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Study: Cetuximab, radiation inferior to standard HPV throat cancer treatment

Source: upi.com
Author: Allen Cone

Treating HPV-positive throat cancer with cetuximab and radiation had worse overall and progression-free survival results compared with the current method of treatment with radiation and cisplatin, the National Institutes of Health revealed Tuesday.

The trial, which was funded by the National Cancer Institute, was intended to test whether the combination would be less toxic than cisplatin but be just as effective for human papillomavirus-positive oropharyngeal cancer. The trial, which began in 2011, enrolled 849 patients at least 18 years old with the cancer to receive cetuximab or cisplatin with radiation. The trial is expected to finish in 2020.

Cetuximab, which is manufactured under the brand name Erbitux by Eli Lilly, and cisplatin, which as sold as Platinol by Pfizer, are used in chemotherapy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had approved cetuximab with radiation for patients with head and neck cancer, including oropharyngeal cancer.

HPV, which is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact, is the leading cause of oropharynx cancers, which are the throat at the back of the mouth, including the soft palate, the base of the tongue and the tonsils. Most people at risk are white, non-smoking males age 35 to 55 — including a 4-to-1 male ratio over females — according to The Oral Cancer Foundation.

The NIH released the trial results after an interim analysis showed that cetuximab with radiation wasn’t as effective.

In a median follow-up of 4.5 years, the test combination was found to be “significantly inferior” to the cisplatin method.

“Clinical trials designed to test less toxic treatment strategies for patients without compromising clinical benefit are a very important area of interest for NCI and the cancer research community,” said Dr. Shakun Malik, of NCI’s Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis.

Toxic side effects were different, with adverse events of renal toxicity, hearing loss and bone marrow suppression more common in patients in the cisplatin group and body rash more frequent in the cetuximab method.

For patients who cannot tolerate cisplatin, cetuximab with radiation is an accepted standard of care.

“The goal of this trial was to find an alternative to cisplatin that would be as effective at controlling the cancer, but with fewer side effects,” lead investigator Dr. Andy Trotti, of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., said in a press release. “We were surprised by the loss of tumor control with cetuximab.”

August, 2018|Oral Cancer News|

Hundreds of Researchers From Harvard, Yale and Stanford Were Published in Fake Academic Journals

Source: motherboard.vice.com
Author: Daniel Oberhaus

In the so-called “post-truth era,” science seems like one of the last bastions of objective knowledge, but what if science itself were to succumb to fake news? Over the past year, German journalist Svea Eckert and a small team of journalists went undercover to investigate a massive underground network of fake science journals and conferences.

In the course of the investigation, which was chronicled in the documentary “Inside the Fake Science Factory,” the team analyzed over 175,000 articles published in predatory journals and found hundreds of papers from academics at leading institutions, as well as substantial amounts of research pushed by pharmaceutical corporations, tobacco companies, and others. Last year, one fake science institution run by a Turkish family was estimated to have earned over $4 million in revenue through conferences and journals.

The story begins with Chris Sumner, a co-founder of the nonprofit Online Privacy Foundation, who unwittingly attended a conference organized by the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology (WASET) last October. At first glance, WASET seems to be a legitimate organization. Its website lists thousands of conferences around the world in pretty much every conceivable academic discipline, with dates scheduled all the way out to 2031. It has also published over ten thousand papers in an “open science, peer reviewed, interdisciplinary, monthly and fully referred [sic] international research journal” that covers everything from aerospace engineering to nutrition. To any scientist familiar with the peer review process, however, WASET’s site has a number of red flags, such as spelling errors and the sheer scope of the disciplines it publishes.

Sumner attended the WASET conference to get feedback on his research, but after attending it became obvious that the conference was a scam. After digging into WASET’s background, Sumner partnered with Eckert and her colleague Till Krause, who adopted fictitious academic personas and began submitting papers to WASET’s journal. The first paper to get accepted was titled “Highly-Available, Collaborative, Trainable Communication-a policy neutral approach,” which claims to be about a type of cryptoanalysis based on “unified scalable theory.” The paper was accepted by the WASET journal with minimal notes and praise for the authors’ contribution to this field of research.

There was just one problem: The paper was pure nonsense that had been written by a joke software program designed by some MIT students to algorithmically generate computer science papers. It was, in a word, total bullshit.

As detailed in a talk this year at Def Con, last year Eckert and Krause attended a conference organized by WASET in London to present their bullshit paper. The two journalists went in disguise as the fictitious academics Dr. Cindy Poppins and Dr. Edgar Munchhausen. When they arrived, they discovered the two-hour “conference” was actually just a half-dozen people in a room with a projector, all of whom had paid hundreds of dollars for the privilege. When Eckert and Krause approached Bora Ardil, the conference organizer, to learn more about WASET, they said he was cagey and declined to give straight answers about his affiliation with the conference. According to Eckert, he claimed he was just a doctoral student working with WASET.

