Allergic to Essential Medication?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 22, 2016


Serious allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, occur when mast cell chemicals flood the body, causing an array of acute symptoms.

What do you do when your body is not tolerating a medication that you need?

Patients fighting cancer, severe infections, autoimmune disorders, and many other conditions may become sensitized to the very drugs that are most effective in treating their diseases. These patients can suffer serious allergy symptoms, such as hives, flushing, itching, shortness of breath, wheezing, hypotension, and even anaphylaxis – a severe life-threatening allergic reaction.

Because of the potential allergic reaction upon re-exposure to these drugs, these patients are often told that they can no longer be treated with their best medication. A technique called drug desensitization can be used to help these patients get back on their medications.

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Names on Construction Beam Lift Spirits of Pediatric Cancer Patients

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital December 23, 2015

The names of two dozen pediatric cancer patients from Boston hospitals have been spray-painted on a construction beam that will soon support a new cafeteria at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Tucked away on Shattuck Street, facing the windows of Boston Children’s Hospital, the names “Brooklyn,” “Nicholas,” “Kevin,” and many others are spray-painted in bright orange, light blue, pink, and white on a steel beam that will support the new cafeteria at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), which is undergoing renovation.

The two dozen names belong to pediatric patients from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Department of Radiation Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, including 5-year-old Brooklyn, who was the first patient to have her name spray-painted on the 63-ton beam. After seeing a Facebook post written by Brooklyn’s mother, a family friend working on the construction site was inspired to begin spray-painting the children’s names.

“Seeing Brooklyn’s name on that steel beam is a feeling I will never forget,” says Kerrin Dooley, Brooklyn’s mother. “To me, the beam is a symbol of community, caring, support, strength, and teamwork – all critical aspects in the fight against cancer.”

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Brain Tumors: More Precise Diagnosis Leads to More Precise Treatment

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital May 21, 2015

Members of the brain tumor diagnostic board

Contributor: Keith Ligon, MD, PhD, is a pathologist in the Center for Molecular Oncologic Pathology (CMOP) at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center and an Associate Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School. His interests include neuropathology of brain tumors, general neuropathology, and developmental neuropathology.

The information used in diagnosing a brain tumor takes many forms. At Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), a patient’s brain tumor tissue undergoes a broad range of diagnostic tests: not only standard pathology exams in which tumor cells are viewed under a microscope, but also next-generation scans looking for mutated genes and misassembled chromosomes, as well as whole-genome searches for extra or missing copies of genes.

Such extensive testing helps pinpoint the exact type and characteristics of a particular tumor. The more specific the diagnosis, the more precise the therapy can be.

But test results are only as valuable as the ability of pathologists and physicians to interpret them. As the diagnosis of brain tumors becomes more complex, DF/BWCC pathologists and cytogeneticists (specialists who focus on chromosome structure) routinely consult one another, compare notes, and present physicians with a unified report on their diagnostic findings.

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Brigham and Women’s Hospital Makes the Honor Roll

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 3, 2013

For the 21st consecutive year, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) has been named to the U.S. News & World Report’s Honor Roll of America’s Best Hospitals.

For the 21st consecutive year, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) has been named to the U.S. News & World Report’s Honor Roll of America’s Best Hospitals, ranking ninth. The Honor Roll highlights just 18 hospitals, out of nearly 5,000 nationwide, for their breadth and depth of clinical excellence.  We’ve gathered some recent blog posts from our ranked clinical categories to recognize the hard work and accomplishments of our doctors, nurses, researchers, and others.

#2 Gynecology

The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology supports women through all stages of their lives – from planning a family to childbirth, menopause, and beyond.

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Colorectal Cancer: Screening Can Be a Lifesaver

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital March 26, 2013

Dr. Walter Chan and patient navigator Oscar Sanchez team up to encourage patients to get a colonoscopy.

One of the key missions of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is to remind people that a colonoscopy is an invaluable tool for helping to prevent colorectal cancer. So why doesn’t everyone get one?

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) gastroenterologist Walter Chan, MD, MPH, stresses that everyone should get screened for colorectal (colon or rectal) cancer by age 50. Thereafter, patients should get a colonoscopy every 10 years, up to age of 75. Patients over the age of 75 should ask their doctor whether they should get a colonoscopy or any other colorectal cancer screening test. People with a family history of colorectal cancer should get a colonoscopy even sooner – at age 40 or earlier – and some medical experts recommend that African-Americans start screening at age 45.

Unfortunately, many people fail to follow this advice, and the impact is significant. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in Massachusetts, but it’s believed that more than 33 percent of these cases could be prevented if everyone over the age of 50 were screened.

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Capturing Cancer Like a Jellyfish

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital December 11, 2012

Jellyfish have inspired the development of a microchip for detecting cancer.

Seeing a jellyfish can send men, women, and children scurrying back to their beach towels in fear of the translucent creature’s stinging tentacles. But these tentacles are designed not just for defense, but also to delicately and selectively collect food. It’s this discriminating character that has inspired the development of a device that could one day help save cancer patients’ lives.

