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Study: Obese cancer patients sometimes don't get enough chemo, which harms survival odds

In the Washington Post today, a story about an interesting problem in oncology: obese patients sometimes don't get enough chemo for their body weight. And when an insufficient dose is given, this increases the risk that cancer will continue to progress, and kill the patient. [HT: Steve Silberman]

With new health moonshot venture 'Calico,' it's 'Google vs. Death'


Anna Kuperberg / Google, via TIME.com

Today, Google announced the launch of Calico, a new company that will "focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases."

Former Genentech CEO Arthur D. Levinson, who is Chairman of the Board at both Genentech and Apple, is CEO and a founding investor of the new Google spinoff venture.

Noted Google+ user Larry Page posts this morning:

OK … so you’re probably thinking wow! That’s a lot different from what Google does today. And you’re right. But as we explained in our first letter to shareholders, there’s tremendous potential for technology more generally to improve people’s lives. So don’t be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing Internet businesses. And please remember that new investments like this are very small by comparison to our core business. Art and I are excited about tackling aging and illness. These issues affect us all—from the decreased mobility and mental agility that comes with age, to life-threatening diseases that exact a terrible physical and emotional toll on individuals and families. And while this is clearly a longer-term bet, we believe we can make good progress within reasonable timescales with the right goals and the right people.
Hey, none of this health and wellness stuff should come as a surprise to internet old-timers who recall when the "web crawler" was named "BackRub."

Time has an exclusive, in this week's cover story at the magazine. The short version: "the company behind YouTube and Google+ is gearing up to seriously attempt to extend human lifespan."

Read the rest

Cancer quack continues killing women, new link to odd hospital revealed

Skepticblogger Orac writes about the sad saga of Fabio Lanzoni’s sister Christina’s ovarian cancer, which killed her, but with help from "University General Hospital and at the Burzynski Clinic." It's no accident that this hospital, which has been sued for fraud and is associated with America's famous non-jailed cancer quack, goes by the abbreviation "UGH."

Kentucky man shoots wife with late-stage breast cancer, reportedly at her request "to end her suffering"

"I shot her," Ernest Chris Chumbley, 48, told a local television news program from jail in Laurel County, KY Wednesday. He was speaking about his wife, who had late-stage metastatic breast cancer. "She died from my shots, but it's not murder."

More at USA Today. From the local TV news report, which is heartbreaking, and indicates Mrs. Chumbley's husband was carrying out "her last wish"--

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After injecting poop bacteria into brain cancer patients' brains, doctors forced to resign


Enterobacter aerogenes. [via microbewiki]

Two neurosurgeons at UC Davis have resigned after infecting brain cancer patients with a pathogenic bacteria from their bowels in a last-ditch effort to halt progression of their cancers. The three patients gave their consent to Dr. J. Paul Muizelaar, 66, the former head of the neurosurgery department, and his colleague, Dr. Rudolph J. Schrot. But the doctors hadn't received OKs from the FDA, or school authorities, and the procedure hadn't even been tested on animals.

As Maggie wrote here last week, it's a complicated story that strikes at the heart of medical experimentation ethics, and how difficult treatment options are for patients with aggressive cancers.

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Neurosurgeons at UC Davis censured after trying out probiotic treatments on brain cancer patients

The Sacramento Bee is reporting on a complicated story about last-ditch treatments and the ethics of human experimentation.

Glioblastomas are incredibly deadly brain cancers that usually kill the people diagnosed with them within 15 months. Two neurosurgeons at UC Davis ran across anecdotal evidence suggesting that glioblastoma patients who accidentally picked up infections after surgery sometimes lived much longer — one of the surgeons claims that a patient he knew of survived another 20 years.

