Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Home remedies can work but beware side effects

Breast cancer prescription might lessen pain for those without the disease, Mayo Clinic suggests

Tamoxifen, a prescription drug used for breast cancer treatment and prevention, can also lessen breast tenderness for those without the disease.

The problem, of course, is that there are potential "side effects that may be more bothersome than the breast pain itself."

That information is part of a laundry list of pain remedies suggested by the Mayo Clinic News Network.

Home remedies on the list may be effective, the network says, despite their being little research about their efficacy.

Furthermore, a network story indicates, for "many women, breast pain solves on its own over time" so a sufferer "may not need any treatment" at all.

But methods worth trying, according to the non-bylined network article, include: putting hot and cold compresses on the tender breast; wearing a firm support bra, or a sorts bra during exercise; experimenting with relaxation therapy; limiting or cutting out caffeine; following a low-fat diet; and using over-the-counter meds such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil or Motrin (or virtually any other brand of ibuprofen).

The article also lists alternative medicines such as vitamins (Vitamin e) and dietary supplements (evening primrose oil).

Checking with your physician before attempting any of the above remedies is highly recommended — in regard to risks and whether the self-care treatments are appropriate for you, as well as for approved dosages.

According to the article, treatments by doctors might include topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, an adjustment of birth control pills, a reduction of menopausal hormone therapies, or a prescription medication (the aforementioned Tamoxifen or Danazol).

More information on treating pain and disease can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Less smoking may have aided drop in disease

Higher percentage of women now getting lung cancer, Time says, despite dip in mortality rates

Women now account for "disproportionately high number" of lung cancer diagnoses.

That's true despite overall mortality rates having "fallen significantly in recent decades" — and in spite of women traditionally having "smoked less than men and thus developed and died from lung cancer less often."

At least that's the conclusion of an article in Time magazine by Jamie Ducharme, a piece from the end of last year just sent to me by a friend for this blog.

Ducharme's story indicates that part of the reason for the overall dip in the disease, the most deadly form of cancer in the United States, is because medical advances have been occurring for decades, and because there have been major decreases in smoking.

But the "why" of the shift from "what was historically a men's disease" apparently is not apparent. 
Alice Berger, PhD.

"It's completely unknown right now," Time quotes Alice Berger, a Ph.D. who researches genetics and cancer at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

And Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, co-author of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, is also quoted as saying "smoking habits cannot totally explain the demographic shifts" even though his 2018 report "showed that "rates of long-cancer incidence actually rose over the past 20 years among women born around either 1950 or 1960."

Researchers have determined, in fact, that "the type of lung cancer most common among nonsmokers disproportionately affect women, and young women are more likely to have a gene mutation often found in the tumors of nonsmokers."

The mutation, not incidentally, does respond well to newer targeted therapies, Berger notes in the piece. 

She also repeats a theory that "quirks of female sex hormones or women's immune systems could be responsible" for the disproportion.

A lot more information on scientific research can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Friday, April 17, 2020

2 experimental drugs might extend patients' lives

Renewed hope is possible for women with aggressive breast cancer, new study indicates

Two experimental drugs might help women with an aggressive form of breast cancer, results of a new study show.

According to a recent Associated Press story by Marilynn Marchione that cites reports in the New England Journal of Medicine and at a San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium that the cancers "had spread widely and and resisted many previous treatments," one drug "showed particular ability to reach tumors in the brain, which are notoriously tough to treat."

The other combines "a sort of homing device for cancer cells with a payload of chemotherapy that's released when it reaches its target."

Dr. Ian Krop in his office.
Marchione's article quotes the study's leader, Dr. Ian Krop of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, to the effect that infusions of T-DXd, the second drug, become "a guided missile…able to bring the chemotherapy directly to the cancer cell."

That study — focusing on often-fatal HER2-positive cancers, which have a protein on their cell surfaces driven by an overactive gene that promotes tumor growth — tested TDXd on 253 women

Most of the them, who had, on average, tried six other treatments before the experimental drug, saw their tumors shrink — and 6 percent of them found zero signs of cancer in at least two followup scans.

The positive response rate, the AP story again quotes Krop, "is three to four times better than what's usually seen in this situation." 

To see results showing a median time of 16 months until cancer worsened "is exciting," he added.

All involved, however, noted that side effects — including lung inflammation, low blood counts, nausea, anemia or fatigue — were substantial.

But anti-inflammatory meds can alleviate some of those issues, it's believed.

The study was sponsored by the drug's developers, Daiichi Sankyo Inc. and AstraZeneca, who are seeking approval in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Study of the other drug — tucatinib, from Seattle Genetics — was done on 612 patients. Its side effects included diarrhea, fatigue, nausea and some liver issues, but 45 percent of those on the drug were alive two years after being given it (along with the usual treatments, Herceptin and the chemo drug Xeloda) as opposed to 27 percent who weren't.

More information on experimental drugs can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Doctors cite value of immunotherapy

Lung cancer patients are heavily benefitting from new treatments, Parade magazine reports

A lot of good news has been developing in the past several years about finding and treating lung cancer, according to Parade magazine.

