Review Category : Health

Man Survives Rare Cancer Thanks to New ‘Targeted’ Therapy

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — James “Rocky” Lagno was so sick that doctors only gave him about a year to live. Having been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, even aggressive chemotherapy and radiation didn’t prevent the New Hampshire native’s tumors from growing larger.

To top it off, he was also diagnosed with thyroid cancer and then, several months later, a MRI revealed a dozen brain lesions.

“The oncologist told me I should probably think about getting my bucket list together,” Lagno, 53, recalled of the 2011 conversation he had with his doctor.

Fortunately for Lagno, his wife, Geralynn, lobbied for a biopsy that uncovered a rare genetic mutation linked to lung cancer. Once discovered, Lagno was entered into a clinical trial to test out a relatively new approach to cancer treatment known as molecular targeted therapy.

Traditional cancer drugs are indiscriminant, attacking not just cancer cells but every living cell in the body. Molecular targeting agents like the one Lagno received — which are no longer experimental and are being used with increasing frequency — are designed to target specific cancer mutations, explained Mayo Clinic cancer researcher Elaine Madris.

“Many cancers revolve around novel proteins that are highly active and constantly stimulated so that the growth of cancer is stimulated,” Madris said. “These new targeted drugs seek out these novel proteins and shut them down.”

In Lagno’s case, the therapy seems to have worked. The real estate agent has been taking two pills of the drug Ceritinib daily for the past three years and, while his tumor isn’t entirely gone, it hasn’t grown or spread either, he said.

Lagno’s remarkable turnaround is no longer unique, researcher Madris said. Ceritinib was approved by the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year along with four other similar drugs, she added. It’s now widely used to treat lung cancer patients in hospitals all across the country.

“Many patients will now get this sort of drug in the first round of treatment even before chemo or radiation,” Madris said.

Because gene sequencing has become so much simpler and commonplace, more and more tumor varieties are identified every year, Madris said. This allows pharmaceutical companies to create drugs with more precision.

As a result, the FDA has trimmed back many of the longer, more expensive trials so drugs are reaching the public faster than ever before, she said.

“For some type of cancers, you’re seeing these new therapies replacing traditional cancer treatment like chemotherapy and radiation,” Madris said, adding that the new drugs are more effective in many cases than older treatments and carry far fewer side effects.

Targeted molecular therapy (also known as genomic medicine) has led to significant breakthroughs for many cancers. As Madris pointed out, some kinds of lung cancers and melanomas that would have been considered deadly less than a decade ago now have a better than 75 percent cure rate with this treatment.

In the near future, perhaps five years, medicine may be truly personalized, Madris said.

“There may be a time when you will be given a drug or a combination of drugs designed to treat your illness based on your unique genetics,” she said.

Even though personalized medicine isn’t quite a reality, Lagno said he thought this was a hopeful moment for anyone who is a cancer patient like him.

“Ten years ago my wife would have been a widow,” he said. “To think that I can take two pills a day and be alive is a miracle.”

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President Obama to Unveil Expanded Ebola Response

Bumbasor/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Obama plans to unveil Tuesday an expanded U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the worst outbreak of the disease in history.

Obama, who has called the outbreak a national security priority, will outline new steps to address the crisis during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

According to senior administration officials, the ramped up military effort centers on command and control, logistics, training and engineering support.

They new steps include:

  • Creating a joint force command headquarters in Monrovia, Liberia. By end of the week, the U.S. will have a general officer in place to lead the effort, known as “Operation United Assistance.”
  • Providing engineers to build treatment units — up to 17 separate facilities with 100 beds each.
  • Training support for health care workers, up to 500 health care workers per week, for as long as needed (although budgeting plans for a six-month period). Training will come from U.S. military medical personnel. The administration hopes to have force on the ground in a couple of weeks. After this scaling up is done, the expectation is for there to be up to 3,000 Defense Department personnel on the ground in support of the joint force command.
  • Working to boost a messaging campaign to train households on how to protect themselves and help family members that may present symptoms. To pay for the mission, the administration is asking for $88 million be added to the CR; $175 million has already been dedicated. The Defense Department has requested the reprogramming of $500 million in unobligated funds to be put towards the Ebola response.