After this initial foray into the world of predatory publishing, Eckert and Munchhausen partnered with Sumner to dig deeper into WASET. By analyzing 83 domain names affiliated with WASET and its conferences, Eckert and her colleagues discovered that the predatory journal network was a family con run by Cemal Ardil, his daughter Ebru and son Bora. Based on the WASET website, the Ardils have been running this con since 2007.

According to Eckert and her colleagues, WASET is just a single predatory publishing platform,but it hosts over 5,000 events around the world annually and publishes hundreds of papers in its online “journals.” WASET charges hundreds of dollars to publish in its journals and attend its conferences, which netted the Ardils an estimated $4.1 million in 2017 alone.

Yet WASET doesn’t hold a candle to OMICS Publishing Group, which is likely the largest predatory publisher in the world. In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission filed a suit against OMICS for “deceiving academics and researchers about the nature of its publications and hiding publication fees ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.” Last November, the FTC granted a preliminary injunction against OMICS that prohibits the company from “falsely representing that their journals engage in peer review, that their journals are included in any academic journal indexing service, or any measurement of the extent to which their journals are cited.”

By scraping the OMICS and WASET websites, Eckert and her colleagues discovered tens of thousand of abstracts for fake scientific papers. India accounted for nearly 15,000 of these abstracts alone, but researchers from the United States accounted for the second highest submission rate—approximately 10,000 American papers were submitted to OMICS journals and another 3,000 to WASET journals.

So who are the people submitting to these conferences? According to Eckert, these range from academics trying to boost their publishing profile to scientists affiliated with companies who want to boost their scientific cred by having some publications under their belt. A distressing number of these academics come from elite American universities, as well. Eckert and her colleagues discovered 162 papers submitted to WASET and OMICS journals from Stanford, 153 papers from Yale, 96 from Columbia, and 94 from Harvard in the last decade. Yet according to Krause, “this goes way beyond academia.”

“It’s one thing for professors to try to polish their publication list and get more money or reputation, but it can be used for many other purposes,” Krause said last weekend during a talk at Def Con. “We as a society have this feeling that if something is scientifically proven and published, it has value. Usually science does just that, but in the case of the predatory journals it is quite different.”

The danger of these journals is that they can be used by companies to provide scientific justification for unproven treatments. One notable example of this is the case of the company First Immune, which had published dozens of “scientific” papers in these predatory journals lauding the effectiveness of an unproven cancer treatment called GcMAF. GcMAF is a protein that was marketed First Immune starting in 2010, but came under investigation shortly thereafter for running an unlicensed medical facility. The CEO of First Immune, David Noakes, will stand trial in the UK later this year for conspiracy to manufacture a medical product without a license.

The problem is that these predatory journals gave First Immune an air of legitimacy for desperate patients with cancer. This predicament is illustrated in the autobiography of a famous German media personality Miriam Pielhau, who died of breast cancer in 2016. In Dr. Hope, Pielhau describes her battle with cancer and how she settled on GcMAF as a last resort and cited medical studies published in predatory journals as the basis of her decision.

The ease with which people can be duped into taking false medical advice was driven home by Eckert and co, who submitted a research paper to the WASET Journal of Integrative Oncology that claimed that bees wax was a more effective cancer treatment than chemotherapy. The paper was accepted and published in the journal with minimal revisions.

As detailed by Eckert and her colleagues, similar tactics are used to publish studies and host conferences funded by major corporations as well, including the tobacco company Philip Morris, the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and the nuclear safety company Framatone. When the predatory journals publish these companies’ research, they can claim it is “peer reviewed” and thereby grant it an air of legitimacy.

Taken together, the predatory publishers investigated by Eckert and her colleagues only represent about 5 percent of the total research published every year. While this doesn’t pose an existential threat to science as a truth-seeking process, it does work to erode public trust in legitimate research.

Eckert, Krause, and Sumner argue that that the rise of predatory journals makes it imperative that the general public, researchers, and academics stay on their guard to combat the proliferation of bogus research. Science, like democratic politics, has been responsible for some of the greatest advances in the wellbeing of humanity, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune to being undermined by a small group of persistent bad faith actors.

August, 2018|Oral Cancer News|

How ablation destroys cancer to prolong lives

Source: The Guardian
Author: David Cox

Seven years ago, when Heather Hall was informed by her oncologist that her kidney cancer had spread to the liver, she initially assumed she had just months to live. “I’d been on chemotherapy for a while, but they’d done a CT scan and found three new tumours,” she says. “But they then said that, because the tumours were relatively small, they could try to lengthen my prognosis by removing them with ablation.”

