Friday, January 17, 2020

Actress pushes women's mental, physical health

Angelina Jolie promoting care for breast cancer patients, especially through loved ones, docs, research


More and more, Academy Award-winning actress Angelina Jolie is becoming known for her work outside Tinseltown.

Such as promoting caregiving for breast cancer patients — not only in regard to the care of loved ones but other aspects pertaining to "mental and emotional health, and physical safety."

Angelina Jolie
In a piece she wrote for a recent edition of Time magazine, Jolie, who's gained even more fame as a special envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, explains that "care is not just about medical treatments. It's also about the safety, dignity and support afforded to women, whether they're battling cancer or trying to manage other stressful situations."

Far too often, her column indicates, "they're not given nearly enough."

Jolie had a prophylactic double mastectomy in 2013 — plus surgery two years afterward to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes — because she'd learned through a genetic test that she carried a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, which sharply increased her chances of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

The surgeries reduced but didn't eliminate those chances. With the operations, she writes, she had an estimated risk of 87 percent of getting breast cancer, 50 percent of ovarian.

Without the mutation, women typically have a 13 percent risk of breast cancer.

But Jolie, a contributing editor of Time, insists that without proper care, a female patient can fall apart not only because of risks of disease like cancer but "because of other pressures in her life that receive no attention at all…her family situation, her safety and whether she is carrying stress that is undermining her health and making her days much more difficult."

It should not take "someone getting sick to realize that faring for them and not harming them is necessary," she insists.

The now 44-year-old Jolie, who'd lost both mother and grandmother to breast cancer before their late 50s, adds that although there's been rapid progress in technology and science since her surgeries that can help "more people survive in the future and [be] able to live better lives during their illness," there's still "no reliable screening test for ovarian or prostate cancer…and no effective treatment for the most aggressive forms of breast cancer, known as triple negative cancers."

The actress, daughter of actor Jon Voight, while maintaining that care and support of loved ones is the most important factor in women's ability to cope with cancer and to face even the possibility of the disease, cites other related problems that plague modern females — post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, "anxiety, psychological distress, sexual violence and domestic violence."

And then, she writes, there's "poor mental health" stemming from "discrimination, overwork, poverty, malnutrition, low social status and unremitting responsibility for the care of others."

Care for patients is an integral part of "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Allergan hit in piece on agency's foot-dragging

'Consumer Reports' blasts FDA and continuing risk of silicone-filled implants for breast reconstruction


Allergan, which manufactures silicone-filled breast implants with a textured surface, has come under fire by "Consumer Reports" because of the danger the devices present.

In an unsigned article in CR's December issue, the magazine — which noted that medical items such as pacemakers, artificial joints and implants — "are subject to much less rigorous premarket testing than drugs are."

Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D.
The result? According to Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D., president of the National Center for Health Research, "silicone breast implants were introduced in the 1960 with little or no safety research."

In fact, the piece also asserts, the Federal Drug Administration "didn't begin regulating medical devices or requiring research on their efficacy and safety until 1976, after many devices were already in use."

Even then, CR continues, "the agency didn't require premarket studies until 1991 — when it determined there was insufficient safety research, and soon after put a moratorium on sales."

In 2006, the FDA finally approved silicone implants, which are often used for reconstructive surgery — but only on the condition that manufacturers conduct post-market studies. 

Still, according to the "Consumer Reports" piece, "more problems emerged" and in 2011 the FDA "announced a link between silicone- and saline-filled implants and a form of cancer called anapestic large cell lymphoma (ALCL)."

Although Allergan's research into the device was abruptly halted — without the FDA penalizing or requiring a recall by the manufacturer.

In 2010, the FDA, after learning of "a significant increase" in known cases of of ALCL (aka BIA-ALCL), finally requested a recall (eight years after the agency had acknowledged a risk).  But there's still no system for "manufacturers to find and notify doctors and patients about a recall."