As of Sept. 7, there were 4,366 probable, confirmed and suspected cases in the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, with 2,218 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The countries affected are Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

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Does Your Family Play Favorites?

iStock/Thinkstock(PROVO, Utah) — The Smothers Brothers comedy routine always included Tommy Smothers feeling hurt and complaining to his brother Dick that “Mom always liked you best.” Well, a new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology shows that some families do play favorites, and it can have a negative future impact on children.

Alex Jensen, a professor at Brigham Young University and the lead author of the study, examined perceived preferential treatment among different types of families and categorized those that weren’t close to one another as “disengaged families.”

Jensen looked further at the disengaged families and found that children who considered themselves slightly less favored were almost twice as likely to use alcohol, cigarettes and other drugs.

And the study found that if a child’s perception of not being the favorite was even greater, they were nearly four times more likely to abuse substances.

“With favoritism in disengaged families, it wasn’t just that they were more likely to use any substances, it also escalated,” Jensen said in a press release. “If they were already smoking then they were more likely to drink also. Or if they were smoking and drinking, they were more likely to also use drugs.”

On the opposite end, the link to abuse of substances didn’t exist at all in families that took a strong interest in one another. The bottom line: happy kids make for happy adults and a happy family.

Jensen suggests that parents who know they play favorites should make a strong effort to show all their kids more love than they already are.

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Is Blood Type an Indicator of Future Memory Problems?

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Can blood type be a factor in determining your risk for dementia?

A new study published in the journal Neurology finds that people with blood type AB appear to have an increased risk for memory problems as they age.

Over a period of three years, individuals with AB type blood, which represents about four percent of the population, were almost twice as likely to display memory problems as those with type O blood, the most common blood group.

The researchers gave memory and thinking skills tests to more than 30,000 people over the age of 45 and re-tested them again three years later. Out of the group, 495 participants scored low enough to indicate some sort of memory or thinking impairment. When their blood types were compared to the blood types of 587 participants who achieved satisfactory cognitive scores, the researchers found those with AB blood types were 82 percent more likely to have impaired thinking skills than those with type O blood.

Dr. Mary Cushman, a professor of hematology at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and the study’s senior researcher, says the results are not surprising. Cushman says they already know that having blood type AB can affect blood-clotting characteristics and risk of blood vessel-related conditions. Cushman says her group also learned earlier this year that the AB blood type was connected to a higher risk of stroke.

But don’t panic if you have AB blood. Dr. Terence Quinn, a clinical lecturer in stroke and geriatric medicine at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, says other circumstances play a bigger role in a person’s risk of developing memory and thinking problems.

“If you were to do the same study and look at smoking, lack of exercise, obesity and other lifestyle factors, the risk of dementia is much, much higher,” says Quinn.

“People who are worried about dementia, whether they have that blood group or not, should look at making those lifestyle changes,” adds Quinn.

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Peer Pressure Makes Healthcare Workers Better Hand Washers

iStock/Thinkstock(IOWA CITY, Iowa) — Healthcare workers, more than any other group, know that clean hands go a long way to prevent the spread of infection, but a new study finds that hand hygiene amongst that group is rather low, but peer pressure helps improve the practice.

Researchers at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine studied hand hygiene compliance and opportunities, as well as the location and proximity of every healthcare worker in the intensive care unit of the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics during a 10-day period for 24 hours a day.

After recording more than 47,000 hand hygiene opportunities, the estimated hand hygiene rate was seven percent higher when healthcare workers were in close proximity to peers as compared to when healthcare workers were alone — 28 percent vs. 21 percent.

