Medical news

10 Years in, Human Genome Mapping Yields No ‘Major Breakthroughs’

Ten years ago, scientists completed the first draft of the human genome project – a highly publicized effort that was supposed to lead to significant breakthroughs in our understanding – and subsequent treatment – of cancer. However, after a decade of study, many scientists are expressing their disappointment in the level of payoff earned from the expensive and time-consuming genome project.

Of course, that’s not to say that mapping the human genome has not been helpful. For example researchers now know that about 21,000 genes make up the human genome responsible for coding our cells and tissues. Previously, it was thought that as many as 100,000 genes could contribute to this portion of our genetic makeup. Additionally, many of these genes have been identified as contributors to cancer development.

Still, according to Robert Weinberg, co-founder of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, no “major breakthroughs” have yet been gleaned from human genome mapping.

While there is no doubt that human genome mapping has been helpful, Weinberg suggests that the exorbitant amount of time and money spent on coding our genome could have been better spent on more traditional research efforts – “The question is how much bang we’ve gotten for the buck, and from certain perspectives it’s been modest.”

It is estimated that the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland receives $500 million in annual funding.

However, not all researchers are as quick to abandon the benefits of genome mapping. According to Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, “The promise of a revolution in human health remains quite real…those who somehow expected dramatic results overnight may be disappointed.”

From its outset, the human genome mapping project was meant to identify key targets within the human body for cancer treatment. By identifying pertinent genes within our system that affect the growth and spread of cancer, it is believed that effective cancer treatments can be produced.

Many new and viable paths for cancer treatment have already been identified thanks to the genome mapping project. However, techniques that target these identified genes have yet to reveal any major breakthroughs in treatment.



Everything related to cancer is stressful

Coping with the side effects of cancer treatment, for instance hair loss, tiredness (fatigue), changes in weight, along with how disrupted your life may appear – all contribute to the stress. Everything related to cancer can be stressful. It is normal to be worried and upset about it, and as such some amount of distress is naturally expected when you come to know that you have cancer. However, sometime the normal distress levels can increase to the extent that they start creating problems with your treatment, make it difficult for you to cope up with the disease, and affect most other aspects of your life.

You should not consider yourself as weak in case you become highly distressed and are not able to perform even normal activities. Here, we shall try to describe the various distress levels, ranging from the normal to high levels. We will then offer you specific ideas on how to manage your feelings so that they may help you cope in a better manner.

To cope with distress, you first need to have a doctor and health care team with whom you feel safe and are comfortable with. You need to talk to them about your feelings. Usually, they can guide you to the help that you may require. Keep in mind that they are treating YOU, and not just the cancer, and they expect that you will keep them informed about your experiences and feelings. Understand that only you can do that.

Although most of the information provided here may appear to be meant for cancer patients, it can also be useful for the partner and family members of the person with cancer. Loved ones are an important source of support, and it is necessary to care about their well-being as well. In case you are a partner or family member who is feeling distressed, you can freely inform the health care team that you require their help with your distress.


Is Cancer Coverage Too Optimistic?

Newspaper and magazine stories related to cancer are biased towards optimism, according to a research study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania.

The study, which was reported in the March 22 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, involved the review of 436 cancer-related stories that were published in national magazines and large-scale newspapers from 2005 to 2007 (these articles were randomly selected from a larger pool of 2,228 articles).

Based on these sample articles, it was found that pronounced focus was given to aggressive cancer treatments and overall cancer survival. Subjects that were found to be under-reported include cancer death, failure of treatments, adverse affects of treatments and end-of-life palliative care.

Specifically, it was concluded that 32 percent of articles reviewed focused on the topic of cancer survival, while only 7.8 percent focused on the topic of death and dying. Additionally, only 13 percent of all articles reviewed reported that “aggressive cancer treatments can fail.”

As suggested by Jessica Fishman, a lead author of the paper, “It is surprising that few articles discuss death and dying considering that half of all patients diagnosed as having cancer will not survive,” Fishman adds, “The findings are also surprising given that scientists, media critics and the lay public repeatedly criticize the news for focusing on death.”

Of the articles, 35 percent were found to deal with the topic of breast cancer. Another 15 percent of the articles dealt with the specialized topic of prostate cancer. Roughly 20 percent of all articles tackled cancer from a general perspective, with no specific type of cancer chosen for focus.



Exercise for the cancer patient

Exercise is not only safe for most people receiving cancer treatment, but it may also allow you to feel a lot better. It has been noticed that moderate exercise helps with a variety of problems including anxiety, fatigue, heart and blood vessel fitness and muscle strength. Most cancer patients can do some kind of exercise. For instance, walking is supposedly a good way to make the right start and keep moving when you may be experiencing stress. Before you start, it would help if you discuss your exercise plans with your doctor. Based on your existing fitness levels, you may require help from a physical therapist in order to initiate an exercise program that may be useful for you.

