Thursday, July 29, 2021

Frequent heartburn, acid reflux could lead to esophageal cancer, which is rapidly on the rise

Increased incidences of acid reflux may be linked to a spike in esophageal cancer.

At least that's the conclusion of a story by Stephen Perrine in an old AARP Bulletin I just unearthed from a storage box in my laundry room closet stuffed between two sheets of paper with other medical advice that I neglected to heed. 

Many people "don't realize that common heartburn symptoms can both lead to and mask something more serious," reads the story and a caption accompanying the article.

"Esophageal adenocarcinoma — cancer of the lining of the soft tube that delivers food and drink from the mouth to the stomach," Perrine's piece says, "has increased sevenfold since the early 1970s," quoting Dr. Paul Oberstein, director of the gastrointestinal oncology program at New York University Langone's Perlmutter Cancer Center in Manhattan.

The cancer's increase "has paralleled the rise of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the medical name for when you have bouts of acid reflux two or more times per week."

According to David Odell, lead investigator on a study of esophageal cancer funded by the American Cancer Society, thoracic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, "it's one of the fastest-growing issues we have in the population," the AARP story reports.

Chronic heartburn, it says, "can sometimes lead to a disorder called Barrett's esophagus, in which the cells of the esophagus…being to change into glandular cells like those of the stomach." Five percent of GERD patients "will develop Barrett's, and 10 percent of those will go on to develop cancer."

The story also notes that one in every five Americans experience heartburn or acid reflux on a weekly basis, with 40 percent dealing with it at least once a month.

Estimates by the American Cancer Society are that roughly 16,000 Americans die of esophageal cancer annually. Approximately four times as many men get the disease as women, with 85 percent of the cancers being found in people 55 or older.

The main causes of GERD are obesity, a tendency toward large meals, and a high-stress lifestyle, Perrine's story indicates.

More information on links between drugs and other treatments to additional disease is available in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Article cites 6 ways of dealing with disease

Yellowed Time magazine piece shows how a patient may improve your breast-cancer treatment


Some perceptions hold up a long time.

Time magazine, under the rubric "Frontiers of Medicine," ran a story a few years back that's clearly still valid today. The piece was headlined "6 surprising things that may improve breast-cancer treatment."

Because I thought it important, I've retained a yellowed copy all this time — even though I didn't consider any of the suggestions truly "surprising" even back then.

The intro of the story by Alexandra Sifferlin says that "being diagnosed with breast cancer can make a person feel powerless but there are some things women can do to potentially improve how they feel throughout the process."

It then lists "strategies recommended by experts — and others that are still being explored — that may enhance the effectiveness and reduce the side effects of treatment."

The half dozen areas it addresses are physical activity, healthy eating, yoga, sleep, treatment timing and meditation.

Dr. Ann Partridge
Exercise, which seems to be a recommended medical treatment for virtually every disease, gets the first slot.

Sifferlin quotes Dr. Ann Partridge, a prof of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder and director of the Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer at Dana-Faber Cancer Institute.

Exercise is "one of the best things women can do for themselves," the doctor contends.

She suggests that walking three to five times a week "can make a huge difference in how you feel during treatment."

It's also good for the brain, she notes. "A study of 87 breast-cancer survivors found that those who did 12 weeks of exercise scored better on some cognitive tests than women who didn't exercise."

Sifferlin's second most important idea, in my opinion, comes in the category of yoga, one of the most studied of complementary or integrative therapies for breast cancer.

"A steady practice," her Time article says, "may even lessen the side effects of treatment."

Sifferlin cites one study that finds "doing yoga at least twice a week improved sleep and reduced daytime drowsiness in women with breast cancer" and another that indicates "women who practiced yoga had less fatigue and fewer markers of inflammation than those who didn't."

High on the Time suggestion scale is the notion of sticking with a healthy, "preventive medicine" diet, one "filled with lots of fruits and vegetables [that] contain fiber and anti-oxidants."

Sifferlin details a study that shows women who ate three servings of fruit a day as teenagers "had a 25% lower risk of developing breast cancer later on than those who ate less."

A big red flag, she indicates, is overdoing carbs or comfort foods.

Another danger, Sifferlin writes, is from too little sleep.

