June 30, 2014

New Skin Cancer Strategies and Summer Common Sense

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

New Skin Cancer Strategies and Summer Common Sense

That our own bodies could cure cancer is a stunning proposition, but that was the implication of findings from the 2014 conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

“We are on the verge of being able to manipulate the body’s immune response against cancer so the body itself will take care of the cancer,” said Louis W. Weiner, director of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center  in a June 3, 2014, article in The Wall Street Journal article that reported on the conference and specifically discussed melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.

According to the article’s authors, Peter Loftus and Ron Winslow, the body would receive considerable help with new immunotherapies from Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Merck. Yervoy and pembrolizumab have increased life expectancy for patients with advanced melanoma on average from one to three years. The drugs can keep tumors under control for longer than other therapies and can even reduce tumor size. Although there are risks for considerable side effects, this development can be potentially great news for melanoma patients.

But there is also some alarming news: Melanoma, though commonly thought of as relatively rare cancer, is now the fifth most common type.  On average, one American dies from melanoma every hour. By 2015, according to the American Academy of Dermatologists, one in 50 Americans will develop melanoma in their lifetime.

Additionally, 3.5 million non-melanoma skin cancers will be diagnosed next year, and the numbers are rising.

Skin cancer overall has become so prevalent that even high-profile celebrities including Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine in the X-Men movies, and talk-show host David Letterman are sharing their stories. Jackman, who had two basal cell carcinomas on his nose, urged viewers of Letterman’s show to “please, please get check-ups.”

But while non-melanoma cancers like Letterman’s and Jackman’s are not life-threatening, the average person really cannot do a reliable diagnosis, since the lesions can look like innocuous beige spots, dry patches or tiny moles. However, the growths can become large and deep, requiring extensive, disfiguring incisions to remove them. Anything on your skin that is new, changing or growing should be examined by a dermatologist. Preventative yearly check-ups are highly recommended. The American Association of Dermatologists now conducts free skin cancer screenings at many locations nationwide.

With summer upon us, what more can we do to prevent skin cancer?

SkinCancer.org cites that 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with ultra violet exposure, i.e.sunlight. But did you know that these types of cancers have risen more than 300 percent since 1994? Clearly we are we are not doing enough to protect ourselves (and our children).

Andrea Waguespack wrote in the Houston Chronicle that “New research found that getting a major sunburn (so bad that blisters develop) just five times before you’re 20 years old can increase your risk of melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer, by 80 percent.”

The common-sense rules remain the same: Wear a hat, seek shade, use sunscreen and SPF sun shirts and avoid the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

We are getting sunlight more often than you think. It’s not just the beach. Think backyard barbecues, golf , jogging, yard work, an afternoon of shopping and fishing. An hour here and there adds up to significant exposure.

Additionally, UV radiation passes through the glass windows of cars, offices and homes.  It penetrates clouds, too, and only is abated by dense materials. Plus, sunlight reflected off water or snow bounces back onto your skin.

Sunscreen or a moisturizer with built-in sunscreen should be part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth. According to SkinCancer.org, a 2011 study in Australia showed that sunscreen can “drastically reduce” melanoma incidence. Researchers found that daily application of an SPF 16 sunscreen to the head, neck, arms, and hands reduced melanoma incidence by 50 percent in subjects studied for more than a decade.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2014 released a much-anticipated safety order on the use of tanning booths, raising the classification to a level II (moderate risk) and requiring labeling that states “the sunlamp product should not be used on persons under the age of 18 years.”

And while you might think many people have been warned about tanning salons by now, youngsters still go in droves. A 2011study by the CDC claims that 29 percent of Caucasian high school girls say they patronize tanning salons.

It’s doubtful that teenage girls immediately will abandon their tanning habits, but we can start warning children – the most vulnerable population –even earlier.

A friend of mine invokes the “seatbelt rule.” Her kids have worn a seatbelt in the car since they were babies. Every time. Most parents agree: Their cars do not leave the garage without everyone’s seatbelts on.

Start your kids early with sun protection as an equally non-negotiable item. Make a kit: Sun shirt, hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. Don’t leave your house without the kit, whether for summer camp, beach or just the yard.

Sure, immunotherapy and other medical breakthroughs show great promise for melanoma and other cancers. But prevention can go a long way for all types of skin cancer. Remind the kids that X-Men’s Wolverine wears sunscreen, too, while we wait for more evidence that the body will cure itself.

June 16, 2014

Therapy for All: Skyrocketing Demand and a Thriving Industry

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

Why should you know more about physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy? A confluence of need and accessibility has created a boon for patients and providers alike.

The benefits of physical therapy are well-recognized: Many of us have experienced improvement from targeted interventions for sports injuries, post-op discomfort or just a stubborn “bad back.” Lesser known is physical therapy’s not-so-distant cousin, occupational therapy.

In a Columbia News Service article aptly titled “Occupational therapy is health-care industry’s best-kept secret,” author Niharika Mnadhana says the discipline “covers a wide spectrum of interventions that help people with their daily activities,” adding that many practitioners call this “the job of living.”

Occupational therapists work with disabled children to improve their fine motor skills, from using a correct pencil grip to tying their shoes. For older adults, it could mean being able to accomplish the myriad tasks around the house they could do when they were younger and healthier.

Speech and language therapy often is used to help stroke victims regain speech and oral motor coordination. It’s also a tool to help the increasingly older and ever-expanding senior citizen population retain its ability to speak and do many things they once took for granted, like chewing and swallowing.

But families across the U.S. also are finding speech and language therapy to be a game-changer for youngsters with developmental disabilities, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites as affecting a staggering one in six children in the United States.

