Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Role of Exercise During and After Cancer Care

Exercise plays a crucial role in healthy living during and after cancer treatment. However, cancer patients and survivors may need to exercise less intensely and complete their workout at a slower pace than they are used to.

Exercise doesn’t need to be strenuous in order to produce results. “Research has shown that exercise is not only safe and possible during cancer treatment, it can actually improve how well you function physically and how well you feel ,” says Teri Hoenemeyer, Ph.D., director of Education and Supportive Services at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.”Adding more physical activity to your daily routines can include: walking around your neighborhood after dinner, doing yard work, house cleaning, using the stairs or parking farther away from a building than usual or taking 10-minute walking breaks during the day.

“Fatigue during and after chemotherapy and radiation can make you want to limit your physical activity too much, but completely stopping can actually increase fatigue, creating a vicious cycle,” Hoenemeyer says. “In fact, recent studies indicate that exercise that increases your heart rate, like fast walking, can reduce fatigue.”

In addition to physical benefits, there are many mental benefits of exercise. Exercise can help you relax, and it relieves anxiety. It also reduces your chances of developing anxiety and depression.

“Having an outlet, like exercise, to relieve stress is an important part of getting well and staying healthy,” Hoenemeyer adds. Other benefits of exercise during cancer treatment include:
Improved balance, decreased risk of falls and broken bones
  • Maintained muscle tone 
  • Decreased risk of heart disease 
  • Decreased risk of osteoporosis (weak bones that are more likely to break) 
  • Improved blood flow to legs and decreased risk of blood clots 
  • Improved self-esteem 

Even though there is still a lot of research on the effects of exercise on cancer recovery and on the immune system that needs to be done, most agree that regular exercise during and after a cancer diagnosis has positive health benefits. Physical activity may also reduce the risk of getting the following types of cancer or prevent cancer from recurring:
  • Breast cancer 
  • Colon cancer 
  • Endometrial cancer 
  • Advanced prostate cancer 
  • Pancreatic cancer 

Exercise and increased physical activity can also help prevent chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and hypertension.

When starting an exercise program or routine, each person will have different physical abilities due to their age, diagnosis and prior exercise experience so it is important to talk to your doctor before starting. Here are a few tips for starting an exercise routine:
  • Start slowly and take frequent breaks 
  • Use a mix of muscle groups for strength training, aerobics, and flexibility 
  • Always warm up first and stretch afterward 
  • Don’t push yourself and listen to your body 
  • Take deep breaths and relax! 

For more information on current exercise recommendations for cancer patients and survivors, visit the American Cancer Society online.

Take the first step in starting an exercise route by joining us on Saturday, June 2 for the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center’s inaugural Lace Up for a Cure, a 2K (1.3 mile) walk raising awareness and education of services offered at the UAB Cancer Center and bringing together individuals who have been touched by cancer.

All ages are welcome. Free onsite parking is available. Learn more and register today!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Understanding Screening Options for Colorectal Cancer

March is colorectal cancer awareness month.

When there is an abnormal growth in the colon or rectum it is called colorectal cancer. The colon and rectum, which are commonly referred to as the large intestine, are the lower part of the digestive system, which processes food for energy and rids the body of solid waste. Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. 

Having polyps found early and removed from the colon or rectum keeps some people from getting colorectal cancer. In order to find polyps early, it is important to know when to get screened by your doctor. Starting at age 50, men and women who have average risk, age 45 for African Americans due to the slight increase in risk and age 40 for people with a family history of colorectal cancer diagnosed before the age of 60.

There are a few different screening tests that can be used to detect colorectal cancer. Your doctor can help determine which screening test is right for you. “Each test has its advantages and disadvantages, but the colonoscopy is the only test that is both a screening test and a therapeutic test,” says Dr. Nipun Reddy, Clinic Director in the UAB Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Screening test options include:
  •          Colonoscopy- most comprehensive method and is recommended every 10 years
  •          Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)- if this method is chosen it must be done annually
  •         CT Colonography- if this method is chosen it must be done every 5 years
  •          Stool DNA test (Cologuard)- if this method is chosen it must be done every 3 years
All of the above tests are approved for colorectal cancer screening. If any test comes back positive and/or irregular, a colonoscopy will be needed. More information on each test can be found here.

