform a biopsy from other areas other than the lungs when cancer is suspected.

What is lung cancer staging & how is it performed?

With a diagnosis of lung cancer, physicians need to learn the stage of the lung cancer, or extent, to which the disease has progressed so they can give appropriate treatment.

Lung cancer staging is a careful process to find out whether the lung cancer has spread and, if so, to what other parts of the body.

To learn whether a patient's lung cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the chest, physicians remove a sample of tissue either with a needle or surgically.

Surgery to biopsy lymph nodes in the chest can often be done through a small incision near the breastbone. If a thoracoscopy or a thoracotomy is planned, physicians will remove lymph nodes at that time. Patients receive general anesthesia for these operations.

Doctors may order CT scans to detect the spread of lung cancer to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body, including the brain, liver and other abdominal organs.

Radionuclide scans of the bones may also help determine whether the cancer has spread beyond the lung. For these procedures, a small amount of a radioactive substance is injected into a vein, after which a machine scans the body to reveal abnormal areas.

Radiolabeled monoclonal antibodies against lung cancer could also be used to detect the spread of the disease.

In another technique, called magnetic resonance imaging, a strong magnet linked to a computer produces images that indicate whether lung cancer has spread to the brain or spinal cord.

What are the stages of lung cancer?

Non-small cell lung cancer has four main stages:

  • Stage I: Lung cancer is found in the lung, but it has not spread outside the lung.
  • Stage II: Lung cancer is found in the lung and nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage III: Lung cancer is in the lung and lymph nodes in the middle of the chest.
  • Stage IIIA: Lung cancer is found in lymph nodes, but only on the same side of the chest where cancer first started growing.
  • Stage IIIB: Lung cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest or to lymph nodes above the collarbone.
  • Stage IV: Lung cancer has spread to both lungs, into the area around the lungs, or to distant organs.

Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) has two main stages: limited and extensive. In the the limited stage, lung cancer is only in one lung or nearby lymph nodes on the same side of the chest. The extensive stage means lung cancer has spread to other areas of the lungs and chest. Lung cancer at this stage may also spread to the fluid around the lungs (called the pleura) or other organs.

What are the main lung cancer treatment options?

Lung cancer treatment is more successful the earlier cancer is detected.

Physicians will develop a lung cancer treatment plan comprising surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of the three, and tailor it to each patient's needs.

The type of treatment plan depends on many factors, including the type of lung cancer, the size and location of the tumor and the stage of the disease. Other factors to consider are the patient's age, medical history and general health.

Patients may have just one form of treatment or a combination, depending on their needs; several specialists may work as a team to provide treatment for lung cancer.

  • Surgery is performed for early-stage lung cancers when it's likely that all of the tumor can be removed. Three main types of surgery are used to treat lung cancer. The choice depends on the size, location and extent of the tumor; the general health of the patient, and other factors.
  • An operation to remove only a small part of the lung is called a segmental or wedge resection.
  • A lobectomy is the procedure in which the surgeon removes an entire lobe of the lung.
  • Pneumonectomy is the removal of an entire lung.
  • Radiation therapy like surgery, is a local treatment that kills the cancer in the treated area and is usually given five days a week for several weeks at the hospital on an outpatient basis.
  • Chemotherapy is the systemic treatment with medications that kill cancer cells. This means that the medications flow through the bloodstream to nearly every part of the body. Most anticancer medications are injected into a blood vessel or a muscle; some are given by mouth. Chemotherapy is most often given in cycles – a treatment period alternating with a "rest" period.

Usually, patients have chemotherapy as outpatients: at the hospital, at the physician's office or at home. Sometimes, depending on which medications the physician orders, patients may need to stay in the hospital a few days to be monitored for side effects.

If diagnosed with lung cancer, should I get a second opinion?

