Minnesota Study Shows Increased Mesothelioma Risk for Taconite Workers

Taconite miners, those involved in the iron ore industry, have a minimal risk of developing mesothelioma — although the risk increases by three percent with each additional year in the industry, according to a Minnesota study.

Earlier this month, a correlation between iron ore mining and mesothelioma was found, prompting researchers to “dig deeper” (pun intended) and look for further indications of a dangerous trend.

The University of Minnesota received a $5 million state grant to study iron ore workers as well as former iron mining workers who contracted mesothelioma. The goal of the study, according to the Minnesota State grant, was to “determine whether employment in the taconite industry, and more specifically exposure to dust from taconite mining and processing, is related to developing certain diseases, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer or other non-malignant respiratory diseases” (Nancy Meredith, “Study Finds Taconite Workers at Risk of Developing Mesothelioma”).

The results of the study, gathered by way of 2,000 living miners and their families as well as deceased minors, shows that, despite the lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma (which increases year by year), “the increase equates to a small risk of actually developing the disease.” As for secondhand mesothelioma contraction, the study found that mesothelioma contraction was limited only to iron ore workers and not their spouses or families. As with typical mesothelioma, elongated mineral particles (or EMPs) play a role in miners developing not only mesothelioma but also lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses.

Studies such as these are useful to help determine whether or not occupations have a direct effect on mesothelioma contraction. It has been said in days gone by that certain occupations make one prone to mesothelioma contraction. If an individual works in home construction, asbestos removal, oil, mining, shipyard, and other services, then he or she is more likely to develop mesothelioma. Recent medical news, however, shows that even nurses (for example) can develop mesothelioma. One nurse, now 69, has developed mesothelioma and wants to discover whether or not the hospitals in which she worked had asbestos on-site.

Occupations can make one more likely to develop the cancer, but there are other factors at play as well. Lung cancer, for example, is contracted by patients who have never smoked (smoking increases the possibility of lung cancer), and other forms of cancer are developed by those who aim to eat smart (organic foods) and shun process foods. Genetics are a factor, and many develop cancer, even in the face of physical fitness and healthy living.

For workers in the Minnesota Iron Range Taconite Mine, at least, there is a bit of relief — not only for themselves, but their families.

Healing the Body, Neglecting the Mind: CTCA Satisfaction Survey Shows Care Gap

Cancer is not the word that any individual likes to hear; yet and still, when it comes, there is comfort in knowing that family and friends are there with you in the good and bad times. There is also the added comfort of nurses, psychological counselors, and other resource personnel who want to help you recover during your cancer diagnosis and experience peace of mind — that is, for those who receive it.

A new study conducted by the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), Inc., shows that twenty-five percent of all cancer patients were dissatisfied with patient care, regardless of whether or not they experienced remission. The study found that this growing dissatisfaction with cancer care is at odds with the rapidly-growing pace of technology that is helping Americans fight cancer and live longer than ever before. There was once a time when a cancer diagnosis spelled the end; today, the cancer diagnosis spells a fight, but one in which many go on to plant the victory flag eventually.

The study shows the gap in cancer care between the body and the mind: while many patients recover from cancer and return to work and life, their psyche is forever changed. Many patients never see a psychologist, and psychologists are rarely recommended for many patients. What this shows is that medical care has become restricted to mostly doctors, hospital visits, clinics, and the patient’s bedroom and home, rather than include those who can provide mental support and encourage patients to develop a positive outlook in the midst of their struggle.

I have seen that many cancer patients who survive do so because of the psychological support shown them during their difficult time. It is often said that “attitude determines aptitude.” If this is true, then cancer care has neglected one half of the human: the mind.

Cancer is a huge blow to many; a number of individuals who are young and carefree suddenly find themselves facing what many assume automatically as a death sentence. Faced with the worry of whether or not they will experience tomorrow, and when their diagnosis will take a turn for the worst, patients turn within themselves to shut the world out. It is during this time that psychologists and counselors can help the most. Yet and still, the psychological component is neglected and abandoned. Why?

