Early detection

The Task Force Shift on PSA: It Really IS A Big Deal

Sometimes it all depends on your point of view when it comes to areas of divergent opinion about the value of certain medical tests and procedures.

So it should be no surprise that the release earlier this week of the United States Preventive Services Task Force draft statement of their new updated recommendations on the use of the PSA test to screen men for prostate cancer has generated some controversy of its own.

However, this time around it’s not just the advocates or the detractors aiming their fire at the Task Force—it’s journalists and bloggers battling over how media reports and headlines portrayed the impact and ultimate meaning of that draft report (I emphasize “draft” with more on that later). The report basically took the PSA test out of Task Force purgatory by changing the prior recommendation from “don’t do it at all” to a more permissive “have a discussion and make a decision if it’s right for you.”… Continue reading →

Chewing Gum To Detect Cancer: Reporting The Hype, Diminishing The Facts

Sometimes It’s important to know the news behind the news: the comments and the cautions that don’t get into the article that the public gets to read. It’s the sort of thing that keeps me up at night: trying to convey the reality, while realizing what most people want to hear is the hope.

That’s the problem I have with a story posted on a major news network website yesterday, where I have a brief quotation that failed to capture the thoughts I tried to express at the time of the interview. The reporter had very limited time, and the information I wanted to provide was complicated. Instead of the caution I tried to convey to counter the potential “hype” about chewing gum to find cancer early, the report suggests that this is a test that will be available soon—while failing to inform how complicated it would be to achieve that goal.… Continue reading →

Few Boomers Get Hepatitis C Test Even Though It Can Save Lives

Are you a baby boomer? Have you been tested for hepatitis C virus (HCV)? Do you know why you should be tested for hepatitis C? Do you even know what hepatitis C is?

According to research published today by my colleagues from the American Cancer Society in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the odds are overwhelming that if you are in the boomer generation you have not been tested for the virus, and that has me wondering why that is the case. Could it be that we don’t know about hepatitis C? Could it be that our health professionals aren’t recommending testing? Could it be that the costs of treatment may be seen as a barrier to care?

Why is this important? Because if you do have hepatitis C you are at risk of dying from liver cancer and other diseases. The kicker: the deadly results of hepatitis C can be prevented with an effective, albeit expensive treatment. Deaths from liver cancer in the United States are increasing more rapidly than any other type of cancer, according to a recent report. And even when localized at diagnosis, liver cancer is most often fatal.

It doesn’t necessarily have … Continue reading →

Mark Cuban Asked And I Respond: Will This Company Transform The Economics and Results of Healthcare?

It’s not often you are asked publicly to comment on a particular investment by an entrepreneur as well-known as Mark Cuban. And although I don’t usually offer such advice, this one piqued my interest—more so because of a larger story than the particular company itself.

Mr. Cuban wrote that he is “really excited about changing the economics and results of healthcare with this one.” I don’t doubt his sincerity, however may I suggest there are some much bigger problems that need to be addressed to meet that noble transformative and audacious goal?

The company in question is called LungDirect. They offer a program that gathers information on CT scans performed for the early detection of lung cancer, analyzes the data and facilitates reports required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for payment under the Medicare program (more about that below). In short, it’s a sophisticated approach to what we call a “medical registry.”

I can’t comment here nor do I know whether their tool is any better or any worse than other similar programs. What I do know is that although registry reporting can be complex, creating technology that assists in tracking patients, collating, … Continue reading →

Millions Of Skin Cancers Occur Every Year, So Why Do Many Teens Still Use Tanning Beds?

4.9 million—yes, million— people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year in the United States. It costs an estimated $8.1 billion—with a “B— to treat those skin cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Do I have your attention? I hope so. The problem is we don’t have enough attention. There is no other way to explain why too many states still allow those under 18 to access tanning beds across this country.

Have we made progress? Yes, but not nearly enough according to a research paper and editorial published today in JAMA Dermatology.

The study, from the CDC, looked at surveys of high school students done every two years between 2009 and 2015. The researchers found that overall the frequency of tanning bed use in the previous year declined from 15.6% of all high school students in 2009 to 7.3% of all students in 2015.

That’s progress. However, when they took a closer look at different groups of students they found that among non-Hispanic white female students the numbers using a tanning bed the previous year dropped from 37.4% to 15.2%.

Sound good? Maybe—until you look at the percentages for those 17 and older: in … Continue reading →

What Do We Do Now That Colorectal Cancer Rates Are Increasing For Younger People?