Lung cancer treatment and making decisions as to what is the best treatment option once a diagnosis with lung cancer has been made can be complicated for you and your loved ones. Before starting treatment, patients might want another doctor to review the diagnosis and the treatment plan. Here are ways to find another doctor to give a second opinion:

Patients can call Thomas Jefferson University Hospital's free physician referral service at 1-800-JEFF-NOW.

Your doctor may be able to suggest a lung cancer specialist. Specialists who treat lung cancer include thoracic (chest) surgeons, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists.

Patients can obtain the names of physicians from their local medical society, a nearby hospital or a medical school.

What is the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer?

Treating non-small cell lung cancer can be approached in several ways. The choice of treatment depends mainly on the stage of lung cancer.

Surgery is the usual treatment for lung cancer patients whose cancer is in only one lung or in one lung and the closest lymph nodes. New studies are designed to assess whether additional forms of systemic therapy before or after surgery can prevent further recurrences of the cancer.

Patients who can't have surgery because of other medical problems often receive radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is also the usual treatment for patients whose cancer has spread within the chest to more distant lymph nodes or other tissues.

It has recently been shown that chemotherapy enhances the effects of radiation therapy and is now used with radiation in most instances. Some non-small cell lung cancer patients have both surgery and radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy is used to treat patients whose cancer has spread from the lung to other parts of the body. Radiation therapy is used to control specific symptoms caused by the spread of lung cancer to specific parts of the body. Although it's very difficult to control lung cancer that has spread, treatment can often shrink the tumors. This can help relieve pain and other symptoms.

What is the treatment of small cell lung cancer?

Small cell lung cancer may spread quickly. To be sure that treatment affects all cancer cells in the body, chemotherapy is used for virtually all patients, even when the disease appears to be limited to the lung and nearby lymph nodes. Usually, chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer treatment includes a combination of two or more anticancer drugs.

When small cell lung cancer appears clinically limited to the lung, treatment also includes radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is also used to treat the lung, even without evidence of cancer, to prevent tumors from forming there; this treatment is reserved for patients whose lung tumor has responded well to treatment.

Surgery combined with chemotherapy can also be part of the treatment plan for small cell lung cancer, but only for a small number of patients.

What is the latest lung cancer research being conducted?

Scientists are continuing to identify factors that increase the risk for lung cancer. Recent lung cancer research has shown that genetic factors play an important role in this disease. For example, certain genetic traits make some people very sensitive to cancer-causing agents. Smokers with these traits may be more likely than other smokers to develop lung cancer.

Researchers are also studying ways to help people lower their risk of lung cancer by using natural and laboratory-made substances to prevent or delay cancer. Because some vitamins can be dangerous if taken in large doses, it's best to get a doctor's advice before taking vitamins or other nutrients. 

The earlier lung cancer is detected, the more successful lung cancer treatment is likely to be. Lung cancer research suggests that the use of low-dose CT of the chest (LDCT) can improve survival due to early detection of lung cancer by as much as 20 percent. LDCT uses X-rays to take a picture of the inside of your lungs and is able to detect lung nodules. New guidelines indicate that screening for lung cancer in high-risk patients can save lives. 

Because lung cancer is also difficult to control, researchers seek more effective treatment options for the disease, plus ways to reduce the side effects of treatment and improve the quality of patients' lives.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death each year across the globe. However, lung cancer screenings and emerging technologies including biomarkers, nonsurgical approaches to biopsy, novel therapies involving radiotherapy and immunotherapy are giving hope to patients.

Are any lung cancer trials enrolling?

When laboratory research shows that a new treatment for lung cancer has promise, patients with lung cancer have the opportunity to receive the treatment in clinical trials or protocols.

By participating in a clinical trial for lung cancer, you may have the first chance to benefit from improved lung cancer treatment methods and the opportunity to make an important contribution to medical science.

To find out more about current lung cancer clinical trials that you may be able to participate in, ask your doctor or call 215-955-1661 or 1-800-JEFF-NOW.

