Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

Singing the Birthday Blues

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

People aged 60 and over are 14 percent more likely to die on their birthdays A recent study of more than two million people found that the birthday blues bring a rise in deaths from heart attacks, strokes, falls, suicides and even cancer.  The findings – based on a study over 40 years in Switzerland – back up the idea that birthday stress has a major impact on lifespans.  The majority of the increase was attributed to heart attacks, which rose 18.6 percent on birthdays and were significantly higher for men and women.  Levels of strokes were up 21.5 per cent – primarily in women – and there was a surprisingly large increase in cancer deaths in both sexes of 10.5 per cent.

Dr Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross, a senior researcher in psychiatry at the University of Zurich, said: Birthdays end lethally more frequently than might be expected.”  One notable person who died on his birthday is William Shakespeare, who passed away in 1616 of causes unknown.

The Swiss research is confirmed by data on Canadian hospital admissions showing that strokes are more likely to occur on birthdays than other days, especially among patients with a history of high blood pressure.  A substantial rise in suicides and accidental deaths for the over-60s on birthdays was found only in men.  There was a 34.9 percent rise in suicides; 28.5 percent rise in accidental deaths not related to cars; and a 44 percent rise in deaths from falls on birthdays.  The risk increases for about four days before the big day.

It was previously thought that people are more likely to die after their birthday as the thought of reaching a milestone would help them hold on for more time.  The researchers said this theory was disproved by their findings, and they support the anniversary reaction theory – also known as the birthday blues.

Dr Lewis Halsey, a senior lecturer in environmental physiology at the University of Roehampton, said: “One interesting finding is that more suicides happen on birthdays, though only in men.  The authors suggest that this increase could be related to them drinking more alcohol on birthdays.  But perhaps men are more likely to make a statement about their unhappiness when they think people will be taking more notice of them.  Or perhaps women feel that it is unfair on others who might be celebrating with them to put them through dealing with suicide.”

American researchers have found similar increases in heart deaths on Christmas and New Year’s Day.  They list stress among possible causes — and say people having chest pain or other symptoms might wait too long to get medical help on days when they are thinking about celebrating.

As Many As 112 Million May Have Pre-existing Conditions

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Between 36 million and 112 million Americans have pre-existing conditions, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  Previously insurers have been able to deny coverage to sick people or offer policies that don’t cover their pre-existing conditions.  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits insurers from charging higher prices to people with pre-existing conditions.

Americans with pre-existing conditions represent between 20 and 66 percent of the adult population, with a midpoint estimate of 32 percent.  The differences among the estimates can be attributed to the number and type of conditions included in the different lists of pre-existing conditions.

The GAO compared several recent studies that tried to determine how many adults have pre-existing conditions,  based on the prevalence of certain common conditions.  Hypertension, mental health disorders and diabetes are the most common ailments that lead insurers to deny coverage, GAO said.  The report doesn’t say how many of those people are presently uninsured, but the insurance industry said that number could be relatively low.  Most people have insurance through an employer that is available irrespective of pre-existing conditions, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).  The trade association stressed that requiring plans to cover everyone is closely linked to the individual mandate, which the Supreme Court could strike down this summer.  There is widespread agreement that the two policies must go hand-in-hand — the Obama administration told the Supreme Court that if it strikes down the mandate, it should also toss out the politically popular requirement to cover people with pre-existing conditions.

Adults with pre-existing conditions spend $1,504 to $4,844 more annually on healthcare, and the majority — 88 to 89 percent — live in parts of the country “without insurance protections similar to the Affordable Care Act provisions, which will become effective in 2014.”

GAO’s analysis found that nearly 33.2 million adults age 19-64 years old, or about 18 percent, reported hypertension in 2009.  People with hypertension reported average annual expenditures of $650, but expenditures reached $61,540.  Mental health disorders and diabetes were the second and third most commonly reported conditions.  Cancer was the condition with the highest average annual treatment expenditures — approximately $9,000.

Cost of Alzheimer’s High in Dollars and Caregiver Devotion

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

As baby boomers age, the cost of caring for those stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease has nowhere to go but up. By 2050, the cost of treating Alzheimer’s is likely to rise from $172 billion per year in 2010 to more than $1 trillion per year in 2050.  The disease could cost Americans $20 trillion over the next few decades, according to a report from the Alzheimer’s Association.

