August 14, 2013
We've all heard the phrase, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Well, that saying may hold particular relevance while reviewing a new research report published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The report is an important one. It is an 18 year follow-up of a study designed to show whether the use of the drug finasteride could reduce the incidence and deaths from prostate cancer. The study was called the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial and when it was initially reported in 2003 it showed that the drug could reduce the incidence of prostate cancer by almost 25%. However, there was a catch: there was actually an increase of almost 27% in the number of high grade-or more serious-prostate cancers in the group treated with finasteride compared to those men who did not get the drug. The men in this trial were followed very closely. Since this trial was done in an era when PSA testing to find prostate cancer "early" was part of routine care, these men were screened regularly with the PSA test.
The originally reported results of the trial meant two things to the researchers: first, finasteride was successful in reducing the frequency of prostate cancer, but most of that decrease was in the lower grade, less harmful forms of the disease, and second, it raised the question of whether the drug actually promoted more serious forms of prostate cancer. Some experts argued that in fact there weren't more numerous high grade tumors, only that finasteride made it easier to find them thanks to the fact that it shrinks the prostate.
The debate on the relative merits of using finasteride has continued since. Suffice to say, the use of the drug didn't get much traction. In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration added information to the drug label that finasteride and similar drugs could increase the frequency of more lethal forms of prostate cancer and that the drugs were not approved for prostate cancer prevention.
Meanwhile, organizations such as the American Cancer Society have suggested that men should make an informed decision as to whether or not they really want to be screened for prostate cancer with PSA testing, and the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that men should not be screened at all for the disease. But the impact of finasteride on reducing the incidence and deaths from prostate cancer and "the rest of the story" remained unanswered. At least until now. More...
June 03, 2013
As we walk the halls and sit in the lectures at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, there's an elephant in the room. It is right there in front of us, but not many of us seem willing to talk about it. Fewer still are making any commitments to do something about it.
So what is this ubiquitous juxtaposition that is right in front of us but we can't seem to see?
It is the contrast between incredibly sophisticated science and computer data that will help us understand cancer and its treatment vs. the reality that we can't have medical records that really work. It is the fact that we have million dollar machines to treat cancer but we have tens of thousands of lives lost to cervical cancer in underdeveloped and underserved countries that could be saved with saved using vinegar. It is cancer care's version of the "guns vs. butter" debate of the 1960s. More...
May 24, 2013
Today is the beginning of Memorial Day weekend and the summer holiday season. It's a day to remember to enjoy your fried chicken, while not frying your skin. (OK, fried chicken isn't exactly healthy for you, but it is fun once in a while. Frying your skin is never healthy nor fun).
It is also Don't Fry Day, an annual reminder of the need to be sun safe while we enjoy the outdoors during the summer months. More...
May 22, 2013
One hundred years.
That is a long time. And although thriving, remaining relevant and engaged for 100 years is a remarkable accomplishment for any organization, the American Cancer Society today takes pride not only in reflecting on the accomplishments of the last 100 years but also in our commitment to continue the fight, and make this century cancer's last.
A lot will be written about the remarkable accomplishments of the Society over the past century. The American Cancer Society takes pride in the fact that it has been able to serve millions of people during that time. It has put its mark on numerous improvements in the science and treatment of cancer. We have made incredible strides in understanding cancer, what causes it and what influences it, including the role of tobacco and overweight/obesity. We have funded 46 Nobel Prize winners at some time during their careers, frequently when they needed a start to develop their theory which led to great discoveries. And we have funded numerous investigators who have made other important and lifesaving contributions to understanding cancer and reducing its burden.
But the list is not complete. There is still too much we don't understand about cancer, its causes, and its impacts on patients, their families, their communities. We have come to a "tipping point" in the cycle where we have unlocked the genetic code of cancer and are just beginning to transform that information into lifesaving treatments. We wrestle with the early detection and prevention of some cancers, at a time when we thought--incorrectly, as it turns out--that simply finding cancer early was enough. We struggle with finding a way to get access to lifesaving or life comforting treatments to those who are diagnosed with cancer but don't have the resources to follow their journey in the best way possible. We have millions of survivors, yet understand too little about the problems they face long term, let alone being able to provide them with a system of care to respond to their needs. We have made remarkable progress in keeping children with cancer alive, free of disease into adulthood, but we haven't acknowledged the terrible price some of them have to pay from the side effects of their treatments. More...
May 14, 2013
So May is skin cancer awareness month. No time like the present to come out with the news: I have been diagnosed with skin cancer.
There really isn't much special about that, since it is a distinction I share with over 2 million Americans who have a skin cancer removed every year. Fortunately, for most, it is a cancer that is not of particular concern since most can be removed. But even those "simple" surgeries--as I have learned from my own experience--can be a bit problematic.
Occasionally it helps to find some humor in difficult situations, and this is one of those times. And since I am generally pretty open about what goes on in my aging body--in an effort to help others understand that they are not alone on some of these issues--I have to hold myself out as an example of what NOT to do when it comes to taking care of yourself.
You see, I am supposed to know this stuff about skin cancer. I know the risks, I know how to prevent it, I know what it looks like, and I know what we are supposed to do when we see a suspicious lesion. Not only do I know these things, I talk and write about them frequently. I am supposed to have a certain level of expertise about skin cancer. In fact, this very month if you happen to be in a doctor's office and they have a closed circuit program from CNN's Accent Health, you will see my smiling face telling you what you need to know about skin cancer.
