Dr. Len's Cancer Blog

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Dr. Len's Cancer Blog

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Environment (25 posts)  RSS

Genomics Leads To An "Aha!" Moment And Closes The Loop On Tanning Beds And Melanoma Risk

by Dr. Len June 04, 2012

Yesterday I wrote a blog discussing how meetings like the current annual gathering of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) gives me a chance to think about big picture questions.

 

Well, there is another side to the experience that is also interesting and important, such as getting information that helps put together pieces of a larger puzzle, and perhaps even gives closure to a nagging question. When you have one of those "Aha!!!" moments, it can truly solidify your thoughts and maybe even save a few lives in the process. In this case, the same presentation that led to yesterday's comments about the emerging complexities of the diagnosis of cancer also produced another enlightening moment.

 

Dr. Levi Garraway is a highly regarded genomics researcher from Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston who presented a lecture on the topic of how genome sequencing is bringing new insights to the biology and treatment of cancer. As part of his presentation, Dr. Garraway offered information on areas where genomics has already offered us definitive information that has direct implications in understanding cancer.

 

The #1 item on Dr. Garraway's list was a topic of intense interest to me and several of my skin cancer colleagues.

 

According to Dr. Garraway, genetic analysis of cancers from patients with melanoma show an overwhelming number (my words) have a signature genetic marker proving their melanomas were caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation. He elaborated that there have been questions in the scientific literature as to whether or not this was the case, and acknowledged that we have had to rely on relatively indirect research to prove the case that melanoma is caused by UV light. However, he continued, because of genomics it is now essentially "case closed" and essentially proven: melanoma is caused by exposure to UV light. More...

The Sad News About Tanning Beds And Sun Safe Behaviors: The Price We May Pay For Ignoring The Message

by Dr. Len May 11, 2012

Incredulous. Astounding. Unanticipated.

 

Those were my initial thoughts when I had a moment to read the two reports released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the use of tanning beds and sunburn/sun protective behaviors.

 

I was completely unprepared for the results of the studies. And I am supposed to know this stuff.

 

As I mentioned in one of the interviews published on the topic, the information contained in those studies raised my concern and passion about the topic to a new level. And if you are aware of this issue, it should raise your concerns as well. If the trends on tanning bed use and failure to engage in sun safe behaviors continue, we could be in for a serious problem regarding skin cancer and melanoma in years to come.

 

Now we have information from the CDC that the situation is worse than many of us thought.More...

Filed Under:

Environment | Media | Prevention

Want To Reduce Your Risk Of Cancer? Go Take A Walk

by Dr. Len March 29, 2012

I have a confession to make:

 

As soon as I finished reading the Annual Report to the Nation yesterday as I was preparing to write my blog, I got up from my desk and took a walk for 20 minutes.

 

What, might you ask, compelled me to do this?

 

The answer is what made me take a walk is the same reason I am writing this follow-up commentary to yesterday's blog: Sitting at my desk all day may kill me. It may be doing the same for you. More...

Weight And Inactivity Are Threatening To Overtake Tobacco As Risk Factors For Cancer According To Annual Report To The Nation

by Dr. Len March 28, 2012

The "Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer" was released this afternoon as has been the case every year since the first report was issued in 1998. And, like many of the reports previously, we are fortunate to continue to see declines in the rates of deaths for many cancers along with a decrease in the frequency of some cancers.

 

However, the news is not all good.

 

Unfortunately, the incidence of some cancers continues to increase. And, as explained very clearly in this excellent report, this nation continues to suffer from an epidemic of overweight, obesity and physical activity that the authors suggest-but don't actually say-has the potential to overcome the favorable impact of declining smoking and tobacco use on cancer incidence and deaths. The implication is clear that if we don't do something-and do something quickly-to reverse the trend we will see incidence and deaths from certain cancers continue to increase in the future.

 

And I would stress the point that it is no longer just being oversized that increases your risk of cancer, but also sitting all day on the job (like I am doing right now) as another factor that plays into your cancer risk, independent of how large or small you may be. More...

Surgeon General's Report On Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: So If We Know What To Do, Why Aren't We Doing It?

by Dr. Len March 09, 2012

I had the opportunity yesterday to attend the event marking the release of the 31st Surgeon General's report on tobacco and smoking.

 

What struck me about this report-which focuses on tobacco use in youth and young adults--is that although we have made progress in the tobacco wars, we presently seem to be in a holding action. We are not making advances in reducing the incidence of smoking and use of smokeless tobacco products, although we are all well aware of their risks and harms.

 

The fundamental question remains: Although we have a pretty good idea of what works, when are we going to start reinvigorating our efforts to reduce the use of these killer products among our children?

 

As I have said many times before, tobacco is the one product readily and legally available in the United States that when used as intended will kill half the people who use it. 443,000 deaths a year, 1200 a day, $96 billion each year in direct medical costs and $97 billion in lost productivity. Those, my friends, are big numbers. And they are not just numbers: they are people. They are the people we love, the people we know, the people we work with. More...

It's Groundhog Day; So How Large Is Your Shadow ?

by Dr. Len February 02, 2012

It's Groundhog Day, and that means millions of people will focus their attention on a furry little creature in Punxsutawney PA to see whether or not the animal sees its shadow. Breaking news bulletins say that he did, so we have six more weeks of winter to look forward to.

