Monthly Archives: February 2009

Alcohol Is A Clear Danger To Women’s Health

A study released today by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute is certain to give women pause when they find out that drinking alcohol of any type significantly raises their lifetime risks of being diagnosed with certain cancers. 


The research, performed in the United Kingdom and involving over 1.2 million women is likely going to be the definitive answer to the questions regarding the harms of alcohol when it comes to the risk of getting cancer.


This is no small question, since this issue has dogged cancer researchers for many years.


The American Cancer Society, for example, currently advises women that they should limit their alcohol intake to at most one drink daily.  Other studies have suggested that alcohol has significant positive health benefits, especially when it comes to reducing the risk of heart disease.  Resveratrol—a chemical found in red wine—is all the rage these days as researchers try to demonstrate that it is the “life-extending” component in red wine.


But this study puts all of that to rest with its findings that any alcohol consumption by women is likely going to increase their risk of certain cancers.… Continue reading →

Is Information Bad For Your Health?

You are diagnosed with cancer.  You remember some of what the doctor said, but not much.  So, following the recommendations of the American Cancer Society, you do everything you can to get information online and elsewhere that may help you better understand your treatment and your disease.


That’s the right thing to do, isn’t it?


Maybe yes and maybe no, if you agree with the findings of a paper published today in the journal Cancer.


The article, which describes research on how patients with colon cancer sought information about their disease and how that information-seeking behavior influenced their treatment, looked at survey responses from 633 patients in Pennsylvania initially diagnosed with colon cancer in 2005.


The researchers measured a number of items including the patients’ general health, education, age, marital status, race/ethnicity and disease stage.  They then determined which patients used the new targeted therapies Avastin and Erbitux for the treatment of their disease.   They further broke down the survey group as to whether or not the treatment with these drugs was “on-label” (that is, the patients received these drugs when the disease had spread to other parts of their body) … Continue reading →

Dr. Jeanne Calle

The start of our day here at the American Cancer Society was quickly punctuated by the rumor—and then the confirmation—that one of our friends, a valued colleague and mentor lost her life to a horrific crime sometime yesterday in Atlanta.


Jeanne Calle was a member our Society family since 1989.  She was Vice President of Epidemiology here at our National Home Office in Atlanta.  Just two weeks ago she was feted by her coworkers as she began the next journey in her life, which was marked by her retirement from the Society at the age of 57.  She lost her first husband to cancer several years ago, and recently became engaged to a local attorney.


As noted by Dr. John Seffrin, the Society’s chief executive officer, “Jeanne brought a formidable intellect and passion for finding answers to cancer through her research.  We are shocked and deeply saddened by the senseless loss of this tremendously talented friend and colleague.”


Those words can only be a small reflection of what Jeanne meant to those of us who knew her and worked with her.


You probably didn’t know Jeanne by her name, but you … Continue reading →

Revisiting Off-Label Cancer Drugs In Medicare

No sooner had the ink dried on my blog from last week about the problems controlling the costs and off-label uses of cancer chemotherapy drugs than the Annals of Internal Medicine published three articles and an editorial on the topic of off-label drugs in cancer treatment.


And the Annals’ conclusions weren’t any too kind to our current system of determining what drugs Medicare will or will not pay for when it comes to cancer treatment: we are—according to the journal—in a world of hurt.


The reason all of this is so important is that many of the newer cancer drugs are very expensive.  In addition, probably a majority of cancer treatments today are already “off-label”, which means the drugs are being used for treating diseases or conditions which were not part of the original approval from the Food and Drug Administration.


As I mentioned in last week’s blog on this topic, Medicare relies on books called compendia to determine whether or not they are going to pay for a drug to treat a particular cancer.  These compendia are published by private organizations, each with different approaches to reviews of the evidence … Continue reading →

Controlling Cancer Chemotherapy Costs in Medicare

An article in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine once again raises the question of how are we going to afford our cancer treatments now and in the years to come?


The report, written by Peter Bach MD who is currently on the faculty of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and in the recent past served as a special advisor for oncology to the Administrator of the Medicare program, highlights the difficulties that the Medicare program has controlling the increasingly substantial costs of new cancer drugs.


As acknowledged in the article, we have made advances in the treatment of advanced cancers, such as colorectal cancer.  But these advances have come at huge costs.


For example, the costs to Medicare of injectable cancer drugs given in doctors’ offices increased from $3 billion in 1997 to $11 billion in 2004, an increase of 267% at a time when the costs for the entire Medicare program increased  47% (which itself is not exactly chump change).


Dr. Bach goes into great detail about how Medicare could control  chemotherapy drug costs, such as only paying for the least expensive … Continue reading →

Your Insurance Can Disappear When Cancer Strikes

You work hard, take good care of your family, and although of modest means you manage to put up a couple of dollars for your retirement.  You do all the right things for your health, including avoiding tobacco, eating a healthy diet and getting recommended cancer screenings.


And then one day you wake up and feel a lump in your neck.  You make an appointment to see your doctor, and after a number of tests and biopsies you get the news no one wants to hear: you have an aggressive form of lymphoma and will require extensive treatment that has a reasonable chance of saving your life.


You are beginning a journey that no one chooses to take, but you commit to doing everything you can to get well.   And then you start getting the bills, wondering what happened to that health insurance you pay for at work?


That’s when many folks just like you find out the grim news: your insurance isn’t enough to pay the medical bills for your lifesaving medical care.  Your savings are gone, your retirement is gone, and you don’t know where to turn.


That is, unfortunately, Continue reading →

World Cancer Day: A Focus On Childhood Obesity

Cancer is a worldwide disease, and in recognition of that fact the International Union Against Cancer (UICC) has designated today as World Cancer Day. What’s interesting about this is the theme they have designated for their next year’s focus: “I love my healthy active childhood.” 


Why, you might ask, is a leading international cancer organization choosing to emphasize children and obesity as a target for this campaign?


I think many of us tend to underestimate cancer as a global health issue.  Poverty, education, and limited financial resources make cancer a much different disease in many parts of the world, particularly in underdeveloped economies.  The sad truth is that many people in underdeveloped countries don’t live long enough to develop cancer.  And those that do all too often simply don’t have access to effective treatments, even those we take for granted such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.


What we take for granted—including prevention and treatment, such as mammograms, colonoscopy, and pap smears—are essentially luxuries in too many countries.  Tobacco use is on the increase internationally, and millions worldwide will die from tobacco related diseases in the coming decades.  The spread of … Continue reading →