EXPERT VOICES

Timely insight on cancer topics from the experts of the American Cancer Society

American Cancer Society Expert Voices

The American Cancer Society

What is Blue Button?

September 16, 2013

[Ed. note: This guest post by Lygeia Ricciardi of the Office of Consumer eHealth, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, US Department of Health and Human Services, explains how the Blue Button can help you access and use your healthcare records.]

 

Wouldn't you like to have key information about your health or the health of a loved one safely and easily accessible via mobile phone or computer?

Think of Blue Button as an easy way for you to get your health records securely and electronically. It won't magically fix everything, but it's paving the way for a more personalized, convenient, and higher quality healthcare experience for patients and their families by putting vital information at their fingertips.

The Blue Button symbol is now appearing on health-related websites nationwide. Click it to get key information from your personal health records securely and electronically from your doctor, insurance company, pharmacy, or lab. You can check your information, share it, and use it to manage your health... and make your life easier. More...

Filed Under:

General

Menthol cigarettes - what's the big deal ?

August 28, 2013

By Thomas J. Glynn, PhD


The discussion around whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should keep or ban menthol-flavored cigarettes has produced a number of news headlines in recent weeks, because in July the agency released a report reviewing current science around these cigarettes. This science will inform many of the decisions the agency may make about menthol cigarettes, and the millions of current and potential smokers who will be affected by those decisions. But the menthol story goes back much further than just the past few weeks.

Menthol and cigarettes: a brief history


Menthol is an organic compound which can be made in a laboratory or derived from mint oils, and has a distinctive and, for most people, pleasant odor and taste. It is used to enhance the flavor, popularity, and ease-of-use of many food products, candies, and medications.

As a medication, it can be used as a mild local anesthetic, counter-irritant, and, more specifically, for the relief of minor throat irritation. That is why menthol was first introduced in cigarettes in the 1920's and gained broader popularity with the introduction of a filtered menthol brand, Salem, in the mid-1950's.

Over the years, largely because they mask the harsh taste and/or throat-irritating properties of inhaled tobacco smoke, mentholated cigarettes have gained a wide audience, such that about 30% of all 44 million smokers in the U.S. now identify menthols as their preferred cigarette. This is especially true among African American smokers, about 80% of whom are menthol users. More...

New cancer genes: should I run to be tested?

August 07, 2013

By Mia M. Gaudet, PhD


Scientists have long cautioned that a family history of cancer increases your personal risk of cancer. Some genetic changes (mutations) that are found in only a few families but tremendously increase risk of cancer (e.g., BRCA1/2) have been known since the 1990s.  These mutations are already used by doctors to identify high risk men and women. However, there is still much of the genetic component of cancer that is unknown. Advances in genetics and technology now allow scientists to look at common changes in the genetic code to see if these changes are related to risk of cancer. 

Researchers are trying to answer these questions. Recently, an international group of cancer investigators linked 74 genetic regions to cancer. These newly identified genetic regions contain common changes in their code (called polymorphisms) that have only small effects on the risk of cancer. But when you combine many polymorphisms, that risk increases.

These new polymorphisms were found by studying the genetic make-up of more than 200,000 people. Women with and without breast cancer, women who had mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2, women with and without ovarian cancer, and men with and without prostate cancer participated in the studies. More...

Can your sunscreen pose a health risk?

July 22, 2013

By Kenneth Portier, PhD

 

Recently, manufacturers have introduced new sunscreen products that use titanium dioxide, a typical ultraviolet (UV) radiation blocker found in many sunscreens, formed into tiny nanoscale particles. Why use nanoscale titanium dioxide? Because at this small size the particles do not block visible light, and therefore the sunscreen is invisible when applied to the skin and at the same time provides protection from cancer-causing UV radiation.

Titanium dioxide is an excellent UV-blocker, but there has been some concern about its safety because in dry powder form, titanium dioxide is highly toxic when inhaled. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies the dry powder form of titanium dioxide as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

It's not yet clear, though, whether other forms of titanium dioxide, such as the nanoparticles used in sunscreen, also pose a risk. More...