Ovarian cancer is the rapid growth of abnormal cells in the ovaries of the female reproductive system. The ovaries are the two small egg-filled sacs on each side of the uterus which produce estrogen and play a key role in conception and menstruation. Cancer can occur in one or both ovaries. When there is a malignancy, the ovaries typically enlarge, and cancer cells may fall off the ovary's surface and implant themselves throughout the abdominal cavity. Each one of these seedlings can then grow into a separate ovarian cancer tumor nodule.

Who is at risk for ovarian cancer?

Each year, more than 20,000 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The disease most often affects post-menopausal women, although women of any age may develop it. While scientists have not uncovered the cause, women in any of the following categories are known to be at higher risk: those who are infertile, who have never been pregnant, who bore children at a later age, who have had breast cancer, and women with family members who have had ovarian cancer. You cannot transmit the disease through physical or sexual contact.

Taking birth control pills reduces your risk for the disease. Women who have had tubal ligations are also less likely to get ovarian cancer. And the more often a woman has been pregnant, the less likely she is to develop ovarian cancer.

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Cancer of the ovaries often develops with no early warning signs. The first indication of the disease may be a swelling or feeling of fullness in the lower abdomen. Ovarian cancer can also cause indigestion, unusual bowel or rectal pressure, and abdominal pain or discomfort. Persistent digestive problems such as stomach discomfort, distention and gas might also be symptoms.

Your doctor may notice an ovarian cyst or other growth during your regular pelvic exam. Cysts on the ovaries rarely turn out to be cancerous, especially in women under 40. Most of these growths are normal and related to the menstrual cycle, but your physician will want to watch you closely to be certain the cyst resolves.

Can ovarian cancer be prevented?

Women who have annual pelvic exams increase their chance of early detection and a better treatment outcome if the disease is discovered. If any family relative has had cancer of the ovaries, your physician may advise you to have checkups more frequently. The genes for ovarian cancer are not “sex linked,” which means that the gene for the disease can be inherited from either your mother or father.

What if my doctor detects a growth on my ovaries?

If your doctor suspects cancer of the ovaries based on your symptoms and on a pelvic examination – a number of diagnostic procedures can help determine whether the abnormal growth is cancerous. Frequently, growths on the ovaries turn out to be nonmalignant cysts.

To determine whether the tumor is malignant, you may be referred to a gynecologic oncologist (cancer specialist) for one or a combination of the following tests:

  • Ultrasound – a painless, non-invasive sound wave technique that enables your doctor to examine the inside of your abdomen and the ovaries
  • Lower GI series – produces an X-ray of your colon to determine whether pressure from an ovarian tumor is changing the shape and position of the colon and rectum
  • CT or CAT Scan – an X-ray procedure that provides detailed pictures of cross sections of the body. The pictures are created by a computer
  • Laparotomy or Laparoscopy – these surgical procedures involve making an incision in the abdomen to biopsy the suspicious ovarian tissue. The surgeon removes the entire affected ovary so that the disease, if present, doesn't spread. You may wish to obtain a second opinion from another physician before scheduling a laparotomy.

What are some questions I need to ask my physician if ovarian cancer is diagnosed?

  1. Have you had special training in the management of gynecologic cancers or can you refer me to such a specialist?
  2. Has the cancer spread?
  3. What are the surgical options?
  4. Will I need chemotherapy or radiation, too?
  5. What are the potential side effects of the recommended treatments?
  6. Will I be infertile after treatment or are there other options?
  7. Can I work and continue my normal activities during treatment?

How is cancer of the ovaries treated?

Treating ovarian cancer requires inpatient surgery, usually performed by a gynecologic oncologist. After confirming a diagnosis of cancer, your doctor will surgically remove the affected ovary. Most often – as a precautionary measure or because the cancer has spread – your doctor will remove both ovaries, along with the fallopian tubes and uterus. In addition, the surgeon will also take samples of nearby lymph nodes, and other internal structures including fluid from the abdomen to determine whether the cancer has spread.

