Friday, July 13, 2018

400 lawsuits filed against Monsanto's herbicide

Is Monsanto's Roundup weed killer carcinogenic? Contentious trial underway in San Francisco  

The first court trial to determine if Roundup weed killer is likely to cause cancer is underway in San Francisco.

According to an Associated Press story by Sudhin Thanawala , the contentious trial — with a school groundskeeper dying of the disease as the plaintiff and agribusiness giant Monsanto, the hericide's manufacturer, as defendant — is expected to last about a month.
Dewayne Johnson, plaintiff
The plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, who was diagnosed in 2014 at age 42, claims Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after he sprayed it from a 50-gallon tank attached to a truck as a school district pest control manager. 

The AP quoted the opening statement of Johnson's attorney, Brent Wisner, to the effect that "when the wind was gusty, it would cover his face. When a hose broke once, it soaked his entire body."

The attorney showed jurors photographs of lesions on the body of the plaintiff, who had also sprayed with a similar product, Ranger Pro. 

Wisner alleged that between the diagnosis "and now, it's just nothing but pain."

Monsanto's lawyer, George Lombardi, countered by saying that "non-Hodgkin's lymphoma takes years to develop, so Johnson's cancer started well before he began working at the school district."

Thanawala's story notes that "many government regulators have rejected a link between the active ingredient in Roundup — glyphosate — and cancer. Monsanto has vehemently denied such a connection, saying hundreds of studies have established that glyphosate is safe."

While the plaintiff "is seeking unspecified damages against Monsanto [and] the outcome of Johnson's case will not affect the hundreds of other lawsuits in state and federal may serve as an indicator of how the others might go."

Earlier this week, a San Francisco U.S. District judge, Vince Chhabria, ruled that although evidence seems weak that Roundup causes cancer, experts still could make that claim at trial.

The main claim of the lawsuits by cancer victims and their families is that Monsanto long knew about Roundup's cancer risk but failed to warn them.

Chhabria is handling more than 400 of those suits.

The AP article indicates that Monsanto developed glyphosate in the '70s and that the weed killer is sold in more than 160 countries. "Farmers in California, the most agriculturally productive state in the U.S., use it on more than 200 types of crops. Homeowners use it on their lawns and gardens."

In 2015, the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified the herbicide as a "probable human carcinogen." California later added it to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer.

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the AP, "says glyphosate is safe for humans when used in accordance with label directions."

And in February, the story continues, a federal judge in Sacramento blocked California from required that Roundup carry a warning label, saying it would be "misleading because almost all regulators have concluded that there is no evidence glyphosate is carcinogenic."

In Johnson's case, according to an online story by Helen Christopher of Courthouse News Service, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos sided with Monsanto yesterday by disallowing testimony of an cancer-risk expert. The ruling came on a technicality after the corporation's lawyers accused the plaintiff's legal team of trying to sneak into evidence information about the amount of exposure Johnson experienced.

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

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Is 'co-testing' for disease on the way out?

HPV tests may replace Pap smears regarding cervical cancer changes, study suggests

Pap smears may be on the way out, replaced by a test for HPV, when it comes to detecting cancerous cervical changes.

At least that's what a new decade-long study involving some 19,000 women suggests might happen (because the Human PapillomaVirus test apparently is more sensitive and more accurate).

The study, published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was reported in a Laurie McKinley story in The Washington Post.
Dr. Gina Ogilvie

Dr. Gina Ogilvie, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and lead author of the study, has cited a particular benefit — the research showing "women who received HPV testing have more reassurance with a negative test and can likely get screened less frequently."

Mark Schiffman of the National Cancer Institute, an HPV researcher himself, confirmed "that it's important to move from the Pap smear to the HPV test alone," according to the Post article. 

He also reportedly maintains that the Pap smear, which he calls "crude and inaccurate," worked only because women were tested often and because cervical cancer grows slowly.

HPV, the Post piece says, "is the most common sexually transmitted infection and is usually eliminated by the immune system. But when an infection persists, it can cause cellular changes that develop into precancerous lesions and eventual malignancies."

McGinley's story notes that "about 13,240 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2018, according to the American Cancer Society. About 42,000 women will die of the disease."

In recent years, the article continues, "most medical groups have recommended that women in the United States get both the HPV test and the Pap smear — a practice called 'co-testing.'"