Read the rest

Real talk on what it's like to survive cancer

"An acquaintance once asked me how I felt about cancer, now that it’s 'all over,' now that I know I was destined to survive. Aren’t I glad it happened? Didn’t I learn something? Didn’t good things come out of cancer? Let’s see…scars, missing body parts, permanent damage to nerves, lowered cognitive ability, fear that never really goes away. So, no."--Donna Trussell, "The ghosts of ovarian cancer." [Washington Post, HT: @lanisia]

Daughter records 'last dance' with her dad, who is dying of cancer

25-year old Rachel Wolf isn't married, but hopes to be one day, when she finds the right guy. Her father, Dr. James Wolf, is dying of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Dad and daughter planned a "last dance," complete with wedding gown, makeup, and guests. They created and recorded their father/daughter dance, so she can play it back after he is gone. Watch it here, and a local TV news account is here. (via Lani)

New, high-tech cancer detector: Great idea, or still in need of work?

MelaFind is a new device that helps doctors identify melanoma skin cancers. In many places, it's being reported as the greatest breakthrough in skin cancer prevention to come along in decades. But, notes Gary Schwitzer at Health News Review, those pieces leave out the fact that MelaFind is actually fairly controversial. A lot of cancer researchers and docs are worried that it will give patients and doctors a false sense of security — a big issue considering the fact that MelaFind is only designed to identify small melanomas. It could turn up false negatives (or false positives) with non-melanoma skin cancers or melanomas that don't fall into a narrow type range.

A smart knife for surgeons

Researchers at Imperial College London have invented an electric surgical knife that comes equipped with a built-in mass spectrometer. Electric knives cauterize wounds as they cut, which produces smoke. The iKnife will be able to analyze the chemistry of that smoke to determine, for instance, whether the tissue that was just cut was cancerous or not — allowing doctors to make decisions in the OR that would, today, require them to take samples, send those samples to a lab, and maybe schedule a second surgery.

Traffic fumes in cities linked to increased cancer, heart disease risks

Air pollution, most notably from traffic exhaust fumes in urban areas, is correlated with an increased risk of lung cancer and heart failure, according to two new studies. Smoking's still deadlier, but smoke cigarettes behind a car tailpipe and you're really in business. [The Guardian]

HPV cancers a mystery in men

Human papillomavirus is a well-known and widely researched threat to womens' health. But men are at risk too, writes Maggie Koerth-Baker,—and the scientific outlook is much more uncertain.Read the rest

Cancer patient's response to insurer who said, "No biopsy for you, you're going to die anyway"

Janet says, "Despite what the official statistics say, metastatic (stage IV) lung cancer is NOT an automatic death sentence. Newer therapies and personalized medicine now offer such patients months or even years of quality time to spend enjoying family, friends, hobbies, even travel and work. Yet insurance companies and doomsday doctors still tell many patients there's no point in pursuing further treatment. I'm an engineer, a writer, and a stage IV lung cancer patient, and I received a letter from my insurance company [ed: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois] saying there was no need for me to have another biopsy because I was going to die anyway. This blog post is my response to that letter."

I was lucky to have enough slides from a 2011 biopsy to have the University of Colorado test my tumor for the relatively new ROS1 genetic mutation in my tumor tissue. Because I tested positive for ROS1, I was able to enter a clinical trial for the targeted therapy crizotinib, a drug which inhibits my ROS1-driven cancer. The trial treatment eliminated both nodules and has given me No Evidence of Disease Status for five months. I am once again able to enjoy traveling, writing, and doing things with my family. If I had not had leftover biopsy slides, an EMN biopsy would have been my only opportunity to obtain enough tissue to test for ROS1. Without that ROS1 trial and crizotinib, I might be dead by now.

Doctors who don’t keep current on new treatment options and then decide a biopsy “is not going to affect long-term health outcomes” for metastatic lung cancer patients are insuring those patients will die sooner rather than later.

That’s not the kind of health insurance I want. Do you?

Insuring the Terminal Patient

Everything wrong about medical marijuana marketing in California, in a single snapshot


I snapped this photo of a popular medical marijuana dispensary storefront in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles last week. To me, it represents everything bone-headed about the way LA area pot shops (which operate in a legal gray zone in a conflicting patchwork of federal, state, and local laws) market themselves.

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Making sense of the confusing Supreme Court DNA patent ruling


Nine people who have not recently made any sweeping judgements about biotechnology.

