Support group forms for those affected by head and neck cancers

A Head and Neck Cancer Support Group meets the third Wednesday of each month, bringing together patients, family and friends before, during and after treatment.

Participation is free, and so is parking. The meetings are led by Upstate speech language pathologist, Jenna Gardner, clinical trials coordinator Dena Martin, and nurses Ann Ray and Robin Salvaterra.

Meetings are held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Oasis Learning Center Room, 6333 Route 298 in East Syracuse. Use 6333 Carrier Parkway for navigation systems.

Even though the group is affiliated with Upstate University Hospital, patients are welcome from anywhere. For details, call 315-464-5819.

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Sharing a cancer diagnosis in the workplace

Aliya Hafeez, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a breast cancer survivor, answers the question: “How much information should I share about my cancer diagnosis with coworkers?”

Her response: “It really depends on what your motivation in doing so would be. If it is for emotional support, then realize that not everyone is capable or in tune with their own fears of illness and especially cancer to ‘really’ be there for you.

“If you have shared personal information with particular co-workers whom you trust and feel are a positive support, then do so. If you feel that your work will be affected, and you want to warn your co-workers or will need their help, please realize some will be more willing than others.

“Your cancer diagnosis is YOUR business, and you are not obligated to tell anyone but your boss. And even your boss does not need more details than you are comfortable in giving.”

Reach Hafeez through Upstate Connect at 315-464-8668.

Listen to an interview with her.


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6 reasons to say no to e-cigarettes

closeup of woman smoking electronic cigarette outdoorEnticed by the flavors and sleek designs of the new electronic cigarettes?

Don’t be.

That’s the advice of Upstate Cancer Center Medical Director Leslie Kohman, MD, a thoracic surgeon who oversees the Lung Cancer Screening Program. She elaborates:

* 1. E-cigarettes contain nicotine, the same tobacco product that makes traditional cigarettes so addictive. Kohman says half of the e-cigarettes studied by the FDA also contained cancer-causing chemicals.

* 2. Glycol, a flavoring, nicotine and “who knows what else” are contained in the devices, which are manufactured without regulation, Kohman says. “They are manufactured in various locations around the world with no manufacturing controls, no safety controls whatsoever.”

* 3. If the flavor cartridges spill or are left where a child has access, their alluring sweet smell could lead to a toxic exposure or even a lethal ingestion of nicotine for a child. The Upstate New York Poison Center fielded 24 calls about accidental ingestions of e-cigarette chemicals in 2013 and 53 calls in the first three quarters of this year.

* 4. The synthetic liquid in most electronic cigarettes, propylene glycol has been recognized as safe for eating by the Food and Drug Administration. “But inhaling it is very different,” she says, “because the lungs absorb things in a very different way from the intestinal tract.”

* 5. Though some theories suggest the e-cigarette could serve as an aid to smoking cessation, “there is no evidence that this is more effective in helping people to quit cigarettes.”

* 6. In communities where smoking restrictions have become the norm, vaping is emerging as a worrisome trend. Big cities (including New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles) are starting to ban e-cigarettes, but Kohman says, “we really fear for the public health danger and the social consequences of making it look normal to be walking around with something that looks like a cigarette.”

Public health experts worry that e-cigarettes will be a lure for former smokers or a gateway for teens to experiment with traditional cigarettes or other drugs. They also point out that more research on the dangers of e-cigarettes is needed.

E-cigarettes are proving more dangerous than some researchers initially believed, Stanton Glantz told Science News earlier this year. He is the director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Diego.

In a paper in the journal, Circulation he and his team explained that e-cigarettes deliver high levels of nanoparticles, which have been linked to asthma, stroke, heart disease and diabetes – in case you need a seventh reason to say no to e-cigarettes.

Listen to an interview with Kohman about e-cigarettes


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Should you be tested for hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C, the most common blood-borne infection in the United States, is one of the viruses that can cause cancer — and the majority of people who are infected don’t know it.

The virus causes a chronic liver infection that can exist for decades without symptoms and that can lead to cirrhosis. Up to 7 percent of people with cirrhosis develop liver cancer each year, says Ajay Jain, MD, the associate director of hepatobiliary and pancreas surgery at Upstate. He spoke at the 10th annual Upstate Cancer Symposium in September.

No vaccine exists, but treatments can eliminate the virus or prevent its progression. A blood test can reveal hepatitis C antibodies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends testing for all Baby Boomers – anyone born from 1945 to 1965. Jain adds that healthcare workers and anyone who believes he or she may have been exposed should also be tested.