Filed Under:

Skin Cancer

Does drinking alcohol increase the risk of cancer?

June 26, 2013

By Susan M. Gapstur, PhD, MPH


Do you enjoy an occasional, or even a daily, glass of wine, beer, or other drink that contains alcohol? Many adults do. Indeed, 37% of adults in the U.S. report drinking low to moderate amounts, which is, on average, up to 1 drink per day if you are a woman, and 2 drinks per day if you are a man. Another 28% of adults drink more each day, which is considered heavy drinking. A drink of alcohol is generally defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

Modest Benefit but Many Risks Associated with Alcohol Drinking


While low to moderate alcohol consumption is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, drinking too much alcohol can increase risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, sudden death and stroke. Overall, alcohol consumption is one of the top 10 contributors to sickness and death from injuries, motor vehicle crashes, homicides and suicides, sexual assaults, sexually transmitted infections from unsafe sex, falls, birth defects, depression, disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, and sleep disorders.

Additionally, there is a lot of evidence that drinking alcohol increases the risk of several cancers. In 2007, a working group of experts convened by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reviewed the scientific evidence on alcohol and cancer risk for 27 different anatomic sites. They found sufficient evidence that alcohol drinking is a cause of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and female breast. And for cancers of the mouth, larynx, and esophagus, when people drink and use tobacco, the risks are combined to be greater than either tobacco use or alcohol use alone! More...

Filed Under:

Diet/Exercise | General

Choosing the best prostate cancer treatment for you

June 13, 2013

By Durado Brooks, MD, MPH

 

Much of the recent news about prostate cancer has focused on screening. In reality, screening is only one piece of the prostate cancer picture.  More than 238,500 men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. Most of these men will have to weigh a variety of treatment options and make a series of decisions about managing their disease.

So let's look at some of the important questions men need to ask when facing a diagnosis of prostate cancer, and information they can use to help make these important decisions.


Question: "Does my cancer need to be treated?"

Answer: The fact that this is even a question comes as a big surprise to many men. The idea that they have cancer - but not treating the cancer - runs counter to the widely held belief that doing something is always better than doing nothing. In fact, most prostate cancers grow very slowly, and men diagnosed with prostate cancer often have other health concerns (like heart disease or lung disease). In many cases these other health issues pose a greater threat to a man's health than does the prostate cancer. It is also clear that the most commonly used treatments for prostate cancer can all cause significant side effects and complications (detailed in the next sections) in some men. This combination of slow growing cancer + other health issues + possible treatment complications means that, many times, treating the cancer will cause harm to the man but will not improve his health or extend his life. In other words, the treatment can actually be worse than the disease for some men. More...

Cancer Survivors: Make Changes for Long-term Health Gains

May 28, 2013

By Corinne Leach, MPH, MS, PhD

If you are a cancer survivor, whether you're currently in treatment or completed treatment long ago, you are far from alone. The estimated number of cancer survivors in the United States is currently 13.7 million and will continue to grow as our population gets older. By 2022, we expect there to be 18 million cancer survivors.

Cancer researchers are working hard to find cancers earlier, improve treatment, and decrease the negative side effects commonly associated with treatment, like fatigue, pain, lymphedema, and chemo brain. Many people come into the cancer experience with other chronic health conditions (e.g., diabetes, hypertension, arthritis), and many more develop additional conditions after their cancer treatment ends.

An important question is:  what can I do to stay as healthy as possible and feel as good as I can after cancer? The good news is that making changes in your lifestyle can make a difference in your long-term health. Here at the American Cancer Society we recently developed physical activity and healthy eating recommendations specifically for cancer survivors. But what do they mean for you? More...

Filed Under:

Survivorship

Can breastfeeding lower breast cancer risk?

