Stanford Medicine magazine explores cancer’s new realities

A special report on cancer in Stanford Medicine magazine looks at innovations in cancer treatment, research and education.

- By Rosanne Spector

While the COVID-19 pandemic absorbs the world’s attention, advances in cancer research and treatment are far from the spotlight. Yet cancer isn’t taking a breather. In the new issue of Stanford Medicine magazine, a special report on cancer focuses on the progress in developing precision cures and identifying ways to predict and prevent the disease.

“This issue of Stanford Medicine magazine is about cancer, not about COVID-19. It was conceived and produced before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, and it offers some timeless perspectives,” writes Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, in his letter to readers in the new issue. “Even as our medical community responds to the immediate demands of the coronavirus outbreak, some researchers and clinicians push ahead with advances in crucial areas like cancer.

“A 19th-century surgeon famously described cancer as ‘the emperor of all maladies,’ but biomedical discoveries and technological breakthroughs in the past decade give promise that the reign of this dreaded disease will soon end.”

The issue includes:

·      A roundup of new diagnostic techniques and treatments — some in development and some already in use — that are part of the reason cancer is often survivable today. Among the innovations on the horizon are a toilet that automatically monitors urine and stool for signs of disease, a device that delivers high-power radiation fast so cancers can be eliminated with less damage to healthy tissue, and a method that unleashes immune cells to gobble cancers.

·      A Q&A with Lucy Kalanithi, MD, five years after the death of her husband, Paul Kalanithi, MD, the Stanford neurosurgeon and author of the bestseller When Breath Becomes Air. She talks about grieving a loved one and about how she and their daughter keep Paul Kalanithi’s memory alive. An audio recording of the full conversation is included in the online story.  

·      An inside look at Stanford Medicine’s molecular tumor board, a group of cancer specialists who use genomic insights to find treatments to help patients with advanced cancer.

·      An article about a Stanford program called Walk With Me that pairs first-year medical students with patients to give future doctors the chance to learn, early in their medical education, about patients’ lives and struggles with illness. A link to a video introducing one of the student-patient pairs accompanies the online story.

·      A look at chemo brain — the cognitive problems many cancer patients experience after treatment. Until recently, cancer experts believed the mental fog following treatment was simply caused by depression about having cancer, but it turns out that the drugs do real damage. Stanford researchers are uncovering chemo brain’s causes and ways to prevent and treat it. The online story includes a link to an audio interview with researcher Michelle Monje, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences.

·      A college student’s story that epitomizes the challenges for teens and young adults who are battling cancer while they move from childhood into adulthood.

Also in this issue, read about an effort to use motion-sensor data gathered from surgeons as they palpate, cut and stitch to understand how their movements, decisions and approaches correlate with surgical success. The story includes a video of Carla Pugh, MD, PhD, professor of surgery, talking about the research and recruiting surgeons to participate. Also, read an excerpt from Discovering Precision Health, a new book by Minor, and an update on formerly conjoined twins, now 5 years old, since their separation three years ago.

The new issue is online as well as in print. Print copies of the magazine are being sent to subscribers. Others can request a copy  by sending an email to

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit

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