Articles Posted in Cancer

davincirobot-300x176Hospitals finally are saying bull feathers to the leading maker of surgical robots that cost institutions millions of dollars annually to buy and maintain. New lawsuits against Intuitive Surgical dispute the company’s business practices, including the exclusivity it demands for its costly services and products.

But will the civil claims also crack open the door to bigger questions about daVinci robots and other such medical devices and whether they benefit patients or just add backbreaking costs to their hospital bills?

Intuitive has declined to comment on the suits filed against it in federal courts in California by the Franciscan and Kaleida health systems. The company has denied one aspect of the media reports about the suits — that it shut down its robots remotely in the middle of a patient’s operation, forcing a surgeon and his team to improvise and finish the procedure (without problems) using standard techniques.

fentanylillustration-300x99Just as attorneys generals for more than a dozen states inch toward a multibillion-dollar settlement with a drug maker faulted for its big role in the start of the opioid abuse and drug overdose crisis, that health menace is taking a new, deadly turn in the region around the nation’s capital.

In Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, officials report they are grappling with spiking overdose deaths, numbering in the hundreds, and blamed on the rise of fentanyl. It is a synthetic, prescription painkiller developed to assist late-stage cancer patients. It packs a wallop. And Big Pharma companies pushed for its wider use with aggressive marketing and sales campaign that landed some drug executives in jail.

The excessive promotion of fentanyl also led to its illegal manufacture, notably in chemical factories in China. Its increasing abuse, along with other opioids, also opened the door to big problems with illicit drugs.

colorectalcancerhotspotmap-300x230While technological advances may help provide crucial warnings to young men, especially those who are black, about their heightened risk of early-onset colorectal cancer, the rise of other high-tech diagnostic aids may only worsen built-in, harmful racial biases in an array of medical practices.

Researchers at the University of Chicago, to their credit, have sought the assistance of health providers across the country to inventory and assess increasingly common medical software and the algorithms on which they rely to ensure whiz-bang decision-making tools don’t discriminate against patients of color.

The early results are distressing, showing how well-intentioned experts inject prejudices into programs that can lead to racially unfair choices about patient care. Ziad Obermeyer, an emergency medicine physician and co-author of the Chicago research, told Stat, the science and medical news site, this about algorithms used in many diagnostic tools:

summerfun-221x300In these uncertain times, the start of summer — marked unofficially by the just-passed, long Memorial Day weekend — may have caught more than a few of us by surprise. Seasonal health and safety precautions, however, should be well considered and carefully carried out, especially by parents.

All of us, for example, must step up our safeguards against damages caused by exposure to the sun, reported Jane Brody, the longtime health and wellness columnist for the New York Times. She noted that she, like many people, talked a good game about avoiding peak burn times of the day and slathering on sunscreen. She didn’t always follow through, though she has recommitted to doing so for a reason, she wrote:

“I hereby pledge to do better this yearalbeit late in the game. A new report from a dermatology team at Kaiser Permanente health care centers in California has prompted me to reform. The team, headed by the epidemiologist Lisa Herrinton in Oakland, followed nearly half a million patients seen at the centers for up to 10 years. Half had already developed one or more actinic keratosis, a precancerous rough, scaly skin lesion caused by years of unprotected sun exposure. As you might expect, these lesions most often form on the face, ears, back of the hands, forearms, scalp and neck and are — or should be — routinely removed when found by dermatologists to prevent progression to cancer. The lesions are markers of sun damage and can serve as an early warning system for people at risk of developing cancer somewhere on sun-exposed skin. While the hazard is greatest for people with light skin, blue eyes, freckles, or red hair, having a dark complexion is not a free pass. Tanning, not just burning, is a form of sun damage.”

cigsmenthols-300x227The Biden Administration will ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars with new regulations to be issued within the next year — actions that Big Tobacco is expected to battle but which proponents say could have big health benefits for those who have been targeted to buy and use these products.