I think the answer to the question lies in how we think of cancer; many of us think of cancer as nothing more than a physical disease, but it weighs on the mind, too. Those who have struggled and continue the good fight against brain cancer understand this all too well. Perhaps counselors, psychologists, and lots of love and conversation through the most troubling time of a patient’s life can be the tools needed to revive that individual’s spirit. Until we incorporate the mind along with the body in cancer treatment, we’ll never know.

Ice as Lung Cancer’s Formidable Foe: Cryoablation Process Proves Initial Success

There are many things reported on in medical news on a daily basis that are said to cause cancer, but how many can be said to cure it? According to Mayo Clinic interventional radiologist David A. Woodrum, ice is becoming the “cure” of cancer:

“Cryoablation has potential as a treatment for cancer that has spread to the lungs from other parts of the body and could prolong the lives of patients who are running out of options. We may not be able to cure the cancer, but with cryoablation we can at least slow it down significantly and allow patients to enjoy greater quality of life longer” (“Ice Therapy Can Treat Lung Cancer”; ZeeNews).

The ice treatment involves using a needle that is then fused with gas to cool it down to approximately -100 degrees Celsius. The needle is then inserted into the lungs and the ice crystals are applied to the lungs, with the needle punching small holes into lung cancer tumors. In initial studies, 22 individuals (having a total of 36 tumors) were treated with ice in 27 sessions. The results? Even three months after the cryoablation treatment, patients were still one-hundred percent free of their lung cancer. After six months, the patients interviewed still showed no signs of cancer advancement (the tumors were still dead).

According to Dr. Woodrum, cryoablation is not only an effective surgery, but a non-invasive one: after a patient receives the surgery, he or she can go home the same day. Cryoablation will, with this same-day departure for patients, become a new form of outpatient surgery for lung cancer patients.

It seems then, from the initial study, cryoablation will be a new victory treatment method for lung cancer patients who have exhausted all other options. Ice will also be an amazing treatment for cancer patients because it, unlike cancer drugs, is available, common to all places, and cheap and affordable. The current gene patenting bill before the Supreme Court is seeking to say that even ice can be patented; however, for the present, ice is a common product that is a result of frozen water. This treatment for patients will be an easy one for which they will not need the normal cancer drugs (that cost thousands of dollars).

Patents Gone Wild: Gene Modification Bill Reaches the Supreme Court

The trend of cancer research over the last several months has turned the tide toward using human genes and cells within the body to provide life-saving medical procedures. Without using medication, a patient’s own T-cells can save the individual’s life once they are extracted, combined with other substances, and then reinserted into the patient’s body. This is breakthrough medical research indeed, and one that will help cancer patients live longer and better. Using the body’s own cells and genetic tissue is a smart way to cure patients. It means that the effects of medicines becomes moot; no longer does a doctor need to worry about whether or not a medication will make his patient sick.

Unfortunately, anything that has life-saving properties always becomes a tool for the medical community to advertise and sell. The current case before the Supreme Court involves whether or not human genes can be patented. Medical companies are doing this, so they claim, to protect their research from patent infringement. With patents awarded on human genes, companies claim that the patents will allow their latest research (gene strategies) to give them recognition for their work. In other words, “the early bird in gene A will get the patent of gene A.” What makes the situation worse is that, unbeknownst to most Americans, medical companies have been receiving patents on human genes from the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for the last thirty years. Gene patenting has become a multi-million dollar industry.

While many would argue that the case is about economics (and it is, for the medical corporations involved), others are concerned that economics is a smokescreen for what is really at play: the debate is about personhood vs. inanimate objects. Think about a car: it is composed of parts that you can disconnect, pull apart, and divide. Cars are scrapped for parts whenever a car is declared to be “junk” and taken off to an abandoned car lot to be destroyed. At that time, mechanics often remove car parts that are valuable and can be used to repair other cars. If the medical companies win the case, then human beings will become nothing short of cars.