The writer describes yet another study, one whose findings show "women who slept less than five hours a night on average before they were diagnosed with breast cancer were nearly 1.5 times as likely to die from the disease as women who reported sleeping seven to eight hours a night."

In a fifth category, the timing of treatments, the Time article extracts from a Weizmann Institute of Science study information that "evidence in mice" points to the notion that "cancer treatment might be more effective in the evening" — and suggests that "shifting care a few hours may be a simple way to make medications more powerful."

Finally, in regard to meditation, Sifferlin's piece again quotes Partridge that "when you are emotionally not doing well, you feel things more physically" — and that when "tired, stressed or upset, patients may perceive their cancer symptoms as worse."

The doctor looked at a review of research, Time reports, and saw that "meditation is effective at treating symptoms of mood disorders [such as anxiety and depression] that are common among with with a recent breast-cancer diagnosis."

More information about the disease, research about it, and its treatment 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.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Physician warns of seeking medical quick-fix

Doc who gained fame by disputing Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop claims offers advice about online advice


Is seeking medical advice online normally a good idea?

According to Dr. Jen Gunter, an ob/gyn who practices in San Francisco and who gained some degree of fame from repeatedly disputing A-list actress Gwyneth Paltrow's claims about benefits provided by her Goop company, it can be good.

Or bad.
Dr. Jen Gunter
Gunter, who despite admitting that she's "invested heavily in the social media my blog and writing for other sources," warns that "we appear to be moving from the age of information to the age of misinformation."

In an article published by the Marin Independent Journal some time ago, Gunter reports that a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center had showed "69 percent of Americans (80 percent of those with internet access) turned to the internet for information about their health."

She maintains that "people use online sources to research symptoms, self-diagnosis, confirm a diagnosis, investigate tests or therapies and search for alternatives not recommended by their health-care provider."

She also cites survey findings that "26 percent [social media users] mostly trusted the content and 52 percent mostly distrusted the science content." 

Another caveat: "Sorting the good medical information from the bad online can be hard, even for a physician who has medical training, access to medical libraries, medical society that provide guidelines and close colleagues we know to be experts in the field."

Why?

Because, she writes, "there are predatory scientific journals, hidden (and not so hidden) bias, trends that get hyped, and good information is often sprinkled in with low-quality or false information."

Also, Gunter notes, "let's face it, everyone — physicians included — can't resist the lure of a quick fix!"

Another problem — how to uncomplicate net-navigation so a user an "sort out the quality from the quacks."

Among her suggestions "for sorting the sorcery from the science" are to determine whether a given site is "selling a product related to the subject matter…for example, an article about fatigue that sells supplements for that symptom," to beware quasi-scientific buzz words (such as toxins, detoxification or adrenal fatigue), to avoid promises of sensationalized or extreme outcomes (everyone is cured!) and scary tales of harm ("most therapies are not all bad or all good…medicine is more shades of gray than black or white…except smoking…it's bad for you").

Other of her ideas include finding whether a "product or pill [is] being promoted by a doctor" (if they've received money for pushing it, that points to bias and "the information may be correct, but you always want a non-biased source for confirmation," not blindly accepting patient testimonials (which are "not vetted for accuracy or bias"), and not relying on sites that "offer easy solutions for hard problems" (obesity, fatigue, depression and cancer, for instance).

Gunter also cautions about comment sections. "Uncivil and rude comments polarize readers and can lead people to distrust the good content they have just read. Even one ad hominem attack can inflate perceived risk."

Sound advice — as well as anecdotal material — about diseases 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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

4 out of 5 male caregivers are stressed

Best-kept secret? That 16 million men in America are caregivers, about 40% of total, AARP reveals


Caregiving.

That's the main theme of "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

It's also the theme of an old AARP Bulletin story that literally had fallen between the cracks of my home-office desk. It's headline: What is the best-kept secret of caregivers in America? 40 percent of them are men."

After calling male caregivers "an invisible army," the piece reports that some 16 million men care for a family member or friend.

Jean Accius, PhD
But the article cites a big problem for them (via a quote from Jean Accius, PhD and now senior vice president of AARP Global Thought Leadership): Male caregivers don't feel "comfortable asking for help, and they don't necessarily know where to turn."


Although more than 80% of those polled by the University of Michigan found the tasks rewarding, four out of every five also found them stressful.

