Testing It Up » March 2012

Monthly Archives: March 2012

Early Disease Detection

Country Musician Wade Hayes Shares Colon Cancer Story

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Wade Hayes, best known for the hit “Old Enough to Know Better,” has been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.

It was a diagnosis that the 42-year-old country musician, who had no family history of gastrointestinal disease, did not expect.

Hayes had attributed the different symptoms that he had been experiencing to several things. The bleeding, he thought, was a hemorrhoid due to a strenuous weightlifting session at the gym, while the fatigue was just part and parcel of life on the road. He also thought that at his age, he was still too young to get a colonoscopy; that is, until he started experiencing excruciating pain.

At Thanksgiving last year, Hayes spent time at the hospital because of intussusception, a condition where food and liquid passing through the intestine is blocked, and the blood supply to the rest of the digestive tract is cut off. Intussusception is rare in adults unless there is an underlying condition. In Hayes case, it was stage IV colon cancer.

The doctors had discovered that the collapse was caused by a large tumor, and that the cancer had metastasized.

Mike Robertson, Hayes’ manager, shared: “You just don’t expect a man in his young 40s, who was perfectly healthy in every other way, to get this kind of diagnosis.”

Dr. Paul Limburg, a gastrointestinal cancer prevention specialist at the Mayo Clinic, shared: “Oftentimes, [colorectal cancer] has no symptoms… The most important message is that people really should understand that screening should be done regularly. It could make a substantial difference in the number of lives saved.”

Since his diagnosis, Hayes has had 70 percent of his liver, as well as 20 inches of his large intestine, removed. He has also lost 50 pounds, as well as undergone several rounds of chemotherapy. He is eating red meat less, and is eating more fruits and vegetables. He is also speaking out about early cancer screening: “If I had caught it early, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Substance Abuse

Study: Extra Services Do Not Help Smokers Quit

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A study conducted by the University of Nottingham found that extra services, such as free nicotine patches or intensive counseling, offered to smokers who call the English NHS helpline do not exactly help them kick the habit.

The study, which followed up over 2,500 smokers for over a year, found that the additional support did not exactly affect the number of people who gave up smoking.

The study was funded by the Department of Health and the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, in an effort to determine if the support offered by the NHS Smoking Helpline could be improved.

The study participants were divided in to four groups. The first was given standard support, which included advice, letters, e-mails, text messages, and access to a helpline. The second group, on the other hand, also received free nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), consisting of a 21-day supply of nicotine patches, while the third group also received “proactive support” in the form of counseling sessions, as well as messages from helpline staff.

The fourth group received both the “proactive support” as well as free nicotine patches, on top of the standard support.

Subsequent analysis indicated that 18.9 percent of the 59 percent of those who were contacted said that they were able to quit smoking. The researchers also determined that there was no significant difference in the success rates between those who were provided with different types of counseling, or between those who were provided with NRT.

Lead study author Professor Tim Coleman of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies shared: “[this study] brings into sharp relief the need to find other ways of using quitlines to help smokers give up, and so to reduce the terrible effects smoking has on people’s lives and the costly burden to the NHS.”

Early Disease Detection

Trials to be Conducted for Blood Test to Detect Lung Cancer

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A blood test that will help detect lung cancer at an early stage is set to undergo trials on thousands of smokers.

The test was developed in Britain and was piloted in the United States, and that it is envisioned that it may be able to reduce death rates and medical bills, as well as lead to changes in the way cancer is diagnosed and treated.

The trial, according to Scotland chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns, will involve ten thousand patients, consisting mainly of smokers, who are said to have a higher risk for developing lung cancer.

Burns shared: “The earlier a cancer is diagnosed the greater the chance it can be treated successfully, and currently 85% of patients with lung cancer remain undiagnosed until the disease has reached an advanced stage.” He shared further that the detection program hopes to increase early diagnosis of lung cancer by 25 percent.

The blood test is called EarlyCDT-Lung, and tracks increases in blood antibody levels, which could be indicative of the onset of cancer. Patients who have increased levels will be recommended for a CT scan.

Burns also said that the test may lead to a significant increase in cancer survival rates: “By testing those at greatest risk of developing lung cancer and diagnosing it at its earliest possible stage, we stand a better chance of being able to treat it successfully.”

The test was developed by John Robertson, professor of surgery at the University of Nottingham, who shared: “We are working hard on bringing the next test for the early detection of breast cancer to the market within a year. We are also working on a number of similar tests for prostate, colon and ovarian cancer. A blood test to aid detection of all tumor cancers is still the overriding objective of our work.”

Substance Abuse

FDA on Dissolvable Tobacco

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A scientific advisory panel for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave its opinion on dissolvable tobacco products, via a report posted online prior to the Friday deadline required by law that gives the FDA the authority to regulate the industry.

The Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee said that while dissolvable tobacco products had lower health risks when compared against smoking cigarettes, it also had the potential to increase the number of people who use tobacco.

These products are reportedly being eyed by tobacco companies as a possible answer to declining cigarette use due to tax hikes, increasing health concerns, smoking bans, and social stigma.

It is among the alternative tobacco products that companies are looking at for future sales growth. These products also include cigars, snuff, and chewing tobacco.

Dissolvable tobacco is described as finely-milled tobacco that is pressed into shapes, like tablets, that dissolve slowly in a user’s mouth. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is said to be test-marketing dissolvable tablets, strips, and a toothpick shape. These products carry the brands Camel Orbs, Camel Strips, and Camel Sticks, respectively, and are available in mint as well as other flavors. The orbs can last for 15 minutes. The strips, on the other hand, can dissolve in five minutes or less, while the sticks can last for 15 to 20 minutes.

Other products that are being marketed as well by other tobacco companies include wooden sticks coated with finely-milled tobacco under Phillip Morris USA’s Marlboro brand (still in the test-marketing phase), and tobacco lozenges in wintergreen, coffee, and tobacco flavors, from Star Scientific Inc.

Celebrity Substance Abuse Real Drug Stories Substance Abuse

Cause of Whitney Houston’s Death Revealed

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The cause of the sudden death of Grammy-award winning singer Whitney Houston, who died on February 11 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on the eve of the Grammy Awards, has been revealed, after the release of toxicology results. A full autopsy report is expected to be released in two weeks.

Chicago Sun-Times shared that Ms. Houston died from drowning in the bathtub of the hotel where she was found, but coroner’s officials revealed further that heart disease and chronic use of cocaine contributed to her death.

Craig Harvey, Coroner’s Chief of Operations, revealed that based on toxicology results, cocaine and its by-products were found in Ms. Houston’s system. He shared further that the toxicology results were indicative of the fact that the Grammy-winning singer was a chronic cocaine user. The toxicology results also showed the following substances in her system: marijuana, Xanax, the muscle relaxant Flexeril, and the allergy medication Benadryl in her system.

The coroner’s office also revealed that Ms. Houston was suffering from heart disease, which caused blockages in her arteries.

Whitney Houston died a few hours before she was scheduled to perform at the pre-Grammy Awards bash of producer Clive Davis. She was found submerged in the bathtub of her room at the Beverly Hills Hotel; several bottles of prescription medication were found in her hotel room, but coroner’s officials said that the amounts that were discovered were not excessive.

Patricia Houston, sister-in-law and manager of the late singer, gave the following statement in the wake of the release of the autopsy findings that confirmed a link between drug use and Whitney Houston’s death: “We are saddened to learn of the toxicology results, although we are glad to now have closure.”

Substance Abuse

North Carolina to Launch Contest Against Prescription Drug Abuse

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High school students in North Carolina are encouraged to join a contest that can help fight prescription drug abuse.

The contest is sponsored by Attorney General Roy Cooper and the North Carolina Department of Justice. High school students who are interested in joining are asked to create public service announcement videos regarding prescription drug abuse among teens.

Helping Attorney General Cooper sponsor the video contest are the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists and the Governor’s Institute on Substance Abuse.

Cooper shared: “Prescription drug abuse is a silent killer that’s on the rise, especially among young people… We need students to tell us the best message to fight this epidemic.”

A press release from Attorney General Cooper also shared data from North Carolina, as well as other states, which indicate that prescription drug abuse result in more deaths, when compared against illegal drugs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the leading cause of death due to unintentional injury in the United States is drug overdose.

Cooper shared further: “We need to get the word out that prescription drugs can be every bit as dangerous as street drugs when misused. Using technology and creativity, students can educate each other about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and hopefully prevent more tragic overdose deaths.”

The video contest is scheduled to run from March 26 to April 20. In order to participate, students should do the following:

– Produce an original video and upload it to YouTube;

– Send an email to stopxabuse@ncdoj.gov that includes a link to the video and student’s name, grade level and school name;

– Complete the application and release form available at www.ncdoj.gov and mail it along with a transcript of the video to Prescription Drug Abuse PSA Competition, N.C. Department of Justice, 9001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699-9001.

Early Disease Detection

Simple Blood Test to Predict Heart Attacks

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A simple blood test may soon be all it will take to predict a heart attack, as doctors are one step closer towards developing a procedure that uses a blood sample to detect cells that have sloughed off of blood vessel walls that have been damaged.

Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist at the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego and lead author of a study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, said that the findings of the study may potentially address “the greatest unmet need” that cardiologists face.