Also, the magazine contends that although Allergan "will pay for replacement implants in the case of a cancer diagnosis or implant defect, it doesn't cover the surgical costs of preventive implant removal. Most insurers won't cover it, either."

For more information on reconstruction and implants, pick up a copy of "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Quashing negative emotions may help healing

New Taiwan study finds that music might lessen pain, fatigue, appetite problems of breast cancer patients


Listening to music at home may reduce breast cancer patients' pain and fatigue.

At least in the short run.

That activity, according to a recent story by Carolyn Crist in Reuters Health, can also "ease symptoms like loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating."

Research in Taiwan, the article continues, found that breast cancer patients "assigned to 30 minutes of music listening five times a week had 'noticeably' reduced side effects of cancer and its treatment over 24 weeks."

A report on the study appeared in the European Journal of Cancer Care. 

Why did the music help?

Crist's piece says it aided patients physical and psychological well being "because it distanced them from negative thoughts about cancer."


Professor Kue-Ru Chou
Kuel-Ru Chou, professor in the School of Nursing at Taipei Medical University, senior author of the study that looked at 60 patients, notes that "music therapy is convenient, does not involve invasive procedures, and can easily be used by people in the comfort of their homes."

Home-based "music interventions," she continued in an email to Reuters Health, "can also be used with no cost." 

The study offered patients a choice of classical, pop, Taiwanese and religious music. 

A control group could only select from environmental sounds, which, Crist's story says, "research has shown does little to reduce pain or symptoms"

There is a caveat about the benefits of music, however.

Based on the study's findings, Crist writes, "music therapy may not relieve long-term physical and mental fatigue."

The scribe also explains that the study's authors speculate "because listening to music promotes endorphins, dopamine and serotonin in the brain, the chemicals may spark joy and positive emotions that distract patients from the negative emotions."

In addition, the authors maintain, "music could affect functions of the cardiovascular, respiratory, muscular, skeletal, nervous and metabolic systems as well, relieving muscle tension and pain."

Healing benefits of other things, such as humor, are addressed in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

HPV shots might save thousands of lives

Vaccines, screenings, treatments could severely cut deaths from cervical cancer, N.Y. Times says


Cervical cancer last year killed more than 311,000 women, one every two minutes, but early detection might have prevented thousands of those deaths around the world.

Such detection, it's believed, could have resulted in expanded screenings and treatments.

In addition, an increase in HPV vaccinations for teenage girls may have helped a great deal.

At least those are the conclusion drawn by Mia Armstrong in a recent story in The New York Times. 

Dr. Kirsten Austad
Armstrong quotes Dr. Kirsten Austad, director of women's health for the Maya Health Alliance, as saying, "Almost no one needs to die of cervical cancer."

Of the more than 300,000 annual deaths from cervical cancer, the fourth most common cancer for women globally, the Times piece notes, more than 85 percent were in low- and middle-income countries.

The story also mentions a World Health Organization estimate of 570,000 new cases in 2018, the same year that Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO, "called for coordinated global action" to eliminate the disease.

Armstrong cites, too, the words of Dr. Silvia de Sanjosé, director of women's cancer for PATH, a nonprofit focused on global health, to the effect that such a coordinated effort "was crucial to elevating the issue," which had previously received little attention.

"I would not say that that's enough," she said, the story continues. "But it's clearly a turning point." 

She also told the Times about a couple of big challenges: The vaccine needs to be given after age nine, which is later than most routine vaccines, and the price tag, which in the lowest-income countries costs approximately $4.50, jumps to $150 in some places.

WHO recommends that 9- to 14-year-old girls receive two does of the [HPV vaccine, which protects] against HPV infections responsible for 70 to 90 percent of cervical cancers."

The difficulty is, however, that, according to the story, WHO estimates indicate that "only around 25 percent of 10-year-olds live in counties that have introduced the HPV vaccine."

