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Forget the Stereotypes; Yoga Offers 3x the Benefits

justin brotton - Friday, January 01, 2016

By Staci Elder Hensley

It’s not a religion. It’s not for vegetarians only. It’s not just for ditzy celebrities. You don’t have to have the flexibility of a circus acrobat to make it work.

These are just a few of the major misconceptions people have about the practice of yoga. These misconceptions lead many people to dismiss out of hand one of the most beneficial forms of exercise and stress relief available. The physical demands of yoga alone greatly improve a person’s strength and flexibility, but that covers only a fraction of the picture. Plus, it’s something that everyone can do – the elderly, children, the disabled, or pregnant women.

“Yoga is a practice of healing,” explains Bryce Delbridge, certified instructor with Ashtanga Yoga Studio in Norman. “The literal translation of yoga is ‘union,’ and it is about connecting your body, mind and spirit so there’s complete and total harmony. The practice of yoga provides significant physical, mental and spiritual benefits. The exercise is simply one facet.”


There are more than 100 different schools of yoga, all incorporating variations of three main elements – exercise, breathing and meditation. It’s an all-inclusive practice where individuals can choose which element they wish to focus on, or embrace all three.

“Here in the West, most people tend to start with the physical side, and then later get into the deeper layers,” Delbridge said. “The thing is, you can go as deep as you want. If you want to just work on the physical aspect, there are practices for that. If you want to emphasize the spiritual side, there are practices for that. It’s up to the individual to decide how they want to proceed.”

Many people mistakenly think yoga is a part of Hinduism. Actually, the classical beginnings of yoga date back more than 5,000 years. The most well-known in the Western world is Hatha Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga, another major school practiced by Delbridge and many others, was developed about 1,000 years ago and includes a physical sequence of postures synchronized with a person’s breathing, in a process known as “vinyasa.” Most studios and yoga classes in the modern world today use vinyasa practices.

What Yoga Can Do for You

Today, it’s commonly accepted that therapies like acupressure, neuromuscular massage and reflexology can have total-body effects, due to pressure applied to certain areas of the body. The physical basis for the effects of yoga is similar, in that the poses and breathing techniques provide an equally deep massage and strong compression of the body where the endocrine glands are located. Pressure on these glandular systems increases the body’s efficiency and total health. Many yoga stretches also target the nerves in the legs, arms, neck and spine, according to the American Yoga Association.


Devotees of yoga cite more than two dozen physical and mental benefits.

“Even five minutes of physical yoga per day will boost your immune system,” Delbridge said. “You’ll have noticeably more flexibility, more physical strength, more lung capacity and better cardiovascular health. Chronic pain, like back pain, is usually eliminated or lessened.

“Mentally, you’re going to create a more focused state of mind that will give you greater clarity and take away the busyness and constant chatter that plagues so many people,” he added. “Yoga can definitely do this if you want it to. It’s all up to the individual to approach yoga with their specific needs at the forefront.”

Among its benefits, yoga can:

Improve your posture and balance

Prevent cartilage and joint breakdown

Protect your spine

Increase your blood flow

Improve sleep

Control digestive problems

Drain your lymph glands (which boosts immunity)

Reduce blood pressure

Boost your heart rate

Regulate your adrenal glands (which produce the physically damaging stress hormone cortisol)

Keep allergies under control

Lower blood sugar levels

Help with weight loss

Relax the entire body

Boost self-esteem

Reduce or eliminate depression

Provide a conduit to greater spiritual awareness

It’s the only form of exercise to provide such a broad spectrum of physical and mental healing.

In short, yoga can help anyone, whether you’re a couch potato or a professional athlete. Size and fitness levels don’t matter, as there are modifications for every yoga pose, and beginner classes in every style. Just as with any other exercise program, however, to achieve these benefits, a person has to be self-motivated.

“Physical pain was always my greatest motivation to do something to change,” Delbridge said. “It is for many people. Pain can be physical or psycho-emotional. For anyone who is interested in trying yoga, I would start by asking them what their quality of life is and if they want to do something to feel better. The want has to be there.”

