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When A Cancer Patient Might Be Better Off Choosing Hospice Care

Cancer is a dreadful disease. Just dreadful.  Make no mistake: I have tremendous respect for the awesome doctors who treat patients afflicted with it day after day. Still, paradoxically, I can’t help but notice that some of them have just as hard a time as do other doctors with caring for patients at the end of their lives. I believe a large part of their difficulty stems from the ridiculously dysfunctional either/or approach to palliative care and hospice we’re stuck with in this benighted country.

The problem is that in order to qualify for hospice, patients must not only have a certified life expectancy of less than six months, but they must also not be undergoing any active treatment for their malignancy. When you stop to think about it, though, this is actually quite discriminatory. We don’t require people on hospice with other diagnoses to discontinue their life sustaining medications. Patients with COPD are allowed to continue their bronchodilators; CHF patients don’t have to stop their ACE inhibitors and digoxin. But if a cancer patient wants to qualify for hospice, they have to forgo curative treatments like chemotherapy.

So what if the oncologists call it “palliative” chemo instead? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*

CDC Launches Program To Prevent Infections In Cancer Patients

As clinicians, we know that the nearly one million patients who receive outpatient cancer treatment each year are at risk for serious infections that may lead to hospitalization, disruptions in chemotherapy schedules, and in some cases, death. Even so, it appears that outpatient oncology facilities may vary greatly in their attention to infection prevention. As one example – at an oncology clinic in Nebraska, it was discovered that syringes were reused to access bags of saline that were shared among multiple patients. This unsafe practice led to the transmission of hepatitis C virus to at least 99 cancer patients, resulting in one of the largest healthcare-associated outbreaks of its kind.

To help address this problem, CDC is launching a new program called Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients, featuring tools to help both clinicians and patients prevent infections.

As a cornerstone of this new initiative, CDC worked with Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Safe Healthcare*

Can The Approval Process For Cancer Drugs Be Accelerated?

If you’ve read my blogs for a while, or look up some past blogs, you’ll see I have been frustrated at times with the FDA. Yes, they have a tough job protecting us from medical products that are unsafe and/or ineffective. But when it comes to cancer, where we have few “homerun” therapies, I wish they were a bit more liberal. A “bunt single” might be good enough. You may have read how I have been critical of Dr. Rick Pazdur, the FDA leader for oncology drug approval. Some desperate patients and family members have referred to him as “Dr. No.”

Just the other day I interviewed a respected breast cancer survivor and patient advocate who has high respect for Dr. Pazdur.  Musa Mayer of New York City is a 22-year breast cancer survivor and author of three books about breast cancer. She’s devoted her life to educating other patients about cancer and also playing a role in public policy. She has become a favorite patient representative on FDA cancer advisory boards and regularly weighs in when breast cancer drugs are being considered.

In my interview with Musa, she explained Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

Still No Consensus On Optimal Treatment For Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS)

Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) in the breast, histopathology w/ hematoxylin & eosin stain, Wiki-Commons image

More, a magazine “for women of style & substance,” has an unusually thorough, now-available article by Nancy F. Smith in its September issue on A Breast Cancer You May Not Need to Treat.

The article’s subject is DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ). This non-invasive, “Stage 0” malignancy of the breast has shot up in reported incidence over the past two decades. It’s one of the so-called slow-growing tumors detected by mammography; a woman can have DCIS without a mass or invasive breast cancer.

While some people with this diagnosis choose to have surgery, radiation or hormonal treatments, others opt for a watchful waiting strategy. The article quotes several physicians, including oncologists, who consider Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Three Reasons Those In The Medical Field Lament The Passing Of Steve Jobs

Post image for Three reasons why doctors mourn the passing of Steve Jobs

Doctors love their Apple Products. Just walk into any hospital ward, and see the types of mobile devices we are using. At weekly Grand Rounds conferences, you see plenty of iPads in use. At physician meetings, the laptop of choice is often the Macbook Pro. The data backs these anecdotal examples as well.

Doctors love their Apple Products – and Steve Jobs was obviously an extension of these products, often times cited as the singular force behind these products, and it’s why physicians who love his products mourn his passing.

There are three specific reasons why :

1) Simplicity

In medicine, we deal with enough complexity. Knowing disease pathology and the mechanism of various illnesses and their treatments is a fascinating exercise, but it’s taxing. For every known in medicine, there are at least five unknowns. It’s what makes being a physician exciting, but stressful as well. We’re always on high alert – especially those of us who practice in the critical care arena.

Juxtaposed to this is Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at iMedicalApps*

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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