After surgery, most patients receive chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs) for approximately six months to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

What are the side effects of treatment?

For several days after surgery, a woman may have problems emptying her bladder and having normal bowel movements. Doctors generally advise patients not to have sexual intercourse for 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. Removal of the ovaries also triggers menopause immediately. Symptoms such as hot flashes may be more severe than when menopause happens naturally.

The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drug that is administered. Each woman will also respond differently to the medication. Typical temporary side effects may include lowered resistance to infections, loss of energy, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, hearing problems, mouth sores and tingling or numbness of the fingers or toes.

What is the prognosis for ovarian cancer?

Follow-up care is important. You will require regular pelvic exams and lab tests to be sure the cancer has not returned. Your physician may recommend a "second look" laparotomy after completion of therapy to ensure the treatment has been successful. Women treated for ovarian cancer also have an increased risk of developing other types of cancer later in life and need special monitoring.

What are clinical trials?

When laboratory research shows that a new treatment method has promise, patients with cancer have the opportunity to receive the treatment in clinical trials or protocols.

By participating in a clinical trial you may have the first chance to benefit from improved treatment methods and the opportunity to make an important contribution to medical science.

To find out more about current clinical trials that you may be able to participate in, ask your doctor or call 215-955-1661 or 1-800-JEFF-NOW.

For an appointment with a Jefferson physician, more information or health information and education programs, please call 1-800-JEFF-NOW (1-800-533-3669).

Jefferson also offers a number of cancer support and education programs as well as a Buddy Program in which survivors of cancer provide support and encouragement to patients who are newly diagnosed and an active cancer advocacy group. You'll find information on the Jefferson web site about these programs or by calling 1-800-JEFF-NOW.

Speech- or hearing-impaired callers can access JEFF NOW® by calling 1-800-654-5984.

How can I receive palliative care?

Palliative care is provided if a person has a serious illness and one or more of the following:

  • Patient, family, or team need assistance with complex decision making and determination of goals of care
  • Difficult-to-control pain or other symptom distress (such as dyspnea, delirium, nausea) related to a serious medical illness
  • Difficult-to-control psychosocial or spiritual issues related to a serious medical illness
  • Multiple hospitalizations for same diagnosis
  • Progressive decline in functional status
  • Progressive metastatic cancer
  • New diagnosis of life limiting illness for symptom control or determination of goals of care
  • Need for Advance Care Planning or clarification of DNR status
  • Utilization of ICU setting in patient with documented poor prognosis
  • Prolonged ICU stay or transfer to the ICU setting without evidence of progress
  • Questions regarding artificial nutrition or hydration in cognitively impaired, seriously ill or actively dying patients
  • Patient or family requests for care determined by primary team to be differences in family and team goals of care
  • Patient, family, or team request for information regarding hospice appropriateness

What can I expect?

At Jefferson, palliative care is provided in the hospital and in an outpatient setting. In addition, you can expect:

  • Relief from symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping
  • Support with emotional, spiritual, or financial stressors that may affect you or a family member during treatment for cancer
  • Help carrying on with your daily life
  • Improved ability to go through medical treatments.
  • Help with understanding your cancer diagnosis and your choices for medical care
  • An improved overall quality of life

Will my insurance cover palliative care?

Most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover palliative care. If costs concern you, a social worker or financial consultant can help you navigate through the benefits process.

Men usually develop prostate problems only when they're older.

Fortunately, most prostate problems are not life threatening. However, prostate cancer is serious and can be fatal if left untreated. Currently, a man dies from prostate cancer every 16.4 minutes. Your doctor can do a simple annual exam and blood test that can detect prostate cancer early. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about prostate problems.

What is the prostate gland?

The prostate gland is located inside the body, right beneath the bladder and in front of the rectum. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder. The urethra passes through the center of the prostate. The prostate gland is one of the male sex glands. It produces semen, the substance that carries sperm.

