In a world where in a moment I can order from thousands of items and have them delivered to my doorstep the same or next day at the press of a button without having to re-enter my name, address, and billing information each time, it would seem that filling out paper forms at the doctor’s office by hand to have someone else re-enter the information into a computer that doesn’t communicate with other computers in the same clinic system is craziness. And if someone doesn’t do it right, it can follow you everywhere forever–and you may never know.
After some recent personal medical visits, I can’t imagine what it is like for cancer patients and families dealing with serious illness trying to navigate the complex system we call healthcare. It’s time we get the technology working for the patients, not making their lives even more difficult.
In each of my encounters the setting was fairly typical for a large health system in a large metropolitan city. I needed to get care regarding two straightforward problems with two different clinics in the same system a couple of weeks apart. So far so good: the care was excellent, the support staff friendly … Continue reading →
Some information just released is creating a lot of enthusiasm about the use of cold caps to prevent hair loss from chemotherapy in women with breast cancer. But a deeper look into the data shows that this welcome news is not nearly as clear-cut as it might seem. And I’m afraid doctors explaining the potential limitations of these devices to patients hearing enthusiastic reports are going to be left holding the bag if this new treatment doesn’t work as intended.
Let’s face it: losing one’s hair is traumatic, to say the least. For some folks, the risk of hair loss may affect their decisions about which chemotherapy treatment they should receive for their cancer, or whether they should receive it at all. No question: this is important to many women (and men) when faced not only with the trauma of treatment but with the very diagnosis of cancer itself.
Two articles and commentaries in this week’s issues of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and its companion JAMA Oncology present new information about an old approach to preventing hair loss, along with some new thoughts and suggestions as to what this may mean longer term. And along … Continue reading →
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 →
The Minnesota Vikings have won their first four games this year. At a local event in Minneapolis the day following that fourth win this week, they also won a lot of hearts including mine. A comment from their coach Mike Zimmer suggests that “heart” plays a big role for this team in their games, and from what I witnessed they show that heart off the field as well.
The event was a luncheon hosted by the Vikings to honor breast cancer survivors, and highlight the team’s efforts to bring more awareness about breast cancer and access to care to their Minnesota community. I was privileged to attend and participate along with other American Cancer Society colleagues from our Midwest Division (with a special “shout out” and thanks to my table partners Chantel SinGs and Larry Fitzgerald).… Continue reading →
When it comes to our health and our health care, we love the numbers. Sometimes, we even fall in love with the numbers, assuming that the numbers tell us the whole story when in fact that may not be the case. Cholesterol numbers, blood pressure numbers, body mass index, whatever. As patients and consumers, we are frequently defined by our numbers.
But what happens when those numbers and other medical tests such as CT scans really don’t tell the story we think they do? The recent evolution of prostate specific antigen (PSA) is a case in point: for decades we believed the numbers saved many lives. Turns out PSA did save some lives, but not as many as we thought and at the considerable financial and human expense of treating many men who probably did not benefit.
So in that vein an article and editorial in a recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology makes the point that just because we have numbers does not really mean they offer us the scientific certainty about the course of cancer we may think they do.… Continue reading →
Perhaps more than most, doctors struggle with memories that mark sad moments in their careers. For me, one of the most indelible was about a wonderful young man with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).
When I started my oncology career in the early 1970’s, CML was almost always fatal. It would start with a chronic phase which was treated with pretty simple medications. But those medications didn’t cure the disease.
The “almost always” scenario with CML was that several years on, it would morph into an acute phase, or “blast crisis,” that almost always ended in an untimely and frequently very premature death.
I came into contact with this young man just as he was diagnosed with CML. A couple of years later, he entered that acute phase. Rather than face the rigors of intensive chemotherapy, a regimen that was almost always futile, he took his own life. Moments like that live with us forever.
Decades later, (2003 to be exact) a prominent oncologist—who at the time was the director of the National Cancer Institute—made an audacious promise. Andrew von Eschenbach said that by 2015 we would end the suffering and death from cancer and convert it to a chronic … Continue reading →
Cancer Moonshot Summit.
Who would have imagined five short months ago that on this special day, almost 300 cancer centers and programs in every state attended by over 6000 leaders in cancer care and research, patients, advocates, and many others would have come together to commit themselves to doing what needs to be done—by everyone—to make this cancer’s last century?
Yet that is exactly what happened. President Obama made the declaration in his recent State of the Union address, put Vice President Biden in charge, and there has been no looking back. It is truly an amazing day in the annals of cancer care.
I was honored to be part of the program at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, hosted by the Center’s President Ronald DePinho MD. We were joined by hundreds of participants for two and one half hours of discussions focused on what all of us can do to move this effort forward. And among the speakers was Houston Texans’ defensive end, Devon Still, who shared with a hushed audience about his young daughter’s journey with neuroblastoma—and challenged all of us to reach out to communities to increase awareness about prevention, early detection and … Continue reading →
Right now, when we want to know everything we can about a tumor, we do surgery: a biopsy to take a sample of it and look at it under a microscope and determine as best we can how to treat it. But what if instead you could get a blood test, and learn even more. That’s the promise of the relatively new science of what is called cell free DNA (cfDNA). It holds the hope of helping us better understand cancer, its behavior in our bodies over time, and even offering clues on how to better treat cancer in ways we would never have imagined even a few short years ago.
It was an important area of discussion at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting this week. It’s a meeting where, every year, we get a sense of the future of cancer treatment before it becomes a reality. From genomics, to immunotherapy, to targeted therapies–you name it—promising areas appear on the scene, then either become part of our reality or lose luster as the process unfolds over the course of several ASCO annual meetings. This year, several studies presented on the topic of the so-called “liquid biopsy” illustrate how … Continue reading →
Here at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, we see results of eagerly awaited clinical trials that have involved hundreds or even thousands of patients, millions of dollars, and years of hard work and analysis. The results can be a success; they may fail; but quite often fall somewhere in between. And even when successful, the results may not be as clear cut as one would like.
Such is the case with an important trial whose results came were reported at this meeting and simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine about the use of aromatase inhibitors (AI) in post-menopausal women with breast cancer. As is so often the case, the researchers are highly regarded, the study well designed—but even with all the best efforts possible, left open are some extremely difficult questions.… Continue reading →
Here at the at annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, we are beginning to see the future of cancer therapy—and it raises a provocative question: will precision medicine become so precise, we risk turning off the much-needed investment of human, intellectual and financial capital that keeps progress flowing?
The sheer number of new drugs and new combinations of drugs being reported here at the world’s biggest, and most relevant cancer conference is staggering. Not all of them are ready for prime time, and some may never be successful in the clinic for large numbers of patients, but it is clear the era of old fashioned chemotherapy is diminishing and newer forms of therapies (targeted and immunotherapies among others) are on the rapid ascent.
But with progress, it’s becoming clear that a changing paradigm in cancer care that was predicted a number of years ago is now coming to life.… Continue reading →