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Cancer Patients: How Will Treatment Affect Other Aspects Of Health?

The death of Kara Kennedy, the only daughter of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, at age 51 from an apparent heart attack while exercising, was yet another tragedy for one of the country’s most prominent political families. It also offers a reminder of the possible long-term effects of cancer and its treatment.

In 2002, Kennedy was diagnosed with lung cancer that her doctors initially said was inoperable. Her father refused to accept that diagnosis, according to an article in the Boston Globe. He found doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who thought they could treat the cancer. They removed a portion of Ms. Kennedy’s right lung and then administered radiation and chemotherapy. She lived for another nine years, in apparently good health.

While the cause of Kennedy’s death has not yet been confirmed, the long-term effects of her lung cancer treatment could have played a role. Cancer survivors are often at increased risk of heart disease. That’s because the treatments used to fight cancer—drugs, radiation, and hormones—can damage the heart and arteries. (These are detailed in a Harvard Heart Letter article on cancer therapy and heart disease.)

If life were completely fair, cancer survivors would be exempt from future health problems. Sadly, that isn’t the case. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Hospital CEO Is Diagnosed With Cancer While Building A New Cancer Center

Pat Elliott, me and a HUGE cactus at Banner MD Anderson!

I am just back from the Phoenix-metro area. It’s now the 5th largest in the United States and despite home foreclosures, there is still a feeling of growth in many areas. Gilbert, a nearby suburb, has expanded to over 200,000 people and a growing major medical center. I spent several days interviewing patients and staff about the soon-to-open, Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center. The hope is that by bringing MD Anderson’s world-renowned expertise, clinical trials and processes to this new center, cancer care around Phoenix and the southwest will be improved. Look for my video interviews coming soon.

But, in the meantime, one interview stuck out for me; the one with the Banner Health President and CEO, Peter Fine. Peter is in his late 50s and is a health care industry professional who has been guiding Banner Health and its 23 hospitals well for over a decade. For the past several years, Peter has been strategizing the building of a major cancer center on one of his hospital campuses. Peter knew he would need a renowned partner to make it successful and three years ago he chose MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, consistently ranked as the nation’s #1 cancer center (and where I was treated in a leukemia clinical trial).

Even before the partnership contract was inked, a strange thing happened. Peter found a swollen lymph node in his neck and it didn’t go away. Read more »

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

New Cancer Treatment Gains Momentum

You heard about it first on Patient Power when, a couple of years ago, we interviewed Dr. Andrew Lowy, oncology surgeon at UC San Diego Medical Center. He explained how some patients with advanced cancer spread in their abdomen could benefit from an open surgery – perhaps as much as nine hours long – where, after snipping out visible cancer – the organs are bathed in heated chemotherapy for 90 minutes. You may recall the story of Jennifer Ambrose, a young mom from suburban Chicago, who developed cancer of the appendix. She tracked down Dr. Lowy after spotting him on the Internet. She traveled to San Diego, had the “hot chemo” procedure, recovered and then went on to have a second child – her “miracle baby.” Today Jennifer remains fine and her story is featured in my book, The Web-Savvy Patient.

Jennifer Ambrose’s Powerful Patient Video

Today Andrew Pollack, reporter for The New York Times, wrote a front page story about Dr. Lowy, hot chemo, and how other medical centers are now picking up on it for other advanced cancers including colon and ovarian. They are even advertising it as one last bit of hope when often there is virtually none. Now, some of the big names in GI cancers are suggesting this approach has merit and may offer longer survival then some super expensive drugs. There’s a debate going on. Read more »

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

The Cancer Drug Shortage Is A Serious Problem

Last Sunday’s New York Times featured an op-ed by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, on the oncology drug shortage. It’s a serious problem that’s had too-little attention in the press:

Of the 34 generic cancer drugs on the market, as of this month, 14 were in short supply. They include drugs that are the mainstay of treatment regimens used to cure leukemia, lymphoma and testicular cancer.

Emanuel considers that these cancer drug shortages have led to what amounts to an accidental rationing of cancer meds. Some desperate and/or influential patients (or doctors or hospitals) get their planned chemo and the rest, well, don’t.

Unfortunately, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

NEJM Publishes Proposal To Minimize Spending In Oncology

Recently the NEJM ran a Sounding Board piece on Bending the Cost Curve in Cancer Care. The author’s take on this problem:

Annual direct costs for cancer care are projected to rise — from $104 billion in 2006 to over $173 billion in 2020 and beyond.2…Medical oncologists directly or indirectly control or influence the majority of cancer care costs, including the use and choice of drugs, the types of supportive care, the frequency of imaging, and the number and extent of hospitalizations…

The article responds, in part, to Dr. Howard Brody’s 2010 proposal that each medical specialty society find five ways to reduce waste in health care. The authors, from the Divisions of Hematology-Oncology and Palliative Care at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond VA, offer two lists:

Suggested Changes in Oncologists’ Behavior (from the paper, verbatim — Table 1): Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

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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