Risk factors for colorectal cancer:
  •         Family history of colon cancer or polyps- One first degree relative (parents or siblings) diagnosed before the age of 60 or two second degree relatives (grandparent, uncle, aunt) diagnosed before the age of 60. 
  •         Personal History of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis)
  •        Age
  •        Being overweight or obese
  •         Physical Inactivity 
  •         Diet high in red meats (beef, pork, lamb, liver) and processed meats (hot dogs and luncheon meats)
  •         Smoking
  •         Heavy Alcohol Use 
Talking with your doctor about colorectal cancer can be overwhelming. It is important to remember that this is their specialty and they are there to help you and provide guidance, expertise and advice.
“A conversation about colorectal cancer screening with your doctor should begin anytime and a careful review of family history will help determine if screening should begin sooner,” says Dr. Reddy.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Gift of Giving

For many of us, the holidays can become a busy time. Our inboxes and mailboxes are filled. Our to-do lists are a mile long. Most of us are managing busy work schedules with kids, out of town guests, baking and gift wrapping. It can be overwhelming and it’s easy to forget that the holidays are a time for giving and it doesn’t have to by darting from store to store.

There are all kinds of ways to incorporate small acts of giving into your holiday routine. When you give or donate to others, the effect is often much greater, deeper and more meaningful than you think. Some gifts have a ripple effect. Here are a few patients who, because of generous donations like those made to the Silvia Aaron Memorial Fund at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, were able to continue their treatments.

• A widowed patient who was being evicted from her home;
• A mother with three teenage children who was unable to work but needed help with her utilities;
• A woman who was homeless and needed to secure an apartment;
• A father with two young children who was able to pay his car payment so he could travel to UAB for his weekly treatments;
• An 18-year-old patient who recently graduated high school and had to postpone work and college while undergoing radiation treatment.

Donations like these make such a positive difference in people’s everyday lives. This year, while you are busy with holiday festivities, we encourage you to remember how much of an impact your seemingly small gift can make in someone else’s life.

If you are so moved to give in this way, click here to donate. Thank you for your continued support and generous donations to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

Happy Holidays! ⛄🌟🎄

Monday, November 20, 2017

Prostate Cancer—Prevention, Risk Factors and Treatment

It wouldn’t be right not to talk about prostate cancer, a disease that only affects men, especially during November while it’s Men’s Health Awareness Month. 

In 2016, more than 180,890 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in men. Next to skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men.  

“Men’s health and prostate cancer are topics that many tend to shy away from, but they need to be discussed more openly,” said Soroush Rais-Bahrami, M.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama atBirmingham Department of Urology and founding member of the UAB Program forPersonalized Prostate Cancer Care. “One out of eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his life.”

The prostate is a reproductive gland in men located between the bladder and the penis. The fluid from the prostate is discharged into the urethra at the time of ejaculation as part of the semen to nourish and stabilize sperm for reproductive purposes.


Men should begin screening for prostate cancer at age 50. This can be done during their annual exam with a discussion about prostate cancer risks factors. A blood test can be done to measure a biomarker called prostate-specific antigen (PSA) to identify a man’s risk of prostate cancer, along with a digital rectal exam. Once a blood test shows signs of higher PSA levels, a tissue biopsy is required to help determine the grade and stage of the prostate cancer.

“Many men do not know their family history of prostate cancer because men tend not to talk about their health concerns, even with children and other family members,” Rais-Bahrami said. “It is important to discuss family history due to the significantly higher risk for men with a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer.”

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of prostate cancer are rare, and many men show no symptoms before being diagnosed. In advanced stages, symptoms may affect quality of life and may show in one of the following ways:      

  • Problems urinating or the need to urinate more frequently, especially at night
  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • Trouble getting an erection
  • Pain in the hips, back (spine), chest (ribs), or other areas the cancer may have spread
  • Weakness or numbness in the legs or feet
Most of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by something else, but it is still important to discuss with a doctor, especially to determine risk factors.

Risk Factors

Some risk factors are controllable and others are not. According to the American Cancer Society, the following are some risk factors for prostate cancer:

Age: The chance of having prostate cancer increases rapidly after the age of 50. About 6 in 10 cases are in men over the age of 65.
Race: Prostate cancer occurs more often in African American men. African American men are also twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than white men.
Family History: Having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man’s risk of developing it. The risk is much higher for men who have several relatives with prostate cancer.