Delbridge himself has a deep and personal appreciation for yoga’s healing powers. At age 15, he was diagnosed with severe scoliosis. Doctors wanted to treat it by surgically fusing virtually his entire spine with titanium rods. At the suggestion of Andrew Eppler (owner of the Ashtanga Studio where he now works), he tried yoga, at which point he decided against surgery. Ten years later, after several years training with yoga masters in India, he is free of pain and is in his third year as a yoga instructor.

How to Get Started

So, once a person has decided they want to try yoga, the next step is to see what’s out there in the local community. Large classes can be a good starting point, and like any other type of exercise class, they allow a person to try the basics and see if it’s right for them. Classes can typically be found through adult education programs, family Y’s, massage and dance studios, the local university, or local weekly papers.

Those who want a deeper experience may want to seek an instructor who focuses on a more one-on-one approach, known as integrative yoga therapy. The difference between these two options is similar to attending a regular exercise class at your local gym versus working with a personal trainer, Delbridge said.


Yoga regimens also can be tailored for groups with special limitations, such as seniors, children, people with disabilities, pregnant women, and women who are recovering from childbirth.

“I would recommend a person who’s interested research and go to as many local studios and interview as many teachers as they can possibly find, until they find a teacher and a class that matches their goals,” Delbridge said. “They can also research online to check out various types of yoga, look at different studios, and determine if their personal focus is going to be physical, meditation, or psycho-spiritual.”

Many yoga instructors are certified as an RYI, or registered yoga teacher, meaning they have had at least 200 hours of instruction. That’s desirable, but it’s not the entire picture.

“I know of many people who have certification but aren’t really that good,” Delbridge said. “The main thing that certifies somebody, in my view, is their own personal practice. I look at what has the teacher used yoga for to heal themselves. That’s the type of thing you should be asking.”

When searching studios online, most websites will have biographies of their teachers, and potential students should definitely check those out, he added.

Above all, he said, people who want to feel better shouldn’t dismiss yoga out of hand as too complicated or too “religious.”

“Yoga isn’t meant to replace a person’s religion; yoga is a practice that’s meant to go hand-in-hand with any religious practice,” Delbridge said. “But it’s not limited to people who are inquiring of spirit. You can be an atheist and benefit from yoga. You can eat meat and have a 9-to-5 job and do yoga. This is about health, healing and self-empowerment. I have seen innumerable students completely remove pain from their bodies. I’ve seen countless people work through deep emotional traumas and come out in love with life.”

Debunking Those Common Diet Myths

justin brotton - Friday, January 01, 2016

By Staci Elder Hensley


It’s that time of year again. The holidays – with all their feasting and decadent desserts – are over, and most of us are feeling a tighter waistband and making the annual New Year’s resolution to lose weight.

If you’re serious about shedding some pounds, however, don’t fall prey to the diet myths that have pervaded our collective consciousness over the years. If you do, your efforts may well be in vain.

Below are some of the most common beliefs about weight loss and why, unfortunately, they’re misguided:

Myth #1. No-fat and low-fat diets are the best way to lose weight.

“Fat-free diets can actually be harmful, because food manufacturing companies replace that fat with other harmful substances,” said Dr. Kunal Joshi, family medicine resident with OU Physicians. “For example, meals can have little or no fat, but still be loaded with carbohydrates (sugars) to improve taste. Eating a diet too low in fats also can interfere with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.” Further, not all fat-free products are necessarily lower in calories, and most contain large amounts of salt.

Myth #2. Fad diets are a good way to jump-start your weight-loss program.

Fad diets are unhealthy because they’re often loaded with harmful substances and chemicals, or focus on eating only one type of food, such as all-protein or all-carbohydrates. The human body needs a healthy balance between fats, protein and carbs, meaning moderation is the key, Joshi said.

Further, these diets are usually so restrictive that most people can’t stick with them, and any pounds that are lost are usually regained very quickly once the person returns to a normal diet, say experts with the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases. If you do stick with the diet and lose a large amount of weight very quickly, they say, that can pose health hazards as well. Losing more than three pounds a week can lead to painful gallstones, which may have to be treated with surgery, while being on a sustained diet of fewer than 800 calories a day can lead to serious heart problems.

