June 02, 2012
Every year at this time cancer specialists and researchers from around the world descend on Chicago for the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) to hear the latest breakthroughs in cancer research and treatment.
Through all the fog of all the information--which is impossible for any one individual to evaluate much less comprehend--there is always the search for the "buzz," or the next "big thing" that will make a huge impact on cancer treatment and the lives of the patients we care for and the people we love who are affected by cancer.
This year, it is apparent already that one of this year's "big things" are the reports of new success in an old and ongoing effort to harness the body's own defense mechanisms to fight cancer. And--being the skeptic that I can be at times--I will throw my hat in the ring that maybe this is going to be one of those events that truly will impact cancer care. But despite the enthusiasm, we must always temper our expectations with reality and lessons we have learned from the past that early success doesn't always tell us the whole story.
Without going into great detail here, the reality is that in early stage trials an antibody drug now called "BMS-936558" produced significant responses in a number of patients who had certain advanced cancers and had failed multiple prior treatments. In these studies, patients with melanoma, kidney cancer and non-small cell lung cancer showed responses to this new drug and some of those responses lasted for over a year.
When you see these kinds of results in cancers that are ordinarily difficult to treat, and in patients who have failed multiple other therapies, that becomes news. More...
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...
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...
January 04, 2012
Welcome to the New Year!
And as has been the case for many years in the past, the American Cancer Society takes the New Year opportunity of providing the nation with the latest estimates of cancer incidence and deaths, along with a measure of how well we are doing in reducing the burden of cancer in the United States.
The data is contained in two reports released today by the Society: the consumer oriented Cancer Facts and Figures 2012 and the more scientifically directed Cancer Statistics 2012. Both are available online.
It is never "good news" to realize that the burden of cancer in this country is immense. And with the country gaining in population and age, the extent of that burden is inevitably going to increase. But this year's report does contain some welcome information, namely that cancer death rates have declined in men and women of every racial/ethnic group over the past 10 years, with the sole (and unfortunate) exception of American Indians/Alaska Natives. In addition, the Society now estimates that a bit more than one million cancer deaths (1,024,400 to be exact) have been avoided since 1991-1992.
That one million number is actually more significant than it seems. Many of the people in that 1 million never heard the words "you have cancer." Maybe they had a colon polyp removed before it became cancerous, maybe they stopped-or never started-smoking. Maybe they had a pap smear that found a pre-cancerous lesion. And then there are the patients who have benefitted from the advances in cancer treatment that have occurred over the past number of decades.
But the 1 million number also means that these are people who have hopefully remained active and engaged in life, loved by their families, productive in their communities. In economic terms, the return on investment on avoiding those one million deaths may likely be incalculable. In human terms, it is an amazing accomplishment. More...
November 17, 2011
It's that time of year again.
Thanksgiving is just a week away (go turkey!!!), which means today is the American Cancer Society's annual Great American Smokeout (or GASO for short). In fact, 2011 is the 36th year for the Smokeout, which makes it a longstanding (and successful) tradition in our world.
What, you may ask, is GASO?
Well, GASO is a day to focus on the opportunity--if you are a smoker or know someone who is--to make a commitment to quit, or perhaps a day to choose as your "quit day" if you were alert enough to plan ahead. It is a day when you can take a step that could be one of the most important ones you can make, a pledge to do something which could be the single greatest thing you can do for your health, a day to reduce your risk of death from cancer and many other diseases related to smoking.
Quitting isn't easy. We all know that. Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are among the most addicting substances we can take into our bodies. And the sad reality is that if you decide to smoke, the chances are about 1 in 2 that smoking will have a role in causing your death. And to make matters even worse, that death is likely to be premature.
In fact, every year in this country, 443,000 people die from tobacco related illnesses. More...
September 20, 2011
There are few times in life when one gets to watch history being made. Today is one of those times.
I am in New York with a number of colleagues from the American Cancer Society and other committed organizations to observe a UN High Level Meeting which will--at long last--put non-communicable diseases on the international agenda. The impact of the decisions made here over the next two days can indeed change the face of global health forever. More...
August 30, 2011
Today I would like to share with you some thoughts on the topic of the costs of cancer treatments. It is the result of a moment on Saturday morning while, in the midst of listening to hurricane coverage on television, I was scanning the pages of my morning paper. There in the headlines was the comment that the Food and Drug Administration on Friday-presumably a bit later in the day, since the article was posted online at 8PM-approved a new drug called crizotinib (Xalkori®) for the treatment of lung cancer.
The news didn't get much attention, likely because it was overwhelmed by the hurricane. But at any other time, I suspect it would have been all over the media since this drug in fact represents a breakthrough treatment for some patients with lung cancer (more on that later).
But as I read the rest of the story, I almost choked on my coffee when I saw the cost of the new treatment: $9600 a month for a medicine that consists of two pills a day. Now, to me in my world, that was news. Just off the top of my head, that seemed a pretty steep price for success. More...
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...
June 15, 2011
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...
May 23, 2011
Sometimes you just have to connect the dots to understand the world around us. And sometimes the picture those dots paint isn't one that is particularly nice.
I am beyond amazed that otherwise normal, clear thinking people can turn a blind eye to the harms of tobacco when it is their turn to make some extra money.
The case in point is the attitude that Wall Street has about investing in tobacco companies as a good way to make a buck. In fact, tobacco stocks are right up there on the investment list when it comes to "widows and orphans" stocks. Those are the stocks you want to be invested in because they are safe, generally do well in recessionary times, and actually pay a dividend that is real money.
What has set me off this time is a brief commentary in a business journal called Barron's, where a columnist I read regularly (and respect) made some comments this week about the outstanding profitability of a tobacco company that is known for their commitment to menthol cigarettes. More...