Smoking is a leading cause of death in this country, and especially among African Americans, with critics saying cigarette makers have exploited communities of color, the poor, and LGBTQ people with flavorings to popularize damaging goods. As the Washington Post reported of the announced plans of the federal Food and Drug Administration:

“[Its] menthol ban would reduce health disparities between white and black smokers. About 85% of African American smokers use menthol cigarettes, three times the rate of white smokers, and their rate of quitting smoking has not declined as quickly as it has for whites. As a result, black smokers suffer disproportionate rates of disease and death. Similarly … the effort to remove menthol and flavorings from small cigars [is] a way to prevent young people from starting the smoking habit and helping them quit. The small cigars are increasingly popular with young smokers; more high school smokers now use small cigars than cigarettes.”

cig-150x150President Biden, who lost a son to the disease, has a personal commitment to fighting cancer. He has made improving Americans’ health a top priority of his administration, calling for trillions of dollars in government spending in this area. He also has said he wants his officials to be at the fore in slashing at racial inequities in health care.

These are big reasons why the NAACP, along with a leading black doctors’ group and other activists have called on Biden and Xavier Becerra, the head of the federal Health and Human Services agency, to take the steps, finally, to ban menthol flavorings in cigarettes. The Washington Post reported on the latest developments in this long-running campaign:

“Menthol is the only flavor allowed in cigarettes; others were prohibited by a 2009 law. The FDA has said it will respond by April 29 to a lawsuit stemming from a citizen petition filed seven years ago that sought a prohibition on menthol in cigarettes. Within the agency, there is strong support for banning both menthol cigarettes and small cigars, which are popular with young people, according to several administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue. The White House is weighing whether to take the first steps to ban menthol. President Biden is almost certain to be involved in the decision …”

waitingroom-2-300x202Patients packed in their doctors’ waiting rooms in pre-pandemic times may have looked around and wondered: Why are there so many seniors here receiving medical care?

It isn’t just age that gets older Americans in numbers to treatment for illness or injury or preventive care — it’s also, of course, their qualification at 65 for government-supported medical insurance, aka Medicare. That, perhaps, unsurprising conclusion has been affirmed by Stanford doctors and researchers in newly published research. The study also offers important insights on delayed treatment and the crucial role played by health insurance.

The work involved running down a hunch of Dr. Joseph Shrager, a cardiothoracic surgeon who wondered why so many older patients he saw were diagnosed with lung cancer at age 65 — and not, say, at 61, or 64? He discussed the observation with colleagues who concurred in their curiosity about Medicare eligibility and its role in disease diagnosis. As the university news service reported of the insurance hypothesis:

cancerexam-300x225One consequence of the coronavirus pandemic may be showing up in tragic fashion: Cancer specialists say they are treating a wave of advanced cases in which patients might have benefited from earlier care had fear of Covid-19 infection not kept them away from doctors’ offices and hospitals.

The information about the harms of missed appointments, especially for important cancer tests and screenings, is, at present, more anecdotal than quantifiable in hard data, the New York Times reported. But the newspaper quoted doctors across the country reporting this:

“While it is too early to assess the full impact of the delays in screenings, many cancer specialists say they are concerned that patients are coming in with more severe disease. ‘There’s no question in practice that we are seeing patients with more advanced breast cancer and colorectal cancer,’ said Dr. Lucio N. Gordan, the president of the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, one of the nation’s largest independent oncology groups. He is working on a study to see if, overall, these missed screenings resulted in more patients with later-stage cancers.”

gofundme-300x130Modern medicine may be providing patients with significant improvements in key treatment areas, but the cost of care has become so crushing that online campaigns for charitable medical aid have become heartbreakingly common in the United States.

A team of researchers from institutions across the country reported that the well-known GoFundMe website, between May 2010 and December 2018, had provided a platform for more than 1 million aid appeals — with 281,881 of these (26.7%) created to cover individuals’ health care–related costs.

Most of the fund-raising sought to assist cancer patients, with individuals suffering trauma and injuries, or neurological disorders trailing in number of campaigns. As the authors observed in their published study of these pitches:

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