Hepatitis C has become a leading cause of liver cancer. Jain says the disease is treated most successfully with a liver transplant, but surgery or radiofrequency ablation are sometimes recommended. Chemotherapy does not work.

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Seeking ideas for the 50th anniversary time capsule

Upstate employee Jennifer Congel holds a time capsule which will buried at Upstate University Hospital.

Upstate employee Jennifer Congel holds a time capsule that will buried at Upstate University Hospital on October 15.

There’s still time to contribute ideas for objects to go in the Upstate time capsules, to be installed on Wednesday, October 15 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Upstate University Hospital’s downtown and community campuses. (10 a.m.-downtown; 1 p.m.-community campus.)

The time capsules are to include items that represent healthcare today, especially at Upstate University Hospital. Ideas already submitted include a Tigger pediatric hospital gown, Healing Muse literary journal, patient handbook, a list of current immunization guidelines for children and a program from the Cancer Center opening.

To share your time capsule ideas, contact Susan Keeter, 315-464-4834,

Interested in knowing what’s in the 1964 time capsule that’s in the cornerstone of the hospital’s downtown building? Click here.

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This issue of Upstate Health is brought to you by the number 5

KidzBop performed for patients and families at the Kinney Performance Center at Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital. Photo by Kathleen Paice Froio.

KidzBop performed for patients and families at the Kinney Performance Center at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. Photo by Kathleen Paice Froio.

Lots of important “fives” around Upstate these days, including:

5 years ago, the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital opened its doors in a “treehouse” addition above Upstate University Hospital in downtown Syracuse.

5 members of KidzBop visited patients at the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in June. (Photo by Kathleen Paice Froio)

5 patents are held by Gary Nieman, who recently received a $50,000 grant from the SUNY Technology Accelerator Fund to develop minimally-invasive infusion and suction therapy, a novel medical device that removes harmful abdominal fluid buildup caused by trauma, infection or burns.

5 miles per shift is the distance that environmental services workers typically walk, helping to keep the downtown hospital campus clean and disinfected, says operations manager John Kolh.

IMG_15605 thousand dollar donations to the Upstate Cancer Center are recognized on a ceramic tile mural in the healing garden. So far, 33 $5,000 gifts have been received. To honor your loved one in this space, contact the Upstate Foundation at 464-4416.

5 medical mission trips to Ethiopia have been organized by otolaryngologist Rick Kelley, MD, in recent years to provide care and to train other ear, nose and throat doctors.

learning communities — consisting of medical students for the class of 2017, lead by faculty members, Drs. Lawrence Chin, Robert Corona, James Greenwald, Michael Iannuzzi and Robert Silverman — are named after the Finger Lakes: Canandaigua, Cayuga, Keuka, Seneca and Skaneateles.

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Bus banners promote Upstate missions of care, research, education

bus 2

The most populated areas of this region are served by the Syracuse-based Centro bus service. Upstate banners appear on the sides of some of these buses. Being at eye level, the advertisements dominate. Many people see the banners, as the buses travel hundreds of miles per day. Upstate has a broad reach.

Kidney donor Brandon Hudson appears on the cover of Upstate Health magazine with living donor transplant coordinator Ellen Havens.

Kidney donor Brandon Hudson appears on the cover of Upstate Health magazine with living donor transplant coordinator Ellen Havens.

This issue of Upstate Health illustrates that reach and the breadth of what we do with the variety of our articles.

You’ll find stories about the medical care we provide and the research in which we’re engaged, plus a peek at our new Upstate Cancer Center. Some of our experts share their advice. (Too much calcium? Signs of autism?  Need to burn 600 calories?) You will also meet some students – some of whom traveled to other continents as volunteers and a pair who developed a case of puppy love as residents of downtown Syracuse.

You will learn how Tony-winning actress, Jessie Mueller got her start at Upstate, why nurse Sarah Martin loves kayaking, what author Walt Wasilewski learned while researching his book about spiritual care, and the question every doctor will ask him- or herself eventually.

Find a roundup of Upstate news, a vegetarian recipe that uses tomatoes from your garden, and cool scientific artistry, this time from the laboratory of assistant professor, Mehdi Mollapour, PhD.

We hope you enjoy making Health part of your life.

Need a referral?

Contact Upstate Connect at 315-464-8668 or 1-800-464-8668, day or night, for appointments or referrals to the health care providers on these pages or anywhere at Upstate – or for questions on any health topic.

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What to do when a tooth is knocked out

Fracturing or losing a tooth in a fall or other accident is a fairly common occurrence. When that happens, “you have a very limited timeframe in which to treat that situation,” says assistant professor and dentist, Patrick Smith.

