What I choose to remember about Shirley Temple is that she lived for 41 years after having a mastectomy for breast cancer. In 1972 she spoke openly about her medical condition, and encouraged other women to seek medical care if they noticed a lump, and not to be afraid of the disease. She made it easier for us, today, to talk about breast cancer treatment and options.
There’s so much weird and exciting cancer news this week, it’s hard to keep up! Double-kudos to Andrew Pollack on his front-page and careful coverage in the New York Times of the hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (Hipec) technique that’s being used at some name-brand health care facilities to treat colon cancer. First, he spares no detail […]
a poem for Wednesday: I was touched by this headline in yesterday’s news: Japan nuclear crisis may have a silver lining for radiation health research. Yeah, and cancer is a gift. — The wasabi is too hot, NPR shared yesterday, and I agree. This radiation story has a long half-life, whether we write on it […]
So many others have written on Wakefield’s fraud, and considered the role of the press in perpetuating the notion that vaccines cause autism, I wasn’t going to cover it here on ML. But I do think there are a few instructive points from this “lesson” about medical communication and news:
1. People aren’t always rational in their decisions about health care. (This is an understatement.)
I learned of a new study implicating stress in reduced breast cancer survival by Twitter. A line in my feed alerted me that CNN’s health blog, “Paging Dr. Gupta,” broke embargo on the soon-to-be-published paper in the journal Clinical Cancer Research. The story – that women who undergo a stress relief program live longer after […]
Today the NY Times printed the third part of Amy Harmon’s excellent feature on the ups and downs and promise of some clinical trials for cancer. The focus is on a new drug, PLX4032, some people with melanoma who chose to try this experimental agent, and the oncologists who prescribed it to them.
What I like about this story is that, besides offering some insight on the drug itself, it balances the patients’ and doctors’ perspectives; it explains why some people might elect to take a new medication in an early-stage clinical trial and why some physicians push for these protocols because they think it’s best for their patients.
And it provides a window into the world of academic medicine, where doctors’ collaborate among themselves and sometimes with corporations.
Here’s some of what I learned:
There’s promising news on the breast cancer front.
A study published on-line this week in The Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO) suggests that regular, low-dose aspirin use reduces the risk of recurrence and death from breast cancer among women who’ve had stage I, II or III (non-metastatic) disease.
This is a phenomenal report in three respects:
1. The dramatic results: among women who’ve had breast cancer, regular aspirin use was associated with a reduced risk of recurrence and of death from cancer by more than half;
2. The relevance; these findings might affect millions of women living after breast cancer, today;
3. The cost: aspirin is widely available without patent restriction. Aspirin costs around $5 for 100 tablets, several months’ supply.
Why bother, you might ask – wouldn’t it be easier to drop the subject?
“Make it go away,” sang Sheryl Crow on her radiation sessions.
I’ll answer as might a physician and board-certified oncologist who happens to be a BC survivor in her 40s: we need establish how often false positives lead, in current practice, to additional procedures and inappropriate treatment…These numbers matter. They’re essential to the claim that the risks of breast cancer screening outweigh the benefits.
Last week I received an email from a former patient. He has hemochromatosis, an inherited disposition to iron overload. His body is programmed to take in excessive amounts of iron, which then might deposit in the liver, glands, heart and skin. He mentioned “some amazing videos on hematology and hemochromatosis and genetics” he’d discovered on YouTube.
This is the future of medicine, I realized. … Whether physicians want their patients to search the Internet for medical advice is beside the point. We’re there already, whether or not it’s good for us and whether what we find there is true.
The risks of radiation from CT scanning will almost certainly add to the current confusion and concerns about the risks of breast cancer screening.
Mammography differs from CT scanning in several important ways:
1. Mammograms involve much less radiation exposure than CT scans.
2. Mammography is well-regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other agencies. The Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) requires…
3. Women who undergo screening mammograms can control when and where they get this procedure. Screening mammograms are elective by nature..
Three key issues have escaped the headlines: 1. The expert panel carried out a careful analysis using data that are, necessarily, old; 2. The recommendations don’t apply to digital mammography; 3. Mammograms are not all the same.
We need to set the bar higher for mammography…
Well, I went ahead and started this blog without a proper introduction. Why was I in such a hurry?
Because I think the media’s getting – and giving – the wrong message on breast cancer screening. When it comes to long, boring medical publications like those published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, perhaps it’s not the devil that’s in the details so much as are the facts.
More on that tomorrow –