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Notable News: August 2018

The death of legendary singer Aretha Franklin received a lot of attention this month, but the cancer that killed her is in need of more awareness, say experts in a huffingtonpost.com article. The five year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is a very low eight percent. The disease often has no symptoms in the early stages, spreads early, is resistant to treatment, affects vital functions and, despite being thought of as rare, is increasing in frequency. However, there is some promising new research in the detection of pancreatic cancer (you’ll read about it in the next paragraph). Heightened awareness, funding, and research are needed to help combat this deadly disease. You can start by learning more here and, in case you missed it, you can find this month’s profile in which Alison Greenhill tells the story of her late husband’s experience with pancreatic cancer here.

The promising news is that a blood test could offer early screening for pancreatic and other cancers, according to research reported by dailymail.co.uk. In one study, scientists discovered that they can detect 95 percent of cancers through one blood test thanks to a protein produced by malaria parasites. When ten cancer cells were exposed to the protein, nine of them successfully attached to it. The test can also detect the cancers at any stage and help identify the aggressiveness of the disease. Among the cancers the test can detect are liver and pancreatic. Pancreatic cancer tends to have a low survival rate because it is often not found until the late stages of the disease. This blood test could allow for earlier detection. More can be learned about the potentially life-saving test here.

Another blood test has been found to detect melanoma with an 80 percent accuracy rate, says sciencealert.com. Caught early, the melanoma survival rate is 95 percent, but if it’s not detected early, chances for survival are below fifty percent. The test works by detecting antibodies that the body produces when melanoma forms. Currently, melanoma is detected through biopsies which are invasive and have a slightly lower accuracy rate than the blood test. The researchers hope to take the test to clinical trial and ultimately hope it will be used to detect the disease prior to biopsy in high-risk patients: those with fair skin, a lot of moles, and/or a family history of melanoma. More about this blood test can be found here. There is also a better way to determine which melanoma patients may benefit from immunotherapy. You can learn about that at axios.com here.

Another immunotherapy update comes from a recent study that may offer new insight into immunotherapy treatments, says geekwire.com. While immunotherapy has been a game-changer in treatment for many cancer patients, it doesn’t work at all for others and it can also come with some life-threatening side effects. Researchers set out to better understand the therapies and discovered how the components talk to each other in a process called signaling. It appears that the speed and strength of the signaling affect how the body responds to the treatment. It is the difference in the signaling that may help researchers find a way to reduce or eliminate the dangerous side effects and may also lead to making the treatments more effective. More information about this promising research can be found here.

As important as treatment is, keeping on top of when to be screened can be crucial to successful diagnosis and treatment. There are now more cervical cancer screening options for women aged 30 to 65, and you can learn about those at cnn.com here.

With all the positive research and advances in detection and treatment, it’s important to be aware that not all cancer patients have equal access to the best healthcare. It turns out that the disparities in minority health that we told you about here during National Minority Health month also apply to children. African American and Latino children are more likely to die from cancer, reports npr.org. Race and socio-economic status are factors. A comprehensive look at the research about the inequities in healthcare and survival rates for minority children can be found here.

Hopefully, the healthcare gap and survival rate can be narrowed because a new study shows that life is pretty good for most patients and survivors. The majority of current and former cancer patients who are 50 or older are happy, reports sciencedaily.com. The study showed that two-thirds of cancer patients fit the researchers description of complete mental health which was characterized by high levels of social and psychological well-being and being happy and/or satisfied with their daily lives. The cancer survivors were even happier with three-quarters of them meeting the complete mental health criteria. Learn more about this very happy study here.

Spotlight on National Minority Health Month

April is National Minority Health Month. Supported by Congress with a resolution in 2002, National Minority Health Month is meant to bring awareness to the disparities in health and healthcare among minorities. Led by the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, efforts are made to understand the disparities and the reasons they occur. The 2018 theme, Partnering for Health Equity, encourages organizations to come together to find solutions that will help equalize health for all races and ethnicities. More information and resources for National Minority Health Month can be found here.

Evidence of disparities in minority health exists in all major illnesses and diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. However, the disparities, compiled by aetna.com, related to cancers, clearly emphasize the impact on people’s lives. In the United States, African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival time of any other group of cancer patients. Cancer is the leading cause of death for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for all other groups. According to cancer.gov, African American women have a higher incidence of aggressive breast cancer. American Indian and Alaskan Natives have higher rates of kidney cancer. Hispanic and African American women have higher rates of cervical cancer and die from it more often. More disparities can be found here and here.

There are a number of reasons believed to be involved in causing the disparities in minority health. They range from socio-economic status and environment to lack of scientific data about minority groups which results in disparities even in some of the most common healthcare screenings. For example, consumer.healthday.com reports, the guidelines that determine when women of average risk should begin screenings for breast cancer come mainly from the data gathered on white women. However, researchers discovered that those guidelines could delay detection in minority women, who tend to develop the disease at earlier ages. More about the study, which emphasizes the importance of understanding how cancer occurs in people of all ethnicities, can be found here.

Another reason for the existence of disparities could be biological. Researchers are looking into the occurrence of prostate cancer in African American men, who not only have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer, but they develop it at a younger age and tend to develop a more aggressive form of the disease. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities website, nimhd.nih.gov, researchers are studying why African American men are more at risk for prostate cancer and what can be done about it. Genetic makeup, access to healthcare, and environment are all being considered as factors. One study discovered that African American men and white men have a difference in the biomarkers that predict the aggressiveness of a prostate tumor. The study results are being tested further and expanded to look at other more factors and other biomarkers. More about the study can be found here.

There is much more to be learned about the disparities in minority health, why they exist, and how to prevent them. Increased attention and the increasing awareness of National Minority Health Month spotlights the need to eliminate the inequities in health for all races and ethnicities, which will empower us all.


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