Now, however, many experts are saying the Pap smear should be dropped. That position is still challenged by others who claim "that the Pap smear can catch a small number of cases of abnormal cells that might be missed by the HPV test."

The conventional Pap smear has already been replaced to a large degree by liquid-based Pap cytology tests.

The Post piece contends that "most medical groups," including the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, urge "that women of average risk get both HPV tests and Pap smears every five years between age 30 and 65, though they say a Pap test alone every three years is an acceptable alternative."

McGinley's story also notes that "about 80 million people in the United States are infected with HPV [although] most never develop any health problems because most infections go away by themselves, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

Doctors have long urged children and young adults be vaccinated against HPV with a shot approved in 2006 by the Food and Drug Administration.

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

Friday, June 22, 2018

Oncologists told about chances of recurrence

Pregnancy after breast cancer is now believed safe, lead author of European study says

Breast cancer survivors who want to have children may be sighing with relief.

According to a recent story by Marilynn Marchione of the Associated Press, a study of 1,207 women in Europe shows those who became pregnant after their diagnoses "were no more likely to have their cancer come back than those who did not have a baby."

This was true, the story added, "even if their cancers were the type fueled by hormones, which surge during pregnancy and theoretically might spur a recurrence."

Results of the study were discussed at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago.

Dr. Matteo Lambertini
The study's lead author, Dr. Matteo Lambertini of the Jules Bordet Institute in Brussels, Belgium, was quoted as saying the test results show that "pregnancy after breast cancer can be considered safe."

Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer for ASCO, agreed.

Marchione quoted him as saying the results indicate, "fairly convincingly," that women needn't worry. 

More and more women are being diagnosed with breast cancer in their childbearing years, perhaps an outgrowth of "the average age of moms…rising in the United States," the AP story says.

In fact, it notes, "about 11 percent of new breast cancer cases in the U.S. are in women under 45."

The story also reported that a big study now underway "in the U.S. and other countries is taking this research one step further, testing whether it's safe for breast cancer survivors who want to get pregnant to temporarily suspend taking the hormone-blocking drugs like tamoxifen usually recommended for five years after initial treatment."

More details about studies relating to the disease can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Are toxic treatments a thing of the past?

Many early-stage breast cancer patients may now skip chemo, new study's docs indicate

Lots of women with early-stage forms of breast cancer don't need chemotherapy.

At least that's the bottom line of a major international study, according to a recent report by Denise Grady in The New York Times.

Dr. Ingrid A. Mayer
Grady quotes Dr. Ingrid A. Mayer of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, an author of the study, as saying, "We can spare thousands and thousands of women from getting toxic treatment that really wouldn't benefit them. This is very powerful. It really changes the standard of care."

Instead of chemo, the study found, some women could "take only a drug that blocks the hormone estrogen or stops the body from making it."

That drug, tamoxifen, and related medicines "have become an essential part of treatment for most women," Grady's article says, "because they lower the risks of recurrence, new breast tumors and death from the disease."

The findings, which refer to that alternative endocrine therapy, apparently apply to about 60,000 women a year in the United States, according to Dr. Joseph A. Sparano of Montefiore Medical Center in New York, the study's leader.

The Times quotes Sparano as saying that "now we can spare chemotherapy in about 70 percent of patients who would be potential candidates for it based on clinical features."

But, the story adds, both Mayer and Sparano say women 50 and younger "might benefit from chemo even if gene-test results suggest otherwise. It is not clear why. But these women require especially careful consultation, they said."

The study, called TAILORx, was published in The New England Journal of Medicine and presented at a Chicago meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. It was started in 2006 and was paid for by the U.S. and Canadian governments and philanthropic groups.

After 2016, Genomic Health, the company that makes the gene test Oncotype DX Breast Cancer Assy, the one most used in the United States, helped pay for it.

The test, available since 2004, costs about $3,000, and insurance usually covers it.

Some 260,000 new cases of breast cancer are expected in women in the United States this year, and 41,000 deaths. Globally, according to the Times, "the most recent figures are from 2012, when there were 1.7 million new cases and more than half-a-million deaths."

Chemo, long feared because of nausea and hair loss, puts patients at risk for infection and leukemia later in life. But endocrine therapy also has side effects. According to Grady, they include "hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause, weight gain and pain in joints and muscles."

Tamoxifen can increase the risk of cancer of the uterus, the story notes.