“Social network effects, or peer effects, have been associated with smoking, obesity, happiness and worker productivity. As we found, this influence extends to hand hygiene compliance, too,” said Philip Polgreen, MD, an author of the study.

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Enterovirus 68 Now in 27 States

Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A mysterious virus, enterovirus 68, is striking children and spreading fast across the country. Twenty-seven states are confirmed or suspected of having cases of the virus.

ABC chief health and medical editor Doctor Richard Besser says the illness starts off like a cold, but parents need to be aware if their child develops breathing difficulties or a reluctance to eat.

Dr. Besser says the danger signs include wheezing and difficulty speaking or eating.

“If you look at your child’s belly and there’s inpulling with every breath, or blueness around the lips, those are signs your child may not be getting enough air,” Dr. Besser warns.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting 97 confirmed enterovirus cases, but public health officials may never know the true scope of the outbreak because the CDC doesn’t require hospitals and labs to report enterovirus 68.

Dr. Besser says if a child has a cold “and it’s acting like every other cold, there’s nothing to worry about.”

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Enterovirus 68 Now in 27 States

Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A mysterious virus, enterovirus 68, is striking children and spreading fast across the country. Twenty-seven states are confirmed or suspected of having cases of the virus.

ABC chief health and medical editor Doctor Richard Besser says the illness starts off like a cold, but parents need to be aware if their child develops breathing difficulties or a reluctance to eat.

Dr. Besser says the danger signs include wheezing and difficulty speaking or eating.

“If you look at your child’s belly and there’s inpulling with every breath, or blueness around the lips, those are signs your child may not be getting enough air,” Dr. Besser warns.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting 97 confirmed enterovirus cases, but public health officials may never know the true scope of the outbreak because the CDC doesn’t require hospitals and labs to report enterovirus 68.

Dr. Besser says if a child has a cold “and it’s acting like every other cold, there’s nothing to worry about.”

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Hospital Says US Ebola Patient Continues to Improve

VILevi/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(OMAHA, Neb.) — Dr. Rick Sacra, the American patient being treated for Ebola at the Nebraska Medical Center, continues to improve, the hospital says.

In a Monday press release, the hospital says that staff members are seeking ways to entertain Sacra while he remains in the Biocontainment Unit. Sacra’s wife says that a chess board and a supply of books have been given to her husband. “Someone also brought in a Nerf hoop, which Rick discovered he might need a lot more practice with,” Debbie Sacra said.

According to the release, Sacra still tires easily, but is, “becoming sharper [mentally] every day.” Sacra has held conversations with his pastor from his hometown and a former colleague from Liberia.

Doctors say they “continue to be pleased” with Sacra’s progress.

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Hospital Says US Ebola Patient Continues to Improve

VILevi/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(OMAHA, Neb.) — Dr. Rick Sacra, the American patient being treated for Ebola at the Nebraska Medical Center, continues to improve, the hospital says.

In a Monday press release, the hospital says that staff members are seeking ways to entertain Sacra while he remains in the Biocontainment Unit. Sacra’s wife says that a chess board and a supply of books have been given to her husband. “Someone also brought in a Nerf hoop, which Rick discovered he might need a lot more practice with,” Debbie Sacra said.

According to the release, Sacra still tires easily, but is, “becoming sharper [mentally] every day.” Sacra has held conversations with his pastor from his hometown and a former colleague from Liberia.

Doctors say they “continue to be pleased” with Sacra’s progress.

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CDC: Number of Deaths Linked to Prescription Painkillers Has Quadrupled Since 1999

Alex459/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new figures on Tuesday showing that the number of deaths caused by opioid prescription painkillers, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, are significantly higher than in years past.

According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, the number of deaths caused by prescription painkillers has climbed from 4,263 in 1999 to almost 19,000 in 2011. Poisoning was the number one cause of injury-related deaths in the U.S., of which 90 percent were related to drugs.

Those between the ages of 55 and 65 had the highest rate of death related to drugs.

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