May 07, 2013

By Debbie Saslow, PhD


There are a limited number of things that women can do to lower their risk of breast cancer, including getting regular physical activity, limiting alcohol, and maintaining a healthy weight. Breastfeeding has often been included in the protective behaviors against breast cancer, but the research has been inconsistent.

Looking at the research on breastfeeding and breast cancer risk, it is clear that this has been a difficult area to study. If breastfeeding does lower risk, the level of protection is small and depends on women breastfeeding for a long time.  In countries such as the U.S., most women who breastfeed their babies stop after several months, or they breastfeed less frequently as they start to supplement with formula and baby food. Women who have many children and breastfeed each baby for a long time seem to be at somewhat lower risk of breast cancer than women who have smaller families and breastfeed for a shorter time. Studies that have found that breastfeeding does lower breast cancer risk have also found that protection builds up over time (that is, duration of breastfeeding) and number of children that are breastfed.

The major study (Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer; Lancet, 2002 Jul 20; 360 (9328): 187-95) that supports breastfeeding as protective against breast cancer was published in 2002. The researchers analyzed 47 studies in 30 countries; these studies had information about 50,000 women with invasive breast cancers and 97,000 women without breast cancer.  The study authors found that the rate of breast cancer diagnoses was slightly lower among women who had breastfed and among women who had breastfed for longer periods of time. More...

Filed Under:

Breast Cancer | Debbie Saslow

Is it a mole or melanoma?

April 30, 2013

By Daniel Mark Siegel, MD, MS


Winter is ending and the temptation to shed some layers comes alive.

But if you do show off your body, pay attention -- particularly if you are a mole-y person with dozens of moles, especially funny looking irregular ones all over the place. You may have a condition called "dysplastic nevus syndrome" or "familial atypical multiple mole-melanoma syndrome," which makes you more likely to develop melanoma.  Nevus is the fancy Latin word for "mole," which is a benign growth, but melanoma is a skin cancer that if not diagnosed and treated early can be lethal.

The difficulties of diagnosing melanoma


Fortunately, there are a lot more nevi (not nevuses) than melanoma.  So how do you tell them apart? Sometimes it is easy for your doctor to reassure you, but other times, even with the use of the skilled eyes of the dermatologist and added magnification, dermoscopy, and other evolving imaging techniques, it's still not clear. In such cases, a biopsy is needed.

A biopsy is where all or part of a mole is removed, sent to the lab, and a report of the analysis comes back. Sometimes the report is straightforward and says "benign mole" with no need for further treatment. Other times it reports a melanoma with descriptive staging terms that guide further therapy. More...

Filed Under:

Skin Cancer

Can you trust that medical journal?

April 18, 2013

By Ted Gansler, MD, MBA, MPH

 

Ed. note (10/10/13): Dr. Gansler has an update to this blog, originally published 4/18/13.
In an interesting update on this topic, Science magazine recently published results of a "sting operation" intended to identify bogus journals. A journalist from Science fabricated an intentionally bogus article about a fictitious anti-cancer drug, with errors so obvious that, "Any reviewer with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry and the ability to understand a basic data plot should have spotted the paper's short-comings immediately." Shockingly, the vast majority of journals that received this article failed to notice these obvious flaws and agreed to publish it... for a fee. For more details, see http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6154/60.full.

An article in the April 8 New York Times titled "Scientific Articles Accepted (Personal Checks, Too)" caught my attention. It describes the growing availability of free online medical journals that use questionable tactics to gather and publish research of questionable quality.

The article piqued my interest because the experiences of some researchers described in it are similar to my own. I am also an editor of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, one of the American Cancer Society's medical journals, so I have an interest in the world of journal publishing.

But more importantly, I wanted to write about this topic because this is an issue that can affect cancer patients, survivors, and their loved ones, all of whom increasingly seek out information from medical journals. More...

Filed Under:

General | Ted Gansler

About the Blog

Expert Voices will give you more than the statistics: it will give you insight. More