What are symptoms of prostate problems?

Some prostate problems can cause trouble with urination. That's because the prostate gland is near the bladder and urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the body. Visit your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you:

  • Are unable to urinate
  • Need to go to the bathroom more often, especially at night
  • Have difficulty starting or stopping the stream of urine
  • Have a weak stream of urine
  • Feel pain or burning when you urinate
  • Have blood in the urine
  • Have painful discharge of semen (ejaculation) during sex
  • Feel pain in the lower back, pelvis or upper thighs that does not go away

These symptoms may mean you have a prostate problem or other urinary tract issue that may or may not be cancer. In most cases, the symptoms of prostate cancer do not appear in the disease's early stages.

What are some of the prostate problems men may have that are not cancer?

Prostate problems that are not cancer include infections (prostatitis) or an enlarged prostate. Prostate infections affect men of all ages. Bacteria from infections in the urinary tract may cause this condition. Inflammation or congestion of the prostate may be due to aging or a buildup of prostate fluid in the gland.

An enlarged prostate, also known as benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), is quite common in older men. That's because the prostate gland usually grows larger as a man gets older. As the prostate grows, it may push against the bladder or close around the urethra. This can cause problems with urination. Urinary problems due to an enlarged prostate should not be considered a normal sign of aging, though. You should seek treatment. Without proper treatment, an enlarged prostate sometimes can interfere with a normal lifestyle, and sometimes can cause severe bladder or kidney damage.

Are some men at greater risk for getting prostate cancer?

Men get prostate cancer more than any other type of cancer. Men who are over 50 are more likely to have the disease than younger men. Men with a father or brother who had prostate cancer are also at greater risk than men with no family history of the disease.

What about African-American men & prostate cancer?

African-American men have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer than white men, and more African-American men die from this disease. The reason is not clear, but when prostate cancer is found in African-American men, it is more likely to be late-stage cancer, which is hard to cure. But African-American men who have regular screening exams and who are diagnosed with prostate cancer have a better chance of surviving. Regular screening exams can catch tumors when they're smaller and more curable, and should start at age 40 if you are African-American.

How can I tell if I have prostate cancer or a benign prostate condition?

You can't make a diagnosis on your own. Early-stage prostate cancer usually has no symptoms, which is why regular screenings are so important. Urinary difficulties could be a sign of either prostate cancer or another, benign condition. That's why you should see your doctor as quickly as possible if you have any urinary-related symptoms.

How is prostate cancer detected?

Prostate cancer screening is done by a rectal exam and a prostate specific antigen blood test also known as a PSA blood test. During the rectal exam, your doctor places a gloved finger in the rectum and feels the prostate, checking its size and shape. A prostate with a hard spot may indicate cancer. The PSA blood test measures the level of a protein produced by the prostate. A high PSA level could be a sign of an enlarged prostate or inflammation of the prostate, or it may indicate the presence of cancer. These tests are quick and easy and can help find prostate cancer early when it's more treatable. Prostate cancer can only be diagnosed by a prostate biopsy. Your doctor may recommend a prostate biopsy to make the diagnosis. Discuss with your doctor at what age you should begin having yearly prostate cancer screenings as well as the risks and benefits of the screenings.

What causes prostate cancer?

No one knows what causes prostate cancer. Researchers are looking at heredity, diet (especially fatty foods), hormones, and environmental factors. There is no definite way to prevent prostate cancer, so early detection is key.

What are the stages of prostate cancer?

Once prostate cancer has been found, more tests must be done to determine if cancer cells have spread outside the prostate gland. The size of the cancer and the extent to which cancer cells have spread are described in terms of "stages." Stage T1 and Stage T2 are early stages of prostate cancer, which means the cancer is probably within the prostate gland and has not spread. T3-T4 stage prostate cancer suggests the tumor has grown beyond the prostate gland but is confined within the surrounding areas. Stage N0-N2, M0-M1 means the cancer has spread, usually to lymph nodes on distant sites. This process is called metastasis. You and your doctor need to know the stage of your prostate cancer to determine the best treatment plan.