Those in agreement with gene patents have responded in the following manner: genes are part of the human body, but they become “synthetic chemical” when extracted, not DNA, according to Fox News. Former federal prosecutor Doug Burns says that the synthetic material, according to medical companies, could then be modified, reconstructed, or reconfigured in a manner that the medical companies desire. Unfortunately, this argument presumes that the gene is not a gene when extracted; even if a gene is extracted, it is still a gene. And if a gene belongs to an individual before its extraction, it is still that individual’s gene after it is extracted.

The courts have said that “genes are not inventions; genes are natural phenomena,” according to former federal prosecutor Doug Burns. This means that you cannot patent something that is not invented by humans. DNA is not a human invention, so it cannot be patented. The ACLU has made some comments about the possibility of gene patenting, and has said that, if you accept gene patenting, you must also accept that the kidney, when taken out of the body, deserves a patent as well. While medical companies are using this for all its economic power, they are stifling medical research and progress for those who need cancer medications and advanced treatments. Gene patenting will be a regress to progress.

The Supreme Court will render its final decision this summer.

Cancer License Plate Causes Ruckus

There are many things in life that cause an uproar: people screaming and yelling at one another, your anti-theft detection system in your car blaring the car horn, a wrong call given by a referee in a Super Bowl game, and so on. Uproars, however, can also occur by way of a license plate.

Just ask Nick Williams.

A 32-year-old Oklahoma resident, Nick Williams has been “fighting the good fight” against brain cancer, a rather humiliating disease. He has undergone chemotherapy treatments and has had brain surgery to remove the tumors in his brain. Doctors were only able to eliminate 60%; the other 40% will remain in his brain for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, there are such things as “inoperable tumors” in existence, and there is nothing doctors can do for patients in an inoperable state.

In such circumstances, cancer survivors need tangible reminders of their past victories against the disease, and encouragement and inspiration for the future. For some, it consists of inspirational poems by Emily Matthews, cancer support groups, and conversations with family and friends or a few field trips each year. For Nick Williams, however, it’s a license plate.

If you ever witness Nick Williams driving down the street, you will notice that his license plate stands out from the crowd; his plate says “F CANCR,” a plate message that may sound terrible at first. Some believe that the license plate message is offensive because it has the letter “F” and leaves it to the human imagination to fill in the missing three letters (to create the four-letter curse word your mama told you not to say in school or out loud at the dinner table). Nick Williams, however, doesn’t mean for the message to come out this way. The “F” does not stand for a bad four-letter word, but for a strong five-letter word: “F-I-G-H-T,” reminding him each day to continue fighting against cancer.

Let’s take a step back and consider his circumstances: why would he use the four-letter forbidden word beside cancer? After all, cancer is nothing to snuff at. Considering that he is battling for his life, the disease is nothing to blow off or laugh at. It seems that he really is reminding himself to fight cancer. At the same time, however, the language does leave a negative thought in the minds of many. In this day and age, the letter (left to itself) does suggest a vulgar word that many would soon forget. If Williams wants to remind himself to fight cancer, he could use the letters “FGHT” beside “CNCR” to send the message.

Williams has received a letter from the Tax Commission to change his license plate. He intends to report to the Commission and explain the thought behind his license plate. At this point, however, the addition of a few letters to his new license plate will suffice.

New Fertility Drug Research Suggests Conception Drug Does Not Lead to Ovarian Cancer

Cause and effect. You read these words all the time, particularly with regard to food, drink, and drugs, and their connection to cancer. The “C” word does not set well with anyone, so whenever it is used with regard to a certain food, desert, hair spray, body wash, and so on, individuals often toss out a beloved item for fear that it causes cancer.

Fertility drugs have been viewed as something of a godsend for individuals who want to get pregnant but are unable to do so by way of natural means. For some, however, fertility drugs were another vehicle of ovarian cancer. Research from the 1990s showed an increase in tumors for those who took fertility drugs. While the study could not confirm that the tumors that developed were malignant, the increase of the presence of tumors sent an alarming notice to those who viewed fertility drugs as a last resort to get pregnant and raise a family.