Other calls to action about diseases can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his wife's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Drug added to hormone treatment gets support

Younger women with advanced breast cancer can find hope in new targeted therapy, N.Y. Times says 


A new drug has brought new hope for younger women with advanced breast cancer.

According to a recent story by by Denise Grady in The New York Times, "adding a newer medicine to the standard hormonal treatment helped women who had not reached menopause or were still going through it."

Seventy percent of the women in a clinical test, the article says, "were still alive three and a half years [after taking the drug], compared with only 46 percent of those given the standard treatment alone."

Grady's piece explains that the "standard treatment uses drugs to block the hormone estrogen or stop the body from making it, because estrogen feeds the growth of breast cancer in many patients."

The new findings apply only to women "whose tumors are sensitive to estrogen but lack a protein called HER2."

Dr. Debu Tripathy
Dr. Debu Tripathy, an author of the study and chair of breast medical oncology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, is quoted by Grady as follows: "I think there's a lot of optimism now that were have pushed the survival boundary, that we can go farther. Once you break a boundary, you learn how to break more boundaries."

The Times also quotes Dr. Sylva Adams, a breast cancer specialist and researcher at NYU Langone Health's Perlmuter Cancer Center but not a part of the study, as saying "this is wonderful news. It's a trial worth highlighting."

She also notes that — while citing the study as "a very important milestone" — "there have been very few studies in advanced breast cancer…showing a clear survival benefit."

The pill used in the trial, ribociclib, is, The Times reports, "a so-called targeted therapy, which blocks an enzyme that helps cancer grow. It was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017 for postmenopausal women with advanced breast cancer, and then in 2018 for younger women."

Ribociclib, which women may take for months (or even several years), costs $12,553 a month. Its usage must be monitored closely, Grady writes, "because it can cause dangerous abnormalities in heart rhythm, as well as liver and kidney problems and lowered blood counts that can increase the risk of infection."

Like all targeted therapies, the article adds, "it may stop working as the cancer developed resistance to it."

The results of the study, which were slated to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, in Chicago, were published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The study included 672 women aged 18 to 59. All had advanced breast cancer, "meaning it had recurred after treatment or had begun to spread, and was no longer considered curable."

More information about new 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.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Help possible for some breast, prostate diseases

Common dietary supplement might be the remedy for a rare genetic mutation that can lead to cancer


Although a rare genetic mutation leads to cancer, a fix may already be available.

According to a recent story by Gina Kolata in The New York Times, "a common dietary supplement may help overcome mutations in the Pten gene."

The real question, the Times asks, is, "Should patients take it?"

And the paper's answer, based on medical personnel that were interviewed, is a qualified yes.

Kolata's article says that the mutation "markedly raises the risk for several cancers, including prostate and breast cancer…as well as autism and schizophrenia in some individuals."

The lifetime risk in carriers, it indicates, is an astoundingly high 85 percent.

In theory, those at risk could help themselves by eating brussels sprouts, broccoli or other cruciferous veggies. The problem is, Kolata reports, to get enough to be of real use, "they'd have to eat a lot: six pounds of brussels sprouts a day — raw."

Instead, a healing compound "is widely available as a dietary supplement" found in local drugstores.

Experts, Kolata adds, "are debating whether to embark on a clinical trial with it."

The Times specifically cites a study published in the journal Science in which "researchers found evidence that a compound called indole-3-cabinol (i3c) blocks an enzyme that inhibits the activity of Pten. With the gene more active, patients with the mutation may be better protected against cancer."

The study, Kolata notes, "was done only in mice and in human cancer cells grown  in petrie dishes."

She explains, further, that although the findings do apply to Pten gene activity, "there is little evidence for most of the other wild claims made for i3c by supplement makers."

Although inherited Pten mutations are rare, striking one in 200,000, the gene also spontaneously mutates in many tumors. "When that happens," the Times piece maintains, "the patient's prognosis is poor."

