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Navigating Cancer Post-Treatment: Who Will Help You?

It is completely understandable if you associate the term “cancer survivor” with an image of glamorous, defiant Gloria Gaynor claiming that She. Will. Survive. Or maybe with a courageous Lance Armstrong in his quest to reclaim the Tour de France.  Or perhaps it is linked for you with heroic rhetoric and pink-related racing, walking and shopping.

Phil Roeder from

I never call myself a survivor because when I hear this term, I recall my experience following each of four cancer-related diagnoses. It has not been triumphant. It’s been terrifying and grueling.  It hasn’t taken courage to get through the treatment.  It’s taken doing the best I can. I am not still here because I am defiant.  I am here because I am lucky, because I am cared for by good clinicians who treated my cancers based on the best available evidence, and because on the whole, I participated actively in my care. But mostly I am here because each successive diagnosis was made as a result of being followed closely with regular checks and screenings and because my doctors responded effectively to questionable findings and odd symptoms.

There are 12 million Americans living today who have been treated for cancer. Not only are we at risk for recurrences but, as Dr. Julia Rowland, director of the Office of Cancer Survivorship at the National Cancer Institute, notes, “Research shows that there are no benign therapies.  All treatment is potentially toxic and some therapy may itself be carcinogenic. Today, people are living long enough to manifest the health consequences of efforts to cure or control their cancer.”

Who amongst our clinicians is responsible for helping us watch out for those consequences for the balance of our lives? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

Wanda Sykes Diagnosed With DCIS And Opts For A Double Mastectomy

When Wanda Skyes, 47, had a bilateral breast reduction in February, the pathology returned with DCIS present in the left breast specimen.  Recently the comedian appeared on  “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and during the interview revealed her breast cancer diagnosis and her decision to have a double mastectomy.

Sykes continued, “It wasn’t until after the reduction that in the lab work, the pathology, that they found that I had DCIS [ductal carcinoma in situ] in my left breast. I was very, very lucky because DCIS is basically stage-zero cancer. So I was very lucky.”

But, she added, “Cancer is still cancer. I had the choice of, ‘You can go back every three months and get it checked. Have a mammogram, MRI every three months just to see what it’s doing.’ But, I’m not good at keeping on top of stuff. I’m sure I’m overdue for an oil change and a teeth cleaning already.”

Because she has a history of breast cancer on her mother’s side of the family, Sykes explained she opted to have a bilateral mastectomy.

“I had both breasts removed, because now I have zero chance of having breast cancer,” she said. “It sounds scary up front, but what do you want? Do you want to wait and not be as fortunate when it comes back and it’s too late?”

The American Cancer Society Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

The Misuse Of A National Television Platform To Promote Health Information

In a highly-promoted appearance, legendary Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden went on ABC’s Good Morning America yesterday to announce that he had kept silent since 2007 about his diagnosis with prostate cancer.

First, let me say that I’ve always liked this guy. Funny. Charming. Coached teams that were fun to watch.

But that doesn’t make you an effective communicator on prostate cancer.

If you listen very carefully to the following clip (it took me 3 times watching the clip before I caught this), you’ll hear interviewer Robin Roberts rapidly mention that Bowden “is being compensated” for his appearance by “On the Line.”

On the Line” is sponsored by several entities including two drug companies that make prostate cancer drugs and by Project Zero – whose executive made news on this blog recently by writing that Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society “has killed more men by giving them an excuse to not be tested.”

You could probably find less conflicted sources Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Missing The Point: Various Representations Of The Same Study

A paper presented at the 2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) breast cancer symposium this week has drawn all kinds of news coverage – and much of it is off the mark – even in the eyes of one of the American Cancer Society’s top docs.

The paper concluded:

“Results of this study validate the importance of annual screening mammography in women older than 50 years, and women aged 40 to 49 years recently omitted from screening guidelines. There was an increased prevalence of palpation (breast self exams) for the method of detection in women less than 50 years of age. If screening mammography is omitted in this group, cancers when detected may be of a more advanced stage and result in more mastectomies. This study also supports the use of palpation as a method of detection despite recent recommendations against teaching self breast exams by the USPSTF (US Preventive Services Task Force).”

WebMD’s lead sentence was: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

The Importance Of Shared Decision-Making In Health Care Discussions

In a comment left on my blog, Jamie Bearse, the chief operating officer of Project Zero – The Project to End Prostate Cancer, showed how quickly and deeply discussions about screening tests can devolve into ugly rhetoric. Bearse wrote:

“Your comments along with Otis Brawley’s vendetta against the PSA sentence men to die from prostate cancer testing. Shame on you. It’s important to know your score to make a proper diagnosis and decision of if and how to treat prostate cancer. Groups that create screening guidelines for cancer such as American Urological Association and National Comprehensive Cancer Network say get tested. In fact, Brawley is at odds with his own organization. ACS supports testing as well. Otis Brawley has killed more men by giving them an excuse to not be tested. Don’t follow that path just because of your own bad experience.”

I responded:


My comments policy states that I will delete comments that make personal attacks. You certainly did that with your statement that the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society “has killed” and that he has “sentenced men to die.”

Nonetheless I have posted your comment because I think it’s important for other readers to see how some pro-screening rhetoric so quickly and completely devolves into ugliness.

YOU ARE WRONG Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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