Monthly Archives: May 2011

New Announcement Refuels The Debate On Cell Phones And Cancer But Doesn’t Provide An Answer

With today’s press release from the International Agency for Research on Cancer-commonly known as IARC-the cell phone controversy is certain to heat up once again.


Unfortunately, drawing broad and sweeping conclusions based on a press release and a news conference leaves many of us wondering just what the evidence shows that led to the conclusion announced today that “radiofrequency electromagnetic fields” may be possibly cause cancer in people. 


The quick translation of “radiofrequency electromagnetic fields”-or RMF-is huge, since this announcement is focused on the use of cell phones, which have been in widespread use by millions around the world for years.


So it is important to dissect the IARC statement for what it says-and what it doesn’t say-and then try to interpret that information as it applies to our everyday lives. [more]


First, a couple of key points:


  • 1) IARC is highly regarded, especially in the area of human carcinogens (substances that cause cancer). For example, the American Cancer Society relies on IARC as a reputable resource to help answer the questions of what substances cause cancer in humans, may cause cancer in humans, or do not cause cancer in humans.


  • 2)
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Tomorrow is “Don’t Fry Day”–So Stay Safe In The Sun (And Remember, It’s Not All About Sunscreen)

Here comes the sun… 


Summertime means–for many of us–more time outdoors in the sun, whether it be a vacation at the beach, walking along a country road, or working on our lawns and gardens. It also means thinking about skin cancer prevention-which is much more than using gobs of sunscreen to protect yourself from getting burned in the sun.


This Friday is “Don’t Fry Day”, sponsored by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention along with a number of collaborating organizations (including the American Cancer Society).  “Don’t Fry Day” is designed to remind people that it’s ok to have fun in the sun, so long as you pay attention to your skin while enjoying the great outdoors.


Being sun-safe isn’t all that difficult.  It’s really a matter of remembering a few simple rules, including the real role that sunscreen plays in sun-safe behavior: [more]


1) If you are going to be outside in the sun, remember that the sun’s rays are most powerful between the hours of 10am and 4PM.  And, if you are going to be outside, it is preferable to seek the shade, such as lounging on the beach under an umbrella … Continue reading →

Patient Navigation Is An Overnight Success That Took Decades To Develop

An article in the current edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine highlights one of the fundamental shifts currently underway in medical care, namely the rapidly burgeoning use of patient navigators to improve health outcomes, particularly for people in need.


As I reflect on this topic, I am amazed how quickly this concept has taken root-especially in cancer treatment-only to realize that this is an overnight success story that took over 20 years to develop. [more]


The research report in the Archives was fairly straightforward, although if you read the article carefully you will catch a nugget of how difficult it was to accomplish.


In research that was funded by the American Cancer Society, a group of community health centers called the Cambridge Health Alliance randomly assigned patients into one of two groups to see if they could improve the rates of screening for colorectal cancer.  One group received what the authors called “usual care,” and the other group was able to get up to six hours of help from patient navigators, who are specially trained health care workers able to assist people to get the care they need by addressing problems and barriers to care proactively and … Continue reading →

Is It Really OK To “Book Profits” By Investing In Tobacco Companies?

Sometimes you just have to connect the dots to understand the world around us.  And sometimes the picture those dots paint isn’t one that is particularly nice. 


I am beyond amazed that otherwise normal, clear thinking people can turn a blind eye to the harms of tobacco when it is their turn to make some extra money.


The case in point is the attitude that Wall Street has about investing in tobacco companies as a good way to make a buck.  In fact, tobacco stocks are right up there on the investment list when it comes to “widows and orphans” stocks. Those are the stocks you want to be invested in because they are safe, generally do well in recessionary times, and actually pay a dividend that is real money.


What has set me off this time is a brief commentary in a business journal called Barron’s, where a columnist I read regularly (and respect) made some comments this week about the outstanding profitability of a tobacco company that is known for their commitment to menthol cigarettes. [more]


Now, cigarettes are bad enough.  But menthol cigarettes are even more problematic because certain ethnic populations and kids are … Continue reading →

Philip Morris International’s Merchant Of Death Strikes Again



I used that word once before back in January 2008 when I wrote a blog about the (then) new CEO of Philip Morris International (PMI).  His name is Louis Camilleri, and he was the subject of an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal talking about the spin-off of PMI from Philip Morris US so they could more easily sell their toxic products worldwide.


I called him the next generation of a merchant of death, seeming to relish the opportunity to make big money marketing deadly cigarettes to then fertile markets around the globe.


Well, Mr. Camilleri has surfaced again-this time making the outrageous comment that “tobacco is not that hard to quit.”


You have to be kidding.  Cigarettes are incredibly addictive, and heavy smokers have a very difficult time quitting.  Our statistics in this country show that for the most part our ability nationwide to reduce the number of chronic smokers has hit a roadblock. [more]


Here is what was written about Mr. Camilleri and his company back in 2008 in that Wall Street Journal article I mentioned above..  Put these comments together with what he said the other day, and you … Continue reading →

Good Headlines Don’t Come From Limited Science: The Mammogram Debate Continues

I am sitting here wringing my hands that so much has been made of some studies reported yesterday at a major radiology conference which suggest that the impact of the breast cancer screening guidelines released by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) in November 2009 has either been good or bad on doctor and patient behavior.


The reason I am doing the handwringing thing is because I don’t think either study is particularly good at answering the question for which it was intended: have health professionals changed their screening recommendations to their patients as a result of those guidelines, or does it make a true difference in outcome for women between the ages of 40-49 who forgo screening mammograms?


Yet much is being made of these studies, as though they have some definitive answer to the questions they raised.  In my opinion, they don’t.


Now, be certain to note that I was very much in the midst of the discussion back then when these guidelines were released, which suggested that women between 40-49 should not have routine screening mammograms (yes, that was the wording they used) and should consult with their health professional to … Continue reading →

A Moment Of Humor During The Agonies Of Chemotherapy Offers A Lesson In Resilience

I have always been amazed by the resilience of people with cancer, especially those receiving active treatment with chemotherapy.  There is no getting around the fact that in many circumstances, chemotherapy is fraught with havoc and turmoil that can cause the best of us to test our faith in life itself.


But sometimes, as many of us know from our family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, there are moments of insight that can be precious to experience, that teach all of us that even in our darkest and most difficult moments we can be incredibly positive, always knowing and hoping that tomorrow will be a better day.


A friend of mine reminded me of that just this past week when she sent out an email update to her many friends, letting them know about her cancer experience.  And after reading her email (“3 down, 1 to go! What they don’t tell you in Cancer School”) I didn’t know whether to cry or feel just a bit guilty because it made me laugh out loud.


With her permission, I want to share these words with you as an example of what we have always known: people with cancer can … Continue reading →