HPV vaccine and 20-somethings

Younger is better, but…

The HPV vaccine protects against the most common types of viruses that not only cause cervical cancer, but mouth and throat cancers, as well.

It’s most effective when given before a child becomes sexually active.

But what about all the 20-somethings out there who didn’t have access to this vaccine? After all, it’s only been available since 2006, and before 2011 it was only offered to girls.

Is there any benefit, especially for young men, to getting vaccinated in your twenties?

I found an interesting article written by a journalist who asked the same question—because … Continue reading

Active surveillance for thyroid cancer

Papillary thyroid cancers are overtreated

In 2010 my husband almost died while being treated for a small papillary thyroid cancer.

Papillary tumors are by far the most common type of thyroid cancer, and are typically very slow growing. Most doctors I know say that if you have to get cancer, papillary thyroid cancer is the one to pick!

My husband didn’t choose to get thyroid cancer, of course, but once his primary care physician found the lump during a routine physical, he was put on a fast track to being overtreated.

Back then, we just didn’t know any better.

I … Continue reading

How to prevent colon cancer

Colon cancer on the rise in young adults

I recently read a disturbing report that colon cancer is on the rise in Millenials and GenXers.

People born in 1990 now have double the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer, compared with those born around 1950 when the risk was lowest, the researchers said.

The overall risk is still very low for that age group, but the study certainly suggests that lifestyle factors—obesity, diets high in processed foods, sedentary habits—could be a factor.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month!

A healthy diet and exercise are … Continue reading

SmartQuit – An app to help you quit smoking

smartquit appA smart way to quit smoking

Is quitting smoking on your New Year’s resolution list? Or that of a friend or family member?

If so, consider the SmartQuit app.

But first I’ll tell you what I do and don’t like about it.

I like that it seems to be pretty effective. The SmartQuit program and app were developed by researchers at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington (my alma mater!), with funding from the National Cancer Institute.

It uses a particular type of behavior modification—acceptance and commitment therapy—that has proven more effective than other smoking Continue reading

Think Pink? Think twice!

think pinkI just returned from an errand to the bank where I saw a huge cardboard advertisement for a pink-ribboned Susan G. Komen credit card. That reminded me that October (or Pinktober) is all about Think Pink and breast cancer awareness.

But be aware that there are less-than-worthy charities and lots of for-profit merchandising, too. This post from last October has excellent links to help you know if a charity deserves your money. FN

Profiting from breast cancer?

I know October is all about the color pink and supporting breast cancer, but don’t be too hasty giving your money away, … Continue reading

Skin cancer screening guidelines

skin cancer“Insufficient evidence”

Many years ago I had a primary care doctor who used to perform a total body skin examination (TBSE) on me every year as part of my annual exam.

Of course, those all-inclusive physicals are a thing of the past. I haven’t had a physician perform a TBSE for a long time.

I often wondered about that. A TBSE seems like a relatively easy and harmless way to quickly screen for skin cancer. The goal, of course, is to find a melanoma, the deadly skin cancer, when it’s small and possibly curable.

Related post: A must-watch video about Continue reading

Why shared decision making matters

As a nurse who worked for a surgeon, I had to spend a lot of time talking to patients and educating them about their proposed surgeries.

The surgeon talked to them first, of course, but often patients don’t remember everything the surgeon said. Or they think of questions after the consult.

If I couldn’t answer a question, or if I thought the patient really didn’t understand what the surgery entailed—why it was being done, other options to surgery, recovery time, etc.—I would ask the surgeon to please speak with the patient again.

If I was going to sign my name … Continue reading

Rats, cell phones and cancer

rats, cell phones and cancerScary headlines sell news

Last week the media blitzed us with headlines that linked cell phones with an increased risk of brain and heart cancers.

Don’t believe everything you read in a headline!

That news story was based on a study out of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences that looked at the effect of cell phone radiation on rats.

Most journalists, if you bothered to read the entire article, did point out that the study was not perfect and it did use rats, after all, and not humans.

However, if you just read the headlines or skimmed … Continue reading

Healthcare journalist Peggy Girshman writes her own eulogy

I’ve been a fan of Peggy Girshman’s science and healthcare writing for a long time, so it was with great sadness that I read about her death in March at the young age of 61.

But in tribute to her award-winning journalism career, which included long stints at both NPR and Kaiser Health News, she actually wrote her own eulogy!

She wanted to share a few simple lessons she had learned from her years on the job of reporting healthcare-related stories. Because they resonate with my own view that we need more health and less medicine, I wanted … Continue reading

The HPV vaccine is working

This week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a report that shows since the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine was introduced in 2006, HPV infections

have dropped by 64% among females aged 14 to 19 years and by 34% among those aged 20 to 24 years.

That’s great news. HPV is responsible for most forms of cervical cancer, as well as an increasing number of rectal and oral cancers.

Related post: HPV and cancer

But we can do better.

The American Cancer Society reports that only about 40% of girls and 21% of boys have received the recommended 3 doses … Continue reading

Be informed – PSA screening tests

PSA stands for Prostate-Specific Antigen. It’s a blood test used to screen for prostate cancer.

Doctors used to recommend an annual PSA test for men over 40. But now we know that the PSA is not a good screening tool. It results in a high number of false positives, and not all forms of prostate cancer need to be treated.

Too many men have received unpleasant, expensive treatment they didn’t need.

In an excellent YouTube video, Dr. Mike Evans explains more:

In 2012 the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against Continue reading

The “financial toxicity” of cancer

We’ve all heard the phrase “cancer kills.”

But guess what? So can the high cost of treatment.

I just read about a study that came out of the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center here in Seattle.

The results won’t surprise anyone familiar with how much cancer treatment costs (a lot!), but researchers found:

…cancer patients who go bankrupt are nearly 80 percent more likely to die than patients who don’t, and some cancers had significantly higher mortality rates. Prostate cancer patients who filed for bankruptcy were almost twice as likely to die; bankrupt colorectal cancer patients were 2.5 times more

Continue reading

HPV and cancer

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month.

Following the recommended guidelines for Pap smears is a good way to find and treat cervical cancer early, when it’s basically curable.

A Pap smear is one of the few screening tests for which there is good evidence that it’s effective, plus it’s relatively cheap and painless.

The American Cancer Society, The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all recommend the following:

  • No screening before age 21.
  • Screening every 3 years between ages 21-29 with Pap smear only, no HPV testing. (The rate of
Continue reading

A physician’s own end-of-life story

I’ve always believed that if I were diagnosed with a terminal illness and had a choice between a few months of quality living and a few extra months filled with doctors’ visits, surgeries, lab tests and drug treatments, I would choose quality of life.

Many friends, some of them doctors, have told me, “Oh, you think that now, but when the times comes the will to live is just too strong. You’ll do anything for that extra time.”

Would I? I guess I won’t know for sure until my time comes.

That’s exactly what a hospice physician thought—Will I Continue reading

Know your family health history

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.

Did you know it’s also National Family History Day?

Each year since 2004, the Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day. Over the holiday or at other times when families gather, the Surgeon General encourages Americans to talk about, and to write down, the health problems that seem to run in their family. Learning about their family’s health history may help ensure a longer, healthier future together.

As a nurse, I have taken hundreds of patient histories and I am always surprised by how little most people know about the health … Continue reading