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Cigarette Smoking a Leading Cause of Preventable Death in United States

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On the last Sunday in November 2017, television viewers and print media readers experienced a dramatic moment that continues into this year. The three major U.S. tobacco companies were ordered by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to issue the first in what will be a series of five “corrective statements” about their products. The corrective statements are the result of a federal racketeering lawsuit brought against the tobacco companies in 1999 by the Department of Justice. These court-ordered statements, which cover five different topic areas, explain in detail and in plain language the reality of the health harms inflicted by tobacco products upon users. Not that the harmful effects of cigarette smoking on a smoker’s health is anything new. Since the 1960’s, smokers and non-smokers alike have been bombarded with packaging warnings, public awareness campaigns and tobacco advertising bans. In case someone missed the multitude of discussions, the new statements should leave little doubt about the dangers of smoking tobacco.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, causing nearly 30 percent of cancer deaths across the country. Of the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful, including hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia. Among those, at least 69 can cause cancer. While we are all aware that smoking causes cancer, smoking also harms nearly every bodily organ and organ system in the body and diminishes a person’s overall health. Among the cancers caused are: lung, esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, colon, and rectum, as well as acute myeloid leukemia. Smoking also causes heart disease, stroke, aortic aneurysm, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (chronic bronchitis and emphysema), diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts, and worsens asthma symptoms in adults. There is no safe level of smoking. Smoking even just one cigarette per day over a lifetime can cause smoking-related cancers and premature death.

Despite all the good reasons to quit, kicking the smoking habit is extremely difficult. Studies show that most smokers picked up the habit as a teenager. Cigarettes contain various amounts of Nicotine, the highly addictive drug primarily responsible for a person’s addiction to tobacco products, so quitting can be very difficult even for those already diagnosed with cancer. A study by American Cancer Society researchers found that about 1 in 10 cancer survivors still reports smoking about 9 years after a cancer diagnosis. Lead author Lee Westmaas, PhD, American Cancer Society Director of Tobacco Control Research, says, “Doctors and health care providers must continue to ask survivors about their smoking and provide resources, including medications and counseling, to help them quit.”

Cessation has immediate benefits to a smoker. Ex-smokers suffer from fewer illnesses, lower rates of pneumonia and are healthier overall than people who continue to smoke. Regardless of age, smokers can substantially reduce their risk of bad health. Smokers who quit before age 40 reduce their chance of dying prematurely from smoking-related diseases by about 90%, and the reduction for those who quit by age 45-54 is about two-thirds.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and other agencies and organizations can help smokers quit. For more information on organizations that can help you quit smoking, contact the NCI Smoking Quitline at 1–877–44U–QUIT (1–877–448–7848) for individualized counseling, printed information, and referrals to other sources.

Cancer Research: Not Always an Exact Science

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It is the question most frequently asked of doctors by patients who have just received a diagnosis of cancer, “Why me?” It is usually asked by those who thought they were living a healthy lifestyle and had little expectation of receiving the devastating news. Others may have been aware of near or distant family members who had a form of cancer.

While much progress has been made in the effort to understand multiple forms of cancer and the development of effective treatments, the answer to why some people get the disease and others do not remains predominately an elusive mystery. Cancer is known to be caused by changes, or mutations, to the DNA within cells that can cause the cell to stop its normal function and may allow a cell to become cancerous. Some faulty genes that increase the risk of cancer, known as inherited cancer genes, and genes that increase the risk of cancer called cancer susceptibility genes can be passed on from parent to child. But most of genetic mutations appear to occur after birth and aren’t inherited.

Environmental influences such as smoking, radiation, viruses, persistent exposure to cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens), obesity, hormones, chronic inflammation and a lack of exercise has been proven to provide a more definitive answer to the “Why Me?”. Even with this accepted knowledge, some people who share one or more of these environment factors appear to avoid a cancer diagnosis altogether.

Why do some cancers spread and kill patients, while many remain docile?  Seeking the answer to this question has researchers redirecting their approach for answers from why some get cancer to why so many do not. Ruslan Medzhitov, an Immunobiologist at Yale, says “You can inject the same virus into different hosts and get vastly different responses.”