Other risk factors may include: diet, obesity, smoking, inflammation, and some sexually transmitted infections.


“Treatment is based on the patient’s overall health and what works best in treating the patient to ultimately cure the cancer and help the patient preserve an excellent quality of life,” Rais-Bahrami said.

In the earliest stages of low-grade prostate cancer, and with the consultation of a physician, men can opt for active surveillance, which is when the doctor does not prescribe immediate treatment, but watches the cancer cells closely to postpone treatment with curative intent, perhaps for years. Other treatment options include: 
  • Surgery, which includes removing the entire prostate gland and occasionally regional lymph node tissues
  • Radiation therapy, or beams of radiation focused on the prostate
  • Hormone therapy, which reduces levels of male hormones to stop them from affecting prostate cancer cells
  • High-intensity, focused ultrasound therapy, or high-energy sound waves that destroy cancer cells
  • Cryosurgery, or the use of extreme cold temperatures to freeze and kill cancer cells

“Prostate cancer is a treatable disease and can be cured if caught in early stages,” Rais-Bahrami said. “This is why it is important to receive routine screenings and have early detection when present.”

To help with personalized care of patients, UAB offers magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound fusion-guided biopsy. The image fusion allows doctors to target a direct tissue sampling of an individual based on imaging areas of concern that can be tested for prostate cancer.

Current Research

New research for prostate cancer is on the horizon, including the ongoing search for better biomarkers that indicate the presence of prostate cancer. At UAB, prostate cancer research is focused on advanced imaging and biomarker development, and hopes of defining the best way toward focal therapy of prostate cancer. UAB has become one of two beta sites in the United States to receive the iSR’obotTM Mona Lisa machine. This machine helps surgeons diagnose prostate cancer in earlier stages with imaging guidance and provides precise location mapping to help with targeting cancer cells for treatment.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Breast Cancer—Early Detection and Screening

October is breast cancer awareness month but women need to be aware of breast health all year long.

“Despite the magnificent strides in breast cancer research, women still need to adhere to screening guidelines recommended for their age group, especially if they have
a family history of breast cancer,” says Catherine Parker, M.D., a fellowship trained breast cancer surgeon at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

According to the American Cancer Society, there will be 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer among U.S. women in 2017. And finding breast cancer early is one of the most important strategies to prevent death from the disease. When breast cancer is found early, it is small and has not spread, making it easier to treat successfully.

“The good news is that we’re living in a time when women are surviving the disease. In fact, the population of survivors is expected to grow,” says Parker. “However, we still need to be vigilant and take measures to protect ourselves.”

The ACS recommends that women who are at average risk for breast cancer start getting mammograms yearly at age 45 but have the choice to start having annual mammograms at age 40. Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or continue yearly screening.

“Mammograms do not detect every breast cancer. Women at every age should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel, as well as be familiar with signs and symptoms of breast cancer,” says Parker. Although there are differing opinions about the benefits of self-breast exams, it is important for patients to know the proper technique, what to look for, and what is their normal; for example, has one breast always been smaller or has one nipple always turned inward; therefore, self-breast awareness should begin in late teens and early 20’s.

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast. A painless, hard mass that has uneven edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded. For this reason, it is important to have any new breast mass, lump, or change in breast checked by a health care professional.

Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:
• Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
• Skin irritation or dimpling of the skin
• Breast or nipple pain
• Nipple retraction (turning inward)
• Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
• Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)

For women who have a family history of breast cancer, the UAB Breast Health Center offers comprehensive guidance on risk assessment, genetic testing, screenings, and prevention strategies. Furthermore, the Center takes a multidisciplinary approach to cancer care. When patients are diagnosed with breast cancer they are immediately assigned a team of specially trained breast cancer experts (a medical oncologist, radiologist and surgeon) who are able to give them individualized recommendations regarding their diagnosis, treatment, surgery, and recovery. The clinic is also able to offer first and second opinions for any problems related to the breast.

“The program is also able to offer screening and clinical management for women who have an increased risk of both ovarian cancer and breast cancer,” says Parker.

