Posts

Notable News July 2019

So much for the dog days of Summer. July was a super active Notable News month full of information. There are risks and recalls to be aware of, along with some very encouraging news about exciting new research and treatments. So, while you may not want to hear that you should probably consider getting a colonoscopy ASAP, you’ll be relieved to learn that some cancers may have much less invasive diagnostic tools on the horizon. Oh, and there are a couple links to some really interesting (although alarming) longer reads; just in case you’re embracing the dog days, and need some reading material, this summer.

Increased Cancer Risk

Colon cancer is on the rise for people younger than 50, reports cbsnews.com. The rate has increased over the past decade from 10 percent of all cases to about 12 percent. While there is no concrete explanation as to why colon cancer is increasing among the younger age group, one possibility is that it is linked to modern diets and the gut microbiome. Conversely, colon cancer rates are declining among those 50 and older, largely because of colonoscopy screenings which detect polyps before they become cancerous. Find out more below.

Breast implants that have been linked to cancer are being recalled, according to nytimes.com. The textured implants were banned in Europe late last year and are now being recalled in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The implants are linked to anaplastic large-cell lymphoma. It is a rare cancer of the immune system that develops in the tissue around the implant. Removing the implant and scar tissue around it is effective in curing the cancer in most cases, but if it is not found early it can spread and be deadly. Symptoms are swelling and fluid around the implant, and patients should have symptoms checked by their doctor. More information about the implants can be found below.

There is a link between radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment and cancer deaths, says cancer.gov. RAI has been commonly used to treat hyperthyroidism since the 1940s. An association between the dose of RAI treatment and long-term risk of death from cancers, including breast cancer, has been found in a study led by researchers at the National Cancer Institute. More research is needed to better understand the risks and the benefits of the treatments, but in the meantime, the information will help patients discuss hyperthyroid treatment options with their doctors. More information about the research can be found below.

Treatment and Detection

Immunotherapy may work in treating brain cancer, says medicalxpress.com. Researchers have found a way to make the CAR T immune therapy more effective against glioblastoma, the most common and most deadly form of brain cancer. Previous research showed that not all of the tumors could be targeted by the T cells. So, in order to more strategically target the tumors, researchers used a bi-specific T-cell engager, or “BiTE”, that makes it possible for CAR T cancer-killing cells to be sent to specific targets, making the treatment more effective. Learn more about the complicated, but promising, process below.

There may be a better, non-invasive way to detect bladder cancer, reports medicalnewstoday.com. Researchers in Spain have proposed using electronic tongues. The devices can detect or “taste” soluble compounds by using software and sensors. The tongues, used to analyze food, water, wine, and explosives, can also be used to detect diseases by testing samples of biofluid. Using the tongues to test urine samples could be an easy and inexpensive way to detect bladder cancer in the early stages. Learn more about the proposed tongue testing below.

Researchers may have found a new way to treat ovarian cancer, according to medicalnewstoday.com. Researchers have identified an enzyme known as IDH1 that encourages the growth of high-grade serous ovarian cancer, the most common form of ovarian cancer. The cancer is difficult to detect in early stages and hard to treat because it often develops a resistance to chemotherapy. Researchers found that when they blocked the IDH1 enzyme, the cancer cells were unable to divide and grow. The research also suggests that blocking the enzyme works on the cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body as well as where the cancer originated. More information about this encouraging research can be found below.

Cancer-Causing Toxins

If you’ve never heard of ethylene oxide, you might want to consider reading the article ‘Residents Unaware of Cancer-Causing Toxins in Air’ from webmd.com. Ethylene oxide is an invisible chemical with no noticeable odor. It is used to sterilize medical equipment and make antifreeze, and it is on the EPA’s list of chemicals that definitely cause cancer. It is also an airborne toxin in areas that have been flagged as high-cancer risk, but many of the residents of those areas have no idea they are being exposed.

Another article worth reading this month can be found at huffpost.com. A new plastics plant is planning to come to an area in the middle of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley”, and the residents, tired of cancer-causing chemical pollutants, are fighting back. Read about their path to empowerment below.


Resource Links:

cbsnews.com

Colon Cancer Study Finds Colon Cancer Rates Rising for Patients Under 50

nytimes.com

Breast Implants Linked to Rare Cancer Are Recalled Worldwide

cancer.gov

NCI study finds long-term increased risk of cancer death following common treatment for hyperthyroidism

medicalxpress.com

Immune therapy takes a ‘BiTE’ out of brain cancer

medicalnewstoday.com

‘Electronic tongues’ may help diagnose early stage bladder cancer

Could targeting this enzyme halt ovarian cancer?

webmd.com

Residents Unaware of Cancer-Causing Toxin in Air

huffpost.com

A Community In America’s ‘Cancer Alley’ Fights For Its Life Against A Plastics Plant

Deceived But Not Defeated

I never felt any symptoms. I mean, I was tired, but what young 20-something who had just started graduate school while maintaining a full time job wouldn’t be? It happened during a physical. A lump towards the top of my throat was felt by my doctor. “I would go and have that scanned,” he said. I wasn’t worried; he had never mentioned cancer. So I went and had the ultrasound. “Well, we see what your doctor was talking about, and it appears to just be a cyst,” the doctor said, “but there’s another spot on the right side of your thyroid. You have two options. You can wait to see if the spot grows or we can perform a biopsy to see if it’s cancer,” he explained. “Now, the chance of it being cancer is anywhere between 10-15%, a very very low chance,” he reassured me. “I want the biopsy,” I said, not wanting to take any chances. The biopsy was performed, and within minutes, the doctor returned saying he had bad news. “Unfortunately, it’s cancer, but the good news is that it’s very treatable. I recommend you having surgery.” And that was it; although, it hadn’t hit me, at least not as hard as I thought it should had – at least not immediately. I went to my car, called my mom, and asked her if she was sitting down. I told her the news, still shocked by the ordeal I was just handed. In an instant, my life had changed forever. I heard those three words no one ever wants to hear, “You have cancer.”

