June 06, 2012
By Ted Gansler, MD, MBA, MPH
Most people's impression of pathology is based on the forensic pathologists in TV shows such as "CSI" (or, if you're my age, "Quincy, ME"). But for people facing cancer, there is another aspect of pathology to learn about - the testing that is done to find out whether an area of diseased tissue is benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).
Doctors often suspect that a person has cancer based on their physical exam findings and on the results of x-rays and scans. In the vast majority of cases, however, samples of cells (called cytology) or tissue samples (biopsies) must be tested to know for sure. And, if the tumor is cancerous, pathology testing will also determine what kind of cancer is present. This information is very important in guiding the treatment you receive, and in estimating your outlook for recovery and survival.
People receiving treatments for cancer usually get to know the teams of professionals who perform surgery and who prescribe and give their chemotherapy and radiation. On the other hand, you rarely meet the pathologists, technologists, and other laboratory professionals who test the biopsies, blood, and other specimens removed from your body. Learning about what they do with your samples can help you make informed decisions about your care. More...
April 18, 2012
By James C. Salwitz, MD
What does personal medicine mean to you? A doctor who greets with your name and a smile? Caregivers who listen? Physicians who know all about your case and every treatment you have received? We all want doctors who truly understand us. In the near future, this personal understanding will go deeper than ever before.
The instructions for life lie in our chromosomes. Everything about the way our bodies are built is coded in our DNA. Every cell, muscle, nerve, and organ is constructed from genetic blueprints. Tall or short, brown eyes or blue, man or woman, it is all in our genes. Genes define much of who we are and what makes us different. We now understand that genes have a lot to say about the diseases from which we suffer.
Some genes make us resistant to illness. We all know families where everyone lives into their 90s. Other genes increase the risk of specific disease. How often have we met siblings with the same illness? DNA codes how our bodies fight disease or heal from injury. Hard wired in our chromosomes are instructions to make drugs work, fail, or produce side effects. The human genetic code is often the key to health and to disease. More...
January 31, 2012
By Nathan Grey, MPH
For many years, global health has been associated with diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria. And rightly so. These diseases present significant threats to health around the world. But they aren't the only major killers. In fact, they're not even the leading killers anymore! Today, cancer claims more lives globally than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined, and the death toll from cancer is only going to grow.
How can this be? Well, there are two major factors that affect the growing impact of cancer around the world.
First, we've done a much better job of controlling diseases that used to kill people while they were still quite young. Vaccinations, new medications including antibiotics, and prevention programs (like providing bed nets to combat mosquitoes and malaria, and clean drinking water to curb a host of other water-borne illnesses) have led to people living longer. And as people live longer they are faced with the diseases more common to older age, such as cancer.
Second, when people live longer, there is a greater chance that they will be exposed to cancer-causing agents - like tobacco - at some point in their lives. Longer lives plus greater exposure to cancer-causing substances equals more cancer. More...
August 09, 2011
By Otis W. Brawley, MD, FACP
From time to time, I encounter advocates for research in certain diseases. These are people who want better answers for a specific cancer. Oftentimes these folks or a relative has had that particular cancer. They often ask, why is so little money spent on pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, or even lung cancer? Why can't we spend more? These are reasonable questions, and I want to try to address them in this piece.
First I caution against what I call "disease Olympics." This is when advocates for one disease try to increase funding for their disease by decreasing funding for another disease. I have often seen this in my 25 years as an oncologist, researcher, and scientific administrator. I would point out that 90% of the grants that are submitted and judged worthy of funding to the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, and other research-funding organizations are not funded due only to a lack of money. I believe the wise advocate tries to get more money for all cancer research and does not try to undermine another disease in favor of the disease that he or she is interested in. More...
July 19, 2011
By Ted Gansler, MD, MBA
An e-mail message that may have come into your inbox recently claims that dangerous levels of a cancer-causing chemical (benzene) are released from the plastic surfaces of automobile interiors. The e-mail recommends opening the vehicle's windows to remove the benzene before using the air conditioner.
Although benzene is linked to leukemia, very little research has looked at whether the interior surfaces of cars release dangerous amounts of benzene, and the information that is available does not support the e-mail's claims. More...
July 11, 2011
By Eric Jacobs, PhD
You may be wondering if you should start taking an aspirin every day, since you've heard that aspirin can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Or maybe your cholesterol level is a little high but you're concerned about taking a statin pill every day because you saw an Internet article that said lowering cholesterol by taking a statin might cause cancer.
Or recently, a study came out that suggested that using the over the counter pain reliever acetaminophen at least 4 times a week for 4 years, might increase risk of certain types of blood cancers.
Medications often have unexpected long-term effects, both good and bad, that are not fully known. We'd all like to understand the full range of risks and benefits of a drug before we take it. Or at least we'd like our doctors to understand them so they can help us make well-informed decisions. More...
June 02, 2011
By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD
Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled a new graphic, a new icon designed to help make it easier for all of us to eat a healthier diet. Called "MyPlate," this icon replaces the Food Guide Pyramid that, in one form or another, has been around since 1992. And it is a huge improvement. Especially because we eat off plates, not pyramids. More...
May 10, 2011
By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD
I just heard on the radio the other day that spring is more than halfway over. Before we know it, the year will be halfway over - and at that point, I always like to reflect back on the last six months, think about those resolutions I set at the beginning of the year, and see how I'm doing. It's a time for me to take stock, get real, and get back on track if need be.
At the beginning of the year, I did a little research to see just how popular setting New Year's resolutions is. According to surveys, about 50% of us will make some kind of resolution. And likely, those resolutions will be related to eating better, being more active, and losing weight.
April 26, 2011
By Katherine Sharpe, MTS
"It might be time to consider a clinical trial." I have heard this many times in my work with the American Cancer Society. Unfortunately, in most cases, people think of clinical trials as the option of last resort, so they consider one only when all other treatment options have failed.
But the truth is that clinical trials should always be considered as a treatment option. In fact, there are clinical trials for almost every type of cancer and stage of disease - there are even clinical trials for cancer prevention! Without clinical trials, we would see virtually no advances in cancer treatment.
The good news is that more and more people are considering a cancer clinical trial when they are first diagnosed - and that helps speed up breakthroughs in cancer care. But there is clearly a need for more people to learn about and consider this option.