For more information about early detection and screening, click here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2017, 22,440 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 14,080 women will die from the disease. Ovarian cancer deaths account for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. However, the rate of ovarian cancer diagnosis has been slowly decreasing over the last 20 years.

Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries. Ovaries are reproductive glands that only women have to produce eggs. The ovaries are made up of three different types of cells and all three cell types can develop into a different type of tumor.

It is important for women to know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer so that the cancer can be detected early and the patient can begin treatment. Symptoms include:
  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms such as urgency or frequency

“The problem with ovarian cancer is that it is often diagnosed at a late stage,” says Michael Birrer, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. “The symptoms are often associated with more common and less serious conditions, and most women wait to get it checked out.” 

Birrer, a medical oncologist, confirms that when ovarian cancer is detected at an early stage the cancer remains confined to the ovary and is often more easily treated.  “Frequency of the symptoms should help women know when to consider seeking additional help from their doctor.”

If you have symptoms similar to those of ovarian cancer almost daily for more than a few weeks, and they can't be explained by other more common conditions, report them to your health care professional, preferably a gynecologist, right away. Other symptoms can include: fatigue, upset stomach, back pain, constipation, pain during sex, menstrual changes and abdominal swelling with weight loss.

“I always say that it’s best for women to be in tune with their bodies,” says Birrer.

Physicians typically provide a physical exam which includes a pelvic exam to look for an enlarged ovary, they may refer you to a gynecologic oncologist who may conduct additional testing including a computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound. 

Many women mistakenly believe a Pap test, a cervical smear test, can detect ovarian cancer.  In some unusual cases it may, but so far there is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer.  Better ways to screen for ovarian cancer are currently being researched.  

Monday, August 14, 2017

Stress Management after Cancer

Cancer treatments can definitely have a physical impact on the body during and after treatments. But did you know that they can also affect the way someone thinks and feels? For many, it’s normal to experience a range of side effects during treatment that can linger for months and sometimes years after treatments end.  In addition, there are a myriad of emotions associated with a cancer diagnosis – such as stress and anxiety.  For some, these feelings can also cause even more physical and emotional disorders like chronic fatigue and depression.

Many cancer survivors experience stress after cancer diagnosis and following cancer treatment. While there is no research that stress actually causes cancer, we do know that stress causes other health problems. “Sustained stress hormones, over a long period of time, may even damage our body on a cellular and molecular level. And, we are just beginning to explore how the mind and body works in relation to our emotional states,” said Teri Hoenemeyer, Ph.D., the director of Education and Supportive Services at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

It’s important to have ways to cope with and reduce stress. Many cancer survivors find that spending time participating in activities they enjoy can help them feel calm or relaxed. “Often, patients will say that they feel disconnected from their bodies, their emotions, and even their relationships with others after a cancer diagnosis,” said Hoenemeyer. “Engaging in activities that are comforting and meaningful to patients helps them become more introspective and aware of just how much the stress of their disease and treatment can impact how they feel. Once aware, they can then recognize triggers so they can cope and manage better.” Some of the suggestions Hoenemeyer provides for managing and coping with stress include:
  • Exercise is a common way to reduce stress—whether you have had cancer or not. Exercise can be as simple as a walk down your street or walking with a friend or neighbor for 30 minutes. Check with your healthcare provider before exercising, it is important not to overdo yourself and your body.
  • Mind-Body Techniques refer to activities such as meditation, breathing techniques, or gentle yoga intended to lower your stress level and calm your mind and body. These can be done at-home and whenever you are experiencing stress.
  • Creative Outlets include art, music, or dance and gives people a chance to express themselves. You do not need to have experience with art, music, or dance to participate in these activities and have fun doing them. They can be done at home or by participating in a class offered in your community.

All of these activities are great ways for you and your loved ones to reduce stress after cancer. Rehabilitation of the mind and body is an important part of recovery.

Start reducing your stress today and attend this great art event here at UAB:

Lilly Oncology on Canvas, UAB Arts in Medicine and the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center are putting on an art event to honor anyone with a cancer experience. The event will be held in the UAB North Pavilion of the UAB Hospital on Thursday, August 17, 2017 from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. You do not need to have any art experience or supplies, everyone is welcome to attend!
For more information about this art event, contact Dr. Hoenemeyer at or (205) 934-5772.