Myth #3. Skipping meals is helpful when trying to lose weight.

Skipping meals may seem like a good way to cut back on calories, but more often than not it backfires, and you end up eating more at other times of the day.

“Skipping meals is never a good idea,” Joshi said. “Any weight loss is temporary, and furthermore, the weight is lost from muscle tissue and not fat, which is not good. Skipping meals also can lead to nutritional deficiencies.”

Myth #4. Eating late at night makes you gain weight.

This one depends upon the individual and his or her choices. If you consistently eat large meals at night on top of regular meals through the day, weight gain can happen. However, having a small snack or a light meal at night every now and then shouldn’t cause any problems.

Myth #5. Drinking water helps you lose weight.

Lots of people swear by this one, but “Water doesn’t have magical properties to help someone lose weight,” Joshi said. “Drinking more water can help keep someone from overeating and thus not gain weight, but drinking the water itself doesn’t necessarily help.”

Myth #6. Weight-loss supplements are helpful.

“My patients ask me about these, and my answer is that most of them don’t work and have many harmful ingredients,” Joshi said. “The pills that do work only do so for a short period of time. Once you stop, the weight will come back, and usually you will gain more weight on top of it.”

Myth #7. Eating healthy is too expensive.

Many healthy foods are quite cheap, but they require a true commitment. “Is (healthy food) more expensive than the dollar meal at McDonald’s? Absolutely. Does it take more time to plan and prepare than the drive-through at Sonic? Absolutely. But with proper planning, eating healthy is definitely do-able. The key is not to make it into a chore, but rather a choice. Eventually, that choice will become a lifestyle, and it will become a part of your daily routine,” says Joshi.

Myth #8. Men lose weight more easily than women.

Men often lose more weight than women initially, as they typically have more lean muscle mass, which burns more calories than fat. However, Joshi said, over the long term, the gender differences even out.

Myth #9. Fast-food “healthy” choices are good for you.

“In recent years, our society is becoming more health conscious, and fast-food restaurants realize that they have to keep up to stay relevant; but what the consumer doesn’t realize is that when these places advertise these healthier items, they don’t tell the whole story,” Joshi said. “The items may be 300 calories or less, but what about the calories from fat or total fat? Or the sugars? Healthier items at fast-food places are better than the regular items they have, but they still come with a price. It’s all about marketing, so just be careful.”

So What SHOULD You Do?

There’s a joke that’s made its way around the Internet for years, which includes a list of “headlines” from the year 2050. Prominent among them is one stating, “100-year Study Proves Diet, Exercise are Key to Weight Loss.”

It’s meant to be funny, but it underlies the hard truth – regular exercise and eating a healthy diet are the only ways a person can lose weight safely and keep it off over the long term.

Research has shown that a safe weight loss involves combining a reduced-calorie diet with physical activity to lose one half to two pounds per week, although you might see a more significant loss the first few weeks.

(Portion) Size Matters

Diet-wise, portion control is arguably the most significant problem Americans face today, especially in this part of the country. Most people are shocked to learn that a serving of meat should only be about the size of a deck of cards, while a serving of rice or pasta is only a half-cup. Most home-cooked meals, much less restaurant fare, are triple that, or more.

“I personally think Americans have NO CLUE about what a true portion size should be,” Joshi said. “Obesity is a huge problem in the United States. Being from Seattle and moving to Oklahoma City, the biggest thing I’ve noticed is that the food portions here are massive. Many people know that the average daily intake per day for a person should be around 2,000 calories, but what they fail to realize is that 2,000 calories can be used up very quickly.

“A Starbucks coffee drink with a slice of pumpkin bread is close to 1,000 calories, and that is just breakfast,” he continued. “Add in lunch, dinner, some snacks here and there, maybe a few sodas throughout the day, and you are looking at 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day. Continue that trend, and it’s no wonder obesity is such a huge problem in our country.”

For the best weight-loss results, “Eating smaller portions is crucial, but so is eating healthy,” Joshi said. “Eating healthy is 70 percent of losing weight. The other 30 percent is exercising five to six days of the week. I know for a fact that eating healthier is the single most important thing you can do. Then add on routine exercise, such as 30 minutes on the elliptical, and you can definitely lose weight. The key is to continue to do it, because it does take time, typically two to three months, to see a significant difference.”