“We saw it coming.  We knew the numbers were going to be high in the number of people getting the disease.  We as an organization have been preparing for this,” said Nancy Rainwater, vice president of communications for the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Illinois chapter.  “But to think of trillions of dollars…just the amount of money was pretty staggering.”

The statistics were calculated using an analytical model based on data from research and national surveys.  Part of the problem lies in how successful treatment has become for other diseases, Rainwater said.  “We’re living longer, so that has a lot to do with it,” she said.  “There has been so much work in other diseases – cancer, diabetes, heart disease – and people are surviving those diseases.  But then there’s a higher risk, as people age, of getting Alzheimer’s.  You look at statistics of those diseases, and the rates of death have all declined, whereas Alzheimer’s disease has increased.”

Researchers believe that the number of Americans aged 65 and older with Alzheimer’s will more than double to 13.5 million by 2050 as the population ages.  By the middle of the 21st century, nearly 50 percent of people with the disease will be in its most severe – and costly – stage.  “People in the earlier stages don’t necessarily need as much care or support,” said Darby Morhardt, social worker and research associate professor at Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center.  “But as they deteriorate, as they decline, they have more and more difficulty managing their daily care, so that care needs to be provided by someone.  Often that’s where most of the money is spent, on those last years.”

What’s most stunning is Alzheimer’s human and financial toll. According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2011 Facts and Figures Report, 5.4 million Americans (one in eight older Americans) suffer from the debilitating illness.  Joy Johnston of Atlanta knows how difficult caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s can be.  Her father, Patrick, like more than five million other Americans, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  “It can be heartbreaking at times,” Joy said in reference to caring for her father.  “You have to relearn your relationship with your loved one.”  Caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s can take a profound financial and emotional toll.  Nearly 15 million Americans are unpaid caregivers for those sick with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.  Do the math, and it adds up to about 17 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $202 billion in 2010 alone.

To help with the staggering cost of care, the Obama Administration has included $26 million in the proposed 2013 budget.  That money will go to education, outreach and support for families affected by the disease.

“Caregivers are often in a situation where their feelings and what they have to do are in conflict,” Dr. Peter Rabins said.  “That’s very hard for most of us because we’ve related with people that we love in a certain way. The disease forces a change in that relationship.”  Rabins, the director of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, notes that medical bills can pile up quickly.  “That’s a tremendous financial challenge for many families.” Rabins said.

Money isn’t the only sticking point.  The emotional costs take root as soon as dementia is diagnosed.  Family members often begin grieving a death of someone who is still physically present but disappearing mentally.  “Those feelings of loss can become quite chronic,” Rabins says.

“It’s the sort of crisis that policymakers, clinicians know is happening,” said Len Fishman, CEO of Hebrew Senior Life, the largest provider of elder care services in Massachusetts.  “I don’t think the country has absorbed it yet and in a couple of decades when the number of Alzheimer’s cases has doubled, people will look back and say,  ‘Why didn’t we know this was coming?’”

National statistics suggest that it takes an average three to four people to help care for each Alzheimer’s patient living at home; approximately 11 million Americans are currently helping to care for the estimated 70 percent of Alzheimer’s patients who are able to be at home.  That statistic does not include paid caregivers.

Although Medicaid pays for Alzheimer’s day programs for some low-income seniors; Medicare does not.  As a result, many patients and their families must pay privately for Alzheimer’s care until they’ve spent enough money to qualify for Medicaid.  Medicaid does pay for long-term nursing home care, but not the less restrictive assisted living for seniors.

Shortage of Radiation Oncologists Could Impact Cancer Patients

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Demand for radiation oncologists will outstrip supply by a factor of 10 over the next decade.  The U.S. medical community is experiencing a shortage of radiation oncologists, with demand outpacing supply by a factor of 10 over the next decade. According to a report published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology. the number of radiation oncologists joining the workforce over the next decade is expected to rise by just two percent.  During the same timeframe, the number of patients diagnosed with cancers requiring radiation therapy will rise by 22 percent, notes Dr. Benjamin Smith of the Department of Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Adults aged 65 and older are expected to comprise 38 percent of the demand for radiology services over the next 10 years; minorities will comprise 45 percent of the demand, according to the report.  A major point of the report is that cancers need to be treated with radiation therapy as quickly as possible to reduce the size of the tumor and avoid growth.  Patients who have to wait longer for a limited number of radiation oncologists will have delayed appointments.  “Shortages mean double trouble,” Smith said.  “Since research has shown that a delay between diagnosis and the start of radiation therapy can reduce its effectiveness, oncologists and radiologists must collaborate even more so the quality of care doesn’t break down at multiple points.”

