Stories about: Lisa Diller MD

Twist of fate: Anna reconnects with the oncologist who saved her life

Anna survived childhood cancer.
Credit: Mark Dela Cruz

Anna Protsiou was five in 2002 when she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. She remembers pain and the fruit-scented anesthesia masks that led her to stop eating cherries. She remembers hospital arts and crafts projects. What she barely remembers is the pediatric oncologist who saved her life.

She was a young girl then who didn’t speak English, moving with her family from their native Greece to be treated for a year at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. Now, after moving with her family to Canada in 2014, she’s a 20-year-old dance student at the School of Contemporary Dancers/ University of Winnipeg and a contortionist with a rubber-band body. She’s ready to claim her history as her own, ready to move beyond photographs of the doctor and memories recounted by her parents, ready to take charge of her own health care.

So Anna traveled to Boston to meet her physician, Dr. Lisa Diller, and learn about potential late effects of the high-dose chemotherapy, radiation and two stem cell transplants that eradicated her cancer after surgeons excised her tumor.

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Talking about a new cancer diagnosis with your child

The following information originally appeared on Insight, a blog by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Helping a loved one face cancer is never easy, but the challenge is especially daunting when the patient is your own child. The clinicians at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center work with pediatric cancer patients and their families every day and have experience in helping families approach the subject. Here,  Lisa Diller, MD, Anna Muriel, MD, and Jorge Fernandez, LCSW offer tips for talking with your children about their illness.           

1. Include them in the discussion. For many parents, the natural instinct is to not give their child information about their diagnosis to avoid scaring them. But children can view this protection as exclusion, a feeling that they are not important enough to include in the discussion. It’s also anxiety-provoking in that it creates uncertainties and fears that the situation may be worse than it really is.

2. Find a good time and place. Figure out the best time to talk to your child; maybe in bed, or in the car, or even while doing something fun or active. Whatever feels most comfortable to them. We have resources that can help in the discussion.

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Protecting the fertility of childhood cancer survivors

By Tom Ulrich. A version of this story originally appeared in Vector, Children’s science and innovation blog

While many childhood cancers are readily curable, those cures can come at a cost to future fertility. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thanks to advances in medicine, 75 percent of children currently diagnosed with cancer will live to see adulthood. This is extremely welcome news of course, but with it comes new questions about what adult life holds for survivors of childhood cancers. As science is now discovering, the therapies that are so effective at saving children’s lives can also occasionally lead to problems down the road (called the late effects of cancer treatment.)

Some of the more common concerns surrounding late effects of cancer treatment have to do with its effects on fertility, which can be quite harsh. “There’s a huge segment of the pediatric oncology population that’s at risk for infertility when they grow up,” says Richard Yu, MD, PhD who works on male infertility in Children’s Hospital Boston’s department of Urology.

The problem is hardly gender specific. “It’s as though cancer treatment pushes the ovaries further down the age curve,” says Sara Barton, a fertility specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who collaborates with Lisa Diller, MD clinical director of the Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center (DF/CHCC). “So while a woman who has survived childhood cancer may be 20 years old, her ovaries act like they’re 35 or 40.”

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The cost of a cure

girl in bedSince the 1970’s, advancements in medical technology have led to much higher survival rates among children cancer patients. Thanks to the invention and/or further development of cancer treatments like radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, the survival rate of children with cancer has risen dramatically in the past 30 years. But as the recipients of these treatments approach middle age, new data concerning their long term health effects is coming to light.

An analysis recently released by the Annals of Internal Medicine estimates that childhood cancer survivors are more likely to die earlier than their peers who have never undergone cancer treatment. While this information may seem disheartening, Lisa Diller, MD, senior author of the study and clinical director of Pediatric Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital Boston points out that despite the potential dangers of lasting effects, these types of medical advancements have done far more good than harm.

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