Articles Posted in Cancer

alcohol-248x300When topics like booze and health flow together, common sense seems to disappear. So let’s give credit to the context-restoring efforts of Aaron Carroll— a pediatrics faculty member at Indiana University medical school, a health policy researcher, and a writer for the New York Times’ “Upshot” column—and healthnewsreview.org, a health information watch dog site.

Both addressed a “panic” in certain quarters generated by a new caution issued by the American Society of Clinical Oncologists. The respected organization of cancer medical specialists said that even light alcohol consumption can add to drinkers’ cancer risks.

As Carroll summarized the cancer experts warning:

Marijuana-206x300Let’s give them their just deserts and dispatch them with alacrity. In this week’s hokum alert:

choosing-wisely@2x-300x197Up to a third of medical spending goes for over-treatment and over-testing, with an estimated $200 billion in the U.S. expended on medical services with little benefit to patients. But getting doctors and hospitals to stop this waste isn’t easy, nor is it a snap to get patients to understand what this problem’s all about so they’ll push their health care providers to do something about it.

Which is why kudos  go to Julie Rovner, of the nonprofit, independent Kaiser Health News Service, and National Public Radio for the recent story on how older women with breast cancer suffer needlessly and run up wasteful medical costs due to over-testing and over-treatment.

Rovner and Kaiser Health News worked with a medical benefit management company to analyze records of almost 4,500, age 50-plus women who received care for early-stage breast cancer in 2017. She found that just under half of them got a medically appropriate, condensed, three-week regimen of radiation therapy. Research has shown this care is just as effective as a version that’s twice as long, costs much more, and subjects patients to greater inconvenience, especially with more side-effects.

condoms-300x200Gentlemen, rev those engines of anxiety: Male infertility rates are on the rise, as are those for testicular cancer. Meantime, a global effort to improve one of the most common forms of male contraception may provoke some uncomfortable discussions about masculine misconceptions.

When there’s a break in the Major League Baseball championships, or the NCAA or NFL football regular season football games, or the NBA basketball contests, see how much the buds can be startled by researchers’ latest medical worry about men, as summarized in a summer Newsweek report:

Sperm levels—the most important measurement of male fertility—are declining throughout much of the world, including the U.S. [A review of] thousands of studies … concluded that sperm concentration had fallen by 52 percent among men in Western countries between 1973 and 2011. Four decades ago, the average Western man had a sperm concentration of 99 million per milliliter. By 2011, that had fallen to 47.1 million. The plummet is alarming because sperm concentrations below 40 million per milliliter are considered below normal and can impair fertility.

Collinslab-300x300Is Uncle Sam launching a way to speed and improve   cancer treatments so they get to patients sooner—or is Big Pharma about to fleece taxpayers, yet again? The National Institutes of Health should carefully consider its just announced, five-year public-private partnership with a dozen drug makers, the “Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies” or PACT.

Under this agreement, the makers each will pony up $1 million annually or a total of $55 million over the term of the accord. The NIH, in turn, will provide $160 million of its formidable research support.

The aim is to “identify, develop and validate robust biomarkers — standardized biological markers of disease and treatment response — to advance new immunotherapy treatments that harness the immune system to attack cancer,” the agency says.

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.

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