Monday, April 29, 2019

Benzene found to cause lymphoma, leukemia

Jury awards $21.4 million in two cancer deaths against oil company that merged with Chevron 

A San Francisco Bay Area jury has awarded $21.4 million in the cancer deaths of two brothers who'd handled a deadly chemical.

The Contra Costa County Superior Court found Union Oil responsible for the deaths of Gary and Randy Eaves, who'd worked in a Texarkana, Arkansas, tire-manufacturing plant. 

Union Oil made the rubber solvent containing benzene, which the brothers were exposed to during their longtime employment.

Gary was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2013 at age 59, and Randy was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in 2016, also at age 59.

The trial lasted more than four weeks; jury deliberation's took three days.
Attorney Mary Alexander
According to a statement by a San Francisco lawyer for the families of the brothers, Mary Alexander, "This oil company has been held accountable for their negligence in putting profits before people. This tremendous verdict will help ensure protection consumers as it sends a message that any company that fails to warn about toxic chemicals in the products they sell, such as benzene which causes cancer, will be held responsible."

The plaintiffs had alleged that the company knew the solvents contained benzene and "knew, or should have known, that exposure to it was extremely hazardous and cancer-causing," Alexander wrote.

The trial, according to a recent story by Lauren Hernandez in the San Francisco Chronicle, "was held in Contra Costa County because Chevron — which merged with Unocal, formerly known as Union Oil — headquartered in San Ramon," which is located in that county.

According to the lawyer, Hernandez's article notes, "the chemical sprayed onto [the brothers'] unprotected skin while handling the solvent…and Union Oil never told the plant or its workers to wear respirators or protective clothing, and never advised workers to handle the chemical inside of a ventilation booth."

In addition, Alexander was quoted as saying, "They did not ship the solvent with material safety data sheets or any other data that reflected the solvent contained benzene that cause cancer."

Chevron, the story says, "provide a one-sentence statement to The Chronicle in response to the decision, stating, 'We do not believe the Unocal had any role in the claimed injuries and we are evaluating the jury's decision and the court's rulings in this matter."

The newspaper's story said that Eaves families, who live in Arkansas, stayed in the Bay Area throughout the trial.

It also reported that Alexander "said Union Oil representatives are responsible for paying the $21.4 million bill as the primary defendant in the case, despite it technically not existing anymore."

Chevron paid Union Oil's trial costs, she said.

Details of other corporations being responsible for disease-related deaths 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 15, 2019

Medicare coverage of costly drug being debated

Will Trump administration drop the restrictions on new type of blood cancer treatment? Stay tuned!

Will insurance companies be able to block expanded Medicare coverage of cancer care?

The answer is a positive maybe.

According to a story last week by by Robert Pear in The New York Times, insurers are pushing to keep existing restrictions against an expensive new type of treatment, CAR-T cell therapy. 

"Cancer patients, doctors and drug companies are urging the Trump administration to remove the restrictions," the story says.

The restrictions are intended to hold down costs of the treatment, which Pear explains "is manufactured specifically for each patient." 

Many more "such 'personalized medicines' are in the pipeline," he adds.

Medicare's final decision is expected in the next few weeks. 

According to the Times, the federal "Food and Drug Administration has approved two CAR-T products to treat certain blood cancers: Kymriah, made by Novartis, with a list price of $375,000 or $475,000, depending on the type of cancer, and Yescarta, made by Gilead Sciences, with a list price of $373,000."

Although CAR-T treatments "generate high costs up front…the benefits could last for years," Pear contends.

The treatments, he notes, "have been remarkably effective in some patients who had a dismal prognosis after exhausting other options."

Dr. Francis S. Collins
Pear's story quotes Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as saying that "harnessing the power of a patient's immune system in this way was a 'marvel of modern medicine."

And Pear attributes to Kirsten A. Sloan, vice president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the notion of favoring people having access to the treatment and letting "the doctor decide which patients should be eligible."

In CAR-T therapy, immune- or T-cells are removed from a patient's blood, sent to a lab to be "genetically engineered  to recognize and attack cancer cells, and then sent back to the hospital for infusion into the patient."

The problem is the over-all cost: The infusion, doctors' fees and hospital stays can add up to $750,000 or more.

A statement from one of the nation's largest insurers, UnitedHealth Group, expresses concern that CAR-T therapies could create significant financial risks for both the government and private Medicare Advantage plans.

More information about controversies over new treatments or drugs 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.

Monday, April 8, 2019

FDA charged with not protecting patients

Women challenge risks of breast cancer implants at FDA meeting, but no changes are expected

Women linked to breast implants challenged plastic surgeons, regulators and implant-makers last week but apparently came away disappointed because no U.S. changes are in the offing.

Other countries, however, have taken steps to halt sales of the implants.

According to The New York Times, as cited in the Kaiser Health News Morning Briefing online, the women attended "an emotionally charged" federal Food and Drug Administration advisory panel meeting and called for a ban on at implants associated with a rare form of lymphoma.

In addition, they "asked implant-makers to disclose the materials used in the devices and also called for a 'black box' warning — a label that the FDA can require, noting heightened problems with a drug or device."

The Washington Post noted, as reported on KHN, that they told "searing stories about broken health, disrupted families and lost careers," and said they wanted the panel "to recommend more long-term research, bans or restrictions on certain products…and a beefed-up informed consent process so that women have a clear understanding of theorists and benefits of the devices before they opt for surgery."

Jamee Cook
Jamee Cook, a Texas paramedic who leads a group called Breast Implant Victim Advocacy, said "experienced chronic fatigue, numbness and migraines — symptoms that were resolved" when she had the implants removed, a story in The Wall Street Journal reported, according to KHN.

She charged that the FDA has not fulfilled its responsibility to protect patients."

The Journal also noted that nearly "three decades after the FDA first pulled silicone [gel] breast implants of the U.S. market [because of fear they might cause breast cancer or lupus] and then allowed some back on, women continue to report debilitating conditions to the agency. The FDA is revisiting the issue again this year and is grappling with efforts to study which issues are proven and which not proven."

By quoting the Associated Press, the KHN summary then showed what results evolved — and what didn't — from the meetings. It said that government medical advisers claimed "it's too soon" for any ban because "more information is needed to understand the problem."

The FDA panel, a day after reviewing the research presented, recommended no immediate restrictions on breast implants.

The bans imposed by other countries, however, came within days of the FDA's rejection of the idea of sales limitations.

In the United States, some 400,000 women get implants each year, 100,000 of them after cancer surgery.

According to a story by Marie McCullough last week in The Philadelphia Inquirer, health authorities in Canada and the Netherlands — "just days after France became the first country to ban sales of numerous brands of textured and polyurethane-coated implants" — announced plans to suspend sales.

That article notes that "since the first report of implant lymphoma in 1997, almost 700 cases and 17 deaths have been tallied worldwide, including 270 cases and nine deaths in the United States, according to the latest count from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons."

More data about implants, and reconstruction, 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.