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

Good news! Bacon probably won’t kill you

Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it was going to classify red meat and processed meats (bacon, hots dogs, salami, pepperoni, etc.) as cancer causing agents.

I mentally thought about all the bacon, hot dogs, pepperoni pizzas, and pastrami sandwiches I have fed my son through the years. What kind of a mother am I? (In my defense, my son’s had WAY more fruit and vegetables than average.)

Thank heavens Dr. Aaron Carroll over at Healthcare Triage understood my pain and made this great video to reassure me that I am not the worst mother ever!

Confused by mammogram guidelines?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I can’t let it pass without commenting on the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) recently updated screening mammogram guidelines.

Before, the ACS recommended annual mammograms starting at age 40.

Now they recommend annual mammograms for ages 45 to 54, with screening mammograms done every other year after age 55.

But, they add, women should still have the choice to start screening at age 40 and have yearly mammograms thereafter.

The confusion arises not only because the ACS is a bit wishy washy on its guidelines, but because the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists … Continue reading

Use home pesticides with caution

Every fall my house becomes a mine field of spider webs. When I go out the front door, I immediately step face-first into a big, black, eight-legged bug. Yuck.

Whether it’s spiders preparing for the winter, or fleas and mosquitoes enjoying the wetter but still warm late-summer days, insects are just more bothersome in the fall.

I remember in my childhood my mother used to carry around a huge can of Raid and practically spray it in our faces when she saw a wasp or fly or spider.

Um, that’s not a good idea.

A recent study published in PediatricsContinue reading

The high cost of cancer

I’ve posted before about how expensive it is to be treated for cancer.

Recently, a patient posted on the health blog KevinMD about her experience dealing with not only the stress of metastatic ovarian cancer, but the struggle to stay afloat financially.

I am one of many people today “living” with cancer. I want to focus on the impact cancer has on my personal finances, and this is probably true for any chronic illness, not just cancer.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer at 51 years old. I really

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Cancer doctor’s fraud sends him to prison

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Dr. Farid Fata, the Michigan oncologist who has been on trial for bilking millions of dollars out of Medicare and other insurance companies.

Worse than the fraud is that he actually falsely diagnosed patients with cancer and/or treated them unnecessarily with expensive, harmful chemotherapy drugs.

The good news is that he has been sentenced to 45 years in a federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman this week heard stories of brittle bones and fried organs as patients chillingly described the effects of excessive chemotherapy at the hands of Dr. Farid

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Palliative care and hospice

hospice and palliative careFor the last few months, my family has been dealing with the reality that my 93-year-old father’s health is failing. Following a health crisis that resulted in his being hospitalized and no longer able to make decisions himself, my mother and siblings all agreed that he would not want any heroic, life-extending treatments.

He survived that hospitalization, however, and is now living in a memory care home. He is receiving excellent (and very expensive) around-the-clock care.

When he was discharged from the hospital, I made it known to everyone involved—his primary care doctor, the visiting home health nurse, and his … Continue reading

A horrific story of cancer treatment fraud

July 14—an update to this story: Cancer doctor’s fraud sends him to prison 

I read a news story out of Michigan yesterday that almost made me literally sick:

Whistle-blower: How doctor uncovered nightmare; Oncologist’s discovery leads to the downfall of a cancer treatment empire

[Dr. Farid] Fata’s Michigan Hematology and Oncology Inc. (MHO) was the state’s largest private cancer practice in 2013, with clinics in seven cities, its own pharmacy and diagnostic center, and 1,700 patients, virtually all of them assigned to Fata, the tireless physician. Those who needed proof of Fata’s dedication could look to the doctor’s work ethic

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Be informed – What is SPF?

spfSPF = Sun Protection Factor

An SPF rating is an estimate of how effectively a sunscreen product reduces the time it takes your skin to burn. For example, if it normally takes about 10 minutes in the sun for you to burn, a product with an SPF of 15 extends that time to burn to 150 minutes. SPF 30? Approximately 300 minutes.

Related post: First aid for sunburns

Keep in mind two things about SPF:

  1. It is not a super accurate measurement of protection. Different people with different skin types burn at different rates.
  2. SPF measures protection from UVB rays
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Choosing a cancer treatment center

A group of researchers out of the University of Pittsburgh did an interesting study. They looked at over 400 magazine and TV ads for cancer treatment centers to see how marketers tried to attract patients.

What did they find?

Clinical advertisements by cancer centers frequently promote cancer therapy with emotional appeals that evoke hope and fear while rarely providing information about risks, benefits, costs, or insurance availability.

By far the most used phrases were about “hope, life, survival, extension of life, or cure.”

If you have cancer and want to find the “best” treatment, you might be attracted to … Continue reading

Tanning beds and skin cancer

tanning beds and skin cancerLast month a nurse posted this selfie on her Facebook page with the following message:

If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here ya go! This is what skin cancer treatment can look like. Wear sunscreen and get a spray tan. You only get one skin and you should take care of it. Learn from other people’s mistakes. Don’t let tanning prevent you from seeing your children grow up. That’s my biggest fear now that I have a two year old little boy of my own.

I hope a picture is worth … Continue reading

Cancer risk and lack of exercise

Huh. Sitting down too much increases our risk of cancer.

A new study out of Sweden tells us that women who have sedentary jobs and don’t get enough exercise outside of work have the highest increased risk of breast and uterine cancer.

This study looked specifically at those two cancers, but other similar research has linked the lack of exercise to other types of cancer, as well.

And heart disease. And diabetes. And depression.

I don’t need a study to remind me that I probably sit too much in front of my computer and it would benefit me physically and … Continue reading

The cancer reimbursement wars

It’s another case in which the right hand of a behemoth government agency doesn’t know what the left hand is doing: In Cancer Wars, It’s Doctors vs. Hospitals

Colliding federal policies are fomenting a nasty money war that’s pitting community oncologists trying to treat patients in less expensive clinic settings against hospitals trying to woo patients in through costlier emergency departments.

The agencies under discussion are the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) [which both fall under the larger umbrella of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)], and their disparate … Continue reading

Better patient education for mammograms

I’ve mentioned in several posts that I think screening tests, especially mammograms, are used too widely in this country. Every woman over age 40? Every year? It’s overkill.

Even the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) only recommends a screening mammogram every other year between the ages of 50 and 75.

But most women still think the yearly mammogram is health care at its finest.

Related post: Screening mammograms—benefits vs harms

The British medical journal, Lancet, recently published a study that shows women who are better informed about the risks and benefits of screening mammograms are less likely to … Continue reading