According to the report, the researchers estimated demand for radiation therapy by multiplying current use against population growth projections and current use.  Smith suggests three strategies that could make up for some of the slack.  One is to have physician’s assistants and advanced practice registered nurses help doctors increase the number of patients who can be treated at a single time.  Another is to cut the number of radiation therapy treatments, which can be equally effective as longer courses.  Smith’s third recommendation is to increase the size of residency programs to educate more radiation oncologists.

Exhaustion Can Be For Real

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Exhaustion can be a real illness, though it's not officially recognized in the United States.The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 2010 – 2011 season was barely underway when its new music director, Maestro Riccardo Muti, headed back to Italy to see his physicians in Milan because of what was described as gastric distress.  Muti’s ultimate diagnosis?  Exhaustion and doctor’s orders to spend a month relaxing along Italy’s Adriatic Sea.

Non-celebrities frequently suffer from exhaustion due to lengthy periods of physical stress and a lack of sleep – symptoms that should not be ignored although the condition may not be compatible with the American work ethic.  “Exhaustion is real on many levels, but it’s not part of our medical lexicon,” said Dr. John Stracks, a mind-body specialist who treats chronic pain at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Center for Integrative Medicine.  “So when you hear about Muti (being prescribed rest), it seems like a spoof, which speaks to how jaded and hard-driving we are these days.”  Dr. Eve Van Cauter, a sleep researcher and professor at the University of Chicago Medical School, agrees, noting that Americans sleep less and work longer hours than people in other industrialized nations.

“Your mood and your gut function are intimately tied together,” said Dr. Gerard Mullin, a gastroenterologist and professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.  People under stress can have their “flight or fight” response cause an adrenaline surge that can impact food and digestive enzymes, resulting in reflux, heartburn or other abdominal problems.  Exhaustion also can be caused by an undiagnosed illness, such as cancer, low thyroid, anemia or other metabolic abnormalities.  Prescription drugs also can factor in, particularly beta blockers, muscle relaxants and mood stabilizers.

Although the World Health Organization recognizes medical exhaustion resulting from heat, pregnancy, too much exertion, combat, malaise and other conditions, the United States government has not assigned it a diagnostic code.

America Is Losing the War Against Obesity

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

America is putting on the pounds during this recession.  Americans are not getting thinner, and obesity rates have hit 30 percent of the population or higher in nine states last year, compared with just three states in 2007. Looking at the numbers from a different perspective, this means that 2.4 million additional Americans became obese in just two years, bringing the total to 72.5 million individuals, or 26.7 percent of the population.  Because the survey is based on a phone survey with 400,000 participants, the statistics probably underestimate true obesity rates.

According to Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which issued the survey, “Over the past several decades, obesity has increased faster than anyone could have imagined.”  If the numbers keep climbing, Frieden says that “more people will get sick and die from the complications of obesity, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.”  The report says that obesity’s medical costs could be as high as $147 billion a year and notes that “past efforts and investments to prevent and control obesity have not been adequate.”  Too little exercise and too much fast food that is full of sugar and fat share much of the blame for the obesity epidemic.

The nine states with obesity rates of 30 percent or higher are Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia.  Mississippi reported an obesity rate of whopping 34.4 percent.  Colorado and Washington, D.C., had the lowest obesity rates at less than 20 percent.  According to Dr. Heidi Blanck, the CDC’s chief of the obesity branch, Americans aged 50 and above had the highest obesity rates.

Why Russ Feingold Voted No

Monday, December 14th, 2009

One of the most surprising votes in the process to pass comprehensive healthcare reform is Senator Russell Feingold’s (D-WI) vote against an amendment sponsored by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to fund women’s preventive health services.  The amendment, which will eliminate deductibles and co-payments for screenings like mammograms, passed by 61 – 39, with two Democrats voting “nay” and three Republicans voting “yea”.

Writing on AlterNet, a syndication service and online community of the alternative press, featuring news stories from alternative newsweeklies, magazines and the web, Daniela Perdomo notes that the amendment “guarantees that all women will receive a free annual gynecological exam, which would include screenings for the leading killers of women – breast, cervical, ovarian and lung cancers; heart disease; and chronic illnesses such as diabetes.  It also requires insurance plans to cover a whole slew of comprehensive preventive care and screenings specific to women, with no copayments.”

