Dr. Len's Cancer Blog

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Dr. Len's Cancer Blog

The American Cancer Society

Maybe It's Time To Rethink Patient Safety When 1/3 Of The Cancer Professionals Would Have Prescribed The Wrong Treatment In Response To A Lecturer's Question

by Dr. Len March 20, 2013

I was sitting in a large lecture hall with about 1000 of my oncology colleagues this past week when I had one of "those moments." It wasn't a spectacular moment, and I doubt that anyone else in the room really paid much attention to the moment, but for me it was a significant moment--and frankly a bit chilling if not frightening.

In short, in answer to an audience response question--which admittedly is not a scientifically valid survey--over 1/3 of the oncology professionals sitting in the audience would have prescribed a treatment for advanced colon cancer that not only has been shown not to work, but also shorten lives. At that moment, I became very concerned about the implications of that response and what it may mean for patient care.

Maybe I am overdramatizing this a bit, but what happened pointed out to me that we may have a serious problem in cancer care, and it is imperative that we do something about it. More...

Two New Reports From eHealth Initiative Provide Valuable Information On eHealth Tools For Cancer Patients

by Dr. Len March 08, 2013

Since we have started the conversation about eHealth tools in my previous blog this week, I thought it might be worthwhile to explore some of the other applications and internet based programs that may be useful to cancer patients.

As I wrote in early February, I have become (and remain) infatuated with apps that have helped me track my activity and my diet. They have made a big difference for me and others I know, and continue to keep me motivated and on target. The larger question, however, is whether we can harness electronic media to help us live healthier lives, get better control of our health, or if we have an illness or disease, become more informed and more empowered.

For some diseases-like heart disease and diabetes-there appear to be no shortage of such efforts either to prevent illness or help manage illness once it occurs. However cancer is a different animal: it is not one disease but over 200. And it is far from uniform, even within particular cancer diagnoses. We have a lot to learn about cancer, its treatment, helping care givers and improving quality of life for cancer patients among many other topics. But actually harnessing social media and the internet to help our patients remains in very early stages of development for cancer compared to some other more common and perhaps more straightforward situations such as heart disease and diabetes.

So imagine a world where a patient has access to immediate information about their disease, its treatment, the side effects of the drugs, and how they can better manage the inevitable problems that arise during the diagnosis, treatment and recovery from cancer treatment. And further imagine harnessing that information to learn more about the disease and the treatments, the patients' reactions to the drug and the illness, how to connect caregivers, and then uploading that information in a useful digest so health care professionals can spot progress or problems, and help their patients in a more effective manner than is available through a short visit to the office.

That is the type of future we should all hope for. But we are not there yet, and we have a long way to go. The American Cancer Society is proud of its electronic health media offerings, which include our web information at www.cancer.org, our Cancer Survivors Network which links survivors from across the country to help guide each other with information and support, our "WhatNext" service which matches patients with other patients who have similar situations and demographics to learn more about their illness and treatment, and validate their own experiences with their cancer, and finally (and not least) our Circle of Sharing where patients can enter their information about their illness, let friends know how they are doing, and otherwise participate in their process of care.

All of those are good and worthy efforts. But what else is available and where can you get information? And more important, what is the current status of eHealth in cancer care, especially compared to other diseases?

Some answers to both questions were recently provided by an organization called e Health Initiative, or more fondly eHI. eHI is a collaboration among committed stakeholders from industry and non-profit sectors which brings together hundreds of organizations who are interested in promoting eHealth and making it a feasible and effective part of our health care in this country. (I have a special place in my heart for eHI, since the American Cancer Society has been involved with them for a number of years and I currently serve on their Leadership Council and board of directors).

The reports I referred to above are available on their website, and include one review of currently available eHealth programs from a variety of sources around the country. The second report was commissioned by the California HealthCare Foundation to address the availability and utilization of mobile health applications by underserved populations being treated for cancer, but in fact serves as a guide to the current status of mobile health in the larger context of cancer care. More...

For Cancer Patients, It's Not Just About What's Now But Also What's Next--And We Can Help Answer That Question

by Dr. Len March 06, 2013

Here's an insightful comment from me: Social media has gripped our world, the way we live, the way we interact, what we know and influences what we do. (OK, stop laughing: I'm not a Luddite, but needed somewhere to start this conversation.)

At times, I wonder where all those folks (usually young folks) find all that interesting stuff they send to each other on a such a constant basis that it seems their smartphones are a direct extension of their fingertips. So much to say right now! I can't imagine there being that much that is so important that people walk down the street mesmerized by those things.

But maybe that is just my ignorance and my difficulty "engaging" in this new social sphere. For me, it has to be something useful to say, something useful to know, something that is going to impact my life. That's where I find all of the social media and instant access to information so helpful. Make me smarter, keep me in touch with what is important, broaden my horizon on topics of interest to me. Then you have me engaged as well.

For cancer patients-especially newly diagnosed cancer patients-and their families, loved ones and caregivers, the situation is more serious--a lot more serious. They need help,  understanding, explanation, and lots of care and compassion. The devastation of a new cancer diagnosis or a worsening cancer or the ravages of treatment can leave even the most informed person desperate to understand what is happening to them, what is happening to their lives, what they can expect to happen next. And filtering through all of the material now available with a click on the web can be overwhelming, especially when one considers that some of the information may be reliable and some of it not so reliable. Think of that recent ad which extols the virtues of the internet with the tagline, "If it's on the internet, it must be true." Right.

So where do you turn for help? Where do you reach out to people who are just like you: same age, same disease, same questions, same experiences?

The American Cancer Society has a web-based social network called "WhatNext". Developed in part with the help of the Society, WhatNext is designed to bring people together to share information about their experiences with cancer. Based on a number of factors including diagnosis and disease status, the site aims to link people and help them share insights that may be of mutual interest, such as the side effects of a treatment, what to expect from treatment, and experiences with a shared cancer diagnosis. (The proactive matching is what makes WhatNext different from our other online community, Cancer Survivors Network.) The information is all public except for the person's name, so others can learn as well. Through this community of learning and sharing, there is much we can learn about what to expect, what we need to know, and how we can build on common interests when it comes to understanding the cancer journey. More...

About Dr. Len

Dr. Len

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP - Dr. Lichtenfeld is Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society.

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