And if you look closely at my chin in that segment, you will see the little nodule on the left hand side that I chose to ignore--until some friends of mine would not let me ignore it any longer. More...
April 18, 2013
April is National Minority Health Month.
That's the "dry" statement. The impact statement is that-unfortunately-for many in this country, this is more than a phrase. It's a reality that their health and their health care are in crisis. And the sooner more of us understand this, the sooner we can make a genuine effort to implement effective strategies that will address the sad state of affairs many people find themselves in when it comes to their health, and preventing and appropriately treating their diseases.
This is about more than high blood pressure and diabetes. It's about heart disease and stroke and cancer and the list goes on. This is about neighborhoods were residents don't have a place to walk or may even have fear of walking outside their homes. This is about people living in communities where they can't find affordable, fresh vegetables and healthier foods. This is about not having access to a regular source of medical care, or getting timely treatment for conditions such as breast cancer which many of us take for granted. It is about assuring equitable and quality treatment once diagnosed. This is about the lack of trained health professionals from these communities who have roots and understanding of their cities, towns and neighborhoods where they might be able to make a real difference in the lives of so many people. More...
February 04, 2013
OK. So Groundhog Day was on Saturday this year, and unlike the furry little beast what I have to say each year around this time is just as good today as him looking for his shadow on Saturday.
What is all this about, you are probably asking yourself?
It is about an annual update that I started a couple of years ago on my blog to remind myself and those who are interested that losing weight and staying healthy is a tough slog and a major commitment which too often is not successful. Like many of you out there I am not immune to all the problems surrounding diet and trying to get weight under control. Try, try, try again and again, and hopefully one day we can all get it "right." That's why I dubbed this the Groundhog Day Diet, after the Bill Murray movie of a similar name where he strikes out to relive the same day again and again until he gets it "right."
And, let's face it: I am not alone in this dilemma. Many of us are in the same boat: we keep trying, but nothing seems to work. There are temptations and messages all around us that are leading us to eat ourselves into oblivion. We as a nation are becoming larger and larger, and now there are concerns that overweight and obesity-if left unchecked, and on their current trajectory-will result in reversal of the gains we have made in extending and improving life. But maybe--just maybe--with the new techologies offered by apps and smarphones we will be able to actually take control of our lives and our eating habits and make some real progress through more awareness and information in realtime at the moment we are making our choices about our diets. More...
January 23, 2013
"You've come a long way baby!"
That slogan from decades ago now returns with a new meaning and a new vengeance, according to a study released today in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The report, co-authored by Michael Thun, the recently retired vice president emeritus of the American Cancer Society along with colleagues from several outstanding institutions in the United States, shows clearly and unfortunately that women who are smokers are now neck and neck with men smokers when it comes to the relative risk of dying compared to non-smokers, whether it is from all causes, lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease (emphysema), and cardiovascular diseases including heart disease and stroke. (See below for an explanation of relative risk)
In a somewhat unvarnished tone, the authors write, "This finding is new and confirms the prediction that, in relative terms, 'women who smoke like men die like men.'" More...
January 10, 2013
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in this country. In 2012, the American Cancer Society estimates that there were about 226,000 people newly diganosed with lung cancer, and 160,000 deaths. If there is good news here-and unfortunately there isn't much good news when it comes to lung cancer-it is that deaths from this dreaded disease have been declining in men and women, since fewer people are smoking. But there is much we have to do to improve this picture.
That's one of the reasons the American Cancer Society is releasing new guidelines on screening for lung cancer. After carefully reviewing the available research, the Society has concluded that there is good evidence that lung cancer screening saves lives by reducing deaths from lung cancer (20% in largest carefully controlled study) in people at high risk when the screening is done by experienced, high-volume lung cancer screening programs.
So who should be screened? Who is at high risk?
According to the guidelines, those for whom lung cancer screening with low-dose chest CT scans are appropriate are people who are between the ages of 55 and 74 and who have smoked 30 pack years (a pack year is one pack of cigarettes a day for one year) or more or who have smoked 30 pack years in the past and quit within the last 15 years and are now within that age range. Those individuals who meet those criteria-should they choose to be screened-should have a low dose chest CT scan every year until age 74.
However, this isn't a blanket recommendation. There are other cautions in the guidelines that you should know about. More...
January 07, 2013
The positive news continues: cancer death rates have continued to fall in the United States, for men and women, maintaining a trend that began in the early 1990's. That's the essence of a report released today by the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The report, titled in part "Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2009" also features a special section on the burden and trends in Human Papilloma virus (HPV) associated cancers and HPV vaccination coverage levels. Unlike the continuing decline in cancer deaths in the United States, we could be doing a much better job of getting young folks vaccinated against HPV and reducing the incidence and death rates from several HPV-associated cancers, according to the authors of the report and an editorial that accompanied the report.
This report comes out every year. It is a summation of what we know about the trends in incidence rates for the most common cancers in the United States among both men and women as well as the trends in death rates from those cancers that lead to the highest mortality in the general population as well as specific ethnic groups. It is in a real sense a report card on our progress, which in large part is good but in a number of cancers, not so good.
The good news is what we have come to expect: since the year 2000, the overall cancer death rates have continued to decline 1.8% per year in men, 1.4% in women and 0.6% per year in children. That may not sound like much, but when you consider the fact that this is an average change seen every year, those numbers begin to add up. More...