 

I--on the other hand--think there is a greater significance to Groundhog Day. It is the day when I check on my own shadow, and determine whether or not I have kept my commitment to keeping my weight steady during the past year, which has proven to be a difficult accomplishment. The answer this year is mostly yes, partly no.

 

A brief history:

 

A couple of years ago I took a look at my weight charts for the past decade (yes, Virginia, there are some of us who do that). What I saw disturbed me: for the three previous years, my weight would go down in January and February when I would rigorously diet, only to rise over the remaining months of the year. And, on top of that, when I looked back I saw that both the peaks and valleys were becoming higher and higher, so that each year my weight at the bottom of the trough was higher, and so was the peak in December. And that, my friends, would not suggest a healthy outcome.

 

So I dubbed this observation my "Groundhog Day Diet," based on the Bill Murray film of the same name. You may remember the picture: Murray relives Groundhog Day every day until he gets it right. Much like Mr. Murray, I decided that I would get it right by not going through the same cycle year after year.

 

Finally, this year I met with some success: I did gain some weight, but the peak was lower. And the numbers on the scale were steadier over the course of the year. I partly accomplished my goal. Where I missed was that I still weigh too much, just like lots of you. And, as any good doctor would tell you, over time weight takes its toll on things like our joints, our blood pressure, our cholesterol, you name it. More...

Filed Under:

Diet | Environment | Exercise | Prevention

Cancer Facts and Figures 2011: Poverty is a Carcinogen. Does Anyone Care?

by Dr. Len June 17, 2011

"Poverty is a carcinogen."

 

Those were the words of Dr. Samuel Broder when he was director of the National Cancer Institute in 1989.  

 

As amply documented in the annual "Cancer Facts and Figures 2011" released today by the American Cancer Society, cancer shows that poverty remains one of the most potent a carcinogen-rivaling tobacco and obesity-as we have ever seen.

 

We have heard lots and lots about how cell phones and Styrofoam cause cancer.  But do you hear anyone talking about the huge impact of poverty and limited education on cancer?

 

If you don't hear anything about a true carcinogen that statistics show causes 37% of the deaths from cancer in people between the ages of 27 and 64, then maybe you have the answer to a very important question: If we are serious about reducing the burden and suffering from cancer, why aren't we paying attention to those most in need? More...

How Many Lives and $ Could Be Saved If Your State Had Smoke-free Air?

by Dr. Len June 15, 2011

$10.28

 

That is a number I want you to think about.  And as you think about it, consider the implications for your health, your wallet and your state budget.

 

$10.28 is the amount of money it costs for the health and economic consequences of smoking a pack of cigarettes.  Yes, that's right: our economy and our health care gets dinged $10.28 for each pack that someone smokes, every day, 365 days a year, for however many years.  That's a lot of money.

 

Who pays that cost?

 

We all pay those costs in salaries and wages (the money that is lost in productivity, health insurance premiums, etc) that we would otherwise have for investment in business or improved wages for workers.  We all pay those costs in higher taxes it costs our state and federal governments to provide health care and other benefits for caring for those unfortunate folks who suffer from the debilitating effects of smoking.

 

More important than the money, however, is how much we "pay" in personal "costs" when someone we love or someone we know dies as a result of tobacco, a product that when used as intended will kill half of its users.

 

All of this and more is contained in a report issued this afternoon by the American Cancer Society's advocacy affiliate American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).More...

At Long Last, Some Useful Rules About Sunscreens But Questions Remain

by Dr. Len June 14, 2011

Good things-hopefully-come to those who wait.

 

That time-worn phrase may well apply to today's announcement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they have (finally) updated the regulations as to how sunscreens must be tested and labeled to provide consumers with accurate information as to what is actually inside the sunscreen package.

 

Why the patience piece?  Because we have been operating for decades in the United States without effective, modern oversight of claims made by some sunscreen manufacturers.  Hopefully today's announcement by the FDA is the beginning of the process to correct that problem.

 

Too many people believe that what the claims they read on the sunscreen label-with words such as "sun block", water resistant, SPFs approaching 100-are in some way regulated by someone when in fact they actually are not. Today's announcement should help clear some of that confusion.

 

And, lost in all the babble is the fact that sunscreen is just one part of an effective approach to engage in sunsafe behavior. More...

New Announcement Refuels The Debate On Cell Phones And Cancer But Doesn't Provide An Answer

by Dr. Len May 31, 2011

With today's press release from the International Agency for Research on Cancer-commonly known as IARC-the cell phone controversy is certain to heat up once again.

 

Unfortunately, drawing broad and sweeping conclusions based on a press release and a news conference leaves many of us wondering just what the evidence shows that led to the conclusion announced today that "radiofrequency electromagnetic fields" may be possibly cause cancer in people. 

 

The quick translation of "radiofrequency electromagnetic fields"-or RMF-is huge, since this announcement is focused on the use of cell phones, which have been in widespread use by millions around the world for years.

 

So it is important to dissect the IARC statement for what it says-and what it doesn't say-and then try to interpret that information as it applies to our everyday lives. 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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