Friday, March 30, 2018

Acrylamide chemical in java may be perilous

Judge rules Starbucks, 90 other companies may have to display coffee warning in California

Because of a judge's decision, Starbucks and about 90 other roasters, grocery stores and retail shops may soon have to display a cancer warning on coffee sold in California.

According to yesterday's Associated Press story by Brian Melley, the Los Angeles judge ruled in favor of a nonprofit, the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, that had sued the companies in 2010 for failing to comply with state law by not providing a "clear and reasonable warning" of a known carcinogen.

Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle's decision — to the effect that the companies hadn't shown the threat from the chemical was insignificant — was issued as a proposed ruling, which means he could change his mind (although, reportedly, that's unlikely).

Berle, the AP piece said, gave the defense several weeks "to file objections to the proposed ruling before he makes it final."

After that ruling, a decision on monetary damages could be forthcoming.

The suit has centered on a chemical, acrylamide, that was produced in the roasting process.

Berle wrote that, while the "defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving…that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health," the plaintiff had "offered evidence that consumption of coffee increases the risk of harm to the fetus, to infants, to children and to adults."

He also said that the "defendants' medical and epidemiology experts testified that they had no opinion on causation."

The AP story noted that the coffee industry has maintained that "the chemical was present at harmless levels and should be exempt from the law because it results naturally from the cooking process necessary to make the beans flavorful."

The article also indicated that attorney Raphael Metzger, who brought the lawsuit, said "he wants the industry to remove the chemical from its process [but] coffee companies have said that's not feasible and would make their product taste bad."

Metzger's group had earlier brought a similar case that resulted in potato-chip makers agreeing in 2008 "to pay $3 million and remove acrylamide from their products rather than post startling warnings that can be found throughout California and are largely ignored," the story added.

Many coffee companies, according to the AP, "have already posted warnings that specifically say acrylamide is found in coffee and is among chemicals that cause cancer. However, many of those warnings are posted in places not easily visible, such as below the counter where cream and sugar are available."

William Murray
William Murray, president and CEO of the National Coffee Association, has claimed in an emailed statement that "coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage. This lawsuit…has confused consumers, and does nothing to improve public health."

Nearly half the defendants in the coffee case have already settled — and agreed to post warnings. Among the latest was 7-Eleven.

Details on everyday products that may cause cancer 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.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

New drugs can lead to 'varied, bizarre' problems

Cancer-killing immunotherapies can cause major side effects in otherwise healthy organs

New immunotherapies can eliminate cancers but may also cause big problems with healthy body organs. 

According to a recent story by Laurie McKinley in The Washington Post, the perplexing side effects can range from inconsequential to severely dangerous, even life-threatening.

The article cites the case of a 55-year-old patient whose therapy "knocked back her cancer [but] also gave her 'almost every 'itis' you can get'… arthritis-like joint pain, lung inflammation called pneumonitis and liver inflammation that bordered on hepatitis."

The woman, McKinley's piece continues, warns "that highly touted immunotherapy treatments have downsides as well as benefits and to watch for complications, because 'not all doctors know all the side effects.'"

The upside is clear, however.

Checkpoint inhibitors, the new therapies, "offer a tantalizing chance for survival for patients with advanced melanoma and hard-to-treat cancers of the bladder, kidney and lung," the story says.

The downside? 

"The treatments, designed to unleash the immune system to attack malignancies, also can spur an assault on healthy organs, causing varied and bizarre side effects ranging from minor rashes and fevers to diabetes and deadly heart problems."
Dr. Drew Pardoll

Some of the symptoms, unfortunately, can fool doctors because they "can mimic those of the flu, infections or even food poisoning. That lack of awareness [by physicians] can be dangerous, given that quick intervention is the key to preventing serious damage."

The Post article quotes Dr. Drew Pardoll, director of the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Johns Hopkins University, as noting that immunotherapy "has a completely different side-effect profile than chemotherapy, and that has caught some physicians off guard."

Doctors, including emergency-room physicians, dermatologists and gastroenterologists, Pardoll insists, "need to go back to school" to earn about immunotherapy.

The side effects, McKinley writes, "occur in 15 to 70 percent of immunotherapy patients, depending on which drug is used and whether the medications are used individually or combined with one another or conventional cancer treatments."'

Are the cancer treatments worth using despite the side effects?

According to Kevan Herald, an immunologist and endocrinologist at Yale University, they absolutely are. "If it's a choice between staying alive and developing diabetes versus not, I'd always pick taking the drug and managing the diabetes."