So, as much as Americans long for a magic weight-loss pill, true weight control has to be based in reality.

“The best way to lose weight is also the hardest – eat right, with daily exercise,” Joshi said. “Trust me. I have done it, and so can you.”


A+ Advice to Boost Your Child’s School Success

justin brotton - Thursday, October 01, 2015

By Staci Elder Hensley

In a perfect world, children would learn simply because of their love of learning, and many of them do. But for other students, stronger motivation and strategies are needed. The equation for success is simple – involved parents who stay in contact with their child’s teachers and take appropriate steps to set up a pro-education environment at home, said Cindy Hughes, science teacher at Western Heights High School in Oklahoma City.

Encouraging your child to read is one of the most important first steps. “Find books that your child likes to read, and set an example by reading yourself,” Hughes said. “Reading is important in all subjects, and students who like to read have a great advantage. Try not to make reading seem like a punishment – make it as fun as possible.”

To boost your child’s academic performance on the home front, start by setting aside a regular time for doing homework, and provide a well-lit study area with a properly sized desk and chair. Anyone, including kids, can develop headaches, backaches, eyestrain and other physical problems if they’re using furniture and equipment that’s the wrong size, the wrong angle or not well lighted.

Help Your Child Get Organized

One of the most frequent complaints today is a huge amount of homework. However, before automatically deciding your child is overloaded, check how well she’s organized. Is time being wasted hunting for pencils, textbooks and worksheets? Does she get distracted texting friends or checking Facebook instead of getting to work? Does he wait until the night before it’s due to begin a major project or mention an assignment? Kids aren’t born with organizational skills; they need your help to become efficient, Hughes said.

If it still seems like your child has an unusual amount of homework, see if the school is following the National Education Association’s 10-minute rule. Multiply your child’s grade by 10 – that gives you the maximum amount of time she should spend studying at night. If your child’s homework level is greater than this guideline, discuss it with her teacher, using a friendly, non-confrontational approach.

Strategies for Success

* Relax. Teach your child how to relax and enjoy quiet time spent reading, stretching or listening to calming music. Like adults, kids need to recognize their own physical signs of stress and learn how to relieve them.

* Define areas your child enjoys and which ones is a struggle. Use time around the dinner table for a daily discussion of academic triumphs and tribulations. Don’t wait until report cards are issued to raise the subject of school, studying and grades.

* Be available. While you should never complete your child’s homework, do make yourself available to assist with daily homework and special projects. If you struggled with a certain area in school, own up to it; but don’t give the child the idea that it’s okay to not do well in some subjects, or that schoolwork won’t be important in later life.

* Once you’ve established an optimal study environment, back off. Too much supervision sends the message that your child is irresponsible or can’t complete the work on his own.

Teachers can also help you determine if a tutor would be beneficial, and even suggest a child receive one-on-one tutoring. When parents are unable to help their child with homework, for whatever reason, they shouldn’t give up. If a tutor isn’t in your budget, there are other options.

“Many high school students are in clubs that require volunteer work, or they need to do volunteer work to apply for college scholarships, and tutoring other students is a way for them to do this,” Hughes said. “Talk to your local high school and ask the counselor if they know anyone. You can find out who’s in charge of the honor society; or ask for the head of the math, English or other department you need help in. Local churches and libraries also sometimes have tutoring programs.”

When your child’s grades need work, parents also should:

* Clearly outline your expectations. Chat with your child before the school year begins and at regular intervals. Explain the purpose of their education and the necessity of doing his or her best.

* Set reasonable goals for improvement. Every child, even a top student, can improve in one or more areas. At the same time, however, know that not every child can or will become a straight-A student. To help improve the odds, make sure your child has a comfortable, well-lit study area, as free of distractions as possible.

* Set up a study plan. For children well into their school years, each child should keep a schedule of classes, assignments and key dates, such as tests. This schedule should include specific time set aside for studying, special projects and extracurricular activities.

* Take advantage of online school programs that allow you to monitor your child’s assignments on a daily or weekly basis.

