Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Relay For Life Funds Cancer Fighting Research

This is my article as published in the February 19, 2015 issue of The Mena Star.

Do you know a child who survived leukemia? Do you have a mother, sister or aunt whose breast cancer was found early thanks to a mammogram? Do you have a friend or coworker who quit smoking to decrease their risk of lung cancer? Each of these individuals benefited from the American Cancer Society’s research program funded by Relay For Life.

Every day scientists supported by the American Cancer Society work to find breakthroughs that will take us one step closer to a cure. The Society has long recognized that research holds many answers to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

As the largest source of non-profit cancer research funds in the United States, the American Cancer Society spends approximately $130 million each year on research. Since 1946, the Society has invested a total of $4.5 billion in research. The investment has paid rich dividends: the five-year survival rate has almost tripled since 1946, and diagnosis and mortality rates have declined each year since 1990.

Investigators and healthcare professionals in universities, research institutes and hospitals throughout the country receive grants from the American Cancer Society.  If the Society had more money available for research funding, nearly 200 more outstanding applications considered outstanding could be funded.

You can help fund more of these applications by participating in the American Cancer Society Relay For Life. More funding means more cancer breakthroughs and more lives saved.

Teams from around Polk County are busy raising funds for this important cause.  The Relay For Life of Polk County will be held on Friday, May 29th starting at 6:00 P.M. in Janssen Park.  Volunteers from Polk County will join with more than 5,200 communities across America who host their own Relay For Life events.  Since 1985, Relay For Life has raised more than $4 billion for the fight against cancer. It is the most successful not for-profit event in America.  Don’t miss out on the opportunity to be a part of the amazing community event.

To sign up for this year's Relay For Life of Polk County or for more information on the local event go to www.relayforlife.org/polkar

Monday, July 1, 2013

Things the Tobacco Industry Doesn't Want You to Know

As Big Tobacco attempts to clean up its image, now is a good time to remind you of some facts the industry would like you to forget:

Smoking-related health conditions are a leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for nearly one of every five deaths annually.

Every year, tobacco use kills more Americans than HIV, drug and alcohol abuse, suicides, murders and car accidents combined.

Secondhand smoke accounts for approximately 50,000 deaths in the United States every year.

If tobacco farmers around the globe were to grow food instead, they could feed more than 70 percent of the world's 28 million malnourished people.

In 2012, cigarette companies spent nearly $27 million lobbying government agencies and members of Congress.

Big Tobacco companies market covertly to teens, despite publicly stating that youth should not smoke.

Each year, the industry spends more than $400 per customer on special promotions, coupons, mailers and other direct marketing efforts to make sure current smokers don't kick their addictions.

Now, companies are pushing expensive and unregulated e-cigarettes. What's more, e-cigarettes are offered in a variety of flavors that young children and teens could find especially appealing, like cherry, grape, vanilla and strawberry.

The health effects of e-cigarettes are still unknown. Medical associations and regulatory bodies are concerned that e-cigarettes are nothing more than a "gateway" to a nicotine addiction.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Relayers Make Certain Funding Available For Research

Dr. Kris Gast is a board-certified radiation oncologist. She has been in practice for 21 years, the last 13 at Fort Smith Radiation Oncology in Fort Smith. Her column, Cancer Demystified, appears the first Wednesday of every month in the Times Record.

This months column was titled, "Relayers Make Certain Funding Available For Research".

I’ve heard the government has decreased funding for cancer research. What will cancer researchers do? Where will the money come from to find a cure for cancer?

Back in 1946, no funding for cancer research, federal or otherwise, was available. Mary Lasker, an American health activist and philanthropist, was the first person to address this problem and to see research funding as the best way to promote public health. The American Cancer Society Research Program was “born” because of Lasker’s fundraising.

Things we take for granted — things we assume have always been there — are present only because of the American Cancer Society. The extensive list of medical advancements made possible through the ACS is impressive.

Since 1946, the ACS has funded 46 scientists who went on to win the Nobel Prize. The pap test for cervical cancer, chemotherapy for childhood leukemia, the double helix of our genetic material, the link between smoking and cancer, the link between sex hormones and breast and prostate cancer, the idea of combining multiple chemotherapy drugs and the discovery of growth factors have all been discovered by funded researchers of the American Cancer Society.

