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from The Great Debate:

How Big Pharma is slowing cancer research

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In a March 27 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, a team led by physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that a new cancer drug from Novartis has shown exciting clinical results in a small trial of lung cancer patients. While additional trials are necessary before the drug can obtain approval from the Food and Drug Administration, this type of success story demonstrates why research to develop new cancer therapies is critically important.

Researchers in academia, biotech and pharmaceutical companies are making remarkable discoveries to help identify new drugs and drug targets for cancer patients. Many new compounds are under investigation -- including those that inhibit the growth of cancer cells, block the blood supply to tumors and prevent tumors from evading the immune system.

Even as scientists seek to bring new cancer treatments to market, however, drug patent issues are holding back some researchers. A major hurdle is in combination drug trials that test two or more therapies at once. Pharmaceutical companies often shy away from trials that have great potential, because the drugs may not generate profits if they are used together with a generic drug or a drug patented by a different company.

Recently, there have been major advances in our understanding of how cancer progresses. As scientists have sequenced thousands of cancer genomes, patterns are starting to emerge. One clear insight we have gained is the likelihood that no single drug will be able to defeat cancer. The reason most cancers become drug resistant and come back is because their DNA mutates quickly. Cancer cells that are not killed by the drugs survive, continue to grow and replace the cells that have been wiped out.

from Cancer in Context:

Hiring a cancer survivor

Today’s employment report from the U.S. Labor Department showed the job market remained tough in January. If it’s difficult for healthy individuals to get a job, what is it like for cancer survivors?

Personally, I’m not looking for a job. When I was diagnosed with lung cancer about a year ago, my editors and I came up with the idea that I should write a blog about all aspects of cancer.

from Cancer in Context:

Cancer wrecks your body, even some friendships

Much as cancer can cause skin to lose its suppleness, hair its sheen, and the body its vigor, it can also wreck some friendships.

Since one out of three people will get cancer during their lifetimes, almost everyone will be touched by this dreaded disease, either directly or indirectly. We may surprise ourselves by how we deal with it, either as a victim or as the friend of a victim.

from Cancer in Context:

Unnecessary palpitations over palliative care

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) said it best when it declared in its December 13, 2013, issue that “palliative care suffers from an identity problem.”

Indeed it does. In my last blog post, I wrote about pain and addiction, and quoted my palliative care doctor. Some readers took that to mean that I am at the end of the road, so to speak, since I am calling for palliative care. 

from The Great Debate:

The fierce fight over how to die

There has been an ugly and sad pile-on by two people who ought to know better and a young woman fighting against cancer. It started -- as these things can -- in the blogosphere, where Lisa Bonchek Adams, mother of three and terminal cancer patient, has been chronicling her battles in sometimes raw detail.

Her tweets are full of pain, literal and emotional. Apparently, her revelations have proved too much for journalists Emma Gilbey Keller and Bill Keller. In a post on theguardian.com, Ms. Keller suggested that Adams has gone over the line.

from Cancer in Context:

Pain and addiction

Pain arrived for another too-long visit recently, so I called on my palliative care doctor to get relief. Pain has been an exhausting, debilitating aspect of my cancer, affecting me primarily in my ribcage, on the right side. This is the site where my stage 4 lung cancer first was diagnosed. If it weren’t for the pain I felt in my ribs I never would have known I had cancer, and it's still my only symptom.  

I went to see Dr. Eytan Szmuilowicz, the director of Palliative Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He specializes in managing pain for seriously ill patients, a specialty called palliative care which is one of the fastest-growing areas in medicine. I told him I couldn't put up with the pain and asked for more, stronger, drugs.

from Cancer in Context:

Pumping Iron During Chemo

Exercise is good for cancer patients, doctors these days say. That’s an about-face from just a decade ago when they urged patients to conserve their flagging energy. My oncologists tell me to exercise as much as I can, as long as it’s not causing pain. Otherwise there are no limitations, no matter the patient's age, type or stage of cancer.

I can understand that exercise may not be a priority for many cancer patients, in spite of evidence that those who do work out fare better than those who don't. It wasn't a priority for me until after I was diagnosed in March with lung cancer. I exercised regularly before my diagnosis, and suspect exercising is one way for me to reassert control and counter feelings of helplessness. Whatever the case may be, my exercise program makes me feel better physically and boosts my confidence, so it seems worth sharing. 

from Cancer in Context:

Researching the obvious: It stinks to have cancer

Being poor stinks. Having cancer really stinks. You probably can’t do worse than being poor and having cancer.  

That seems so obvious, I’m not sure why anyone needs a study to confirm it.  But researchers actually looked that this problem and found exactly what anyone might expect: Breast cancer patients with higher incomes were more likely to receive care that followed the guidelines set by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) than patients with lower incomes. 

from Cancer in Context:

I’ve got $100 to donate to a cancer charity. What to do?

The other day, I received a $100 honorarium from a cancer research organization for participating in an interview conducted by a group called Patients Like Me.

It struck me that I ought to donate the money, and my initial thought was to give it to a charity set up for the treatment center where I am receiving care, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. It also occurred to me to send it to The American Cancer Society, a mainstay of the cancer community.

from Cancer in Context:

Do you need to love your doctor? Cancer made me realize that I do

I’ve seen the same dentist, the same gynecologist and the same internist for years, even decades. They are competent, and nice enough. But I recently dropped my oncologist because, in part, I didn't love him. And I need to. After all, my oncologist has my vulnerable life in his hands.

Before getting a cancer diagnosis in March 2013, I had no reason to believe I needed to like my doctors, let alone love them. As long as they were competent and honest, showed integrity and treated me with respect, I was content.  But cancer made me realize I wanted more from my oncologist than I got, a lot more.

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