Athletic facilities and school sports programs may have Save-a-Tooth preservation kits at the ready. They contain a liquid that preserves a tooth for a short period of time.

Smith says to help the tooth maintain moisture constantly. Milk is fine. Water works, too. Or, you can place the tooth in the pouch of your cheek. “The tissue is alive, and we need to maintain it until we can re-implant it into the socket,” he says.

Make sure to handle the tooth only by its crown, or the part that you can see in the mouth. Do not touch the root.

Get to a dentist, oral surgeon or the emergency department at Upstate University Hospital as quickly as possible, so the tooth can be re-implanted and secured.

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Medical students suffer from puppy love

Medical students Connor Policastro and Tim Lentini Photo by Kate Collins,

Upstate students Connor Policastro and Tim Lentini walk their pups. Photo by Kate Collins,

Two Upstate students sharing an apartment in downtown Syracuse have developed enduring – and contagious – cases of puppy love.

First Tim Lentini got Freya, a golden retriever. Then he and his puppy went with roommate, Connor Policastro to choose Leila, a Weimaraner.

“We agreed that there was no way that either of us was going to get a puppy unless we were both in agreement,” Policastro says. “It’s all about teamwork. It’s tough being a single parent.”

Photo by Kate Collins,

Leila is a Weimaraner. Photo by Kate Collins,

Policastro grew up in Connecticut and attended Syracuse University; he is in the MD/PhD program at Upstate. Lentini, who grew up in Queens, is a second-year medical student.

The men share dog care duties. Their apartment in an old watch factory is a half block from a small park. Dog lovers in nearby apartments are willing to pitch in with feedings or walks if Policastro and Lentini are tied up in laboratories or classrooms on campus — which is an 8-minute bike ride away.

Policastro grew up with many dogs and other pets. Lentini had one German shepherd briefly in childhood. Both were anxious to have dogs of their own. They chose puppies they could train over summer, when their schedules were lighter. Today, Freya and Leila fight like sisters, mostly over toys and attention. They’ve brought a warmth to the apartment.

“It’s nice having somebody be SO excited to see you when you get home,” Lentini says.


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Autism identifiers: How to tell which babies are affected

iStock_000024537973LargeGoogle “causes of autism,” and you get millions of hits — and a multitude of conjecture. Is a genetic predisposition to blame? Are environmental factors at play? Maternal or paternal age, perhaps? Some sort of pregnancy complication? A virus, or pollutant in the air?

We do not know for sure, but genetics and the environment likely play a combined role, says Henry Roane, PhD, an associate professor of pediatrics and the division chief of the Center for Behavior, Development and Genetics at Upstate. Regardless of the cause of autism or the reason for its recent growth, he says treatment is most effective when begun early.


One in 68 children have autism spectrum disorder. The term “spectrum” is used now in reference to the range of impairment children can have, from mild to severe disability.

That represents a 30 percent increase in diagnoses from a couple years ago, partly because several individual disorders are now considered part of the spectrum. Awareness is also behind the increase, with more parents, teachers and primary care doctors on the lookout for early signs.

“It’s not like having a medical disorder where you can do a blood test and test for certain pathogens in your bloodstream and say ‘well, you have that disease.’ Autism is not like that,” Roane says “It is, to some extent, a subjective diagnosis in many cases. What one provider sees as autism, another provider might not see.”

Treatment is intensive behavioral therapy of 25 to 40 hours per week, to help improve cognitive and language skills. Roane says proper medical care plus early intervention can help change the trajectory of autism, especially in children who begin treatment before age 6. That means caregivers have to know what to look for, and what to ask the pediatrician.

Red flags?

Some signs of autism may be visible when a baby is just a few months old, although experts caution that the signs and symptoms of autism are highly variable among those affected. These 15 behaviors are possible signs:

* lack of sustained eye contact, especially to people or visually-interesting objects

* slow progression of language or delayed speech formation (not babbling, or making a single repetitive sound)

* not responding to their name by 12 months of age

* preference for playing alone

* flat or inappropriate facial expressions

* not pointing at objects by 14 months of age

* flapping hands, rocking body or spinning in circles

* avoiding or resisting physical contact

* unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel

* not playing pretend games (such as “feeding” a doll) by 18 months

* reversing pronouns (“you” instead of “I”)

* talking in flat, robot-like or sing-song voice

* lining up toys or other objects, or playing with them the same way every time

* repetitive movements, in older children

* getting upset by minor changes

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Mental Health.


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