Diagnosis and treatment becomes art and science. Researchers continue to develop and identify predictive tests based on gene mutations and patterns of gene regulation.  These tests assist in targeting the right therapies and treatments for each patient.  Research related to the micro-environments in which the cancer lives and spreads will provide beneficial to the prevention and early detection of cancer.

The field of oncology remains focused on a holistic approach factoring in the environment, genetic factors, and physiology, in the hopes of finding a concrete, science based answer to the “Why Me?”

To learn more about the clinical trials and research that Gettysburg Cancer Center offers its patients, click here.

The Importance of Connecting Patients with Clinical Trials in Cancer Research

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Clinical Trials are at the heart of medical research and are critical to finding new paths to prevent, detect and advance new treatment methods and medications for debilitating diseases. Patients with an illness or disease participate in Clinical Trials in order to receive the benefits of the newest treatment options for recovering from their disease and to offer the best opportunity for researchers to find better treatments for others in the future. Treatments may involve new drugs or new combinations of drugs, new surgical procedures or devices, or new ways to use existing treatments. The goal of clinical trials is to determine if a new test or treatment works and is safe and may also investigate other aspects of patient care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses.

Providing information to patients, who have been diagnosed with a serious disease, about the specifics and availability of important Trials that may be of benefit to them is proving to be challenging.  ClinicalTrials.gov is a registry and results database of publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants being conducted around the world and currently lists 247,989 studies with locations in all 50 States and in 201 countries. But accessing, understanding and utilizing this important data can be difficult and challenging for the average patient undergoing the emotional and physical experience of a recent diagnosis.

Former FDA commissioner Dr. Robert Califf recently delivered a talk, “Finding the Right Balance in Learning about Therapies”, at a conference in New York City. In his address he said, “Our country is experiencing an unprecedented divergence of health outcomes that mirrors gaps in wealth and education…wealthy, highly educated people are benefiting from information that allows them to lead longer, more functional lives, while others are suffering. The clinical trials enterprise has gone awry,” he said. “It’s become unnecessarily expensive, cumbersome and arcane” In his opinion the system has become so costly and onerous that most of the important questions go unasked. “Doctors are heavily conflicted between patients and the institutions they work for,” says Dr. Robert. “The rosy view that doctors and patients are discussing all options and making the best decisions flies in the face of all evidence.”

The research and pharma industry is attempting to create new pathways to connect patients with the data and, most importantly, help them understand which clinical trial is best for their particular disease. The “Innovation and Clinical Trial Tracking Factbook 2017”, is an Assessment of the Pharmaceutical Pipeline listing the thousands of new drugs currently under trial across the U.S. and around the world. VitalTrax taps into a global database of clinical trials and ultimately organizes the complex web of information into a platform that allows patients, physicians, caregivers, and families to search for relevant trials in relevant locations – in a language they can understand.

Zikria Syed, CEO of VitalTrax says his company is taking an “Open Table” approach to enrolling patients in clinical trials. “We’re making a big bet on the fact that patients would appreciate tools that put the information, and an ability to learn about clinical trials and enroll, in their own hands.”

In smaller communities around the country local oncology providers are shortening the gap of distance and time for patients seeking the benefits of clinical trials. At the Gettysburg Cancer Center (GCC), Clinical Trials are available to patients who want to participate in this important process. The localized opportunity voids the often long drive to large regional healthcare centers for Trial participants and enhances the patients understanding of the technical and practical elements of the process in a personalized but highly qualified environment.

GCC, a leader in Oncology Care across the Central Pennsylvania region since 1989, is actively involved in providing the latest in clinical trials to their patients throughout their community.

The Resulting Dread of Cancer Survival

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One of the most prolific progressions in research and development over the past decade has been the discovery and development of new treatments and drugs for cancer, for good reason. According to National Cancer Institute (NCI) statistics, cancer has a major impact on our society, both in the United States and around the world.  In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people died from the disease. Nearly 39.6% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. It is rare to find anyone who has not dealt with the dreaded disease personally or had a family member or acquaintance suffer from one type or another of cancer.