A recent article by Marygrace Taylor suggests that, despite the disease growing for both never-smokers and women, "there's reason to be optimistic."

How so?

"There's been a huge jump in how long people are living with lung cancer," the piece quotes Dr. Nathan Pennell, Cleveland Clinic oncologist, as saying. "It's an extraordinary change."
Dr. Nathan Pennell

The Parade story then goes on to cite the value of such treatments as immunotherapy, which "helps the immune system better recognize and remove cancer cells without necessarily impacting normal cells," according to Dr. Jacob Sands, an American Lung Association spokesman. 

More than 1,000 clinical trials are currently studying how patients "can benefit from checkpoint inhibitors, immunotherapy drugs that block proteins that cancer cells use to stave off attacks from the immune system," Taylor writes.

Pennell adds that "we now know that if you add a checkpoint inhibitor to chemo, people live substantially longer" — and most likely with fewer side effects.

Dr. Jacob Sands
Sands also points to the efficacy of an advanced screening tool like low-dose CT scans, which "catch cancers at earlier stages when they're more likely to be cured."

Another new weapon in the war against lung cancer is stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), a specialized form of highly targeted radiation "often used to treat patients with early-stage lung cancer when surgery isn't an option."

One recent trial, the article reports, found the treatment "could double survival time without progression of [the] disease."

Finally, advanced bronchoscopy, which uses a lighted tube to examine abnormal parts of the lung just as traditional bronchoscopy does but also utilizes "smaller, more powerful tools" to create 3D maps of patients' lungs and helps doctors access areas that the traditional method can't reach.

More information about innovations in cancer treatments can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at caregivers.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Look for 'Grampy and His Fairzona Playmates'

Coronavirus delays the publication of new children's book by Woody Weingarten and his granddaughter

OK, I admit that the coronavirus has greatly disrupted my life.

And my octogenarian wife's.

It's forced us into a real retirement: There are no plays or concerts or museum openings for me to review; there's no weekly support group for me to run (where I normally help men whose partners have or had breast cancer or some other life-threatening disease); there are no performances in senior facilities where my wife, Nancy Fox, can skillfully do her "Piano and Patter" shows.

Yes, the bug is keeping us isolated at home, visitor-less, turning almost everything we do into a virtual reality. But, wonder of wonders, it's also allowing us to clean closets and drawers that have been accumulating crapola (and dust) for decades.

The spread of the virus, however, is also delaying publication of "Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmates."

That's my new VitalityPress book, a children's fairytale co-written with my granddaughter, Hannah Schifrin, and illustrated by a talented artist, Joe Marciniak.

When it'll come out is now a huge question-mark. Watch this space, as publicists are wont to say: I'll let you know when it all becomes tangible.

In the meantime, of course, you can purchase my first book, "Rollercoaster: How to survive your partner's breast cancer," through Amazon or through your local bookstore (if it's still open).

Monday, March 9, 2020

Plutonium pickup is basis of lawsuit against govt.

Federal agency fighting class-action suit about cancer stemming from 1966 nuclear disaster cleanup

Cash settlements, even in cases of class-action suits, may be too little, too late.

Patients die.

Witness a lawsuit filed by Victor Skaar, a veteran, alleging "that he and hundreds of other vets were exposed to radiation in the service (in Palomares, Spain), which the Air Force has denied for decades." 

The suit's aim is to get the U.S. government to pay for the victims' medical care.

Victor Skaar, recently
According to a recent story by Dave Phillips in The New York Times, Skaar, an 83-year-old retired chief master sergeant, "was one of 1,600 troops scrambled by the Air Force in 1966 to clean up a classified nuclear disaster by collecting debris and shoveling up plutonium-laced soil."

In January of that year, an American B-52 bomber on a Cold War patrol exploded during a midair refueling accident that sent four hydrogen bombs hurtling toward the ground. Though they didn't detonate, because they weren't armed, "conventional explosives in two of the bombs blew up on impact, scattering pulverized plutonium over a patchwork of farm fields and stucco houses."

When many contracted cancer and other ailments later, the federal government denied responsibility and refused to pay for their medical care — not unlike what happened with Agent Orange in the Vietnam War era.

Skaar's class-action suit was filed against the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Upon being discharged in 1982, Skaar had found his white blood cell count "way off," Phillips' story says. He's been fighting ever since.

For decades.

"First," the plaintiff notes, they told me there were no records, which I knew was a lie because I helped to make them."

Officials admitted he'd been exposed but claimed "the levels were so low it didn't matter."

During the cleanup, in fact, he had jotted on a hand-drawn map where there had been high-radiation readings.

Victor Skaar in 1962
Through a Freedom of Information Act request in 1992, he'd obtained a list of 26 airmen — including himself — who'd tested high.

His suit was aided by a veterans' services clinic run by students at Yale Law School.