Positive Pushing

Parental strategies concerning report cards run the gamut. Some use positive reinforcement; others resort to bribery, threats or even punishment. If your child’s grades are poorer than expected, experts with the Sylvan Learning Center suggest that you:

* Don’t demand perfection and an endless flow of A’s. Perfection is impossible, which means your child will always feel like a failure.

* Don’t offer conditional love. If your child feels like your love is based on her performance, she will also feel like your love is something that has to be earned, and that she won’t be loved unless she always wins.

* Don’t force extracurricular activities on your child. Let him have a say in whether he wants lessons in a particular sport, musical instrument or other activity.

* Keep extracurricular activities limited to one or two at a time, especially when kids are at the elementary and middle school levels.

* When watching your child at school events, remain relaxed, calm and positive. Your attitude will carry more weight than any grade or prize that’s awarded.

With these things said, do stress that excellence is something to strive for, Hughes said. Being successful most of the time, and working to the best of their abilities, is something all children can do and feel good about themselves in the process.

Smoothing the Daily Routine

Proactive parents can make their child’s educational path much smoother. The following steps will make all the difference:

* Make sure the child eats a healthy diet and gets plenty of sleep.

* Don’t let children skip breakfast. Studies have shown that eating breakfast greatly improves a child’s ability to learn.

* Pack healthy snacks and lunches, with limited amounts of junk food.

* Create a calm, positive, predictable routine in the morning.

* Establish a positive coming-home routine as well, in which you spend 10 to 20 minutes listening to your child talk about her day. If you’re pressed for time, combine this chat with preparing dinner together.

* Create assigned spaces for shoes, backpacks, jackets, homework, notes from the teacher and other important items, so they can be easily located.

* Create a homework space that’s quiet and clutter-free. Let your kids know that while you may help with a particularly difficult question, it’s their job to complete their own homework.

*Don’t criticize your child’s teachers in front of them.

Kids Need Their Zzzz’s

It’s not just grownups that are sleep-deprived. America’s children also aren’t getting enough sleep, and chugging Red Bulls all day only makes the problem worse.

About 80 percent of adolescents and nearly as many younger children aren’t gettingthe recommended amount of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Poor school performance, weight gain – even some cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – are linked to sleep deprivation; it’s also behind a high percentage of car accidents caused by teenage drivers. In severe cases, irritability, mood disorders and depression also result from missed snooze time, behaviors that are often dismissed as “normal” for a child going through puberty.

NSF recommends a list of steps that can ensure your children are getting enough sleep:

* Set firm bedtimes and waking times, and enforce them.

* Make sure the child’s sleeping space is dark, quiet, relaxing and not too hot or too cold.

* Make sure kids “wind down” for at least a couple of hours before bedtime.

* Avoid large meals and caffeinated drinks, especially energy drinks, near bedtime.

* Remove TVs, computers and electronic gadgets from kids’ bedrooms. Or at least forbid the use of them for an hour before bedtime.

* Don’t sleep in by more than a couple of hours on the weekend; it will throw off the child’s entire sleep schedule.

When It’s More Serious

Consistently poor grades and/or a sudden drop in grades are both indicators of a larger problem, Hughes said. “If your child has ongoing problems in school, find out if there is something else going on,” she said. “They may need glasses or need to be tested for learning disabilities.”

It’s also critical to watch for changes in your child’s personality.

“Children may become quiet, anxious, sad or angry,” Hughes said. “Students may ask to stay home from school or want to come home during the school day. They may also complain about stomach problems or headaches. Changes in sleeping and eating patterns are also signs.

“If you’re concerned that your child may be overwhelmed or depressed, contact your pediatrician or school counselor right away,” she said. “Be persistent, and make sure a professional talks to your child and checks things out.”

Keep Things in Perspective

Try to take “the glass half full” approach when it comes to grades. A poor report card one semester can be a springboard to renewed dialogue about grades, expectations and achievement. Working together, grades can be boosted and the year will be deemed a success when parents and children look back on it in June.

Remember, even the best students can get nervous when facing tests or new activities. They don’t want to disappoint their parents, teachers and themselves. With some attention on your part, parents can go a long way toward helping their kids avoid burnout and school-related stress.