To answer the call for action in defeating the disease, researchers, oncologist and drug companies have turned-up the pace of research and discovery. Over the past 5 years, 68 new cancer drugs have been approved for various cancers, many producing significant improvement in outcomes for patients. In just the last ten years, drug developers and regulators have successfully shortened the R&D path for approving new cancer drugs safely and efficiently. The global market for cancer immunotherapies, cancer drugs that enlist the body’s immune system to improve patient survival rates, are expected to grow more than fourfold globally by 2022. The number of new drugs in the cancer pipeline has swelled by 45% over the past decade alone.

With the increased activity and availability of promising new therapies for the masses suffering from cancer, one would expect that a downward trend in costs would be a positive result of the new competitive environment. But increased competition and quicker access to market is not producing the expected. In previous decades, new drugs might cost around $10,000 for a year’s treatment. However, according to one recent study, today’s newly approved cancer drugs can cost a patient a staggering $120,000 to $170,000 per year.

The result of this revolution appears to come at a high cost for patients. In the past decade patients paid just 5% of healthcare provider revenue. Today the shifting responsibility to patients for these costs has risen to 35%, and the trend is expected to continue as employers continue to transfer the high cost of healthcare insurance to their employees, the trend to higher insurance deductibles and rising operating and regulatory costs. The result is that too many Americans are struggling to afford the care. Many healthcare consumers are avoiding or delaying needed care or abandoning treatment because of concerns about their ability to pay.

In a system where the patient first learns of the price of their treatment after it has been rendered, many are shocked at the staggering high price and confused and amazed by a complicated and convoluted system of service codes and the seemingly unending list of often unseen providers.  The euphoria and promise of this revolution of discovery is leading many to dread the unfathomable price of recovery and survival.

Gettysburg Cancer Center takes pride in seeking alternative financial resources that can assist its patients in managing the costs of their cancer treatment. To learn more, please contact: Erin or Kasey by calling 717.334.4033 or visiting the website at https://gettysburgcancercenter.com/patients/patient-assistance/.

Grateful for Getting the Care Needed for a Long Life

Receiving news that you have contracted a life-threatening disease is an experience most of us hope will never occur. Most often normal, busy everyday activities put the possibility of suffering such an experience way back in our minds, relegating the concern to the “I’ll deal with that when I’m older and more likely to be a victim of such news.”

A projected 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, each one experiencing that moment of shock and disbelief long put away in the back of the mind. But while most of us are well aware of the risk of cancer diagnosis as we progress in age, the news that it can actual happen to us usually comes with a significant dose of disbelief and surprise, and when it comes at an early, usually healthier period in life, the news can be even more emotionally difficult to negotiate.

Matt Sheads, a healthy thirty something insurance executive in a famous small town in Pennsylvania lived an active, healthy lifestyle, performing numerous marathons, playing ice hockey and coaching local youth sports programs. His active, health conscious approach to life statistically identified him as one among many like him who would most likely NOT experience the news that he had a rare (for men) breast cancer. Breast cancer in men is rare with less than one percent of cancer cases of the disease developing in a thousand men. Matt soon learned that breast cancer in men is usually detected as a hard lump located underneath the nipple and areola. Unlike women, men don’t immediately associate the discovery with breast cancer and often delay further investigation and treatment.

“When you are diagnosed with cancer, it all sets in”, says Matt.” I have an 8-year-old son and I was very scared of the possibility of not seeing him graduate from school. It was a huge shock to me, I didn’t even know men got breast cancer. Oh, my gosh, how can it happen to me? I was born and raised in Gettysburg and love the small-town feel.” It was through the local Gettysburg Cancer Center that Matt was referred to nearby Washington D.C. for treatment of his rare disease. A large University hospital, Medstar Georgetown Hospital has the small town, individualized philosophy when it comes to cancer treatment. “I felt very welcome, that I was a part of a family, I felt like I was in my home town” recounts Matt.

After surgery and treatment, the prognosis for Matt is good. His disease is in remission and requires only annual visits and evaluations. He is back to doing the things he loves; coaching his son in sports, playing hockey, running and looking forward to being at his son’s graduation. His advice to other men, “If you find a problem, you find an issue, don’t self-diagnose… go find a specialist… and have a conversation with them.” Don’t delay getting the care you need to live a long life.

To view Matt Sheads video visit  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUJatsj94hQ&feature=youtu.be.