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US gov shutdown may mean some kids with cancer won't be treated, CDC's outbreak detection programs also halted

NIH Clinical Center [Wikipedia]

The ongoing federal government shutdown in the United States affects national health services in ways you may not realize, including cancer treatment activities at the National Institutes of Health, and disease outbreak detection programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For as long as the shutdown continues, the National Institutes of Health will turn away about 200 patients each week from its clinical research center, including children who have cancer. All existing patients at NIH will be treated, but no new patients will be admitted, and no studies.

NIH director Francis Collins explains how the slow-motion political disaster affects the nation's federal medical research facilities in this WSJ interview (paywalled). He told the Journal that about 200 patients per week who would otherwise would be admitted to NIH's Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, to participate in clinical trials will be turned away for as long as the shutdown lasts. That number includes an estimated 30 children per week, most of whom are cancer patients.

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People who've never had leukemia show signs of immune battles that fought it off

Far more people have cells that briefly behave in cancerous ways then ever actually develop cancer. Most of the time, those cancerous cells are destroyed before they can do any real damage, and scientists can see evidence of this by looking at echoes of past battles with the immune system. If you've had chicken pox, some of the immune cells that fought off that disease will stick around, ready to more-quickly mount a response against a repeat attack. The same seems to be true with certain kinds of cancers. Scientists found immune cells in healthy people that appear to be primed to attack leukemia — leftover remnants of the body's previous, successful skirmishes. Maggie 13

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] Xeni 5

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

Anna Kuperberg / Google, via

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."

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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." Xeni 3

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.

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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] Xeni 3

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. Maggie 1

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. Maggie 4

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] Xeni 9

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.

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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