Always remember that even when exercise may prove useful towards reducing distress levels in some individuals, it alone may not be enough for people experiencing moderate to severe distress.


How to know whether your stress levels are normal or more severe

It is difficult to answer this question because a certain amount of stress is “normal” (expected) when you are diagnosed with cancer. But specific signs and symptoms may serve as warning signals that your distress levels have exceeded normal levels and are becoming serious. These include:

  1. Feeling extremely overwhelmed, similar to a panic state
  2. Being inundated with a sense of dread
  3. Experiencing so much sadness that you think it is impossible to undergo treatment
  4. Feeling extraordinarily angry and irritable
  5. Feeling powerless to cope with fatigue, pain and nausea
  6. Fuzzy thinking, poor concentration and unexpected memory problems
  7. Finding it difficult to make decisions even about little things
  8. Experiencing despair and hopelessness – thinking what’s the point in continuing?
  9. Thinking all the time about the cancer and/or death
  10. Problems such as difficulty in sleeping or waking early (getting less than 4 hours of sleep)
  11. Loss of appetite (reduced appetite or no appetite) for some weeks
  12. Family problems and conflicts that appear impossible to resolve
  13. Rethinking your religious beliefs and faith that may have comforted you earlier
  14. Feeling useless and worthless

At times, certain incidents from the past can contribute to the distress levels being experienced by you and your family. It may require you to get help more urgently. Here are some examples:

  1. Death of a relative who have had cancer
  2. A critical illness or death of one of your loved one
  3. A history of depression or suicidal thought and tendencies
  4. Painful memories from the past that keep coming back as panic attacks or nightmares

In case any of these experiences apply to you or a member of the family, talk to your nurse or doctor. You or the member of the family may require help to deal with the distress.

Nowadays, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are well aware that emotional distress is a part of cancer, and that it must be treated alongside the physical signs and symptoms of cancer. Most of the renowned cancer treatment centers have started asking each and every patient about their distress.


Colorado Man Indicted for Posing as Asbestos Inspector

A Colorado man accused of impersonating a licensed asbestos technician has been indicted for setting off an emergency asbestos incident.  A grand jury voted to indict Michael Merit of Parker, Colorado, after he took on a job from a local firm in charge of demolishing trailer homes in the nearby town of Elizabeth.  Resource Center, the company that hired Mr. Merit, was led to believe that he had a state license to inspect structures for asbestos and could conduct air quality tests and other asbestos testing on the homes targeted for demolition.

According to the indictment, Mr. Merit carried out asbestos tests on the mobile homes from November 2007 until January 2008.  Instead of using proper techniques to implement the tests, Mr. Merit allegedly used bogus testing methods and provided false lab reports stating that no asbestos was present in the targeted structures.  The indictment also stated that he signed documents allowing Resource Center to demolish the homes and sent the false reports to the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

In Colorado, as with most other states, demolition firms are not allowed to raze an older structure without a certified asbestos inspection.  The measure, which is also enforced at the federal level by the US environmental Protection Agency, is in place to prevent the dangerous dust from becoming airborne and affecting demolition workers.  Workers who handle asbestos must use special breathing masks and wear protective coveralls to prevent them from inhaling the fibers and contracting serious respiratory disorders.

The state health department authorized the demolitions based on the fraudulent documentation.  After the company leveled three of the houses, a neighbor notified the state about the potential presence of asbestos in the demolished structures.  State officials ordered a halt to the demolitions and declared an asbestos emergency.  When state investigators arrived at the site, they determined that the debris from the demolished mobile homes contained over 160 square feet of asbestos-laced materials.

Inspectors determined that the circumstances merited an environmental emergency due to the “sudden discharge of a hazardous substance”.  Air quality tests revealed high levels of asbestos in and around the debris.  Since the company did not know about the asbestos, they did not exercise the required precautions, such as wetting down the debris to prevent hazardous fibers from becoming airborne, nor did they use waste receptacles specifically designed to contain asbestos dust.

The state health department, the Environmental Crime Task Force and the state prosecutor’s office conducted the subsequent criminal investigation into Mr. Merit’s alleged fraud.  Prosecutors have yet to set a trial date for Mr. Merit and have not announced any criminal charges against Resource Center.  The health department and the environmental agencies are reviewing the case to determine if the company knowingly violated any rules or if they were unwitting victims.

Many older structures, including trailer homes, contain asbestos as part of wall insulation, ceiling tiles and carpet backing.  When asbestos fibers become airborne, the thin slivers can work their way into the lungs.  The most serious disease associated with asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, a form of cancer that targets the fluid lining around the lungs.  Patients with malignant mesothelioma typically live less than a year.