According to a Forbes article on speech therapy, the “most significant growth” is happening in pediatrics. Speech pathologists work with children born prematurely or suffering from communication disorders. Speech therapy is also an valuable treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

As the number of people in the U.S. diagnosed with ASD has approximately doubled in the last 10 years, speech and occupational therapy as well as other autism interventions – including those mentioned in a parents’ blog on the Autism Speaks website – are being utilized by thousands of new patients every year.

Fortunately, disabled children can obtain speech, occupational and physical therapy for free. Thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – a bill passed in 1975 – public schools guarantee the availability of services. If you think your child might be in need, you have the right to request that your public school do an evaluation for services.

Further paving the road to obtaining physical, occupational and speech therapy is the fact that some states recently eliminated the requirement for a doctor’s referral for some of these services. Services through Medicare and Medicaid also do not require referrals with an established plan of care.

And while many health-insurance plans cover therapy services only for certain conditions and situations, more than half the states now require insurers to cover treatment for patients with an autism diagnosis. (Check your health insurance policy.) New insurance laws have opened the doors for many more people to access therapy.

As a result, physical, occupational and speech therapy are much in demand, attracting a new generation of practitioners and fueling some of the most desirable careers in today’s job market. Time.com cites occupational therapy as one of the “five most in-demand jobs” for 2014. US News Best Jobs of 2014 lists speech and language pathologists as the third best job in the area of social services and physical therapy as number five in the area of health care.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates 36 percent growth in physical therapy employment during the next eight years (much faster than average), with occupational therapy and speech therapy not far behind.

“Speech-language pathology is one of the fastest-growing career fields with schools, nursing homes, hospitals and private companies all competing to stay fully staffed,” said an article posted on azcentral.com. In Arizona and Texas among other states, bilingual speech pathologists are even more sought after.

Providers are also evolving. Baptist Health Systems in Mississippi and other hospitals have opened free-standing sports centers including Baptist’s Healthplex, staffed with physical therapists. It’s part of a growing trend of fitness centers that offer physical and occupational therapy.

“Combining physical therapy and fitness is a winning approach for a growing number of health clubs looking to attract new members and physical therapists aiming to keep existing clients,” said Kelsey Cipolla in Club Industry last year.

KidsCare, based in Texas, calls upon a staff of more than 100 physical, occupational and speech therapists to work with children at home. Providers, notably USPh Inc., have expanded significantly, with more than 400 physical and occupational therapy clinics nationwide.

With autism awareness increasing, better accessibility and excellent employment prospects, these health-care areas are coming into their own. Whether you have been looking for help for a child with a speech disability or relief from that awful sciatica, there are more options than ever before.

June 6, 2014

Awareness of Brain Cancer Can Bring Needed Research and Treatment

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

Nearly 700,000 Americans are living with a primary brain tumor and 69,000 will be diagnosed this year. That’s one of the messages that came across loud and clear during the observation of National Brain Cancer and Brain Tumor Awareness Month in May 2014.

According to cancer.net, the patient information website of the American Society of Clinical Oncology that calls itself “the voice of the world’s cancer physicians,” brain tumors are the second most common cause of cancer death in men who are between 20 and 39 years of age and the fifth most common cause of cancer among women ages 20 to 39.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, cancers of the brain occur in people of all ages but more frequently in two age groups: children younger than 15 years and adults 65 years and older. About 4,300 children and teens will be diagnosed with a brain or central nervous system tumor this year, and more than half of these will be children younger than 15.

No one is sure of the actual causes of brain tumors and cancer. Many theories are unproven and often controversial. The American Cancer Society, for example, asserts that the best-known environmental risk factor for brain tumors is radiation exposure, most often from radiation therapy to treat some other condition. But for most patients with other cancers involving the brain or head, the benefits of radiation therapy far outweigh the risk of developing a brain tumor years later.

Other possible causes include everything from genetics and family history to exposure to the sugar substitute aspartame and exposure to electromagnetic fields from power lines and transformers and computers. Most researchers agree that there is no convincing evidence to link these factors to brain tumors, but research on these and other potential factors continues.

While the World Health Organization warned in 2011 that cell phone use can cause cancer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration disputed the study, saying there is “no evidence linking cell phone use to risk of brain tumors.”  The American Cancer Society said cell phone use is an “unproven risk.”

Common symptoms of brain tumors include seizures, trouble speaking, changes in personality or mood such as depression, weakness or paralysis in the body and changes in vision or other senses.

Scientists are examining gene changes in an effort to understand the causes of brain cancer. They hope that learning more about gene changes may lead to better ways to treat these tumors.

Glioblastoma multiforme are the most common malignant tumors in adults. They are fast-growing and aggressive. The death of U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy was attributed to his glioblastoma. The Defeat GBM Research Collaborative, launched by the National Brain Tumor Society, is an “unprecedented, strategic research initiative with the aim to double the five-year survival rate of glioblastoma multiforme patients.”

Biopharmaceuticals companies also are making strides against glioblastoma. Omniox, Inc. announced a new protein-based platform that has been engineered to improve the effectiveness of radiation therapy for glioblastoma. Although widely used in cancer therapy, the effectiveness of radiation in treating brain cancer is limited by the hazard posed to the healthy brain.

New treatment research continues for new imaging and surgery techniques, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted drug therapy. Doctors also are also studying a vaccine for treating a recurrent cancer of the central nervous system that occurs primarily in the brain.

For those living with brain cancer or new diagnosis, the American Cancer Society, the American Brain Tumor Organization and the National Brain Tumor Society and other organizations can offer resources and direction to finding the best treatment and care.

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