Despite the discomforts and risks, women with breast cancer have been getting chemo since 2000, when the National Cancer Institute recommended it even for those whose disease had not spread to lymph nodes "based on studies showing it could prevent the cancer from recurring elsewhere in the body and becoming incurable."

Sparano contends, however, that although "recurrences were being prevented, and lives prolonged…we were probably overtreating a lot of these women."

Mayer admitted that "we couldn't figure out who we really needed to treat."

More details on studies about the disease, treatments and risks can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Java industry fighting California jurist's decision

Professor-doctor rebukes judge's final ruling that coffee labels warn about cancer risks

After countless delays (that have taken eight years), it's a done deal at last. Almost.

At least a Los Angeles Superior Court judge's final ruling about the need for warning labels on coffee has become a fait accompli, though not everyone's sanguine about his decision. 

The decision, as might be expected, is being appealed by coffee producers.
Dr. Aaron E. Carroll

And in a recent article in The New York Times under the rubric The New Health Care, Dr. Aaron E. Carroll claims the ruling — which harkens back to statewide ballot Proposition 65 enacted in 1986 and concerns a suit filed against about 90 coffee companies by a nonprofit, Council for Education and Research on Toxics — isn't backed by evidence and could do more harm than good.

The judge's decision is based on the fact that coffee contains acrylamide, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer has warned is a "probable human carcinogen." 

But Carroll, a pediatrics prof at the Indiana University School of Medicine who blogs on health research and policy, maintains the agency "has backpedaled in recent years, [essentially reversing itself when] in 2016 it declared that 'drinking coffee was not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.'"

Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle finalized his ruling in early May after having tentatively made the same decision in March.

The coffee industry has argued all along that the acrylamide is present in coffee but at harmless levels.

What's next? 

The nonprofit, according to an Associated Press story, now must "seek a permanent injunction that would either lead to ominous warning labels" or a commitment by the industry to reduce the chemical from their product, as the potato chip industry did years ago when it, too, was sued by the same group.

Carroll, who's also been outspoken that there's little evidence to support the notion that artificial sweeteners pose a health risk, asserts that acrylamide "is found in about 40 percent of the calories consumed by people in the United States," and notes that the Food and Drug Administration "reports that there is no viable commercial process for making coffee without producing at least some acrylamide."

The writer, who's opposed to most warning labels, points out that "meta analyses have shown that coffee is associated with lower risks of liver cancer, and no increased risk of prostate cancer or breast cancer," and that "when we look at cancer over all, it appears that coffee — if anything — is associated with a lower risk of cancer."

Carroll has authored a new book, "The Bad Food Bible: How and Why to Eat Sinfully," which contends that butter, salt, diet soda and alcohol have undeserved bad reputations.

Prop 65 had mandated "that businesses with more than 10 employees warn consumers if their products contain one of many chemicals that the state has ruled as carcinogenic" — a category acrylamide falls into. 

More details on which carcinogens appear in which products can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Quirk in cancer drug coverage causing disparity

Advocacy groups seek U.S. law killing price disparity that keeps women from pill form of chemo

Cost may be steering some breast cancer patients away from the preferred pill form of chemotherapy.

Many aren't getting those treatments, which can be taken in the privacy and convenience of the the patient's home as opposed to the intravenous drugs given in hospitals and oncologists' offices, because those pills costs thousands of dollars a month versus the infusion drugs that can require a comparatively small co-pay.

Because of the expense difference, caused by a quirk in how Medicare and private insurance plans cover cancer drugs, patient advocacy organizations are fighting for passage of a Cancer Drug Coverage Parity Act, which is languishing in Congress like so many other consumer-friendly ideas.

Terry Wilcox, co-founder and exec director of one of the advocacy groups, Patients Rising, wrote a recent op-ed piece for The Hill — a Washington, D.C., political newspaper and website — that pushes the idea of eliminating the pricing disparity.

Forty-three states have passed laws mandating parity so far, but that doesn't apply to federally mandated plans such as Medicare (or, for that matter, many employer-sponsored plans).

At the moment, oral therapies are classified on the national level as a "pharmacy benefit," burdening patients with the much higher co-payments (in contrast to the "medical benefit" designation for the intravenous treatments). 

The proposed change would make the pills more accessible.

And drop their cost from about $10,000 per treatment to as little as one-fifth that price.