All of these that we take for granted were funded by money raised by volunteers, and all before 1960.

Since the 1960s, the ACS has continued to be responsible for significant health tools. For example, the ACS can be thanked for the $1 million invested in the 1970s to demonstrate that the mammogram was the best tool to detect breast cancer early.

In 1974, an ACS-funded scientist discovered that the drug Tamoxifen could prevent breast cancer. By 1981, ACS-funded scientists had discovered the technique to sequence DNA, and they developed the PSA (prostate specific antigen) test for prostate screening.

What is the source for the funding of these important past and potential future medical advancements? The American Cancer Society has one staff member for every 400 volunteers. Who are these volunteers? They are you and I.

Every year around the world, volunteers raise money by participating in Relay For Life. Relay For Life is an organized, overnight community fundraising walk where teams of people camp out around a track with members of each team taking turns walking around the track to symbolize the journey cancer patients take.

In addition to raising money for continued research, Relay For Life benefits our local cancer patients by providing gas vouchers for treatment, hosting “look good feel better” programs and providing trained cancer information specialists who can answer questions 24 hours a day, every day of the year, toll-free at (800) 227-2345.

In summary, the American Cancer Society not only uses money raised to fund researchers working tirelessly to find a cure for cancer but also gives back at the local level through their programs.

The best way the community can help in this fight is to participate in their local Relay For life.

Because cancer never rest or sleeps, neither do Relayers.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Over the past few decades, more people have been surviving colon cancer, and fewer people have been dying from it. This is thanks to improvements in colon cancer screening. Screening can find colon cancer early before symptoms develop, when it’s easier to treat. Screening can also find growths called polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

For the past 7 years I have been a volunteer for the American Cancer Society.  One of the things that ACS talks a lot about is early detection.  Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States among men and women, and is expected to cause about 50,000 deaths during 2013. The fact is that colon cancer is highly treatable. If it’s found and treated early, the 5-year survival rate is about 90%. Because many people are not getting tested, only about 4 out of 10 are diagnosed at this early stage when treatment is most likely to be successful. 

The American Cancer Society recommends regular colon cancer screening for most people starting at age 50. People with a family history of the disease or other risk factors should talk with their doctor about beginning screening at a younger age.  Regular screening is one of the most powerful weapons for preventing colon cancer. If polyps are found during colon screening, they can usually be removed before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Screening can also result in finding cancer early, when it is easier to treat and more likely to be curable.

When I went to my family doctor for a physical earlier this year he told me that I should think about a colonoscopy.  A colonoscopy is one of those things that no one want to think about.  I decided that I had to practice what I preach about screening and early detection.  I found it a bit ironic that I scheduled a colonoscopy  during Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

According to the American Cancer Society, your lifestyle choices affect your colon cancer risk.  You can lower your risk by eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and less red meat (beef, lamb, or pork) and less processed meat (hot dogs and luncheon meat). You should limit alcohol to no more than than 1 drink a day.  You can help lower your risk for colon cancer by getting more exercise and staying at a healthy weight. Smoking also increases the risk,so if you smoke, try to kick the habit. 

I am at a higher risk for colon cancer than the general population because of my family history.  My Uncle Delbert lost his battle with colon cancer several years ago.  I lost not only an uncle, but a friend and someone who was willing to help anytime.  I will never know if his outcome would have been different if he had been screened for colon cancer.  By the time his cancer was found it was in advanced stages. I feel certain that screening would have prolonged his life.  Along with my uncle, the majority of Americans do not receive the American Cancer Society recommended colon cancer screening.  How many lives would be saved if more people were screened?

If you haven't been screened for colon cancer please talk to your doctor.  If you think that a colonoscopy will be unpleasant, just talk to someone who had colon cancer.   Go ahead and do it.  If I can do it anyone can.  The life you save may be your own.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Moderate Drinking Increases Cancer Risk

New research shows that even a single alcoholic drink per day can increase your risk of developing certain types of cancer, including breast cancer in women.

Though people have long believed that a glass or two of wine can be good for your heart, the new study, conducted in conjunction with researchers in the U.S., Canada, and France, shows that the cancer risks far outweigh any heart-healthy benefits.