I wasn’t sure how to proceed. How advanced is my cancer? What doctor(s) do I go to? How quickly do I need surgery? I just started school – do I need to drop-out already? What about my job. All of these thoughts raced through my mind. However, the support of my family and, luckily, not having any symptoms kept me going. I was working in a hospital at the time, and I spoke with a few of the doctors I worked with. “Oh, the good type of cancer. You’ll be just fine,” one said. “‘Good type?’” I thought. What is good about having cancer? He gave me the name of a surgeon who specialized in thyroidectomies. It was a five month wait to get in.

When I eventually saw my surgeon, he gave me two options. The first, he explained, was a partial thyroidectomy. “We’ll only remove the lobe of the thyroid where your tumor is. The benefit of that is that the other lobe will continue producing enough of the hormones that your body needs so you don’t have to take a medication for the rest of your life. The second was a total thyroidectomy, rendering me to that medication, literally, for a lifetime. I went with the former, and had a successful surgery. Of course, it didn’t end there.

Two days after my surgery, my doctor called. “We performed pathology on some of the lymph nodes that we removed from your neck, and unfortunately, almost all of them had cancer. What this means is that we need to have you come back and perform another surgery to remove the rest of your thyroid. Then after, you’ll have to undergo radioactive iodine to rid your body of any residual thyroid tissue.” My heart sunk. My world was crushed yet again. Another surgery? What was radioactive iodine? I didn’t how to process the emotions that I was feeling as tears streamed down my face. “It never ends,” I thought.

After my second surgery, I was thyroid-free. Later, I went through the radioactive iodine procedure where I had to be a specific diet for approximately 3 weeks. I could consume very little to no iodine, or salt, which was essentially in every product. As I went up and down the grocery store aisles reading every nutrition label, I found myself frustrated finding almost nothing that I could eat. Don’t get me wrong, this was a very healthy diet, as I was essentially restricted to meats (without seasonings), fruits, and vegetables. But it wasn’t my favorite. I went to a nuclear medicine center where I consumed a pill that would make me radioactive. I was to stay physically away from people for approximately one week, slowly decreasing the amount of feet I could be within others as each day passed. I then had a whole body scan that showed that the cancer hadn’t spread, or metastasized, to any other place in my body, but there was still some residual thyroid tissue that the radioactivity would hopefully kill.

The journey continued. I would need to be on a medication for the rest of my life. I would need to see a specialist, an endocrinologist, for the rest of my life. They would decide the dosage of my medication based on a variety of factors, including how I was feeling emotionally and physically. It wasn’t until after I had my thyroid removed that I realized how much it does for our bodies. “It will take some time before we find the right dosage for you,” my endocrinologist explained. In other words, sometimes I would be hyperthyroid, other times, hypothyroid. My symptoms may be all over the place, including my metabolism rate, my body temperature, and even my mood. As a patient with chronic depression and anxiety, I could only hope that the “right” dosage would be found quickly.

Fast forward two years later from my diagnosis, and I have been deemed “cancer free,” no more thyroid tissue. While I am incredibly thankful for this result, I can’t help but feel survivor’s guilt. I often think, “Why me? Why did I get to survive and others don’t? How did I get by so easily?” Despite this guilt, I have used my cancer diagnosis and journey to become stronger both mentally and emotionally. I have unashamedly shared images on social media and written stories that have been published in the hopes to inspire others and to be an advocate for those who don’t feel like they have a voice. Yet, I don’t pretend to know everything. I still have questions that remain unanswered. How likely is my cancer to come back? Why do I keep losing so much hair? Why am I always so tired? Despite having the “good” type of cancer, there is nothing that great about it. Although I never had symptoms, I still went through two surgeries and a radioactive iodine procedure, which had its own side effects.

As a result of what I went through and my never-ending passion for helping others, I believe that my diagnosis happened for a reason – to lead me to a career in patient advocacy. I have a background in health administration, policy, and communication. I have worked at doctor’s offices and hospitals. I feel I had an advantage in having the knowledge that I did/do, and access to physicians. However, I still get confused when I ask my doctor a question, and I receive an answer that’s in medical jargon. I think, “I can’t be the only one who feels lost, who feels confused.” Plus, I know that there are patients who are going through worse situations than I did. There has to be a way to mend the physician-patient relationship that is currently suffering. There’s not enough time dedicated to each patient, to hear what they’re going through each day. Physicians also need to make sure that what they’re saying/explaining makes sense to the patient, especially when it comes to taking medication(s) (patients with chronic conditions usually have multiple, which can be hard to keep track). There are solutions coming to the forefront, such as pill packs, patient portals, and support groups. But I believe this is just the beginning. Every cancer is different. No two patients are the same – indifference is ignorance. It’s time to combine research, health literacy, and ultimately, compassion for a patient’s story, to provide the best care and create better health outcomes.