A 2011 Dutch study did not help the suspicion created in the 1990s about fertility drugs. In the study, whose results spanned some fifteen years, researchers found that, of the 19,000 women who had experienced in-vitro fertilization (76% of the tested group), there were 61 cases of either benign tumors or invasive cancer. Of the 61 cancer scares, 30 (approximately 50%) were invasive cancer — meaning that these patients experienced a rather full-blown cancer where it had started to possibly affect the pelvic region, causing soreness, urination pain, and so on. Sixty-one out of nineteen thousand women does not seem like a large number, so medical researchers maintained their assurance of IVF but wanted to alert patients that some measure of risk existed.

Earlier this month, it was discovered that the results from the 1990s and the 2011 Dutch study were possibly skewed. The new study, performed this month, used 1,028 women from the Mayo Clinic’s ovarian cancer study to test against 872 women who were cancer-free. Of the women who did not have cancer, twenty-four percent claimed that they had used fertility drugs at some point in their lives. Only seventeen percent of those having ovarian cancer claimed that they had used fertility drugs. Factors such as age and birth control were added into the mix with the results; the end conclusion from the study is that fertility drugs do not influence cancer, one way or another.

The study is good news for women who want to take fertility drugs in hopes of bearing children at some point in the future. What it also shows, a gloomy conclusion, is that many other factors can lead to cancer. The results here are similar to smoking studies: some lifetime smokers puff several cigarettes a day, with no trace of cancer ever detected in their bodies. They live long lives, while others who are victims of secondhand smoke (and do not smoke themselves) die early of lung cancer, breast cancer, or some other sickness. For women who hope to be mothers, at least, the results look reassuring.

New Cancer Drug Kadcyla Kills Cancer Cells, Leaves Healthy Cells Alone

Chemotherapy is known as the standard cancer treatment for those who find themselves diagnosed with the Grim Reaper of life-threatening diseases. When chemo is administered, however, few individuals are told that the chemo is likely to kill healthy cells as well as cancerous ones. When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, me and my twin sister were not told that the cancer would also affect her hair growth. It wasn’t until one day at the hair stylist’s office, upon seeing mom’s hair fall out, that we realized the chemo took more of a toll on mom than even she had let on. This is the plight of all cancer patients, who lose their hair, nails, and other cells when faced with the “c” word.

Kadcyla is coming to the rescue, however. This new drug has been tested and verified to treat the cancer cells by removing them — while keeping the healthy cells intact. Kadcyla is the perfect medication for Lisa Canale, a 50-year-old mother who has been battling the disease for the last fifteen years. She now has a 16 year old, and says that Kadcyla helps her stay young and energetic so that she can be there for her teenage daughter: “This medication is wonderful, because it gives me the opportunity to do all the things that I need to do. And I just don’t have time not to feel well, because I have an active and involved 16-year-old” (“New Breast Cancer Drug Prolongs Life”).

ProHealth Care Associates Cancer Services Director Dr. Mark Citron explains how Kadcyla works by comparing it to light bulbs. When a person goes to turn off the light switch, all the light bulbs turn off; what Kadcyla does is find the light bulbs that need to turn off, and deactivates them without turning off the other light bulbs. The consequences of Kadcyla are incredible: now, cancer patients can be assured of an additional 6 months of life — a survival extension that would not have been possible without Kadcyla and other similar drugs that will emerge on the market within the next few years.

Cancer is a disease that Americans suffer from, with thousands of Americans diagnosed each year. New drugs that treat cancerous cells while maintaining healthy cells will allow patients such as Lisa Canale to maintain her vibrance and vigor while fighting her disease. It is said that age is only a number; Kadcyla and other drugs are on the path to making that statement a mantra of millions.