Last week, I told you about the US Supreme Court ruling that made it illegal to patent naturally occurring DNA. In that article, I talked briefly about the fact that the new ruling doesn't cover all DNA. It's still perfectly legal to patent synthetic DNA, and the court documents referred specifically to complementary DNA (aka cDNA).

This is where things get murky. Complementary DNA is a thing that can be both natural and synthetic. And, as a laboratory creation, it's an important step in a common method of replicating naturally occurring DNA. All of which leaves some holes in the idea that the Supreme Court ruling is a simple "win" for open-access science, patent activists, and patients. After all, if you can't patent a gene, but you can patent the laboratory copy of the gene, what's that mean? It's sort of like not being able to patent a novel, but being able to patent a copy of its contents that's had all the white space removed. It seems like everybody is a bit confused by this. So I wanted to take a moment to at least clarify what cDNA is and what some people, on different sides of the science/law/biotech divides, are thinking about it.

It starts with some stuff you learned back in junior high — how information from your DNA gets turned into actual working proteins.

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Superformula against cancer: Superhero chemotherapy for child cancer patients in Brazil

Ad agency JWT Brazil created a "Superformula" to fight cancer. Here's a video explaining the project. They worked with the A.C. Camargo Cancer Center in Brazil and another agency client, Warner Bros., to transform chemotherapy into "superformula" with hopes of changing child patients' negative perception of the treatment.

As someone who has gone through the hell that is chemotherapy as an adult, I love this idea and wish I'd had some myself.

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Are you donating to one of America's worst charities?

The Tampa Bay Times has done some excellent investigative reporting on the 50 worst charities in America — organizations that took in more than $1 billion over the past 10 years, and gave almost all of that money to their own staffs and professional solicitors. The series explains how charities like this operate and skirt the regulatory system. But if you're feeling TLDR, there's also a PDF that can help you quickly figure out if you're donating to one of these scams. A large portion of the 50 worst is made up of charities devoted to cancer and veterans' issues.

HPV can cause throat cancer

Michael Douglas offers us all a good reason to a) get vaccinated against the two most cancer-causing strains of human papillomavirus (even if you're a dude) and b) embrace dental dams (even if you're straight)

R. Stevens of "Diesel Sweeties" webcomic designs LympheDIVAs sleeves for cancer patients


Lymphedema prevention garments designed for LympheDIVAs by R. Stevens.

Like many of my fellow breast cancer patients, the treatment I received (and am still receiving) places me at high risk for a condition called lymphedema that can cause painful and permanent swelling in the arms.

To help prevent lymphedema or control the swelling if it does happen, many doctors recommend we use compression sleeves. It used to be that the only kind of sleeves available looked like big ugly bandages, but LympheDIVAs, a company started by two women with breast cancer in Philadelphia, was one of the first to change that. LympheDIVAs creates sleeves and gauntlets so funky and pretty, you could imagine wearing them just because they look cool. I wear their product regularly, and have found them to be pretty great.

When I put on my "Lotus Dragon" one, people think I have an actual sleeve tattoo, which cracks me up. When I first started wearing it , I tweeted that it would also be fun to see Diesel Sweeties comic creator R. Stevens, who designs fun patterns for socks, gloves, and other wearables, create some stuff for LympheDIVAs. I am thrilled to learn that this happened! R. Stevens has designed four sleeve/gauntlet products for LympheDIVAs, and they all look great.

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Chasing away the big black bird: a monologue on cancer and depression by Jeff Simmermon

My friend Jeff Simmermon talks in this video about cancer and depression. He nails it. Jeff explains,
I had testicular cancer in the spring of 2009. The cancer wasn't really the hard part, it was mostly the depression, combined with all the dumb shit that people had to say about it. I told this story at The Moth on February 13th, 2013 - the theme was "Love Hurts." A version of this was published in a cool book illustrated by Arthur Jones called "The Post-It Note Diaries," but this is pretty different. If you want to see more stories, art, or information about where else I might be performing, check out my blog at andiamnotlying.com.