Because of the "cost burden," Wilcox writes, "some patients forego their treatment altogether."

His article cites a new study in the journal Oncology that finds nearly half of cancer patients abandoning chemo therapies when their out-of-pocket expenses go above $2,000.

Wilcox's article notes that, worst of all, "roughly one-third of new chemotherapies only exist in pill form, meaning patients treated with the newest and best therapies have no other option."

Anita DeVine
According to Anita DeVine, co-chair of a Detroit group, Cancer Thrivers Network for Jewish Women, "the extremely high cost of oral chemotherapy is wiping people out [and because] it is so costly, people are not filling their prescriptions and not getting therapy."

Furthermore, she says, "it is predicted that in the next three to five years, up to 50 percent of chemotherapy will be oral."

Partially because of new treatments, including immunotherapies, death rates for cancer have fallen 26 percent since 1991 — resulting, Wilcox maintains, in 2.4 million lives saved.

The Parity Act bill has been introduced bye Rep. Leonard Lance, a New Jersey Republican, and Rep. Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat.

The cost of drugs is further discussed in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at caregivers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Plans to cut health care costs may be backfiring

Study shows delays in breast cancer testing, treatment due to high deductibles could kill

Delay might be deadly.

Especially when it comes to women getting tested for breast cancer.

Many, however, nevertheless delay their testing and treatment when faced with high deductibles, according to a story by Reed Abelson this week in The New York Times.

High deductible plans, his story, says, "have become commonplace, a deterrent used by [insurance] companies to lower health care costs by discouraging unnecessary tests or treatments."

But those plans inherently carry great risks, Abelson writes, despite their having become much more popular "since the Great Recession 10 years ago [when] people increasingly deferred medical care, putting off elective surgeries and doctors' visits," action that did result in national health care spending slowing.

However, a recent study of women with insurance plans that carried deductibles of at least $1,000, the writer notes, "underscores the danger to consumers required to shoulder a greater share of those costs."

The study also professes that "women who had just learned they had breast cancer were more likely to delay." 

About half of all covered U.S. workers "are now enrolled in plans with a deductible of at least $1,000, and many must pay several thousand dollars in medical bills before their plans even start to cover their care," Abelson contends.

Moreover, a survey of employer benefits by the Kaiser Family Foundations shows "about 11 percent of covered workers have a deductible of at least $3,000" and, the Times story maintains, employers are "more frequently giving their workers no other option."

A review of medical claims, Abelson's article charges, "exposed a pattern: Women confronting such immediate expenses put off getting diagnostic imaging and biopsies, postponing treatment."

Dr. J. Frank Wharam
The piece also quotes Dr. J. Frank Wharam, Harvard researcher and one of the study's authors, to the effect that those women "delayed beginning chemotherapy by an average of seven months."

The bottom line: "Slight delays added up to long delays," Wharam notes in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Survival rates are, naturally, higher for patients with some cancers if they're treated early.

In that regard, the Times piece goes on to report that "high-deductible plans pose a problem, say researchers who have studied them, because patients do not always distinguish between the care they should get and what they can do without."

The story also quotes Dr. Peter Bach, director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as it makes a key point: While high-deductible plans are meant to encourage people to think twice about whether a test or treatment is necessary and if it can be done at a lower price, "it's also frankly to impede their use of these services."

Although the plans apparently are succeeding in reducing the use of care, he asks: "The question is, at what cost?"

More insight into how the medical industry deals with the cost of care can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at caregivers.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Writer of book on MysteryDates® needs advice

'Rollercoaster' author seeks your help in picking title of his new volume on relationships

Woody Weingarten
I, Woody Weingarten, need your assistance.

I'm comfortably near the end of the third draft of my new book but am unsure what to call it. So I'd like you to help me pick one of the two working titles.

Please let me know which you prefer and, if you feel particularly energetic, why. 

And if you have any additional suggestions, just send along them to: or

Here are my finalists at the moment.

How MysteryDates® can 
recharge your relationship

Hundreds of tips on what you 
can do and see, where to go
— locally, nationally, globally


How to keep a sizzle
in your relationship 

Hundreds of tips on what you 
can do and see, where to go
— locally, nationally, globally

This second book, by the way, is in no way related to my first except that it, too, includes anecdotal material from my three-decade-plus marriage to Nancy Fox, the heroine of "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," which I aimed specifically at male caregivers.

Thanks for your support.