Watered-Down Chemotherapy Affects 1,000 Canadian Cancer Patients for the Last Year

As with prescription pills and liquid medications, patients expect their medicinal doses to be the correct amount — not too much or too little. Unfortunately, Canadian cancer patients have undergone a cancer patient’s worst nightmare — to receive contaminated chemotherapy doses, doses that were 20% less potent than their uncontaminated counterparts. According to Cancer Care Ontario oncologist Dr. Carol Sawka, approximately 1,000 individuals received chemotherapy doses mixed with water. The contaminated chemotherapy mix was produced by a distributor known as Marchese Hospital Solutions, and some patients were given the watered-down doses of chemo for up to twelve months. As for the patients, it is impossible to know how the water doses affected them. Sawka says that oncologists will have to sit down with their patients and monitor the progression or remission of a patient’s cancer in order to know how to move forward from this unfortunate incident. The two drugs involved, cyclophosphamide and gemcitabine, were known to treat breast, lung, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers as well as blood and lymph systems issues.

The water chemo doses were discovered by a pharmacy technician in Peterborough, and four hospitals have been affected: Peterborough Regional Health Centre, Lakeridge Health, Windsor Regional Hospital, and London Health Sciences Centre. Saint John Regional Hospital spokeswoman Janet Hogan reported that 186 cancer patients were affected at her hospital in New Brunswick. The patients affected were notified last week.

As a result of this unfortunate scandal, all hospitals are now mixing their own chemotherapy doses and have removed Marchese Hospital Solutions from its supplier contract. While Marchese Hospital Solutions says that the incident was a mistake, I do not think it a mistake that water was mixed in with chemotherapy solutions and sent to these five hospitals in large doses. This was the work of someone who worked at the company and either 1) wanted to get off without mixing the right amount or 2) someone who wanted to mix some, pour in water to make up the difference, and continue to charge the hefty amounts of money it did for what hospitals believed were quality chemo doses. It is no different with gasoline, for example: if someone finds that they are pumping water into their gas tank at the station, it is not a mistake; they are pumping water because those who run the gas station have either 1) run out of gas and are trying to continue making a dollar or 2) trying to save oil and continue making their current profit margins. Either way, oil and water do not end up in the same tank by accident. In the same way, water and chemo do not end up in the same injection syringes and bags.

PAH Found in Asphalt Sealing Said to Place Children at Cancer Risk

A new study confirms that asphalt sealant contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), the same ingredient that is found in oil and causes cancer.

Coal tar is not necessarily an ingredient used everywhere in the US, but it persists mostly in the eastern portion of the US and is used on parking lots and driveways. According to Barbara Mahler, “people like it because it makes the asphalt look like new. The striping shows up really clearly if you have a parking lot” (“Common Asphalt Sealant May Raise Cancer Risks”). While the sealant makes the asphalt in your driveway and parking lot look nice, it also rises in the air as dust when driven over by cars and trucks. The dust is said to get on shoes and clothes, and spreads through the air into your respiratory system and on your hands and other physical limbs. Children, who are most likely to play outside for long periods of time, have an increased exposure and risk because of the time invested outdoors around the toxic asphalt sealant. The rain washes the sealant into water pipes, sewers, and wells — infecting water pipes and drinking water (that makes its way into home and building water and shower faucets).

The Environmental Science & Technology Journal study examined dust from the homes of 23 apartments located near coal tar parking lots in Austin, Texas. Out of the 23 apartments and dust samples tested, half of the apartments in question were located near sealants, while the others were not. The dust samples were then compared to parking lots in New Hampshire and Chicago that had coal tar sealants (as well as some that did not). The study showed that the risk of exposure is a whopping 38 times greater for children who live near driveways and parking lots containing sealant than children who live in places that lack the sealant.

The asphalt sealant contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the same ingredient found in oil. Depending on the size of the parking lot and driveway, parents could place their children at risk to the equivalent of a cancer risk for those exposed to a minor oil spill. With every 1 million people, researchers expect to have 110 cancer cases among children. Of the cancer risk (38 times the exposure for children who live near sealed pavement), 50% of this exposure risk occurs in the first six years of a child’s life. Eighty percent of child risk occurs before the age of 18. Similar to asbestos, most children experience the effects of sealed pavement exposure and PAH later in life.

There is a type of asphalt, emulsified asphalt, that contains lower levels of PAH than coal-tar sealant. Bare asphalt also contains lower levels of PAH than coal-tar asphalt.

