Monday, May 23, 2016

Up to 70% of cancers could be prevented

Old research challenged: 'Bad behavior trumps bad luck' when it comes to causes of diseases 

I've always been a believer in preventive medicine and a healthy lifestyle.

And a new analysis published in JAMA Oncology shows I've been on the right track.

The journal says between 40 and 70 percent of U.S. cancer deaths could be prevented if Americans stopped smoking, cut down on their alcohol, maintained a healthy weight and exercised at least 150 minutes each week.

In the meantime, cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease, the article indicates.

Findings in the study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston and reported today by Melissa Healy in the Los Angeles Times suggest women who followed the preventive guidelines reduced their risk of breast cancer by 15 percent, lung cancer by 85 percent, other cancers somewhere in between.

Men did even better, as high as 90 percent for lung cancer.

A total of 89,571 women and 46,339 men participated in the analysis, which the Times said "was based on cancer rates and health behaviors in two large and long-running studies of health professionals — the Nurses' Health study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study," and which also used data from the National Cancer Institute.

The findings, according to the article, "present a significant challenge to research published last year that said as many as 80 percent of cancers might be attributable to factors beyond the control of individuals — the 'back luck' hypothesis. Instead the new research offers evidence that bad behavior trumps bad luck as a cause of cancer."

Edward Giovannucci
 Mingyang Song
The Times story quoted Dr. Mingyang Song of Massachusetts General Hospital and Dr. Edward Giovannucci of the Harvard T.H. Cohn School, the study's authors, as believing "primary prevention should remain a priority for cancer control."

Unfortunately, American adults remain vested in bad habits and bad lifestyle choices.

Apparently, about 17 percent, roughly 40 million, are still smoking cigarettes; obesity is a problem for 38 percent; almost a quarter of them do no exercise outside of job requirements; and 6.7 percent report they're heavy drinkers (with a full quarter  of adults acknowledging they engaged in binge drinking in the last month).

The top 10 causal factors account for nearly 75 percent of all deaths — with heart disease and cancer followed, in turn, by chronic lower respiratory disease, accidents, stroke, Alzheimer's, diabetes, flu and pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide.

Information and statistics on other studies can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, have aimed at male caregivers.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Gene mutation may portend four times the risk

Men worry about defective breast cancer genes as possible clue to deadly prostate cancer

Holy cow, it wasn't enough that I worried about women I know having BRCA1 and 2 mutant genes that portend breast and ovarian cancers.

Now I'm worrying about the guys, too.

Seems that, according to a recent article in The Washington Post by Laurie McGinley, men (like me) are becoming more aware that the defective genes — "the kind that prompted actress Angelina Jolie to have her breasts and ovaries removed preemptively," the story notes — have also been linked to aggressive, potentially deadly prostate cancer.

McKinley writes that "men with these mutations are more likely than non-carriers to contract aggressive, lethal prostate cancer, to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage and to ultimately die of the disease, researchers say."

A study recently presented to a meeting of  the American Urological Association found 17 percent of patients with BRCA2 "already had advanced [prostate] disease, four times the rate of patients without the mutation," the article states. 
Dr. Bruce Montgomery

McKinley's story quotes Dr. Bruce Montgomery, an oncologist at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance-University of Washington Medical Center as saying, "The problem is, everyone associates this with women and their cancers. In men's minds, BRCA is about breast cancer, so they don't see it as relevant."

The implication, of course, is that they're wrong. It is not only relevant, knowledge about the mutation is a crucial part of a health-education learning curve.

Although "an estimated 12 percent of women will develop breast cancer during their lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute," McKinley's story says, "that proportion rises to as high as 65 percent of women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation and about 45 percent for those with a BRCA2 defect."

Men with the BRCA mutation also are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer. Currently, more than 2,000 American males contract that disease each year.

To learn even more about the BRCA defects, check out "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," the VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

'Dual duty' digital screenings are lauded

Research finds mammograms can find signs of heart disease at same time as breast cancer

Sure, we all know mammograms can detect early breast cancers and, therefore, save lives.

But we didn't know until recently that the tests may also red-flag heart disease.

And strokes.

Dr. Harvey Hecht
According to a Newsday story by Delthia Ricks, Dr. Harvey Hecht, a professor of medicine at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine in Manhattan, says calcium deposits that show up on the digital screenings can be "a more powerful predictor of heart disease risk than other well-established cardiovascular indicators such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes."

It takes "less than 15 seconds to analyze," he said.

Heart disease kills 10 times more women than breast cancer, the story indicated.

Dr. Laurie Margolies
Dr. Laurie Margolies, chief of breast imaging at Mount Sinai Hospital's Dubin Breast Center, and one of Hecht's co-researchers in a study that involved nearly 300 women, emphasized that "a single mammogram can yield results about cancer and heart disease at the same time."   

The pair presented their findings at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Chicago about the possibilities of the "unappreciated tool" in effect doing double duty.

Questions about the efficacy of mammography? They may be answered in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, have aimed at male caregivers.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Doctor warns of hidden facts, bad memory

Not really knowing your family medical history can cause you cancer woes, oncologist says 

Heredity and cancer are inexorably linked.

Even if you prefer denial.

Theodora Ross
Knowing your family history could save your life, according to a recent story by Theodora Ross, an oncologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in the Washington Post.

Hidden facts can be destructive, Ross indicates, pointing to one of her young patients who joked about her Irish heritage but discovered, through testing for breast cancer gene mutations, that she carried an Ashkenazi Jewish mutation that could spell trouble.

It was learned that her French Jewish family, apparently fearing anti-Semitism during World War II, had converted to Catholicism and made Ireland their home.

Ross, author of "A Cancer in the Family: Take Control of Your Genetic Inheritance," points out in her article that "many illnesses…are at least partly hereditary. One recent study found that 33 percent of cancer diagnoses can be explained by genes."

She also notes that "only one-third of Americans have ever tried to collect their family medical histories from relatives" and that part of the problem "is the fault of the medical profession…physicians [may] devote just three minutes to asking family-history questions during a patient's first visit."

Another difficulty is that many "relatives might never have revealed that they were sick, particularly if they struggled with a disease that carries a stigma." 

For example, she adds, "according to one study, 58 percent of psychiatrists said they wouldn't tell family and friends if they suffered from a mental illness."

Fear, ostracism and shame certainly can become obstacles to the truth.

Ross also cites patients who interpreted histories incorrectly, including one who "denied that he had a family history of cancer because, he said, nobody had died. Another suggested that her sister's breast cancer at age 38 was due to her divorce. One even told me her father had only 'a touch of melanoma.'"

In addition, language can be a barrier to understanding.

"It wasn't so long ago that tuberculosis was known as 'consumption' and epilepsy was 'falling sickness," Ross writes. "Strokes were 'apoplexy,' and 'bad blood' was code for syphilis."

Memory, too, can be faulty. Ross says that rather than factual it can be "a construction of what we think happened. Lung cancer may have, in fact, been colon cancer; ovarian cancer perhaps was cervical cancer."

Research into your family history, Ross indicates, is definitely worth the time invested. And The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can be of assistance. So can the National Institutes of Health. 

Both have online guides that might help you get started.

To learn about the links between heredity and breast cancer, particularly BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, you also could check out "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.