“When problems occur, parents and teachers should work together to devise a plan of action,” Hughes said. “Realize teachers just want to help and want your child to succeed. Children are only human, and none of them are perfect. If a teacher tells you that your child is falling behind in a subject or having behavior problems, it doesn’t mean there is anything bad about your child. Students are not grown up yet, and need help learning to follow all the rules and establish good study habits.”



Getting the Most from Parent-Teacher Conferences

Too often parents delay addressing problems until their child’s school holds official parent-teacher conferences. Regular ongoing communication is much more effective, especially if a child is struggling, says Cindy Hughes, science teacher at Western Heights High School in Oklahoma City.

“You don’t have to wait for them to call you – call just to check in and see how everything is going,” Hughes said. “If there is a problem, get as much information as you can about what is going on and what you and the school can do to solve it together.”

Determine exactly which issues you need to address before attending any parent-teacher meetings – make a list. Don’t leave the meeting until you determine what you need to do at home, what your child needs to do, and what your student’s teacher is doing to solve the problem.

“Even if you’re upset with a teacher, remember that everyone should be treated politely and with respect,” she added. “Getting angry and losing your temper only makes things worse. If you have trouble dealing calmly with a particular teacher, try talking to the school counselor.”


Cancer Treatments Are Increasingly ‘On Target’

justin brotton - Thursday, October 01, 2015

By Staci Elder Hensley

Doctors and medical researchers have had cancer in their crosshairs for millennia. That’s no surprise, given that in the United States alone nearly 1,600 people die from it every single day, according to the American Cancer Association, making it the country’s second leading cause of death.

Since our discovery of DNA, however, cancer treatments have steadily improved. Our growing understanding of genetics and genetic mutations has led to the development of extremely effective “targeted” therapies for cancer patients, and the pace of this research is expanding rapidly, says Daniel Nader, DO, FCCP. Nader is chief of pulmonary services, medicine and science at Tulsa’s Cancer Treatment Centers of America facility, and also is chief of staff and director of its Lung Center.

The Cancer/DNA Connection

DNA, otherwise known as deoxyribonucleic acid, provides the chemical-based instructions that tell our cells what to do. It’s also the place where cancer begins. When these chemical instructions contain mistakes, cells don’t function normally, and they may begin the out-of-control growth that leads to cancer.

Known as mutations, these cancer-causing changes in a person’s DNA can be inherited, but the majority are acquired during exposure to environmental factors such as chemicals or asbestos, or they may be caused by lifestyle choices, like smoking. Typically, there must be a build-up of several different mutations for cancer to develop.

What Is Cancer Genomics?

Simply put, the human genome is the sum total of all DNA contained in a person’s cells. It’s packaged into two sets of chromosomes, one inherited from the mother and one from the father. These chromosomes are made up of six billion individual DNA letter combinations, using a genetic “alphabet” of only four letters – A, C, G and T, which occur in a specific order.

Just as the letters in a book make up the words of a story, so do the letters in our individual genomes tell the story of our cellular health. When even one letter is out of place or damaged, the entire “story” is impacted. Genomics is the study of the sequence of these DNA letters, and how each string of letters passes the information needed for our cells to work properly.

In other words, “Genomics, as it applies to cancer, are particular mutations, rearrangements and other changes which occur in cancer cells, and which makes them different and encourages their growth,” Nader said.

By reading the sequence of these letters and using computers to compare them, researchers can determine if just one of the billions of letter combinations of our human genome is different. Basically, it’s like finding the potentially cancer-ridden needle in the DNA haystack. Specific changes – known as signatures – also enable doctors to distinguish one type of cancer from another. Other common changes affect the genes so that cells divide and survive when they normally would not. Sometimes the cancer-causing changes aren’t in the actual DNA, but happen when some of the letters are “marked” by the addition of a special chemical, which in turn changes how the cell “reads” its chemical instructions. Your body’s entire collection of chemical markers on your DNA is known as the epigenome.

How Targeted Cancer Therapy Works

Using the knowledge gleaned by genomic work over the years, doctors have been able to develop drugs and other substances that interfere with specific molecules that are involved with the growth, progression and spread of cancer. Many targeted therapies already have been approved by the Food & Drug Administration to treat specific types of cancer. Dozens of others are being studied in clinical trials across the country.

