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


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.

Monday, April 19, 2021

New drug can melt tumors in 1 in 4 lung cancer patients before surgery, Associated Press reports

A new immune-boosting drug may help patients and doctors before lung cancer operations. 

According to last week's Associated Press story by Marilynn Marchione, physicians have reported that the drug, Opdivo, "gave dramatic results when used with chemotherapy before surgery in patients with operable lung tumors."

The article says a study of 350 patients showed 25% of them given the Bristol Myers Squibb drug and chemo "had no signs of cancer remaining" after their operations.

Marchione quotes Dr. Roy Herbst, a lung specialist at the Yale Cancer Center who had no role in the study, as saying, "They open the person up and the tumor's just melted away. It's incredible."

The study's results were reported at an American Association for Cancer Research conference.

Opdivo and similar drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, the AP story indicates, "work by removing a cloak that some cancer cells have that hides them from the immune system."

Dr. Antoni Ribas, a cancer special at the University of California, Los Angeles, and president of the group sponsoring the conference, declared that the drug "is a great new step" for furthering the immune system's ability to attack lung cancer.

More details about recent 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.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

New U.S. guidelines urge doubling of people that should get annual lung-cancer cat-scans

New federal guidelines could almost double the number of people advised to get yearly lung-cancer screenings.

The point, according to a recent story by Denise Grady in The New York Times, is to include more women and Black and young people.

Early discovery of the disease, the most deadly cancer, could help "cure it in more people at high risk because of smoking," the Times piece says. In those individuals, the article indicates, "annual CT scans can reduce the risk of death from cancer by 20 to 25 percent, large studies have found."

The story quotes Robert Smith, a Ph.D. and screening expert at the American Cancer Society, as saying, "Part of the low uptake is simply lack of access to credit. Smoking in general is increasingly concentrated in lower-income populations."

He contends that "researchers have found that half the population eligible for lung-cancer screening had either no insurance, or Medicaid" — but an editorial in the medical journal "JAMA" explained that not all Medicaid plans cover the screening.

What that means, Smith says, is that there "could be a 15-year period when you might quality for screening and not have any insurance."

Grady also quotes Dr. Mara Antonoff, a lung surgeon at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, to the effect that some studies "have alluded to some hormonal influences in women. In terms of racial differences, we don't have an answer. We have population-based data to show they have a tendency to develop lung cancer younger and with less exposure to tobacco, but we don't have a mechanism."

The article indicates that "14.5 million people would qualify for the screening" — representing an increase of 6.4 million. But researchers "estimate that only 6 to 18 percent of those who qualify and could be helped by the screening have taken advantage of it."

One reason could well be the cost — $300. Some who need the scans most simply "may not be able to afford them," the story postulates. 

CT scans — casually called cat-scans and formally called computerized tomography — provide much more detailed information than ordinary X-rays.

The story, based on advice published in "JAMA," says the new recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force "include people ages 50 to 80 who have smoked at least a pack a day for 20 years or more, and who still smoke or have quit within the past 15 years."

Earlier U.S. guidelines were based on males, who tend to smoke more heavily, the Times reports, further noting that women and Black Americans "tend to develop lung cancer earlier and from less tobacco exposure than white men, experts said."

Why the risk appears to differ by race and gender, the story says, "is not known."

The Times piece also suggests that Smith and other researchers believe a good portion of patients "may be missing out on lung-cancer screening because they just don't know about it" — or because some doctors may not strongly encourage it.

The statistics are grim. "There were 228,820 new cases of lung cancer in the United States in 2020," Brady writes, "and 135,720 people died from it, according to the National Cancer Institute. About 90 percent of cases occur in people who smoke, and current smokers' risk of developing the disease is about 20 times that of nonsmokers."

Monday, December 21, 2020

Book about sorcerer, fairies set for prime time

Fantasy, Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmates, and related website approach their launch dates

The pandemic, believe it or not, has had some positive impact.

For instance, it's given me — Woody Weingarten — plenty of time to tweak my new website, which is nearing completion and which will promote the fantasy book I co-authored with my then eight-year-old granddaughter, Hannah Schifrin.

It's also given me plenty of time to tweak the magical book itself, probably ensuring that Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmates will meet its hoped-for publication date next month.

Bottom line: Both the volume itself, which is aimed at 6- to 10-year-olds, and the related website are both almost ready for prime time.

The VitalityPress book, which is illustrated in full color by Joe Marciniak, a longtime artistic pro, tells the four-part tale of a sorcerer, Grandpa Graybeard, who often has to get his granddaughter, Lily, and her best friend, Penny, out of trouble when the two eight-year-old fairies mess up their magic spells.

Their misadventures become terrific fun for all three characters — and for young readers who enjoy letting their imaginations run wild.

While proofs of Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmates are on the way to me for approval, and the finishing touches are being put on the website that can be found at after it's launched, I'm also editing The Roving I, a book that will embrace newspaper columns I'd written over an 11-year period.

This interested in caregiving might check out, through your local bookstore or Amazon, my earlier book, Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer, a VitalityPress volume I aimed at male caregivers but one that can also aid female patients and caregivers through factual information and anecdotes. It's a comprehensive memoir-chronicle and guide to scientific research, meds and where to get help.

Though I became an expert reluctantly, I at last can unflinchingly share what I've gleaned from personal experience (including a weekly support group I've run for more than 25 years). 

And that's the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth — no fantasy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Survival rates jump 80% with new treatment

Clinical trial finds drug combination that might stop metastasized prostate cancer from worsening

A new study shows that an experimental drug combo that controls hormones may halt the progression of prostate cancer.

Dr. Christopher Sweeney
Dr. Chris Sweeney
A clinical trial led by Dr. Christopher Sweeney at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, according to a story in the October-November issue of AARP Magazine, determined that survival rates could jump as much as 80 percent when the combination is used.

Sweeney's study, the AARP article notes, focused on what can happen when enzalutamide, an oral drug that blocks hormone reception, is combined with testosterone-suppressing medication. 

That study, like other research, was based on the notion that "testosterone and other male hormones can fuel the growth of cancer cells." 

What was being sought were ways "to either suppress the production of hormones or stop cells from receiving them."

Sweeney's study, the story asserts, did both.

The AARP article centered on one particular participant in the study, Dr. John Hammel, a psychiatrist who was diagnosed in 2016 with late-stage prostate cancer that had already begun to metastasize.

Hammel's quoted as saying "I was despondent — I didn't think I'd live a year."

That attitude made him, after initial skepticism, jump at the chance when his oncologist told him about the "real treatment" that was available, "not just palliative care." 

During the study, Hammel reportedly saw his PSA test numbers "drop from 2,000 to 450 to four and then to undetectable for six months" — and then stay there.

The trial, the story says, helped him start living again, "instead of focusing on his prognosis." 

For more information about clinical trials and their results, check out "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.