"Alcohol has long been known and recognized as a human carcinogen, so even some alcohol consumption raises your risks," Dr. Timothy Naimi, an alcohol researcher at Boston University's School of Public Health and a physician at the Boston University Medical Center who helped design and direct the study, stated. "On the balance of all people who begin drinking, many more people are killed by alcohol than helped by it."

"No public health body or clinical body recommends that people start drinking to improve their health," he added.

The research, published Friday in the American Journal of Public Health, relied on existing data about cancer deaths, alcohol consumption, and risk estimates from other scientific studies. It marks the first time that researchers have examined alcohol-related cancer rates in 30 years.

They found that alcohol could be blamed for about 20,000 cancer deaths each year, or 1 out of every 30 cancer deaths in the United States, which was about what they expected. But while heavy drinkers faced the highest risks, about a third of those deaths were among people who drank only small amounts of alcohol—1.5 alcoholic drinks or fewer per day. And it didn't matter what type of drink was consumed; standard servings of beer (12 ounces), wine (5 ounces), and hard liquor (1.5 ounces) all contain the same amount of alcohol.

While more men die from alcohol-related cancers than women (men do tend to drink more), women have more adverse consequences from drinking, not only because they tend to have less body mass than men, but because they also metabolize alcohol less efficiently. The study found that about 6,000 female breast cancer deaths each year—or 15 percent—could be attributed to alcohol consumption; for men, cancers of the mouth, throat, and esophagus were the most common types of alcohol-related cancer. Alcohol is also linked to cancer of the liver, colon, and rectum.

The study also eliminated the common misconception that Europeans, especially in France and Germany, are healthier than Americans even though they drink plenty of alcohol. If Europeans are healthier, Naimi said, it's not likely because of their drinking habits: The number of cancer deaths attributable to alcohol in Europe was higher than in the United States.

Researcher acknowledge that people are unlikely to give up alcohol altogether. "In general, drinking less is better than drinking more, and for people who drink excessively it's something to think about," Naimi said. "Alcohol is a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Proton Therapy

A staggering 99 percent of prostate cancer patients treated with proton therapy believe they made the best treatment decisions for themselves, according to a new report released today at the National Proton Conference in Washington, D.C. The report analyzed outcomes and satisfaction of approximately 6,400 prostate cancer patients, more than 80 percent of whom received treatment at Loma Linda University Medical Center's (LLUMC) James M. Slater Proton Treatment and Research Center.
"This report reaffirms the results we've seen from our patients for the past 22 years and supports the mountain of evidence regarding the efficacy of proton therapy," said Jerry D. Slater, M.D., chairman of the LLUMC center. Dr. Slater and Dr. David A. Bush, vice-chairman of the department of radiation at LLUMC, recently co-authored a similar study entitled "Multi-Institutional Patient-Reported Quality of Life After Proton Therapy for Prostate Cancer Compared to Non-Treated Men."
The just-released report was commissioned by the National Association for Proton Therapy (NAPT) and conducted by Dobson DaVanzo & Associates, LLC, an independent health economics and policy consulting firm. It looked at patient-based outcomes analysis and included personal questions that provided meaningful data that helps physicians make treatment decisions.
Not only did approximately 99 percent of the patients surveyed believe they made the best treatment decision for themselves, but an almost equal number - almost 98 percent - reported that they had recommended proton therapy to others.
Additional key findings of the report included:
-- Approximately 96 percent of patients were satisfied or extremely satisfied with proton therapy.
-- Ninety-two percent of patients reported that their quality of life was better or the same today than it was before their treatment. Only 8 percent stated that their quality of life was worse.
-- Ninety-two percent of respondents reported that physical health or emotional problems did not interfere, or interfered very little, with their social activities.
-- Those who completed proton therapy for the treatment of prostate cancer had similar urinary, bowel and hormonal health-related quality-of-life (HRQOL) measures compared to healthy individuals. For patients who received hormone therapy in addition to proton therapy, lower sexual HRQOL measures were reported. However, when looking at patients who received only proton therapy for the treatment of prostate cancer and who did not receive hormone or photon therapy, proton therapy patients reported lower HRQOL than healthy individuals in only one category, "sexual bother," which refers to annoyance related to their sexual symptoms.