Targeted therapy works by directly preventing cancer cells from dividing, Nader explained. The goal is to interfere with specific molecules involved in tumor growth. The therapy is tailored to each individual patient based on their specific tumor type and/or the stage of their disease. It’s sometimes the first treatment given to a patient, but can also be given to patients who have already tried chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

“Targeted therapies have specific targets based on the type of cancer and that specific cancer’s genomic makeup,” he said. “Not all cancers have the same mutations or genetic changes, which is why testing is important to identify the specific change which may be present and to apply the appropriate treatment for each patient.”

Traditional chemotherapy, in contrast, is a more blanket approach, which works by killing any cells that are rapidly dividing, regardless of whether they’re normal or cancerous. For many patients, the combination of targeted drugs and chemotherapy is extremely effective.

To date, the FDA has approved targeted therapies for the treatment of patients with: adenocarcinoma of the stomach or esophagus, basal cell carcinoma, brain cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, endocrine/neuroendocrine tumors, head and neck cancer, gastrointestinal stromal tumors, giant cell tumors of the bone, Kaposi’s sarcoma, kidney cancer, leukemia, liver cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, multiple myeloma, myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative disorders, neuroblastoma, ovarian epithelial/fallopian tube/primary peritoneal cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, soft tissue sarcoma, systemic mastocytosis and thyroid cancer.

How Well Does It Work?

Targeted therapies are, in general, highly effective in extending the lifespan of people with cancer, especially those with the most deadly types, like lung and colon. Yet there are some limitations, Nader said. One is that cancer cells can become resistant to the drugs, which is why targeted therapies are often combined with traditional chemotherapy and radiation.

Targeted therapy also produces side effects, though they’re generally less toxic than those caused by chemotherapy. The most common are diarrhea and liver problems, (i.e. hepatitis and elevated liver enzymes). Others may include high blood pressure, skin rashes or problems with blood clotting and wound healing. What’s notable, according to the National Cancer Institute, is that patients who experience the rashes and/or elevated blood pressure tend to respond better to targeted medications than those who don’t experience any effects.

“Targeted therapy may improve a prognosis, but it’s dependent on the patient’s response to the specific treatment,” Nader said. “Target therapy is another modality which can be used to treat cancer, but does not always substitute for state-of-the-art chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Many times, these treatments are complementary to the other.”

Nader also stressed that the most effective cancer treatment programs are broad-based. What’s necessary, he said, is “an innovative approach to whole-person care, including integrative therapies like mind-body medicine and nutrition therapy, along with advanced medical care. Offering precision medicine through genomic tumor testing fits in with the overall mission to focus on each patient and his or her specific needs.”

The Cancer Genome Atlas

Known as the TCGA, this landmark research program is studying genomic changes in more than 20 different types of human cancer. Researchers are comparing the DNA in samples of normal and cancer tissue taken from the same patient, and by doing so identifying changes specific to a particular cancer.

From there, the sample results from many different patients are being compared. This comparison is important, Nader said, because even two patients with the same type of cancer often experience very different outcomes, or respond very differently to the same treatment.

Some of these changes will help identify what area of the genome can be targeted by specific drugs. Others show a link between specific changes and how fast a person’s disease is expected to progress, or how likely it may be that a tumor will return following treatment.

Connecting specific genomic changes to specific outcomes will make it possible to develop more individualized – and ultimately more effective – treatments for cancer patients, Nader said. All of the information gleaned by the TCGA initiative is listed in a database that’s used by cancer researchers around the world.

Where to Learn More

The latest information about cancer genomics and targeted therapies can be learned through the National Institutes of Heath at www.cancergenome.nih.gov, or the National Cancer Institute, at www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/targeted-therapies/targeted-therapies-fact-sheet. Information about ongoing clinical trials nationwide also is available at www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/clinical-trials.

“Target agents are under development at a rapidly increasing pace, and this is an evolving field,” Nader said. “We certainly do not have all the answers at this time, but we have significantly advanced from where we were five years ago.”


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