Every year, tens of thousands of patients may pass a stress test at the doctor’s office one day, and suffer a major heart attack the following week, because while doctors can easily detect a heart attack that is already occurring, they could not predict it before it occurs.

Dr. Topol shared further: “When someone is having the real deal, we know that… The real question is, is something percolating in their artery? We’d like to prevent the heart attack from happening, or mitigate its effects with drugs.”

The new procedure includes tracking a type of cell in the blood, called the circulating endothelial cell. Endothelial cells create a wrapper that lines the inside of blood vessels; these break away and enter the bloodstream when the vessel is damaged.

Cardiologists who were not involved in the study expressed excitement over the results. Dr. Douglas Zipes, a cardiologist at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, shared: “We do prostate tests, we do cholesterol tests… Perhaps we should have [circulating endothelial cell] tests too, in people at risk.”

Early Disease Detection

Study: Breast Cancer Claims Lives of Nearly 5 Black Women Per Day

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A study conducted by Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago, and funded by the Avon Foundation, determined that more than 1,700 black women succumb to breast cancer in the United States.

These statistics may be attributed in part to racial disparities in cancer risks, as well as access to care. The study found that black women were 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer when compared to white women.

The researchers determined that in 13 of 24 of the largest U.S. cities, black women were more likely to die of breast cancer, when compared against white women. This is despite the fact that white women are said to be more likely to develop breast cancer than black women.

This disparity in New York, for instance, is that black women had 24 percent higher risk of death due to breast cancer, between 2005 and 2007. In the same time period, black women in Memphis had more than two times the risk of dying from breast cancer.

Marc Hulbert, one of the researchers of the study, shared: “It’s unfortunate that this disparity exists and we all need to work hard to overcome it… the good news is it’s a solvable problem, because some cites are doing better than others.”

Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Diego, Dallas, Jacksonville, Columbus, Milwaukee, Boston and Denver also had racial disparities in deaths due to breast cancer. No differences, however, were observed in Phoenix, San Antonio, San Jose, Detroit, San Francisco, Austin, Baltimore, Fort Worth, Charlotte, El Paso and Seattle.

Early Disease Detection

Study: An Aspirin a Day Can Keep Cancer at Bay

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The results of two new studies suggest that a daily dose of aspirin can help reduce risk for developing various types of cancers, as well as prevent the spread of tumors.

The results of the study lent further credence to the suggestion that the cheap and widely-available aspirin may be a powerful weapon against cancer.

This advantage, however, is clouded by the challenge of side effects, as regular intake of aspirin can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding, among other side effects. These side effects have led to the belief that the negative effects of daily aspirin intake may far outweigh the anti-cancer benefits that it may be able to provide, especially among healthy patients.

One of the studies, conducted by researchers from the University of Oxford, analyzed data from large, long-term, randomized controlled trials, participated in by tens of thousands of men and women. It was determined that after three years of using aspirin daily, the risk of developing cancer went down by almost 25 percent. In addition, the risk of dying of cancer was reduced by 37 percent, among those who took aspirin daily.

The second study, on the other hand, involved an analysis of five large, randomized controlled studies in Britain. The researchers were able to determine that on average, using aspirin daily led to a reduced risk of metastatic cancer by 36 percent, and the risk of adenocarcinomas by 46 percent. Adenocarcinomas are common solid cancers, including colon, lung and prostate cancer.

Early Disease Detection

More Patients Opting for Painless Colonoscopies

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A new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, indicates that a number of people are opting for unnecessary sedation when undergoing colonoscopies – and are paying for unnecessary costs that go with it.

Unnecessary sedation is costing patients nearly $1 billion a year in health care costs. In addition, most of the patients who make use of anesthesiologists for monitoring sedation are low-risk patients, who do not really need extra help.

Dr. Soeren Mattke, a senior Rand Corp. scientist and study author, shared: “These services are not harming patients. They’re basically giving them a luxury that is not strictly necessary.” The study authors shared further: “that matters because policymakers are trying to rein in rising medical costs.”

When undergoing colonoscopies, patients are usually sedated briefly, and there are certain types of sedation that need to be monitored. One of the drugs used for sedation is propofol, the drug which is said to have caused the death of pop star Michael Jackson. It is a powerful drug that is injected in order to bring about deep sedation.

Sedation under the supervision of an anesthesiologist, using propofol or otherwise, is recommended for high-patients. This includes patients who are old or sick, or those who previously suffered complications with anesthesia.

The study included an analysis of insurance claims data of more than 6 million adults, who underwent colon exams or imaging scopes of the upper digestive tract, between 2003 and 2009.

At the start of the study, 14 percent of the tests included an anesthesiologist; by year 2009, the percentage has increased to more than 30 percent. The extra treatment meant an extra $500 to the bill of an insured patient, and $150 to a Medicare bill.