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CU Cancer Center Top 2023 Stories

CU Cancer Center Top Stories of 2023

Revisit some of the year’s most memorable moments, impactful research, and patient stories from the CU Cancer Center team.

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Written by Cancer Center on December 14, 2023

With more than 125 stories sharing the work of our cancer community, it’s been another remarkable year full of noteworthy research, community projects, and inspiring patient success stories for the University of Colorado Cancer Center. 

These are the top stories from 2023.


colonoscopy vs fitColonoscopy vs. Stool-Based Tests: What is the Best Way to Detect Colorectal Cancer? 

With the recent news that colorectal cancer is on the rise among people under 55, it’s more important than ever for people to understand the screening options for this disease. 

University of Colorado Cancer Center member Swati Patel, MD, shares about the two most common colorectal cancer screening models — colonoscopies and stool-based tests — and the similarities and differences between them. 

Jimmy Buffett
What to Know About Merkel Cell Carcinoma, Jimmy Buffett’s Rare Skin Cancer 

After battling skin cancer for four years before his death, "Margaritaville" singer Jimmy Buffett died on September 1, 2023, at age 76, from Merkel cell carcinoma, according to his website. The singer continued to perform while receiving treatment. However, in recent weeks, his health started to decline.

We spoke with University of Colorado Cancer Center member Maryam M. Asgari, MD, MPH, professor and endowed chair in the Department of Dermatology, about Buffett’s diagnosis and what people need to know about this rare skin cancer.

dense breasts
FDA Issues New Mammography Guidelines for Women With Dense Breasts 

The Food and Drug Administration updated its mammography guidelines to require mammography facilities to notify patients about the density of their breasts. The new rule amends regulations issued under the Mammography Quality Standards Act of 1992, a law passed to ensure quality mammography. The amendments are required to be implemented within 18 months. 

“A lot of women think that if their mammogram is negative, they don’t have cancer,” says University of Colorado Cancer Center member Gretchen Ahrendt, MD. “But the test is only as good as your breast density. The higher your breast density, the harder it is to find a cancer.” 

pack years hero
What Are Pack-Years? 

For many people, receiving a cancer diagnosis may require learning a new vocabulary ­– terms that can be useful guideposts for defining the disease and its treatment.

People diagnosed with lung cancer who currently smoke or have a history of smoking, for example, may have heard the term “pack-year” when they consulted with clinicians to determine whether they should be screened for the disease.

Jamie L. Studts, PhD, co-leader of the University of Colorado Cancer Center Cancer Prevention and Control Program, defines this often-used term and answers some common questions related to its use.

car t and checkpoint
What is the Best Lymphoma Treatment After CAR T Therapy Fails? 

University of Colorado Cancer Center member Ajay Major, MD, MBA, published research in the journal Blood Advances that shows checkpoint inhibitors are not an effective treatment when CAR T fails; he is also interested in the potential of new medications called bispecific antibodies to treat aggressive lymphomas. 

Here’s What to Know About Martina Navratilova’s Double Cancer Diagnosis

In January, tennis great Martina Navratilova revealed that she has been diagnosed with two unrelated cancers: stage 1 throat cancer and early-stage breast cancer. We spoke with University of Colorado Cancer Center member Jessica McDermott, MD, assistant professor of medical oncology at the CU School of Medicine, about Navratilova’s diagnosis and what people need to know about HPV-related cancers. 

radon testing kit
CU Cancer Center Offers Free Radon Testing Kits to the Colorado Community

Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is a risk factor that plays a significant role in causing lung cancer.

“A lot of things in our environment cause cancer, but this is something we can actually mitigate. There are ways to do it, and it’s relatively affordable. Our team is trying to assist people who can’t afford it to test for radon and find resources to reduce exposure in their homes,” says Jan Lowery, PhD, assistant director for dissemination and implementation in the University of Colorado Cancer Center’s Office of Community Outreach and Engagement.

4-14-23 military hero
PACT Act Allows Military Veterans to Access Benefits for Expanded List of Conditions Related to Exposures

When the PACT Act went into effect January 1, after being signed into law in August, many U.S. veterans were able to access benefits for an expanded list of health conditions presumed to be caused by exposure to toxic substances.

These exposures include airborne hazards resulting from burn pits, and among the conditions presumed to be a result of military service are many types of cancer. Under the PACT Act, now any type of head cancer and any type of neck cancer are considered presumptive, as well as several other types of cancer.

Jessica McDermott, MD, deputy associate director of diversity and inclusion in clinical research at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, explains the impact our research is having on veteran populations.

3-23-23 Carolyn Degrafinried hero
Enjoying the Gift of Time After a Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis 

Carolyn Degrafinried couldn’t ignore her lingering feeling that something was off and persistently requested more testing. In April 2015, an endoscopy showed that not only was the mass on her pancreas a tumor, but it was cancerous.

At each decision point, she drew strength not only from her sense of self and self-advocacy, but from her family, her faith, and a multidisciplinary care team at the University of Colorado Cancer Center who partnered with her to create an adaptable treatment plan. In November 2022, she received the news that she showed no evidence of disease.

Suzanne Somers
What Breast Cancer Patients Can Learn From Suzanne Somers’s 23-Year Battle 

Actress Suzanne Somers, best known for her iconic role as Chrissy Snow on the 1970s and ’80s sitcom “Three’s Company,” died October 15 after a 23-year struggle with breast cancer. Somers was 76.

In 2020, Somers said in an interview that she had had malignant melanoma and skin cancer earlier in her life, and in 2000, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In June 2023, Somers revealed in an Instagram post that her breast cancer had returned, writing that “I had breast cancer two decades ago, and every now and then it pops up again, and I continue to bat it down. I have used the best alternative and conventional treatments to combat it. … This is not new territory for me. I know how to put on my battle gear, and I’m a fighter.”

University of Colorado Cancer Center member Gretchen Ahrendt, MD, professor of surgical oncology, shares what a 23-year battle with breast cancer looks like and what other people with the disease can learn from Somers’s experience.