What is the treatment for prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer treatment is based on how aggressive the cancer is and how far it has spread. The good news is that today, most cases of prostate cancer are found early, before the tumor spreads widely. The most common forms of treatment today are careful observation, surgery, radiation therapy and hormonal therapy.

Careful observation is also called "watchful waiting" or "active surveillance." If the cancer is not aggressive, or if you are older or in poor overall health, this treatment for prostate cancer may be considered. It involves periodic exams and blood tests to see if the cancer changes over time.

Surgical treatment options for prostate cancer include radical prostatectomy (complete prostate removal) or cryotherapy.

Because prostate cancer is often found is several different areas of the prostate, a radical prostatectomy or complete removal of the prostate may be necessary. Sometimes, your doctor may decide to also remove the surrounding lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread. The benefits of radical prostatectomy are that the entire prostate is removed, the extent of the cancer can be clearly identified, and the PSA level should be undetectable after a successful operation. The risks include infection, bleeding and reaction to the anesthesia. Impotence (inability to get an erection) may be a side effect but is less likely with modern techniques that use "nerve sparing." Incontinence (leakage of urine) is also possible but not common using the latest techniques.

There are several ways to perform a prostate removal procedure. The standard technique uses an incision in the lower abdomen below the belly button. Laparoscopic prostatectomy, which was first performed in the Philadelphia region by Jefferson urologists, requires smaller incisions and telescopes. The next advance uses a robot to assist the surgeon in performing the laparoscopic prostatectomy known as the "robotically assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy," or the "da Vinci® Prostatectomy." These minimally invasive techniques offer the potential of less blood loss and more rapid convalescence. Jefferson has several urologic surgeons who have advanced fellowship training in laparoscopic and robotic prostatectomy techniques.

Cryosurgery kills cancer cells through deep freezing. The procedure is available but is not considered a primary surgical treatment for most patients.

Radiation therapy for prostate cancer uses high-energy form of X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation for prostate cancer may be delivered externally or by placing radioactive seeds (“brachytherapy”) into the prostate directly. The benefits of radiation therapy as a prostate cancer treatment are that it does not involve a major operation and can usually effectively treat the cancer. The side effects are usually mild and can include irritation of the bowels and bladder. Loss of sexual function can also be seen.

The external-beam radiation is done on a daily basis over six to seven weeks. Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Jefferson Health radiation oncologists in the Philadelphia area use the state-of-the-art technique known as Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), which delivers tightly focused radiation to the prostate while minimizing the dose to the surrounding normal tissues. The latest in image-guided therapy, also used at Jefferson, involves the placement of tiny markers in the prostate that allow the radiation beam to be even more precisely aimed at the prostate. Studies have also shown that some men may benefit from a short course of hormonal therapy along with the radiation to improve the tumor killing.

If you have early stage prostate cancer and no severe urinary symptoms, brachytherapy as a prostate cancer treatment may be an option. This one-time procedure is performed under anesthesia and delivers a high dose of radiation directly into the prostate to kill the tumor.

Most often used when the cancer has spread beyond the prostate, hormone therapy can slow the growth of prostate cancer. Hormone treatment for prostate cancer is also sometimes used along with other treatments, such as radiation, to shrink the prostate and improve the results of the treatment. Hormonal treatments are drugs that reduce the body's production of the male hormone testosterone, a hormone that acts like a fertilizer to help prostate cancer grow. These drugs are usually given as some type of shot – sometimes, along with pills. Some men can experience loss of sexual desire, reduced muscle strength and hot flashes as side effects of the treatment.

Chemotherapy is used if hormonal therapy stops working. It is not currently considered a primary treatment for prostate cancer.

What is the prognosis for prostate cancer patients?

