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Cancer Prevention: How To Sift Through The Headlines

Guest post submitted by MD Anderson Cancer Center

Most of us can’t keep up with all the new ways to avoid cancer. Thanks to the Internet, we now have an unlimited supply of cancer knowledge at our fingertips. But, how can we filter out the good, the bad and the questionable?

Below are steps to help you tease out the facts when reading that next big news story on preventing cancer.

Says who?

Don’t just take the writer’s word for it. Dig a little deeper to find out the source behind the hype. The American Cancer Society says you should ask yourself these questions when reading an article:

  • Was this a press release from a company announcing a new breakthrough in cancer prevention?
  • Was it a report from a clinical study that was given at a scientific conference?
  • Was it a report from a study that was published in a respected medical journal?
  • Where was the study done? What do you know about the research centers that conducted and sponsored the study?

Knowing the answers to these questions can help you decide on where you need to go to seek more details about the study findings. Visit the source of the information to learn more about how this new substance or method was tested.

Find out how the test was done

Headlines often mislead people into thinking a substance (food, drug, vitamin) or activity has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to prevent cancer when really it hasn’t.

Don’t be misled. Read the original study report, and look for details about the research done to support this new theory.

Many studies do not involve people. It takes a number of studies — including lab, animal and human testing — before most methods or substances can be proven effective in preventing cancer.

In lab studies, researchers test a new method or substance on cells. If results show a positive effect on cells, the researchers may publish a report about their findings. Yes, you may see this report on the evening news, but that doesn’t mean this new method or substance is ready for use in humans.

Because a new method or substance worked in the lab, researchers may decide to test it in animals. Doing this provides information about whether or not this method or substance will work in humans. Researchers also can learn more about any potential harms.

Results of these studies also may get published and featured on the evening news. Even if the results are positive, don’t get too excited yet. What works in animals does not always have the same effect on people. In fact, it can even turn out to be harmful. Wait for researchers to learn more before giving it a try.

Studies involving people offer most insight

If a news report is about a study involving people, this is a good sign. It means the new substance or method probably has successfully passed lab and animal studies. But, even human studies must go through several phases before a substance or method can be considered safe and effective. Human studies usually begin among small groups of people to determine effectiveness before testing in larger groups.

Look closely at the evidence

Not every study yields the same results. This is why you may hear news stories with conflicting information from month to month. Look closely at the evidence and follow the steps listed above.

If you want to try a new cancer prevention method or substance, talk to your doctor first. Your doctor can tell you more about the possible side effects and harms, or if it interferes with any medicines you may be taking. Remember, what works on one person may not work on everyone.

Gather as much information as you can before starting anything new. There’s a lot to be said for the words “be wise, be well.”

This article originally appeared on MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Focused on Health e-newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. To subscribe to future issues, click here.

References

Learning about new ways to prevent cancer (American Cancer Society)

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Your Turn

We would love to hear from you.  Do you question what you read?  When you read a story in the newspaper, magazine or online, do you wonder about the facts?  Do you ask yourself key questions (as mentioned above)?  Do you dig a little deeper or do you trust the article without questioning it?  Share your thoughts, we’d love to know what you do.

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*This blog post was originally published at Health in 30*


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Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

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