Dr. Mustafa Sahin
The article quotes Dr. Mustafa Sahin, an expert on the gene at Boston Children's Hospital (who wasn't involved in the work at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston that was the basis for the Journal report), called the research a "tour de force study" whose result was "a paradigm shift in the field [that is] very exciting in terms of its therapeutic implications."

The Times also quotes Dr. Pier Paolo Pandolfi, director of the center who's been trying to find a way to restore Pten activity for years and is the senior author of the paper, as saying about the findings: "We got lucky — or smart."

More information about mutations, especially the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene, 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, October 14, 2019

Once you hit 80, odds say you'll live past 90

Risk factors for another cancer jump up if you've already had one kind — or if one of your kin has


Is it possible to live cancer-free?

The answer is a resounding yes, at least according to a recent non-bylined article in the AARP Magazine, whose subhead reads in part, "Age is a risk factor for cancer, but the chances of developing a fatal cancer may actually begin to decline at age 70."

It also contends that "once you hit 80, our chance of living to 90 and beyond goes way up."


The article isn't totally positive, however.

It says, for instance, that "women who have had breast cancer are more at risk for another type of breast cancer, and other cancers."

And it notes that "a Stanford University study showed that people diagnosed with six or more basal cell carcinomas have more than three times the odds for developing future cancers, such as breast, colon and prostate cancer as well as leukemia and lymphoma — likely due to an underlying  problem in genes that repair DNA."

In short, having one kind of cancer makes a woman or man prone to other kinds. 

And if you smoked, it says, "you're at increased risk for not only lung cancer but also a dozen other cancers, including oral, cervical, bladder and pancreatic."

Your family medical history can also increase your risk.
Heather Hampel
The AARP piece quotes Heather Hampel, associate director of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, as saying that if you have a family history of cancer you should coordinate with a genetic counselor who can put your results in perspective and recommend an action plan.

"Women who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, for example, have up to a 72% chance of developing breast cancer and 44% chance of ovarian cancer by age 80," the article states.

But, even though in the general population women have only about a 12% lifetime risk of breast cancer, and "though those statistics sound scary, genetic testing can help doctors guide you on the best ways to prevent cancers, or diagnose this earlier, when they are treatable," the AARP mag further   quotes Hampel.

More information about risks 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.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Diet change can slice chance of death by 21%

Cutting down on fat while eating more veggies and fruits might save you from dying of breast cancer


Eating more fruits and veggies, and less fat, can cut women's risk of dying from breast cancer, a new study says.

According to a recent story by Marilynn Marchione of the Associated Press, a test involving 49,000 breast cancer-free women between the ages of 50 and 79 over two decades shows that those "who modified their diets for at least eight years and who later developed the cancer had a 21% lower risk of dying of the disease compared to others who continued to eat as usual."

Marchione's piece explains that results of the large, rigorous experiment are notable because, for the first time, researchers didn't merely "try to draw health conclusions from observation about how people eat."

But because the "risk was small to start with and diet's effect was not huge…it took 20 years for the difference between the groups to appear."

The diet change, the AP story continues, "also did not lower the risk of developing breast cancer, which was the study's main goal."


Dr. Rowan Chlebowski
Results, which stemmed from the Women's Health Initiative, a major federally funded study that previously overturned longtime advice on hormone therapy for menopause symptoms, were announced by Dr. Rowan Chlebowski of Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in a telephone news conference held by the American Society of Clinical Oncology prior to its annual meeting.

Chlebowski, the AP story reports, "is working on another study to see whether women who are obese or have certain other health risks get the biggest benefit from trimming dietary fat. Results from this study suggest they might."

Marchione's article adds that Dr. Lidia Schapira, a breast cancer expert at Stanford University and a spokeswoman for the oncology society, says that because of the quality of the study, "we need to take this very seriously. What we eat matters." 

More information about research into possible disease preventions 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.