The prognosis for prostate cancer patients has improved steadily over the years. The death rate has fallen dramatically over the last 10 years. Doctors now have a better understanding of how to diagnose this disease early. Better treatment methods have improved survival rates. Today, most men with prostate cancer can be treated effectively and resume their normal lifestyles.

What are clinical trials?

When laboratory research shows that a new treatment method has promise, patients with cancer have the opportunity to receive the treatment in clinical trials or protocols. By participating in a clinical trial, you may have the first chance to benefit from improved treatment methods and the opportunity to make an important contribution to medical science.

To find out more about current clinical trials that you may be able to participate in, ask your doctor or call either the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson's Research Management Office at 215-955-1661 or 1-800-JEFF-NOW.

Here at Jefferson, we want our patients to be as educated and informed as possible when it comes to their cancer care. We suggest you bring a list of questions and a notepad to ensure you get the most information possible during your visit with us. Some frequent questions asked of our radiation oncologists about cancer include:  

  • What type and stage of cancer do I have?
  • How will radiation therapy help me?
  • How does radiation therapy work? Is it internal or external?
  • How many and how long will I receive radiation treatments?
  • What are the chances that radiation therapy will work?
  • What is the chance that the cancer will spread or come back if I do not have radiation therapy?
  • Will I need chemotherapy, surgery or other treatments?
  • How can I expect to feel during treatment and in the weeks following radiation therapy?
  • Can I drive myself to and from the treatment facility? 
  • Will I be able to continue my normal activities? 
  • What side effects may occur from the radiation? 
  • Will radiation therapy affect my ability to have children? 
  • What are some of the support groups I can turn to during treatment?

Skin is your body's largest and most visible organ. Among other functions, it protects our internal systems, regulates body temperature and acts as our sensory organ for touch. Since it is constantly exposed to the stresses of everyday living, your skin can take a beating. Some skin problems, such as dryness and thinning, occur naturally during the aging process and are mostly harmless. Other conditions, such as a rapid growth that may indicate skin cancer, are dangerous and potentially deadly. Protecting yourself with an effective sunscreen while outdoors and regularly checking your skin for any changes can help prevent sun damage and detect skin cancer early. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about skin cancer.

What are the warning signs of skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers. Fortunately, the two most common types of skin cancer have well over a 95 percent cure rate because they can be readily recognized and successfully treated in their early stages. However, late detection and treatment can often result in a cosmetic disfigurement or internal spread, so watch for these warning signs and bring them to your doctor's attention immediately:

  • Basal cell cancer, a nonmelanoma, is the most common type of skin cancer. This tumor may show up as a smooth, shiny lump which sometimes bleeds or develops a crust; as a flat, red spot; or as a firm, red lump.
  • Squamous cell cancer, also a nonmelanoma, can be similar in appearance to basal cell skin cancer. It shows up as a rough, scaly patch or as a small, rounded lump that bleeds and does not heal. If not detected early, squamous cell cancer can spread to other parts of the body.
  • Malignant melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and is rapidly becoming an epidemic in the United States. This tumor may prove fatal or spread to other organs if left untreated; it has a much lower survival rate than other skin cancers. Melanoma, like other skin cancers, is painless at the beginning. It often appears as a brownish-black patch with an asymmetrical shape, irregular border, and nonuniform pigmentation.

Also be aware of any changes in the surface or size of a mole, which could indicate melanoma.

What causes skin cancer?

Dermatologists agree that ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the leading cause of skin cancer. Even sunlamps and tanning booths emit ultraviolet rays that can contribute to skin cancer and premature aging and should not be considered safe alternatives to sunbathing. What's more, it's not just a week at the beach soaking up the sun that is potentially dangerous to your skin and your health. Ultraviolet rays are present all year long, and you're exposed to them daily and constantly doing the most routine things – exercising outdoors, eating lunch at an outside cafe, walking to and from work. Doctors expect the skin cancer scourge to worsen in the future because of the thinning of the earth's protective ozone layer, which filters out harmful ultraviolet rays. Other less important factors, but skin cancer contributors nevertheless, include radiation therapy, scarring from disease or burns, a family history of skin cancer and occupational exposure to certain compounds.