Feingold’s official statement says that he cast his “nay” vote to assure fiscal responsibility.  According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, the amendment will cost $980 million over the next 10 years.  Feingold has a history of voting for fiscal responsibility, Perdomo notes.  “I can’t rail against Feingold and say that he’s shown little fiscal restraint when voting for other measures.  He voted against the bailout giveaway to the banks.  In other words, I think Feingold’s votes are often sound.  But I do think he is wrong on this one, and I pick on him because he’s normally so level-headed.”

The other Democrat who voted against the Mikulski amendment was Ben Nelson (D-NE).  Republicans voting in favor were Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME) and David Vitter (R-LA).

Senator Mikulski herself sums it up the best:  “Simply being a woman is a pre-existing condition.”

Can Texas Cure Cancer?

Monday, October 12th, 2009

logo_285x133_2The state of Texas is investing $3 billion over the next 10 years in a quest to find a cure for cancer, possibly making the state the gatekeeper of the second largest pool of cancer-related financial resources in the country.  Only the National Cancer Institute’s pockets are deeper.

In 2007, the state created the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas through an ambitious bond measure approved by voters.  Lance Armstrong, champion cyclist and cancer survivor, was a spokesman for the initiative; Governor Rick Perry said he looked forward to the day “we talk about cancer the same way we talk about polio.”

Texas is now actively recruiting scientists to come to the state to take advantage of the money.  The Institute plans to fund drug development, tackle high-risk research, and create the first statewide clinical trial network.  The last item would give patients expanded access to experimental drugs.  Additionally, Texas is handing out cancer research money at a time when funds nationwide have been drying up.  The National Cancer Institute gave out $3.14 billion in extramural grants in 2008, slightly below the $3.25 billion it distributed in 2005.

Texas has long been a leader in the battle against cancer.  The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston is one of the most respected cancer research centers in the United States.  The state also is home to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure headquarters and the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

RIP: The Senate’s Liberal Lion and Healthcare Reform Champion

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

ted-kennedy-dies-001Ted Kennedy’s passing deprives President Obama of a critical political ally in his efforts to reform healthcare.  In his role as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee, Kennedy fought tirelessly for decades to reform a system that today deprives 47 million Americans of affordable, accessible healthcare coverage.

In The Guardian, Michael Tomasky notes that, “The heavens somehow conspired to make this Kennedy death, however expected it might have been, nearly as heartbreaking as those of his vigorous younger brothers.  It’s not just that the great cause of the last 40 years of his life, reforming America’s healthcare system, sits at a perilous juncture, although it certainly is that, in part.  But the tragic irony of the timing is even greater, because we see in the very healthcare debate that so needed his input the precarious state of the institution to which he devoted his life, and which he shaped and influenced more than probably any other senator in history.”

Kennedy, writing in the July 27, 2009, Newsweek, declared that healthcare reform is “the cause of my life”. “In 1973, when I was first fighting in the Senate for universal coverage, we learned that my 12-year-old son Teddy had bone cancer.  He had to have his right leg amputated above the knee.  The pathology report showed that some of the cancer cells were very aggressive.  I decided his best chance for survival was a clinical trial involving massive doses of chemotherapy,” according to Kennedy.

“During those many hours at the hospital, I came to know other parents whose children had been stricken with the same deadly disease.  We all hoped that our child’s life would be saved by this experimental treatment.  Because this was part of a clinical trial, none of us paid for it.  Then the trial was declared a success and terminated before some patients had completed their treatments.  That meant families had to have insurance to cover the rest or pay for them out of pocket.  Our family had the necessary resources as well as excellent insurance coverage.”

Other heartbroken parents were not able to pay for the continued treatment and that made Kennedy realize that “No parent should suffer that torment.  Not in this country.  Not in the richest country in the world.”  So passionate was Kennedy that Americans have access to healthcare that he often paid for others’ treatment out of his own pocket when they could not afford it.

Kennedy made healthcare reform his lifelong passion, vowing “We will end the disgrace of America as the only major industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee healthcare for all of its people.”

Wherever you stand on the issue, there is no doubt that Kennedy was a great senator, a statesman that Republicans and Democrats respected and emulated.  He did not live to see the healthcare bill passed, but perhaps his death will quell partisan dissension and bring us closer to a solution.