"The bunk science the Air Force was using was not just harming Mr. Skaar, but all the other Palomares veterans," Phillips quoted Meghan Brooks, a clinic member who has since graduated. "Mr. Skaar really wanted to fight on behalf of others."

The Times quotes Skaar as saying, "I want to go to my grave knowing I've done the best I could."

More information on lawsuits about cancer can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Calif. attorney general backs weed-killer victims

Agri-business Monsanto claims that federal ruling supersedes California law as it appeals big cancer award

Who's gonna win in court — cancer victims or the manufacturer of weed-killers that have been deemed apt to cause malignancies?

Monsanto, which produces Ranger Pro as well as Roundup, has, in effect, decided to test that question.
Dwayne "Lee" Johnson

According to a story by Bob Egelko in an edition of the San Francisco Chronicle last week, the giant agri-business is — by challenging a $78.5 million damage award to Dwayne "Lee" Johnson, a Vallejo groundskeeper who was stricken with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2014 after spraying Benicia school grounds with Ranger Pro for four years — betting a federal ruling supersedes California law.

But Egelko's story indicates that Xavier Becerra, the state's attorney general, told the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco on Wednesday that the 2018 verdict "was valid based on state laws requiring warning labels for cancer-causing chemicals."

Glyphosate, the weed-killers' active ingredient, is the chemical that's been said to be carcinogenic.

Monsanto is depending on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruling — repeated in August — that the chemical is safe. 

Becerra's office, meanwhile, "argued that the EPA's statements about glyphosate, and its approval of a product label without cancer warnings, 'do not carry the force of law.'"

Lawyers from that office also contended that the EPA's stance "does not prohibit a state from finding that the agency-approved label 'is inadequate to protect public health and therefore constitutes misbranding.'"

In a statement, the article continues, Becerra maintained that "California process its residents from dangerous pesticides. We shouldn't be forced to put our heads in the sand simply because the EPA won't do its job."

Johnson's lawyers have said that Monsanto, now a subsidiary of the German pharmaceutical company Bayer AG, "unduly influenced EPA decisions and had 'ghost-written' reports for the government agency."

They furthermore cited a 2015 assessment by an arm of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, that glyphosate was a probable cause of cancer in humans.

The jury that awarded Johnson $78.5 million found unanimously that Monsanto was responsible for his cancer and should have known of the product's perils, Egelko's story notes.

Suzanne Bolano, the San Francisco Superior Court judge in Johnson's case, allowed lawyers to argue that Mosanto knew its product was dangerous and should have informed the public. 

Similar stances were taken by judges in two similar cases where huge verdicts were rendered against the company.

More information on corporations that are blamed for manufacturing products that cause cancer can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at caregivers. 

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Docs still unsure how to quash metastases

Women most likely to die of breast cancer have been getting the least attention, says Time mag excerpt 

Women with breast cancer that has metastasized are rarely the focus of breast-cancer research.

At least that's the position taken by health-care journalist Kate Pickert in a recent Time magazine excerpt from her book, "Radical: The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America."

In the piece, Pickert notes that three-quarters of the 160,000 U.S. females who live with with metastases were originally diagnosed with early stages of the disease. 

And she quotes Lianne Kraemer, whose breast cancer has spread and formed tumors inside her brain, resulting in her being labeled a terminal patient, as bemoaning that "I believed the narrative that is pushed on women, that if you check your breasts and if you catch it early, you're fine."

But, she says, "you can do everything right and still end up metastatic."

Pickert, who herself was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer in 2014 at age 35, claims that many "women who die of breast cancer succumb to the disease for no other reason that that it manages to outwit the protocols" — even for those who have access to high-quality treatment and don't ignore signs of the disease until it's incurable. 

Dr. Cyrus Ghajar

The Time excerpt also quotes Dr. Cyrus Ghajar, a cancer biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who pointed out that the Cancer Moonshot, a National Cancer Institute initiative launched by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, "does not explicitly provide funding to address the challenges of metastatic cancer."

Ergo, he asks, "How can you have a moon shot trying to cure cancer and not mention people dying of cancer?"

Ghajar, whom the article cites as "one of the relatively small number of scientists studying metastatic breast cancer full time," is also quoted as indicating that "25 percent to 40 percent of early-stage breast-cancer patients already have cancer cells in their bone marrow, and these patients are, on average, three times more likely than those who don't to develop other metastases later."

While asserting that women most likely to die of breast cancer have gotten the least attention, Pickert admits that pharmaceutical companies and researchers do "often test new drugs on metastatic patients before anyone else" — albeit because they are "women who are dying anyway, and they are the ones most willing to be part of experiments."

About 40,000 American women die of the disease each year, the article reports, adding that physicians still don't know "why some breast cancers eventually form deadly metastases or how to quash the disease once it has spread."

As a result, the excerpt continues, patients with metastatic disease "are typically treated with one drug after another, their doctors switching the medications whenever the disease stops responding to treatment. Eventually, nearly all patients with breast-cancer metastases run out of options and die."

Those interested in additional details about metastases can find them in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at caregivers.