US budget sequester means thousands of chemotherapy patients on Medicare turned away

Once again, America's government screws over cancer patients: "Most of Medicare was shielded from the sequester, but because chemotherapy is funded by part of the program that was not, clinics are starting to turn away thousands of patients because they say they can't afford to provide treatments at the reduced rate." [NPR, thanks Amy]

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer

Peggy Orenstein has a hell of a piece in the New York Times magazine on "pink ribbon culture," and her frustration (which, as a woman with breast cancer, I fervently share) about how much progress has been made:

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Divinyls singer Chrissy Amphlett dies of breast cancer, MS

The charismatic lead singer of Australian new wave band The Divinyls, Chrissy Amphlett, has died in her New York home of cancer and multiple sclerosis. She was 53. Above, "I Touch Myself," the autoerotic anthem of '80s teen females that became the Divinyls' greatest hit.

Last month, on her Facebook page, she wrote about the experience of being a breast cancer patient since 2010:

"Unfortunately the last 18 months have been a real challenge for me having breast cancer and MS and all the new places that will take you. You become sadly a patient in a world of waiting rooms, waiting sometimes hours for a result or an appointment. You spend a lot time in cold machines... hospital beds, on your knees praying for miracles, operating rooms, tests after tests, looking at healthy people skip down the street like you once did and you took it all for granted and now wish you could do that. I have not stopped singing throughout all this in my dreams and to be once again performing and doing what I love to do."

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Saving for retirement as an act of wild optimism

Photo: Mark Makela for The New York Times. "Virginia C. McGuire, her partner, Matthew, and their son, Leo, 9, play the board game Pandemic in their Philadelphia home."

When is setting aside money with which to retire at a happy old age a potentially recklessly optimistic decision? When you have cancer.

Librarian, freelance writer, and mom Virginia C. McGuire writes in the New York Times how during the worst of it, her anxiety was sometimes "all about money," and she worried about what would happen if and when her cancer returned. "Nobody pays freelancers for sick time."

"Sometimes I find it easier to fret about money than to worry about big things like cancer," she writes. "It seemed crazy to keep saving for retirement when my chances of living that long were so uncertain."

Stanislaw Burzynski vs. regulations protecting human research subjects, revisited: Orac on Cancer quackery

"The Burzynski Clinic is drawing me back below its event horizon again, like the irresistable black hole made up of supercompressed greed that I see it to be," writes health-skeptic blogger Orac, about the Houston-based clinic that runs roughshod over human subjects protections. Today's post digs into recent FOIA'd FDA documents on the case."How he has continued to get away with it for over 30 years is one of the great questions in drug regulation," Orac says. "Somehow, he does, year after year." [Respectful Insolence]

Arijit "Poop Strong" Guha has died of colon cancer

Arijit "Poop Strong" Guha (Twitter), a really sweet guy who took on a dirty rotten insurance company and stood up to TSA "Flying While Brown" bullying (while wearing a t-shirt designed by Boing Boing's own Cory Doctorow) has died.

He was 31, and had metastatic colon cancer.

I did not know Arijit in person, but we exchanged a number of internet messages since we met online as cancer-compadres. His wife posted this today to their Facebook page.

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The power of the swarm

At Wired, Ed Yong has an incredible long-read story about the researchers who are figuring out how and why individual animals sometimes turn into groups operating on collective behavior. That research has implications far beyond the freakish, locust-filled laboratories where Yong's story begins. Turns out, bugs and birds can teach us a lot about the brain, cancer, and even how we make predictions about our own futures.

Why "cancer clusters" are so hard to confirm

This excerpt from the new book, Toms River by Dan Fagin, has me instantly intrigued. The book is about one of the rare places where scientists were able to prove that not only was there a cluster of cancer cases, but that those cases could be linked to a cause. The excerpt explains why this is such a rare thing. Turns out, just because it looks like a town has more cancers than it should, doesn't mean that's always what's going on.

Erin Brockovich: the real-life unhappy ending of Hinkley, California, and a tale of science for sale

PBS NewsHour's Miles O'Brien travels to Hinkley, CA, the town whose multi-million dollar settlement for groundwater contamination inspired the movie "Erin Brockovich."Read the rest