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.



Altered Versions of DNA Could Serve as Biomarker for Cancer

In the past few years, new technologies and techniques have become available that allow researchers to quickly sequence large strands of DNA at a fairly affordable cost. Recently, this breakthrough has allowed researchers at Johns Hopkins University to look at DNA mutations as a possible biomarker for cancer.

As cancer cells grow and divide, they shed small fragments of mutated DNA into the circulatory system. The team at Johns Hopkins – led by Dr. Bert Vogelstein and Kenneth W. Kinzler – hypothesized that these DNA mutations could be sequenced and identified as a possible early indicator of cancer.

The process proved time-consuming, as a broad number of DNA mutations are unique in cancer cells. As such, knowing which specific mutation would serve as the best biomarker for cancer served as a major hurdle to the team.

Despite this, the researchers at Johns Hopkins have announced the formation of a lab technique that successfully identifies DNA rearrangements caused by cancer mutation. The process works by quickly sequencing DNA fragments in the blood stream.

Though very promising, a major drawback to the process is cost. Due to the need to sequence a patient’s entire genome, the estimated price tag of testing a single patient is $5,000.

According to the team’s research, which was published in the March issue of Nature, mitochondrial DNA rearrangements may serve as more cost-effective biomarkers for cancer. The reason for this is twofold. For one, mitochondrial DNA is incredibly small compared to a cell’s main strand of DNA, with just 16,000 genome units (a cell’s nucleus has three billion genome units). For two, mitochondrial DNA mutations occur in approximately 80 percent of all cancers, making the new technique a near universal option for future cancer diagnosis.

Even with these potential cost savings, fees associated with DNA sequencing will need to drop further in order to be feasible for widespread use. Still, given the strong sensitivity of the procedure, many are hopeful for the future of DNA as a cancer biomarker. According to Dr. Vogelstein, “There is no question from a research point of view that this approach has the potential to track patients and tumors better than with the conventional approach.”



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.



April 1-7 was National Asbestos Awareness Week

Over the last thirty years, scientists and researchers have conclusively determined that exposure to asbestos can lead to severe respiratory diseases.  The most dangerous and prevalent of these diseases is mesothelioma, a form of cancer that attacks the soft tissue surrounding the lungs.  A study by the Centers for Disease Control estimated that as many as ten thousand people in the US perish from lung diseases related to asbestos exposure each year, including up to three thousand from mesothelioma, and that the numbers will continue to climb over the next ten to twenty years.

One quality of mesothelioma, which could lead to this higher incidence rate, is that early symptoms of the disease often resemble those of other lung disorders, which leads to improper diagnoses.  By the time patients with the disease receive an accurate diagnosis, the aggressive cancer often leaves the patients with a year or less to live.

Linda Reinstein was one of the co-founders of the ADAO in 2004.  Currently, she serves as the group’s executive director.  Her husband, Alan, died of mesothelioma he contracted while exposed to asbestos.  She says that her group is dedicated to stopping the mining of raw asbestos ore and banning the manufacture and installation of construction materials that contain asbestos.

While asbestos bans are in place in many nations in the European Union, as well as Australia and New Zealand, other industrialized nations have not enacted such laws.  Asbestos mines are still active in Quebec, Canada, and that country exports tons of the toxic substance each year to developing countries.  The United States Congress has yet to pass legislation banning the mineral, although several government offices (such as the Environmental Protection Agency) place heavy regulations on its use and levy stiff fines against violators.

As part of the National Asbestos Awareness Week campaign, Ms. Reinstein and other group leaders asked citizens to contact their congressmen and senators about legislation that would ban the use of asbestos.  The group is also launching educational efforts to enlighten the public as to both the prevalence and the dangers involved in the widespread use of asbestos across the country.

As part of that effort, and in light of recent reports involving “do-it-yourself” home renovation, ADAO recommends that homeowners who are considering remodeling their older homes ask a certified inspector to check the property for the presence of asbestos.



Advance Directives – Living Wills

How to ensure that your wishes are respected in case you are not able to look after yourself due to an illness or accident.

Advance directives allow people to explain their preferences in relation to the type of medical treatment they are willing to undergo (or want to avoid) in case they lose the ability to make decisions or communicate due to an illness or accident.

The living will and the durable power of attorney are the two different kinds of advance directives. Both of these are written, legal documents. You may require a lawyer or you can create one yourself. Different states use different types of forms. You can make alterations in the document or cancel it any time you want.

Using a living will, you put into writing all your preferences regarding your treatment and care. You can let others know of your decisions about feeding tubes, receiving cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of a respirator to keep you alive.

If you are unable to make decisions on your own, you can choose a durable power of attorney to allow another person to take decisions on your behalf. A durable power of attorney may declare: If, due to some illness or accident, I am unable to make decisions regarding my healthcare, I want a surrogate to decide on my behalf. Usually, but not always, the surrogate (or agent) is a family member.

The best way to go about it is to have both a living will and a durable power of attorney. Moreover, you need to be very specific when you are writing a living will. It will make it easier for the individual whom you choose as your surrogate to take care of all your wishes.

The Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA) was enacted by the Congress in 1990. The law focuses on the need to inform patients about their rights to plan and prepare advance health-care directives.

Even when you have good overall health, you need to talk about care directives and end-of-life treatment with your spouse, other family members, your doctor, nurse or clergy. If you prepare advance directives based on the discussions, it will benefit all, especially at times when critical decisions need to be made.

Although more people have started using advance directives these days, some people still tend to avoid it due to a disturbing misconception. The perception amongst these people is that they will be denied medical care in case their will says that they do not want to receive life-sustaining treatment. However, this is not true. You will receive complete medical care, as required.


Potential for Cancer Cell Errors Puts Research in Doubt

The validity of dozens of cancer studies have come under question following tests that indicate scientists have been unwittingly using the incorrect types of cancer cells for their research

All research studies in question involve the use of esophageal adenocarcinoma cancer cell lines. Cell lines are a specific type of sample that is grown in a laboratory. While this is advantageous in that it increases the supply of cells for research, it also results in different studies receiving cells that are all culled from a single patient.

While this isn’t an issue in and of itself, recent tests show that many samples labeled as esophageal cells actually consisted of alternate tumor types such as lung, stomach and bowel cancer.

Given the broad usage of single cell lines, this finding has placed numerous major drug trials in a gray area of unreliability. These trials are intended to provide accurate results on whether or not a drug is both safe and effective. However, if the wrong cell types are used, this can result in faulty data that can essentially negate any research involved.

As stated in a formal report created by the University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, “Experimental results based on these contaminated cell lines have led to ongoing clinical trials recruiting patients, to more than 100 scientific publications, and to at least three cancer research grants and 11 U.S. patents.”

The most notable drug that may have been tested based on false cell lines is sorafenib.(Nexavar).

Sadly, the problem of mixing up laboratory cell lines is not a new one. According to a spokesperson for the Health Protection Agency, ” The use of wrongly identified human cancer cell lines is a problem that was first recognized more than 20 years ago.”

Due to the prevalence of the problem, scientists are encouraged to validate the samples supplied for research through DNA testing prior to beginning a research program.