Who is at risk for developing skin cancer?

Anyone can get skin cancer; no one is immune. However, years of unprotected sunbathing dramatically increase your risk of getting cancer. People most susceptible to developing this disease spend much of their time in the sun without proper protection, have red or blond hair, blue or light-colored eyes and fair skin that tends to freckle or burn rather than tan. African Americans can develop skin cancer as well, although their incidence is much lower than light-skinned people because they have a higher concentration of melanin, which helps protect their skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation. Despite this innate protection, ultraviolet rays can still promote premature aging and wrinkles in dark-skinned people.

Melanoma poses the most serious risk for people with many moles. Researchers have also found that people who suffered a serious sunburn during their youth are twice as likely to develop melanoma later in life.

How is skin cancer treated?

Dermatologists use a variety of methods to remove skin cancers. Skin cancer can be treated with surgery, an electric needle, by freezing (cryosurgery) or with a highly specialized procedure known as Mohs micrographic surgery. Mohs surgery is one of the most advanced methods used to remove cancerous skin, with minimal loss of surrounding healthy tissue and little risk of leaving cancerous tissue behind. Other skin cancer treatment methods include radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Your doctor will recommend the treatment method that's best for you depending on the size of the tumor, its location and the type of cancer.

Researchers are working on immunological treatments for malignant melanoma. A vaccine has been developed that consists of the patient's own cancer cells modified with the chemical DNP. DNP changes the melanoma cells so that the body recognizes them as foreign and produces an immune response against them. Although the vaccine is still experimental, promising results have been seen in patients with melanoma that has spread to lymph nodes. Administering the vaccine following lymph node surgery has been shown to increase the chance of cure, compared with surgery alone.

How can skin cancer be prevented?

The best and most effective defensive measure against skin cancer is to reduce your exposure to the sun. Although skin cancer is most likely to appear in adulthood, sun damage is cumulative and begins in childhood, so the effects of the sun may be severe by the time a person reaches young adulthood. Less than 10 years ago, for instance, it was unusual to find skin cancer in a person under 50 years old. Today, however, dermatologists are diagnosing skin cancer in adults in their 20s. This may be due, in part, to the amount of time people have spent outdoors in recent decades, basking in the sun or not using the right amount of sun protection.

Because the sun can harm your skin and your looks year-round, doctors now recommend protecting your skin by applying a sunscreen daily, not just during the summer months. Whenever you go outside – to run errands, to walk the dog, to wash the car – always wear a sunscreen on exposed skin and choose a product with a sun protective factor (SPF) of at least 15. The higher the number, the greater protection from ultraviolet rays, although there's no need to buy a product with an SPF larger than 30. Also, look for sunscreens labeled “broad spectrum.” They block out ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, the light rays responsible for sunburns and skin cancer, as well as ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, which cause wrinkled, sagging, leathery skin. For maximum protection, apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. Reapply sunscreen after swimming or perspiring.

In addition to limiting your sun exposure time, doctors also recommend wearing protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats and long sleeves, when spending time in the sun. Ultraviolet rays are present during daylight hours but avoid midday sun especially, because UVB rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Examine your entire body once a month for the early warning signs of cancer and see a dermatologist immediately if you notice any changes in the color, shape, size or texture of moles or other growths. It's also a smart idea to have a dermatologist check your skin once a year.

What are clinical trials?

When laboratory research shows that a new treatment method has promise, patients with cancer have the opportunity to receive the treatment in clinical trials or protocols.

By participating in a clinical trial you may have the first chance to benefit from improved treatment methods and the opportunity to make an important contribution to medical science.

To find out more about current clinical trials that you may be able to participate in, ask your doctor or call 215-955-1661 or 1-800-JEFF-NOW.