Words have meaning. And when it comes to cancer, especially advanced cancer, there aren’t many words that have more meaning than the word “cure.” Yet it is that very word and concept that is top of mind for some of us these days.
We clinicians are guilty as charged when it comes to reluctance declaring those who have had a remarkable response to treatments for advanced cancer “cured.” Experience has taught us over decades that we have misused the word and overpromised those we cared for. Our patients and loved ones have paid a price for our over optimism. Consequently, our culture has taught us to avoid the word, lest we be shown to have been less-than-truthful when a cancer returns with a vengeance.
And yet our world is changing: we are now seeing long term responses to treatments in diseases where until recently we had little hope of such success.
Recent reports of rapidly declining mortality in melanoma, normal life spans for many people treated for previously fatal diseases like chronic myelogenous leukemia, and the potential for impressive gains in outcomes for people with lung cancer are but a few examples that suggest we are indeed in … Continue reading →
Yesterday I wrote about emerging themes at the ongoing annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology here in Chicago. That blog was about lung cancer, and the reality that the time has come to aggressively address our failures to improve outcomes for those at risk of lung cancer and those diagnosed with the disease.
Today I want to share some thoughts about another theme: artificial intelligence, or as I prefer to call it “data analytics.” Fundamentally: how can we capture the capability of analytics to improve the care and outcomes of cancer patients? And more importantly: how can we harness this technology to help bring back the human touch in cancer care?
Admittedly that’s a large focus covering lots of opportunities. Speak to one expert and you will get one idea of how analytics could improve care. Speak to another and you will get another entirely different view of what that means and how we should be using our rapidly advancing capabilities to harness machines and their capacity to learn and engage health care, specifically cancer care.
My real concern is that there are so many sophisticated opportunities to choose from that we may be missing some … Continue reading →
Every year, the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology is unmatched in bringing forward the latest advances in cancer care. It is a time to learn about important—and usually– incremental advances in cancer research and cancer care, and every year has some of us, especially those of us with some years under our belts, thinking about big picture themes in cancer: where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.
For me, today’s theme is lung cancer and the sad fact that our care for those at high risk and those diagnosed with the disease is far from what it should be. But more than I ever, I am convinced the future holds hope.… Continue reading →
Ever wonder what would happen to cancer in this country if we all did better at what we do every day?
The American Cancer Society has an answer in a recently published paper in our journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, and it may surprise you what we could accomplish if we set our minds to the task.
We recently reported that between 1990 and 2015, the cancer death rate declined by 27%. That’s a remarkable accomplishment. However, we still have a long way to go. Too many of us experience the burdens and losses from cancer. All of us want to see this disease in its many forms vanquished.
Our researchers looked at what would happen if all of us had the same cancer risk as college graduates in the United States, then came up with an estimate of how that would impact deaths from cancer from 2015 and 2035.
The answer: we could reduce deaths from cancer by close to another 40% beyond what we have already accomplished. That would be a total of over 54% from 1990. And it would mean 1.3 million fewer premature deaths from cancer between 2020 and 2035. Remarkably, it would mean … Continue reading →
The news that Alex Trebek has advanced stage IV pancreatic cancer has been met with an outpouring of support and good wishes, as would be expected for someone who has been a part of our lives for so many years.
The fact is, pancreatic cancer is a difficult disease to treat effectively. That is due in no small part to the fact that—as the case with Mr. Trebek–pancreatic cancer is usually diagnosed at a later stage, remaining undetected until it causes difficulties and symptoms by its spread. The reality is that for most people pancreatic cancer is too advanced to be treated with surgery and is not very responsive to currently available chemotherapy and targeted therapy medications. And newer forms of treatment such as immunotherapy and CAR-T haven’t shown particular success at this point.… Continue reading →
Good news is always welcome, especially when talking about something as serious as cancer. And there is plenty of welcome information in the American Cancer Society’s release today of our annual report on “Cancer Statistics, 2019” and its accompanying consumer-oriented version of “Cancer Facts & Figures 2019.”
Among the good news in this report: A significant decline in death rates from cancer—especially among some of the most common cancers, significant improvements in early detection and treatment of cancer, and a decrease in the disparities in death rates between African-Americans and whites.
Despite the good news, unfortunately, there are also pieces of the puzzle that have not been solved. And to ignore that information is a disservice to those who struggle with cancer and those who have passed because of this dread disease. The reality is we can—indeed, we must—do better. And that fact is an equally important part of the information contained in this report.… Continue reading →
Lung cancer treatment is clearly the story of the week coming out of the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Chicago. And although media coverage of this emerging information about the role of immunotherapy in lung cancer has been extensive, there is—as always—more to the story, especially if you look closely at the numbers and in particular if you are a non-smoker with lung cancer.
One study stands out among the others in which immunotherapy along with chemotherapy significantly improved survival for patients with certain forms of lung cancer when compared to chemotherapy alone. Not only was that study reported at the Chicago meeting, it was also published simultaneously in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, offering us considerable detail into how the study was performed and the results.… Continue reading →
A recent news story in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reminds me that lots of things in our lives are changing these days, not the least of which is the shape of our bodies.
Oh, my. This aging thing isn’t so easy, and that is really the message behind Rita Rubin’s timely piece about shifting body mass and muscle as we age and its implications. Although focused on women, I can attest personally that men fall into the same trap as well. That 250 pounds when you are older simply is not the same 250 pounds when you were in college. Now 250 pounds looks more like 280—even though the scale still says 250. Go figure…
Although I may be trying to provide a little humor to the subject, the reality is it’s not humorous when it comes to our health. As we age, muscle turns to fat. In a process called “sarcopenia,” muscle begins an inexorable march to become fat, and for most of us it doesn’t make too much difference how much we try to forestall the shift. It is programmed into our bodies, and although exercise might help, Mother Nature simply doesn’t … Continue reading →
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 →
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 →