A research team led by Brigham and Women Hospital’s (BWH) Jeffrey Karp, PhD, a bioengineer in the Department of Medicine, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Rohit Karnik, PhD, has developed a microchip that soon may have broad therapeutic and diagnostic uses in the detection and capture of rare cell types, such as cancer cells, fetal cells, viruses, and bacteria. Like a jellyfish’s sticky tentacles selectively grab miniscule food flowing in the water while letting other material flow by, the microchip only grabs the molecules it’s programmed to detect.

The chip uses a micro-fluidic surface composed of numerous long DNA strands that can be customized to detect and capture various cell types. For the initial study, Karp and his team tested the chip by using a DNA sequence with a particular affinity for a cell-surface protein found abundantly in human cancer cells.

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Grapefruit Juice – Medication Friend or Foe?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 3, 2012

A substance in grapefruit juice improves the absorption of sirolimus, an experimental cancer drug.

Many patients have been warned not to drink grapefruit juice when taking certain medications.  That’s because enzymes in grapefruit juice can cause too much of some drugs to be released into your body, leading to serious health problems, including the potential for overdose.

But researchers at the University of Chicago have turned that negative into a positive. They found that a substance in grapefruit juice called furanocoumarin improved absorption of an experimental drug in cancer patients, allowing for lower dosages and reduced side effects.

“It’s a very interesting way of using a known food-drug interaction as a means of getting better drug levels into cancer patients,”  said Dr. Jerry Avorn, chief of the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in an interview with

Researchers were challenged to find a solution to the problem of poor absorption for a drug called sirolimus. Only small amounts of sirolimus are absorbed into the bloodstream, too low to have a medical benefit for cancer patients.  However, higher dosages can increase patient side effects, such as nausea and diarrhea.  Then, Dr. Ezra Cohen, who led the study’s research team, recalled that grapefruit juice can increase the blood levels of some drugs.

The Florida Department of Citrus supplied the research team with grapefruit juice rich in furanocoumarin. (Supermarket grapefruit juice did not contain enough of this substance to have an effect.)  This potent juice increased sirolimus levels by 350 percent, allowing dosages to be reduced from 90 milligrams to 25-35 milligrams per week.

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Cancer Treatment and Fertility: Planning for the Future

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 25, 2012

Planning ahead can help preserve fertility in young cancer patients.

Imagine being 22 and having your two biggest fears come true: You have cancer, and your treatment may leave you unable to have children in the future.

While you’re still coming to terms with the diagnosis, you now have to make some major life decisions. Do you want to freeze your eggs? Or should you choose a sperm donor and freeze fertilized eggs instead? Don’t forget to consider your husband’s feelings — even though he isn’t even in your life yet.

“It was so overwhelming,” says Arieana Carcieri, who found herself facing this scenario last year after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. “I come from a big family and always wanted at least three kids. The cancer diagnosis alone was all-consuming — I didn’t anticipate the decisions I’d have to make about a future family.”

When Arieana learned that her cancer treatment could impact her ability to have children, she turned to Dr. Sara Barton, a fertility specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who collaborates with Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center. Dr. Barton sees many young women between the ages of 16 and 21 who are preparing for cancer treatment.

“These aren’t issues women typically think about in their early 20s, especially without a partner,” she said. “We’re asking them to make very mature, complicated decisions that are going to have a big impact on their life trajectory. A lot of girls think yes, I want kids, I want to do it. But then we have to talk about the reality of the situation and the financial cost.”

Cancer treatment can increase the rate at which a woman’s supply of eggs is depleted. Some chemotherapy accelerates the aging of a 20-something’s ovaries to that of a 35- or 40-year-old. Radiation can damage both the ovaries and the cells the uterus needs to regenerate each month, which are important to carry a healthy pregnancy.

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Thousands Join Research Study to Help Future Cancer Patients

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital July 24, 2012

Researchers at DFCI and BWH have launched one of the world's most comprehensive cancer research studies.

They are dedicated to helping future cancer patients as they fight cancer today. During the past year, more than six thousand people with cancer have enrolled in Profile®, a new genotyping research study by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH).

As one of the most comprehensive cancer research studies, Profile provides cancer researchers at DFCI and BWH with one of the world’s largest databases of cancer genetic abnormalities. Over time, this growing body of information will help scientists discover more about the genetic causes of cancers and increase the development of new, targeted therapies to treat them.

“Most patients enrolling in Profile do not directly benefit from the study, but they are helping many others who will be diagnosed with cancer down the road,” says Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, Chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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Can a Trip to the Dentist Put You at Risk for a Brain Tumor?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital July 6, 2012

Can a Trip to the Dentist Put You at Risk for a Brain Tumor?

Research suggests that frequent dental x-rays can heighten your risk of developing a brain tumor.

In the largest study of its kind, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) researchers, along with researchers from Yale University School of Medicine, Duke University, University of California, San Francisco, and Baylor College of Medicine, have found an association between past frequent dental x-rays and an increased risk of meningioma, which accounts for 33 percent of all primary brain tumors.

According to the study, patients with meningioma were twice as likely to report having a specific type of dental x-ray called a bitewing exam. Those who reported having them yearly or more frequently were 1.4 to 1.9 times as likely to develop a meningioma.

There was an even greater increased risk of meningioma in patients who reported having a panorex x-ray exam. Those who reported having this exam under the age of 10 were 4.9 times more likely to develop a meningioma. Those who reported having the exam yearly or more frequently than once a year were nearly three times as likely to develop meningioma.

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