Shirley Temple Made It Easier to Talk About Having Breast Cancer

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.

Lessons from the Wakefield Case

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.)

Today’s Press on Targeted Therapy for Cancer

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:

News on Aspirin After Breast Cancer

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.

A Bit More on False Positives, Dec 2009, Part 1

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.

Information Overload

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.

Legitimate Concerns and Unfortunate Timing on Radiation from C.T. Scanning

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..

Hello Readers!

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 –

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