Jeffrey Bluestone, an immunologist at the University of California, San Francisco, is also quoted in the Post piece. "The last thing you want to do is scare people away from lifesaving treatments," he maintains.

Questions about new treatments, drugs and research on life-threatening diseases are addressed in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Problems can pop up years after treatments

Warning: Breast cancer therapy such as chemo, radiation can hike risk of heart disease

Can lifesaving breast-cancer treatments raise your chances of dying from a heart disease?


A recent story in The Washington Post by Laurie McKinley cites an American Heart Association warning to women with breast cancer that "lifesaving therapies like chemotherapy and radiation can cause heart failure and other serious cardiac problems, sometimes years after treatment."

The AHA suggests, however, that rather than avoid the treatments patients should "take steps to prevent or minimize the cardiac risks" by exercising regularly and sticking to a healthy diet.

According to McKinley's dispatch, the caution, published in the journal Circulation, includes the conclusion that "breast cancer survivors who are 65 and older and were treated for their cancer are more likely to die of cardiovascular problems than breast cancer."

Nearly "48 million women in the United States have some kind of heart disease, compared to 3.3 million women with breast cancer," the Post piece asserts, adding that the AHA "said an unprecedented number of women are surviving the disease yet face a risk of developing heart problems, in part because of their cancer treatments."
Dr. Laxmi Mehta
Dr. Laxmi Mehta, who led the writing of the report and is a cardiologist at Ohio State University, is quoted as saying that "it's important for people to know that the heart needs to be taken care of before, during and after treatment."

And Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, is paraphrased as noting "it isn't unusual for a breast-cancer patient who underwent chemo years earlier to wake up one day with swollen ankles and shortness of breath, symptoms of congestive heart failure," but when such a patient ends up hospitalized, "doctors tend to look for signs of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism while overlooking breast cancer treatment as a possible culprit."

That's a problem, he indicates, "because heart failure caused by a chemo drug like doxorubicin [which once was called adriamycin] is treated differently than heart failure from a heart attack."

The report says some studies have shown that "dexrazoxane can reduce the risk of heart damage in patients getting high doses of doxorubicin for advanced breast cancer" and that some heart damage, including the kind cased by Herceptin, can sometimes be reversed.

The Post article also reveals that some doctors worry that the AHA report might discourage women with high-risk cancer — especially those with HER2-positve and triple negative breast cancer — from getting aggressive treatment.   

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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Earpieces, texting can quash disease fears

Anxieties about cellphones causing brain cancer are still unfounded, new studies show

Worried about getting cancer from cellphones?

New studies indicate there's no need to hang up — still.

According to a recent Associated Press story by Seth Borenstein and Lauren Neergaard, although "two government studies that bombarded rats and mice with cellphone radiation found a weak link to some heart tumors," federal regulars and some scientists continue to say it's safe to use your device.

Previous studies had shown little reason for anxiety.

"In particular, scientists could not find hard evidence for concern about brain tumors," the story says.

Dr. John Bucher
It goes on to assert that Dr. John Bucher of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the lead author of the research, isn't changing his cellphone use "or advising his family to," and that Dr. Otis Brawley, the American Cancer Society's chief medical officer, noted in an interview after reading the studies, "I am actually holding my cellphone up to my ear."

Even though the new studies that involved super-high doses of radiation showed a rare connection to some nerve-tissue tumors in male rats, Brawley's quoted as saying, "the evidence for an association between cellphones and cancer is weak. And so far we have not seen a higher chance risk in people."

If, however, you're still concerned, "wear an earpiece," he urges.

Bucher suggests, moreover, that the rat tumors "do not translate directly into  concern for humans."

According to the AP piece, Bucher's agency "conducted the $25 million study at the behest of the Food and Drug Administration, which quickly said cellphones are safe."

Dr. Jeffrey Shuren
The article also quoted a statement by FDA radiation health chief Dr. Jeffrey Shuren to the effect that the "current safety limits for cellphones are acceptable for protecting the public health."

Bucher, in a news conference, had insisted that the experiment with rats and mice, in which they were bombarded for one hours a day for up to two years, incorporated "a radiation level so high that humans would only experience it briefly, such as when a phone with a weak signal expends more energy searching for as stronger one."

A 2010 analysis in 13 countries had "found little or no risk of brain tumors," and an earlier Danish study that linked phone bills to a cancer registry had found no risk even from more than 13 years of cellphone use.

In December 2017, the state of California issued guidelines saying that if people were still worried, they should reduce exposure by using earphones or texting.

More information about potential links of technological devices to the disease can be extracted from "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.