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Cancer Survivors Find Information, Encouragement at Houston Conference

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Greg Flakus

Cancer patients face many challenges - but there is also a lot of good news. That was the message in Houston, Texas recently, as one of the world's top cancer hospitals and research centers, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, held its 23rd annual Cancer Survivorship Conference.  The conference presented both patients and their families with information on advances in cancer care, treatment and prevention.

Breast cancer specialist Dr. Vicente Valero speaks in one of several Spanish sessions at the conference, providing the latest information on how to treat cancer and prevent it from recurring.

“At this meeting people want to know what they can do about themselves - are they doing the right things? Are they receiving the right treatment?” he explains.

Beyond the bare medical facts, Dr. Valero emphasizes actions patients can take to improve their chances of remaining cancer free.

“Avoiding weight gain, performing exercise frequently will produce a better outcome for women who have suffered breast cancer,” he advises.

Such lifestyle choices can make a difference, even for patients, like Cindy Hathaway, whose cancer has spread to other organs.

“Even being stage 4, there are still things I can do to keep my cancer under control," she notes, "to keep it from spreading further than it has already, to feel as good as I can for as long as I can.”

Not only does the conference provide patients with a chance to learn more about advances in treatment - it also puts them in touch each other.

Andrew Schorr, who writes about medicine, was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996.

He took part in a clinical trial that he describes as "getting tomorrow's medicine today."

“I received medicine that is now approved 10 years earlier because I was in a clinical trial,” Schorr says.

He says being able to share advice on such topics is one of the benefits of this gathering.

“Then as you meet people who have been treated for the cancer that you were diagnosed with, there is like a brotherhood, a sisterhood, and that is very empowering,” Schorr says.

Tony Morales came here to represent The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, an organization dedicated to fighting one of the deadliest cancers.

“It is a cancer where you only have a six percent survival rate at this point in time," explains Morales. "A lot of it has to do with what I believe is awareness, prevention and more research.”

Morales himself has not had cancer, but he lost his wife to pancreatic cancer and his mother to another form of the disease.

“My mother passed away from breast cancer and I would like to think that my donating her organs and so forth resulted in [contributed to] what today is a 90 percent survival rate in breast cancer. I would like to see that in pancreatic cancer,” Morales says.

Research has produced better treatment for other cancers, many of which are now routinely eliminated, says to Dr. James Cox, a radiology expert.

“Millions of people are now cured of cancer and that is a message that has to get out that, yes, there is cancer, but you can do away with it, you can cure it,” he says.

And Cox says we now know a lot more about what foods to eat and other actions we can take - like quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and increasing exercise - that reduce the likelihood of getting cancer in the first place.

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