Emergency Preparedness for People with Breast Cancer

In the past few weeks, devastating hurricanes and earthquakes have forced people out of their homes and away from their cancer care facilities, highlighting a need for better education and preparedness surrounding the medical consequences of natural disasters. Emergency situations such as a hurricane, earthquake, blizzard, flood, or blackout, are unpreventable and can drive a city into disarray in a matter of hours – but the more preemptive thinking and planning that people do prior to a catastrophic event, the better equipped they will be to respond. This is especially true for people with cancer, who must be particularly cautious during such times, as they are often more susceptible to infection or injury.

Follow these tips to help minimize the harm that a natural disaster or public emergency can cause to your personal health:

Travel with Caution
Since extreme weather can cause travel delays both on roads and throughout public transportation, be sure to allow extra time to make it to your appointment safely. You may also want to consider staying in a hotel near the Breast Center to avoid hazardous commuting conditions before and after your appointment, especially if you’ll be in and out of the facility more than once within a few days. Some programs, such as the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Manhattan and Extended Stay America’s Hotel Keys of Hope help to alleviate the financial burden of traveling away from home to receive treatment by offering guest rooms for people undergoing cancer care. If you are uncertain about travel conditions, call Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian’s (WCM/NYP) emergency hotline at 212-746-9262.

Know Your Info
Be aware of your exact diagnosis and disease stage, as well as where you are in the chemotherapy or radiation treatment cycle (if applicable). If you are a participant in a clinical trial, know the trial number, principal investigator (PI), and treatments involved. Should you forget any details pertaining to your medical records, you can easily consult Weill Cornell Connect, WCM/NYP’s secure online health connection that allows you to communicate with your doctor, access test results, request prescription refills, and manage appointments – anywhere, anytime.

For more tips, click here.

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Wishing everyone a safe fall and winter season!

A great IDEA: Mentorship program inspires international collaboration

Khaoula Mazouzi, M.D., with her IDEA mentor Eleni Andreopoulou, M.D.

Khaoula Mazouzi, M.D., with her IDEA mentor Eleni Andreopoulou, M.D. Photo by © ASCO/David Eulitt 2015

She’s a doctor of dire diagnoses.

By the time patients are presented to Khaoula Mazouzi, M.D., most have advanced cancer, often metastasized to several sites. It is left to her to break the news – and she has about 20 minutes to do so, thanks to a caseload that has her seeing an average of 30 patients per day, in a regional hospital with just 35 beds.

The Algerian oncologist makes the most of every interaction with each patient, acting as their psychologist and advocate as well as their doctor. Long wait for a CT scan and MRI at her government-run center? As a medical school student, Mazouzi learned how to pull some strings at a private hospital. No money to pay for treatment? She quietly approached some philanthropic-minded contacts. And now, when treatments fail and all options are exhausted, she helps her patients in the final chapter of their life.

“I chose medical oncology because I wanted to improve the quality of life for cancer patients. I think I’ve succeeded in my mission so far,” Mazouzi said.

Mazouzi has been a pioneer of palliative care in Algeria, where traditionally patients were sent home to die, without any additional medical support. A young physician in the final months of her residency at Ibn Badis Hospital of Constantine, in northeast Algeria, Mazouzi received a fellowship last summer from the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), which allowed her to travel to Brussels to spend a month learning about how palliative care is delivered at the Jules Bordet Institute.

“I thought it would be very expensive and impossible to implement in Algeria, but when I went there I was shocked – there are simple medicines and affordable treatments and we can really improve the quality of life for patients,” Mazouzi said. “These patients may have failed their treatments, but they are still alive. We don’t have to just let them die. We can be with them through the end so they won’t suffer.”

The experience not only altered her approach to end-of-life care, it changed practices throughout her hospital. Upon her return, Mazouzi initiated new educational and administrative programs that she continues to lead today.

Now, she hopes to transform the landscape of cancer research in her native country, after an equally eye-opening experience at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Photo of Khaoula Mazouzi, Barbara Fiederlein, and Eleni Andreopoulou
Khaoula Mazouzi, M.D., reviews a patient’s records with clinical care nurse Barbara Fiederlein, and IDEA mentor Eleni Andreopoulou, M.D.
 As part of the Conquer Cancer Foundation’s International Development and Education Award (IDEA) mentorship program, Mazouzi participated in the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago.

Eleni Andreopoulou, M.D., was selected by ASCO to be a mentor as part of the program. Along with co-mentor Anne Moore, M.D., she hosted Mazouzi for a three-day visit at the Weill Cornell Breast Center.

The purpose of the IDEA program is to support the professional development of early-career oncologists in low- and middle-income countries around the world, Andreopoulou said. Upon the mentees’ return to their home institution, it is expected that mentors and mentees remain in contact and pursue opportunities for consultation and collaboration.

While at Weill, Mazouzi met patients and specialists in several fields, attended tumor board meetings and educational lectures, and learned about how clinical trials are conducted.

“I like the teamwork, especially the specialized, multidisciplinary tumor boards,” Mazouzi said. “We don’t have well-established tumor boards at my center. I would like to make them more multidisciplinary, and more frequent.”

But one of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the lab of Evi Giannakakou, Ph.D., and a discussion with research fellow Giuseppe Galletti. Despite a life-long dream of becoming a scientist, Mazouzi has never had the opportunity to step foot in a research laboratory.

“I now know, for certain, that this is what I’m going to do,” Mazouzi said.

Mazouzi would like to build clinical research programs in Algeria, where there is currently very little infrastructure to support it, and a dire need for even basic training to enable physicians to conduct clinical trials.

A recent surge in interest and investment in cancer care in Algeria gives her hope. In the past four years, the government has built two new regional hospitals, invested heavily in radiotherapy machines and personnel – doubling the amount of trainee doctors – and has footed the bill for many targeted therapies, including some that are quite expensive, Mazouzi said. Pharmaceutical companies have also invested in training doctors and scientists to conduct genetic testing and immunohistochemistry at specialized centers.

“I don’t think it’s impossible. It’s very possible. But we will need new government investment, training and international collaborations,” Mazouzi said.

Those collaborations could start with Weill. Mazouzi hopes to continue to work with her mentors at the Breast Center as she builds new programs at her own hospital.

Andreopoulou said she was happy to participate and was herself inspired by the ambitious young doctor.

“I think this experience was a significant opportunity to be exposed to the multidisciplinary care of patients with breast cancer and to be introduced to the principles of clinical and translational research, as well as the concept of precision medicine being pioneered at this institution,” Andreopoulou said. “This exposure will enhance her skills and perspective, and enable her to be instrumental in developing cancer care programs in her country. It’s exciting to be able to help medical oncology in the rest of the world.”

Originally published June 16, 2015 to the Meyer Cancer Center

Keeping Your Hair During Chemo

Dr. Tessa Cigler, a Weill Cornell oncologist involved in the cold-cap studies, said she first learned about cold caps from a patient who had researched the treatment and learned about their use in Europe. After studying the European data on cold-cap treatment, she allowed her patient to use them and became interested in conducting her own research.

The success of a cold cap treatment often depends on the duration and type of chemotherapy regimen, so not every woman is a candidate, Dr. Cigler says. In addition, cold caps are typically used only on patients with solid tumors, like breast cancer, and are not suitable for patients with blood cancers.

“Cold cap therapy is really empowering to many patients,” Dr. Cigler said. “It has allowed many patients to protect their privacy, and allows women to maintain their self-esteem and their sense of well-being during a really difficult time.”

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