In addition to prostate cancer, proton therapy is effectively used to treat many different types of cancer. The outcomes of the NAPT report can be attributed to the pinpoint accuracy of the highly targeted proton beams. According to Dr. Slater, "Proton therapy is extremely effective as a treatment for prostate cancer because the targeted proton beams spare surrounding healthy tissue and minimize the typical side effects from standard photon beam radiation including incontinence and impotence."
Since LLUMC introduced modern proton treatment for cancer into the mainstream in 1990, there have been countless studies and trials that have shown proton therapy to be the treatment of choice for many types of cancer. Over the years proton treatment has been refined and, coupled with leading-edge technology, has become one of the best treatment options for doctors and patients. While prostate cancer remains one of the primary uses for proton therapy, the pinpoint accuracy of the proton beam also makes it a highly effective form of treatment for many other types of tumors including those found in the head, neck, lung and breast.
About LLUMC's Proton Treatment and Research Center
Established in 1990 Loma Linda University Medical Center Proton Treatment and Research Center was the first hospital-based proton therapy center in the world. Today the center uses proton beam technology for many types of cancers and has treated more patients than any other proton treatment center in the world. The center is part of LLUMC's comprehensive health system, which is widely respected as a healthcare leader pioneering work in such areas as organ transplants, proton treatment for cancers, cardiac care, physical rehabilitation, and acute pediatric and adult care as well as treatments for chemical dependence and other behavioral disorders. The health system - which includes Loma Linda University Medical Center and Children's Hospital, LLUMC - East Campus, Behavioral Medicine Center, Heart and Surgical Hospital, LLUMC-Murrieta and physician clinics - collectively sees over 30,000 inpatients and about 750,000 outpatient visits a year. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I Fought Fears So My Wife Could Fight Cancer

Today's post is written by Cameron Von St. James.  He contacted me and offered to tell his story to our readers. We corresponded and he sent me his story. It is both compelling and informative. Here is his story of his personal battle with cancer as a caregiver.

I Fought Fears So My Wife Could Fight Cancer
by Cameron Von St. James 

The most terrifying day of my life was November 21, 2005. It was that day that my wife Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, just three months after giving birth to our first and only daughter, Lily. My life was never the same after receiving that news, but in the years that we battled cancer, I learned lessons that will last me a lifetime.

Heather's reaction to the news was pure shock. She looked like she wasn't there anymore. When we were confronted with questions about her treatment and care options, I took over and answered for her. I had to. She was too scared, shocked into silences, and I didn't blame her.  I knew she needed help, and I chose the best treatment option for us at the time, which was to travel to Boston to see Dr. David Sugarbaker, a renowned specialist in the treatment of mesothelioma. Travel was tough on us because we had a newborn daughter at the time, but it was just another obstacle for us to beat together.

During the first two months of our battle, our lives were utter chaos. I worked, took care of Lily at home, took care of the bills, and cared for Heather as she endured the hell of cancer. It was an emotionally draining time and I cried many nights, fearing that I wasn't doing enough, even though there were times when I knew I was doing too much. There was no choice. If we were going to beat this thing and raise Lily together, we had to do anything we could. Heather's energies were focused on getting well, mine were pulled in every other direction.

Medical bills soon piled up and financial pressures were at an all-time high. We had to travel to Boston for treatments and soon the bills were skyrocketing. For the first time in my life, I accepted financial help from family and friends when they offered it. In this war, anything went. We simply had to take every possible avenue of help that we could if we were going to make it. My strongest advice for any caregiver or cancer patient is to accept every offer of help that comes your way. There is no room for pride in a fight with cancer, and even the smallest offer of help, be it a meal, a shoulder to cry on or a kind word of encouragement, can be a weight lifted off your shoulders and at the very least will remind you that you’re not alone.

I'm so proud of Heather for what she endured during this time and the beautiful person she remained during it. Today, over seven years after her mesothelioma diagnosis she is cancer-free and healthy.  Lily has her mother, something that I feared she wouldn't be able to experience.

Two years after Heather’s diagnosis, I returned to school to get my college degree, with the lessons I learned through my family’s fight against cancer.  I received my degree in Information Technology and graduated with high honors. I was able to share some of these experiences during my graduation speech, an honor that I readily accepted when it came my way. The lessons I learned during Heather's battle with cancer are the most valuable of my life, and I shared them with my fellow graduates that day, telling them that within each of us is the strength to accomplish impossible things.  Heather and Lily were in the audience to cheer me on, and that was the greatest reward of all.