Almost all, the story says, said the duty made them more aware of their own future needs.

The article, which also details profiles of four caregivers from Virginia, California, Florida and Massachusetts, warns that — according to C. Grace Whiting of the National Alliance for Caregiving — men who thought of themselves as caregivers "should consider that they probably will be" (italics mine).

Another AARP report, "Breaking Stereotypes," says that 25% of male caregivers help with feeding and bathing, 29% with dressing, 30% with bathroom needs.

Friday, May 28, 2021

U.S. judge rejects $2 billion Monsanto offer to quash future suits by Roundup cancer victims

A federal jurist in San Francisco has rejected Monsanto's proposed $2 billion Roundup settlement.

According to a story by Bob Egelko in the San Francisco Chronicle two days ago,  U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria indicates the plan by the giant agribusiness, intended "to fend off suits by cancer victims" who sprayed the company's herbicide on their crops, offered little to users who might be diagnosed with cancer in the future.

Chhabria labeled the proposal "clearly unreasonable."

"More than 100,000 people nationwide who suffer from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and other cancers," the story notes, "have already sued Monsanto and its parent company, Bayer AG." 

Bayer has offered nearly $10 billion to settle those pending lawsuits, resolving almost 70 percent of them. But yesterday's ruling was about an additional $2 billion for those who have yet to go to court.

Three San Francisco juries, including one in which Chhabria presided, have awarded tens of millions of damages to cancer victims of the world's most widely used weed-killer. Those verdicts were undoubtedly based in part on a 2015 statement by the International Association for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organization arm, that glyphosate is a probable cause of cancer in human beings.

Bill Freese, science director of the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, was quoted in the Chronicle article as saying that the settlement would have left many users "high and dry in order to limit Bayer/Monsanto's liability for their carcinogenic herbicide."

The rejected proposal included the limitations that victims already diagnosed with cancer would accept payments no more than $200,000 each and that they could seek compensation for personal harm but not punitive damages, despite the latter being the largest part of previous jury verdicts.

Those not yet diagnosed would have been able to seek four years of company-funded medical monitoring and receive payments from the $2 billion fund if they subsequently got cancer; Chhabria, however, maintained that the proposed compensation fund might run out of money by the time they were diagnosed.

After the ruling, Bayer said it would reevaluate "the future of glyphosate-based products in the U.S. residential market," according to the Chronicle piece.

Monsanto and Bayer have long contended that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found Roundup safe and said it could be sold without warning labels.

Details on other litigation over disease-producing agents 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.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

CEO gives tips on juggling caregiving and work

Companies can help workers who are caregivers do their dual jobs better, writes AARP's chief exec


The headline read, "Companies need to care for their caregivers."

And the subhead stated unequivocally that "supporting your workers is good for business." 

Those words summed up a vintage column in the AARP Bulletin written by the organization's chief executive officer, Jo Ann Jenkins. In it, she noted that for the 60% of family caregivers who also held full- or part-time jobs, "just getting through an average day calls for complex choreography, especially when schedules and needs don't align properly."

As a result, she pointed out, an "urgent medical situation or a transportation glitch can set off a frantic scramble to fill the gaps."

The CEO's article isn't new, nor are the thoughts in it, but they're definitely worth repeating.

Jo Ann Jenkins
She asserted, for instance, that AARP research had found many employers knew caregiving benefits were "increasingly in demand by job applicants" and therefore had become "an important tool for recruiting and retaining top-notch workers."

Jenkins cited specific employers that had instituted "impressive caregiver policies," including CBS, Allianz Life, Emory University, Deloitte and Fannie Mae.

CBS, for example, offered employees "up to 15 days a year of emergency backup care services to fill in when normal care arrangements break down." And Allianz provided "quarterly educational workshops for employees who are caregivers."

Emory, meanwhile, used "a 24/7 call center to provide answers to caregiving questions," and Deloitte gave "workers up to 16 weeks of paid time off annually for caregiving."

Furthermore, Jenkins wrote, Fannie Mae employed "an onsite geriatric care consultant whose services are free to employees, with no limits on usage."

Closer to home, she reported that her organization had offered employees "two paid weeks of caregiving leave each year, in addition to the ability to use their sick leave for caregiving" — plus "flexible work arrangements…and backup care assistance for emergencies."