American Cancer Society (ACS) biostatistician Kenneth Portier provides a summation of the Environmental Science study: “Really, what this analysis says is that there’s potential harm here. There is risk. What does it mean for me? Maybe I should try to avoid that risk. And especially avoid the risk in my children” (“Common Asphalt Sealant May Raise Cancer Risks”).

The studies show that exposure increases the risk of cancer, but it does not show a direct, causal link between exposure and cancer contraction. The same can be said for asbestos: while individuals are exposed to asbestos that is contained in tiles, floor walls, ceilings, and in home basements, every person exposed to these household items do not contract mesothelioma later in life. There are some individuals who smoke their entire lives but never contract lung cancer or emphysema. In the same way, there are many children who play near coal-tar asphalt but do not contract cancer later in life. As with all cancer studies, other environmental and genetic factors (such as heredity) play a role in cancer contraction.

Cancer Treatment Clinics Turn Patients Away In Lieu of Federal Budget Cuts

The federal budget cuts were first decided on paper; everything was based on theory. That is, speculations persisted as to how cancer patients and other medical patients would be affected by the budget cuts. Now, however, the law has become reality — and so have its effects. The March 1 sequester has led to many treatment clinics denying patients treatment and turning away numbers of individuals (particularly senior citizens) who need medical care most.

The federal government cut Medicare funding by 2 percent, with programs such as cancer treatments and services being hit hardest. Cancer treatments and medications fall under Medicare B, most affected by the sequester. Other medical procedures and services were unaffected by the sequester, those that are included in Medicare Part D.

The result of the budget cuts is that cancer patients will require $6,500 more in chemotherapy costs and $650 more in out-of-pocket costs for chemotherapy treatments. With the rising cancer costs, oncology clinics are turning away patients and denying them chemotherapy treatment. Whereas cancer patients get better care in oncology clinics than hospitals, cancer patients are having to turn to hospitals for treatment — which means that they will likely get a lower quality of treatment than that provided by oncology doctors. Oncology clinics do not have a choice, however: Northshore Hematology Oncology CEO Dr. Jeff Vacirca speaks for all oncology clinics when he said, “We couldn’t last for more than three to six months if we were to be in the red on all those drugs that now the reimbursement has gone down on” (“Sequester Cuts Hit Elderly Cancer Patients”; CBS News).

The problem does not just persist with Northshore Oncology, but is a problem that exists with hospitals and clinics nationwide. North Carolina has been hit by the sequester, but the state still looks to offer the best care and chemotherapy treatments for its cancer patients. There are some North Carolina clinics that have turned away patients, but the state is unified in offering the best care possible. “Our physicians have decided not to make any changes, although it’s going to force our practice to tighten its belt,” according to Cancer Centers of North Carolina Executive Director Tom Grates (“Cancer patients on Medicare in the Triangle will still get treatments despite federal cuts”). North Carolina has 19 oncologists and six oncology clinics in the Triangle (Raleigh area), and none of these 19 oncologists look to turn patients away. Fortunately, for cancer patients who visit the hospitals of UNC Medical Center (Chapel Hill), Rex Hospital (Raleigh, NC), Carolinas Healthcare System (Charlotte, NC), they will still receive chemotherapy treatments. North Carolina differs from other states in that its chemotherapy costs are still covered (although other medical services and expenses will now cost more). Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC had no comment regarding its cancer patients and the effects felt from the sequester.

Other states have not been so fortunate. When financial budgets are cut, the changes affect more than just hospital and clinical budgets; they also affect cancer patients too. Cancer patients must take chemotherapy in order to fight cancer and extend the quality of life. With new chemotherapy solutions and procedures that are non-invasive and do not kill off healthy cancer cells, federal budget cuts will thwart the plans of doctors and medical researchers to provide the best, state-of-the-art care for cancer patients. For the moment, states like North Carolina have a firm resolve to care for their patients, but there is still a need for more medical donations and money devoted to cancer research and drug treatment. Cancer is not going away, so we can either tackle it head on or surrender and lose.

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