Cancer Patient Quality of Life Affected by Location of Treatment

Cancer patients who died in a hospital or intensive care unit were shown to have a reduced quality of life compared to those who died at home with hospice, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Additionally, caregivers of patients treated in hospital settings are at an increased risk for developing a psychiatric illness.

The study highlights the potential importance of seeking hospice care at the end-of-life stages of cancer. Doing so may improve the mental health of both cancer patients and those faced with losing a loved one.

The results of the study, conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, are based off of interviews conducted with 342 patients with advanced cancer (as well as their caregivers). Progression of mental health was continued from the time of study until death of the patient. The median interview time was reported at 4.5 months. Caregiver interviews also occurred throughout this time, with additional interviews occurring six months following death.

The differences in mental health are striking between those cared for in hospitals or ICUs and home hospice. Individuals who died at home exhibited a dramatic reduction in both physical and mental distress. Similarly, caregivers assisting home patients were five times less likely to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

According to the study’s lead researcher, Alexi A. Wright, MD, ìOther studies have examined caregiversí psychiatric symptoms during bereavement, but we followed caregivers both before and after the patientís death, and ours was the first to specifically isolate caregiversí risk of developing psychiatric illness as a result of the patientsí place of death,î Wright said.

In response to the findings, researchers recommend finding solutions to increase the prevalence of at-home treatment for advanced cancer patients. Suggested ways of accomplishing this include improving doctor-patient communication and increasing end-of-life discussions with caregivers.

Source:

http://www.asco.org/

October 17th Marks Beginning of National Radon Awareness Week

Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer. In an effort to raise awareness about the hazards of radon, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated October 17th through October 24th as National Radon Awareness Week.

According to James Gelina, President of the Air Quality Control Agency, “Radon is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas formed from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water.” Though airborne levels of radon are typically diluted enough to not be harmful, high levels can congregate indoors. For those living in houses that reside in areas of high radon soil levels, this inhalation may eventually lead to lung cancer.

It is estimated that radon is responsible for 2.4 million global lung cancer deaths each year. In the United States, the dangerous gas is estimated to cause 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths annually.

Alarmingly, homes with excessively high levels of radon have been identified in virtually every county in the United States. In states such as Kansas, as many as one in four homes may have hazardous levels of radon. As a result of this, the EPA suggests that all homeowners have their homes checked for elevated radon levels. National Radon Awareness Week is a great time to schedule this important safety procedure.

Presently, the EPA recommends actions be taken to reduce radon concentrations if tested levels exceed four picocuries per liter of air (4 pCi/L). However, exposure levels as low as 2 pCi/L may be concentrated enough to cause health problems.

Radon testing is not expensive or time-consuming. Additionally, if excessive amounts of radon are found, solutions for mitigating the problem are fairly inexpensive. To learn more about scheduling a radon inspection and the dangers of this odorless gas, homeowners are urged to call 1-800-NO-RADON.

Sources:

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/national-radon-awareness-week-104299338.html

http://radonweek.wordpress.com/

http://www.infozine.com/news/stories/op/storiesView/sid/43886/

New Study Highlights Benefits of Palliative Care

A new study suggests early palliative care may actually be a better form of treatment for patients with non-small-cell lung cancer than traditional curative care. Patients in the study who were assigned palliative care reported an overall better quality of life, lower levels of depression and survived longer than their traditionally treated counterparts.

The findings, which were reported in the August 19th edition of The New England Journal of Medicine, may seem counter-intuitive. Palliative care ñ the idea of treating symptoms and improving quality of life for patient as opposed to directly treating the illness ñ is typically viewed as a last resort by cancer patients. However, these new findings strengthen the idea that choosing palliative care should not necessarily be viewed as “giving up.”

The study involved the randomization of 151 metastatic lung cancer patients into two groups ñ one that received palliative care and one that received traditional care. Researchers used quality-of-life and depression surveys to conclude that those treated with palliative care were happier and enjoyed a better quality of life at the time of death. More surprisingly, palliative patients survived an estimated two months longer on average than those who went through traditional treatment.

In response to the findings, researchers stress that the potential benefits of palliative care need to be properly communicated by doctors when discussing available treatment options. Presently, much of the medical community perceives palliative care as an inferior treatment option. In some cases, as the study suggests, this may not be the case.

Sources:

http://www.curetoday.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/blog.showIndex/lenahuang/2010/8/20/Palliative-care-at-diagnosis

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1000678

Turning Cancer Into a Mathematical Formula

What do computer engineers, physicists and mathematicians have to offer in the fight against cancer? As it turns out, quite a lot. In a new collaboration that finds these non-medical professionals teaming up with oncologists, these new enlistees in the war on cancer have been tasked with turning the disease into a mathematical formula.

Working at twelve locations set up by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), several small teams of oncologists and computer engineers are working together to mathematically define how cancer grows and spreads throughout the body.

At one such worksite located at the University of Southern California, computer architect Danny Hillis and oncologist David Agus are collaborating to create a comprehensive model of lymphoma. The ultimate goal of their work is to create a series of interlocking computational models that successfully predict various aspects of the disease and allow for personalized therapy.

In other words, the team is working to create a ‘theory of lymphoma,’ much in the same way that Newton created the theory of gravity. With these hard-set facts in place, the USC team hopes to produce a model that allows doctors to predict patient response rate to various combinations of therapy based on such parameters as age, sex, blood pressure and specific genetic sequences.

This formulaic approach is intended to fine-tune personalized therapy so that each individual patient receives the treatment most likely to deliver positive results.

The burgeoning technique is similar to previous personalized medical research practices. However, instead of simply looking at one gene or antibody, the computer model is intended to take everything about a disease into account. Within five years, the USC team hopes to have a thorough computational model of mouse lymphoma. The insights learned from this model will then be extended towards human applications.

Resource:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727680.400-crunching-cancer-with-numbers.html

World’s Costliest Disease is Cancer, According to Report

A new report put together by the American Cancer Society (ACS) suggests that cancer places more of a burden on the global economy than any other illness. This cost is not based on the amount of money used to treat the illness, but rather on economic cost of lives lost or disabled by cancer.

Ultimately, the ACS estimates that cancer cost the global economy $895 billion in 2008. To put things in perspective, that figure accounts for approximately 1.5 percent of the world’s total gross domestic product.

To put it another way, cancer leads to a higher loss of labor production due to death or disability of the global population than any other illness. This fact is largely due to two main facts:

1. Cancer kills far more people worldwide than virtually any other illness

2. Cancer affects people at a young enough age to more dramatically affect labor production

Presently, cancer is the number two leading cause of death worldwide, right behind heart disease. However, predictions suggest that cancer may surpass heart disease sometime this year. As of 2008, approximately 7.6 million people died from cancer.

Experts cite the use of tobacco and obesity as leading causes for the rise in cancer cases. Poor cancer treatment in low and middle-income countries also dramatically contributes the total negative effects of cancer on society.

The ACS, along with other global organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), is strongly concerned that cancer deaths will continue to rise unless new initiatives are put in place. Specifically, the ACS calls for improved focus on fighting cancers in developing nations.

Of the 7.6 million people who died from cancer in 2008, approximately 66 percent occurred in low and middle-income countries. Through the simple implementation of early detection and treatment in these nations, some predictions suggest 4 million deaths could be prevented each year.

To spur improvements in these key areas, the ACS suggests creating initiatives that build global awareness of how cancer affects developing countries. Of course, funding programs that improve detection and treatment of cancer in developing nations is also recommended.