The AARP exec intimated that caregivers often try to perform their dual jobs "without alerting bosses, for fear of appearing less than fully committed to their jobs."

At least a quarter of all family caregivers are millennials, she mentioned, and at least "50 percent are under the age of 50." 

Clearly they need help.

"Trying to juggle work and caregiving takes a toll," Jenkins wound up. "Let's do our best to make it easier for all of them."

More information about the difficulties of and, moreover, the joys and rewards of caregiving 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, May 17, 2021

Can you beat the odds of contracting disease?

Cancer prevention can be bettered by narrowing screenings, doing a Mediterranean diet, tracking genes


Smarter prevention is helping more Americans beat the odds of getting cancer.

That's the gist of a story by Marygrace Taylor in a Parade magazine some time ago — a story that's subdivided into categories that detail smarter screening, knowing your genes, eating Mediterranean, favorably using social media and eliminating from your lifestyle such an impediment to good health as tobacco.

Under the headline "The People vs. Cancer," the article notes that the overall cancer death rate is continuing to drop.

Referring to lung cancer, the piece contends there's growing evidence that "across-the-board testing might not be beneficial." Instead, it suggests, screening for those most at risk might be best.

Parade then quotes Dr. Peter Mazzone, Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist, to the effect that "the goal is to find ways — other than age and smoking history, to identify high-risk patients."

Mazzone had co-authored lung cancer screening guidelines with the American College of Chest Physicians for low-dose chest CT scans.

By specifically utilizing tests such as breath or blood tests that look for certain biomarkers, experts can minimize the harm done to patients (such as unnecessary biopsies), Taylor writes.

Genetic testing, on the other hand, can be enhanced by those who track their family's health history.

The story cites Dr. Charis Eng, director of the Center for Personalized Genetic Healthcare and chair of the Cleveland Clinic's Genomic Medicine Institute, who maintains that tracing a family tree should include determining who had what:

"The most important things are what's the diagnosis, age when diagnosed, family history and familial clustering of a disease."

It's also important to know, she told Parade, how a given disease presented itself. Such as "if a family member has been diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, we think there might be BRCA1 or BRCA2 [mutated gene] in the family."

Eating well, Taylor also indicates, can be a big preventive.

That may mean loading up "on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nut and beans, olive oil and lean protein like fish." The writer, alluding to a Current Nutrition Reports review, notes that "a Mediterranean-style eating plan has been shown to protect against several types of cancer, including colon, prostate, stomach, esophageal, liver and endometrial cancers."

That diet in postmenopausal women, she adds, also was shown in a Dutch study to "slash the risk for certain breast cancers by up to 40 percent."

The story also quotes Jennifer McDaniel, a registered dietitian and co-author of Prevention Mediterranean Table, as saying that the cancer-fighting effect might also be due to what's not on the diet — foods like processed grains, white bread and rice, red meat and full-fat dairy products.

Why? McDaniel says that eating that way may support a healthy body weight and lower inflammation levels, which in turn help prevent some cancers.

Want to learn about other possible ways to avoid disease? Check out "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Disclosing Medicare number can lead to fraud

Phone calls offering a free cancer screening are most likely to be a scam, AARP Bulletin details


Beware.

That was the intriguing first word of a headline in a yellowed AARP Bulletin, a copy of which I just dug out of a manila folder that had literally fallen between the cracks of my Shelter-in-Place home-office desk.

The entire headline: "Beware of Offers for a Free Cancer Screening."

A subhead tells even more: "Crooks may be fishing for your data so they can commit Medicare fraud."


Rebecca Kinney
The story, by Katherine Skiba, tells of people tricking folks into giving up their 11-digit Medicare numbers so they can create fraudulent claims, "part of the estimated $60 billion that is lost to waste and fraud each year." 

Skiba's piece quotes Rebecca Kinney, acting director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services office that trains volunteers to recognize and report such fraud, as saying that they've "seen several cases where Medicare has been billed anywhere from $6,000 to — in one case — $30,000" for unnecessary DNA tests.

Kinney adds that the "tests are being marketed to them as free without the understanding that Medicare will be billed" — and that people realize they've been duped only when charges show up on their Medicare statements.

Beware, says the HHS' Office of Inspector General of the scams, which have been continuing.

More information about medical fraud 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.