Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, when melanoma is caught early, there’s a 5-year survival rate of about 97%. Once the cancer spreads to other organs, the survival rate drops to 15–20%.
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Diane Fouts thought she had a bad cold. It was the spring of 2015, and she had a cough that just wouldn’t go away. She went to see her doctor, who ordered a CT scan. The results were far more serious than a cold. Diane had lung cancer. She is not a smoker; in fact, she has never smoked.
Like any major illness, cancer affects more than the body. It wreaks havoc on the lives and emotions of patients and their families. Ask Judi Evans, who was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and told she had just six months to live. “My daughter and I looked at each other, and we said ‘no, we're not accepting that.’ So we immediately came to Huntsman Cancer Institute.”
Sometimes a therapy not often associated with cancer care can make a huge difference in a patient’s recovery. Massage therapy at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) complements standard cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy. One patient says it’s improving his quality of life dramatically.
People use phones for just about everything these days—reading emails, checking the weather, or catching up on news. Researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) want to add extended patient care to that list. They’re testing a telehealth system called “Symptom Care at Home” to help keep patients as healthy as possible during cancer treatment. Kathi Mooney, PhD, co-leader of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at HCI, says the idea behind the program is that cancer patients’ symptoms don’t happen only while they are at the doctor’s office. Dr. Mooney has spent 15 years trying to improve patient care through a relatively simple technology—the telephone.
It's a familiar struggle to anyone dealing with cancer; the treatments that get rid of the disease can also have serious side effects. Doctors at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) are working to reduce the negative effects of cancer treatment by pinpointing radiation therapy within a millimeter of where the cancer resides. Karen Curtis has a family history of cancer. The disease took the lives of her mother and sister. When she was diagnosed with cervical cancer last February, she assumed she didn't have much time to live. "The first time I found out I didn't cry, I didn't have any emotions about it," she says. "But, then you start going through it and you start losing your hair, and you start losing everything, it's like you're losing your dignity."
Lilli Hartvigsen remembers the moment her three-year-old son Ethan was diagnosed with cancer. “On November 7th, three weeks after he had an MRI, they told us it was lymphoma,” she says. It began as a limp and quickly became a parent’s worst nightmare. “They actually did a bone scan, and it was all over his bones,” Lilli explains, “Stage 4 cancer. It was terrible.”
Doctors at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) are discovering some treatments that work for one type of cancer may also work for another, if it has similar mutations, or genetic changes. Genetic changes, or mutations, change some normal cells in the body into cancer cells which can grow and multiply. There are more than 100 types of cancer, which means many different ways to treat cancer are needed. Most cancers are named for the part of the body where they started.
Cancer isn’t the first hardship dealt to Carrie Grindle-Lyons. In 2008, she delivered a baby boy at 22 weeks. He was stillborn. Her doctor asked her not to try getting pregnant again right away because she had fibroids in her uterus. They were removed with surgery that left her uterus in place. A year after she lost her baby, Carrie went in for a checkup. What doctors found devastated her. “The fibroids grew back, and they found out I had endometrial cancer,” she says.
To say Annie Budhathoki, DAOM, L.Ac., was skeptical of acupuncture would be an understatement. “I thought acupuncture was the devil’s work,” she says. Then she was in a horrific accident. After more than two years of surgeries and recovery, she still had to walk with a cane. She turned to acupuncture as a last resort to relieve the pain in her leg, and quickly became a believer. After three sessions she was able to walk, cane-free.
Thousands of lives could be saved by a simple vaccination to protect against Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Yet only 51% of teens receive the vaccine each year. Every year more than four thousand people die from cancers related to HPV. It's upsetting, it's really upsetting,” says Deanna Kepka, PhD, MPH, a population scientist at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). “If you ask any cancer survivor whether they would have taken an opportunity to get a vaccine that prevented their cancer, they would say yes.”
More than 1,000 young women have helped Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) researchers with a study to pinpoint factors that affect the risk of breast cancer.
Surgery is part of cancer treatment plans in many cases. While surgery is an important part of treatment, recovery from surgery has a major impact on overall health. Strong for Surgery is a program that focuses on making small changes in health before surgery. Making these changes, even just before surgery, can make a big difference in recovery.
Every week, a special visitor appears at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). His job? To cheer up patients fighting cancer and their family members. His name is Misio, and he’s a therapy dog with Intermountain Therapy Animals. Kathy McNulty, a volunteer with the organization, is Misio’s escort. Kathy says Misio has only been coming to HCI for a few months, but she can already see the difference he’s making for patients and their families. “Over and over, I’ve seen tears turn to smiles,” she says. “Misio takes their minds off the procedures.”
Individuals with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) have a nearly 100 percent chance of developing colon cancer and often undergo surgery to remove the colon so cancer can’t develop there. A new medication being tested in a clinical trial lead by Jewel Samadder, MD, has shown promising results. The first round of testing shows that in less than six months, half of the patients who received medication saw a nearly 70% regression of polyps. For some, polyps disappeared completely.
P53 – one gene that may hold the key. Humans have two copies, but some people are missing a copy. For individuals with only one working copy of P53, their lifetime risk of cancer is nearly 100 percent. Elephants, after 55 million years of evolution, have 40 copies of the P53 gene. Those extra copies protect elephant’s cells from cancer by eliminating cells that develops any type of mutation that could go on to become cancer.
Eduardo Ayala was 17 years old when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He is fluent in English and Spanish, but his parents speak only Spanish. Eduardo and his family came to HCI from Nevada for his treatments. It is one of the five Mountain West states at the core of HCI’s service area. Cancer has a language all its own and it’s that much harder if English is not your first language. That’s where Guadalupe Tovar, a health educator and patient navigator at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), comes in. She helps Hispanic families navigate their cancer care.
They call themselves “The Generation to End Cancer.” Sigma Chi fraternity brothers from across the United States sharing one goal – to raise $10 million for cancer research at HCI. For many Sigma Chi brothers, this fight against cancer is personal. Dan Shaver, chairman of the Sigma Chi Philanthropy Committee says, ,”We rarely come across someone whose family isn’t directly or indirectly affected by cancer. I just don’t think we’ll ever rest until we find the cure.” Sigma Chi fraternities raised $1.3 million during the 2015-2016 school year. 29 schools each raised more than $20 thousand dollars and traveled to Salt Lake to be inducted into the 20k club.
At Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), researchers are using the power of Big Data to help prevent cancer. HCI is home of the Utah Population Database (UPDB), a shared data resource that tracks family medical history through many generations. The UPDB is the only database of its kind in the United States and one of few such resources in the world. The UPDB has contributed to important gene discoveries including those for colon cancer (APC), breast cancer (BRCA1), melanoma (p16), and others. Utilizing the UPDB, researchers are able to identify families that have higher than normal rates of certain cancers.
In the United States, someone is diagnosed with a blood-related cancer every three minutes. For many of them, a blood or marrow transplant is the only hope for a cure. More than two-thirds of these patients, however, don’t have a matched marrow donor in the family. Donor registries offer them the best hope for finding a match.
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