Articles Posted in Cancer

cdccancer-271x300Those carrying around a few pounds extra, or maybe even a lot more, may want to get moving and to drop that excess weight for yet more compelling health causes: That’s because more than 630,000 Americans were diagnosed in 2014 with cancers linked to obesity or overweight, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported.

The CDC says 40 percent of all diagnosed cancers were associated with obesity. At a time when the nation is seeing some success in reducing overall rates of diagnosed cancers, a baker’s dozen of overweight-related cancers increased 7 percent between 2005 and 2014. Two out of three of the cancers occurred in those 50- to 74-years-old.

Federal officials have found that more than half of Americans don’t know there’s a connection between 13 kinds of cancers (see diagram) and excess weight. It took public health officials decades to persuade the public that smoking posed cancer health risks and people needed to stop—and Big Tobacco still resorts to unceasing, deceptive tactics to undermine this awareness.

kaiser-drugs-300x225Big Pharma and medical device makers have mastered the art of crying “Poor me!” complaining without end about the time and costs of getting products to the market and the need for regulators to lighten up. New information, however, undercuts this industry whine—and it reminds that the nation’s watchdogs need, if anything, to be tougher and more vigilant.

Let’s start with new research, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, that calls into question Big Pharma’s long-espoused position that its whopping prices (which the public wants official action on—see graphic) are warranted because a new drug costs upward of $3 billion to research and develop. But based on a scrutiny of public information about expenses to develop 10 new cancer drugs—among the most costly to get to market—researchers found drug makers’ R&D costs were far less — closer to $650 million.

Although independent experts praised the new study, drug makers challenged the cheaper R&D estimates, with backing from Tufts researchers’ who had set the earlier, pricier benchmark. It’s difficult to make apples and oranges comparisons. That’s because Big Pharma wants any tally of its drug development expenses to include its costly failures.

IBM_Watson-300x201Watson_bruce-150x150Technology is  transforming medicine without a doubt, but its proponents—including one of the computing industry’s titans—may be getting ahead of themselves in boasting about their devices’ capacities.

Stat, the online health information news site that had a rocky week of its own, deserves credit for reporting  that IBM at present is overselling the medical capacities of its Watson super computer.

Big Blue’s “Dr. Watson,” promoted as an innovative, speedy, and influential diagnostician and medical advisor nonpareil, may be more like the Dr. Watson played by Nigel Bruce in black and white Sherlock Holmes movies starring Basil Rathbone. Watson’s pleasant, records what somebody more important is doing, and, occasionally, with bumbling good luck, he stumbles his way into valuable insight.

CAR-T-image-300x274Drug makers have just shown not only their verve in pursuing new ways to treat cancer and heart disease but also their nerve in pricing these novel therapies as if sick patients had the wealth of mega lottery winners. Just look at what Novartis is doing with the medications Kymirah and canakinumab, a drug now marketed under the brand name Ilaris.

One the one hand, it’s hard not to admire the medical science behind both, notably first Kymirah. The drug has been newly approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration to treat children and young adults for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a “devastating and deadly” form of the blood cancer that has resisted standard treatment and often resulted in disheartening relapses.

But Kymirah, regulators agreed, offers a treatment “milestone” because it “genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight cancer,” converting them into a “living drug,” and training them “to recognize and attack the disease.” This Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell Therapy (see illustration) “is part of the rapidly growing field of immunotherapy that bolsters the immune system through drugs and other therapies and has, in some cases, led to long remissions and possibly even cures,” as the New York Times has reported.

jjbabypowder-150x150What exactly causes cancer? That may be, recent news reports indicate:

booze-256x1024It’s more than happy hour chardonnays with office mates or malt liquors  at a summer barbecue.

Public health experts are warning that alcohol drinking is rising sharply, and in especially worrisome fashion for women, seniors, African Americans, Latinos, and Americans of Asian descent. As the nation struggles with addiction crises—especially a plague of opioid drug abuse—booze woes may be getting less than their deserved attention.

Our heavy and increasing alcohol consumption, as captured in a sizable and regular survey of Americans’ tippling habits, should be of big concern. That’s because experts note that it can “portend increases in many chronic co-morbidities in which alcohol use has a substantial role.”

pills-300x129Even as drug makers are settling or scrambling to resolve disputes with regulators over dubious ways they peddle products, Big Pharma is busting records for its spending to lobby lawmakers on skyrocketing prices, easing industry oversight, and other issues critical not only to the sector but also to tens of millions of consumers.

It’s distressing how news reports continue to show not only the flood of money in prescription drugs but also how medication makers put profit motives ahead of other concerns like the public interest.

Take for example the $280 million that Celgene has agreed to pay to settle fraud claims over its marketing of Thalomid and Revlimid for unapproved uses.

cig-300x225The nation’s long war on one of its leading preventable killers has taken a surprising tactical turn, as the head of the federal Food and Drug Administration has declared that tobacco companies will face new regulations aimed at slashing nicotine in cigarettes.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb argues that cutting the noxious and addictive nicotine will help Americans unhook themselves from tobacco use, prompting less cigarette smoking, and, potentially increasing the use of possibly less harmful health vices, like nonburning “e-cigarettes” for vaping.

Gottlieb, at the same time, put further off a planned FDA crackdown on e-cigarette makers, delaying for several years requirements that they disclose ingredients in their colorful, flavored vaping liquids and demonstrate that they and other e-cigarette products do not cause health harms.

Pinocchio_Smoking-300x169Tougher ratings for movies targeting teen-agers and higher cigarette taxes may be two good ways to crack down on Big Tobacco’s persistent and harmful peddling of its poisonous wares, health experts say, based on information flowing from the sprawling Golden State.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just assessed Hollywood’s progress in reducing depictions of tobacco in the movies, finding that, under pressure from anti-smoking campaigns,  Tinsel Town had slashed its showing of the use or implied use of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookah, smokeless tobacco products and electronic cigarettes from 2005 to 2010. But that progress has reversed since then, and now, based on top 10 grossing movies in any calendar week, cinematic depictions of tobacco use has soared by 80 percent.

Although pictures rated G or PG, those films most accessible to the broadest movie-going audiences, saw reductions in their showing of smoking and other tobacco use, depictions of these negative health practices rose sharply in movies aimed more at teenagers and older youths  in those works with ratings of PG-13 (by 43 percent) and R (by 90 percent).

opioid-graficAlthough Americans may like to think that it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter as much as it does, where they live can have major effects on their health. Geography isn’t an absolute determinant, but key differences have been discerned in how it affects the prescribing dangerous opioid drugs, cancer death rates, some air pollution harms, and risks of insect-related infections. Let’s look at specifics:

Opioid prescribing dips but data show big regional differences

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided a rare glimmer of good news about the nation’s epidemic of powerful painkiller abuse, finding that the peak of doctors’ opioid drug prescribing appears to have occurred in 2010 and has dropped sharply since.

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