After years of declining rates of colorectal cancer (CRC), a new study from the American Cancer Society raises the specter that not all is going as well as we would have hoped, especially among younger folks born since 1990. And that raises the question of what the future holds for this frequently preventable form of cancer, including a possible reexamination of when it is appropriate to start CRC screening for people at average risk of developing the disease.

The research, published today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute looked at the rates of colon and rectal cancer diagnoses from 1974 through 2013 in several parts of the country. The researchers were particularly interested in changing patterns of CRC in people 20 years of age and older who were diagnosed with invasive CRC from 1974 through 2013.

There is a lot of complexity in the published results, so let’s focus on the main messages of the study:

  • After decreasing since 1974, colon cancer incidence rates increased by 1% to 2% per year from the mid-1980s through 2013 in adults ages 20 to 39. In adults 40 to 54, rates increased by 0.5% to 1% per year from the
Continue reading →

We Can Find Lung Cancer Early And Save Lives, So Why Aren’t More Smokers And Former Smokers Getting Screened?

In 2011 with much fanfare the National Cancer Institute announced that lung cancer screening decreased deaths from lung cancer by 20%. In 2013, the American Cancer Society (among other organizations) published well-thought-out guidelines recommending high quality screening along with shared decision making so eligible patients could understand the risks and benefits of screening. In 2015 the Medicare program announced that lung cancer screening would be covered, along with the shared decision component.

With all of that evidence and support, one would think that lung cancer screening would see rapid uptake in the United States in an effort to reduce deaths from this all-too-frequent cause of cancer death.

If you thought that, you would be wrong. So the logical question is why? In the face of all this evidence, why are high risk current and smokers not being screened, and how do we make it right?

That question is the result of a spate of recent articles (links 1,2,3) in journals from the American Medical Association, along with a somewhat “direct” editorial that highlights the need to better understand how lung cancer screening works and the need to inform health professionals and their … Continue reading →

Mammograms At The Shopping Mall Raise Interesting Questions About How We Get Our Health Care

Is the future of cancer screening at your local shopping mall?

That’s the question sticking in my mind after reading a recent report about a local radiology practice opening a large mammography center in an upscale shopping mall in Long Island, New York.

Let’s face it: Medical care is changing. And with changes come new ideas. Some will work, some won’t. The thought of getting a mammogram while on a shopping trip may just be what the doctor ordered and the consumer needs, or it may not. I don’t know the answer, and only time will tell.

I grew up in a world—which is now fading away—where patients and doctors had relationships. You had your doctor, and your doctor knew the other doctors who would be best for your care, and that primary doctor followed you and cared for you for years. As you aged, someone knew you well—maybe even became a family friend or someone you interacted with in your community.

Today we have mega hospitals, mega practices, and failing long term primary care relationships in many parts of the country. Having those relationships was once thought to be a key to successful health strategies. Now we are handing … Continue reading →

Twenty Years Later, And We Still Don’t Routinely Offer BRCA Test To Women At High Risk For Breast Cancer

A report in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that too few women with recently diagnosed breast cancer and at high risk of a BRCA genetic mutation received appropriate genetic counseling and testing for the mutation—a missed opportunity not only to improve treatment for these patients, but also to prevent some breast, ovarian and other cancers in the first place.

This study makes the difficult point that when it comes to routine screening for genetic abnormalities in women (and men, for that matter) who may be at increased risk, we simply aren’t doing the job. The situation may well be worse than this report suggests, especially considering that in some areas of the country Medicare doesn’t even cover preventive testing for the BRCA mutation. And this is more than 20 years after the test was first discovered and placed into clinical practice.

I guess sometimes it takes a long time for the way we care for our patients to catch up with the science that we know works. But twenty years??? Uh, that seems like a long, long time.… Continue reading →

Making A Difference: The Melanoma Research Alliance

A full waiting room. To most of us, it’s a bad sign, as we anticipate the excruciatingly dull minutes ahead. But at a meeting I attended this past week, it was a sign of hope, of progress; of making a difference.

I was in Washington DC to attend the annual scientific session of the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) in Washington DC, an organization that is only eight years old. When this group first met, it was made up of a relative handful of melanoma researchers and clinicians who came together to figure out what they could do to discover and promote more research and better treatment options for patients with melanoma.

The people behind the effort were Michael Milken and Debra and Leon Black. For them the mission was personal: Mr. Milken was a prostate cancer survivor who wanted to devote his energies to accelerating discoveries in cancer care. The Blacks are also well known in financial circles, and Ms. Black was (and remains) a melanoma survivor. 

At the time, the landscape for patients with advanced melanoma was bleak. There were a couple of available treatments, but they really didn’t have much of an impact on improving or extending Continue reading →