Hall underwent a course of microwave ablation, a minimally invasive treatment where surgeons use hollow needles to deliver intense, focused doses of radiation to heat each tumour until it is destroyed. While ablation technologies – they also commonly include radiofrequency ablation and cryoablation, which destroys tumours using intense cold – are not tackling the underlying cause of the disease, their impact can be enormous as they relieve pain and often prolong survival for many years, all at a low cost.

Studies based on data gathered over the past 10 years show an increasing number of cases of terminally ill patients who have lived for well over a decade after being treated with repeated ablations. Hall’s treatment was successful, but two years later, another two tumours had appeared in her liver, in different locations. Once again they were removed with microwave ablation. Over the past seven years, she has had four separate treatments. “There’s some pain in the immediate aftermath and I’ve felt quite ill for a week afterwards,” she says. “But it seems to have slowed down the progression of the disease, and I still have full function of my liver. With surgery, they would have had to cut a section of it away.”

While there have been many breakthroughs in cancer treatment heralded by the media in recent years – most notably the advances in immunotherapy and combination therapies – the considerable advances in ablation technology and resulting impact on patient survival, have consistently slipped beneath the radar. Not so long ago, the only option for patients such as Hall would have been full or partial removal of an organ, greatly reducing quality of life. But now, with increasingly powerful and efficient devices, surgeons are able to destroy drug-resistant tumours in a growing number of diseases ranging from sarcomas to prostate cancer.

“When we were first using ablation we could only treat the simplest tumours – for example, the ones in the middle of the liver, away from the blood vessels, because the devices were less powerful and predictable,” says Matthew Callstrom, a professor of radiology at the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota. “But now, for example, with microwave ablation – which works by radiating an energy field out of the tip of the needle into the tumour, heating the water within the cancer cells until they are destroyed – you can tune the shape and diameter of that field to prescribe exactly how deep it goes into the tissue. This means we can safely go after more and more complex tumours.”

Major studies published in the past couple of years have confirmed the survival benefits. Last year, the results of the Clocc trial – a five-year study of 119 patients across 22 centres in Europe – showed that patients with colorectal cancer that had metastasised to the liver and who received ablation in addition to drug treatment lived significantly longer on average than those who received drugs alone.

“We work closely with oncologists to determine who is most likely to benefit from this and who isn’t,” says Andreas Adam, professor of interventional radiology at King’s College London. “But it can have huge benefits. For example, I had a patient with breast cancer that had spread to the liver. I ablated the tumours, destroyed them completely and every few months or years, another tumour would develop and I’d ablate again. She went on to live for almost 10 years.”

With ablation treatment allowing many patients to live for far longer, it has the potential to change the perspective on some diagnoses. Patients with metastatic disease who go on to live for another decade or more in relatively little discomfort, often come to view their condition as more like a chronic illness. “It’s a strange feeling because you are still living with an illness which is likely to be terminal sooner rather than later,” Hall says. “But it’s no longer in the forefront of your mind. I’ve even been able to return to work part-time.”

However, not every patient with metastatic disease is a suitable candidate for ablation. Surgeons typically only use the technique on patients with 10 tumours or fewer. Any more, and the only viable options are treatments such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy. “You wouldn’t dream of ablating 50 tumours, because if someone has 50 visible tumours, it’s likely that they have another 100 developing that are not yet visible, and so they need drug treatment to treat the disseminated disease,” Adam says.

But in the coming years, ablation is likely to become available to more and more patients, allowing surgeons to tackle cancers in ever more complex locations.

Among the most promising methods is a technology called irreversible electroporation, which involves electrodes being inserted through the skin into a tumour, allowing a high voltage to be generated across the cancer cell membranes, causing them to self-destruct. This is only offered by a small handful of specialised centres in the world, but is expected to become more widespread over the next decade. “It’s a non-thermal approach, so you can go into more sensitive areas such as the pancreas, or ablate tumours which are in the centre of the liver,” Callstrom says.

One day, surgeons may even be able to ablate the most difficult cancers of all – deep brain tumours. The Israeli company Insightec is developing a device that can use focused ultrasound to destroy brain lesions. Because these tiny pulses of energy can be detected on MRI scanners, surgeons can calibrate them to the exact millimetre. “Each pulse generates a single ablation the size of a grain of rice,” Callstrom says. “Because it’s so tiny this allows you to basically tattoo the tumour and so avoid the boundary to any blood vessels or neurons.”

So for the many patients who have cancer that doesn’t respond to any form of drug treatment, there is now often a way of managing and prolonging their lives, which wasn’t possible before.

“The results of these studies have completely changed the thinking regarding some cancers,” Callstrom says. “With patients with metastatic sarcomas, for instance, people used to think that if the drugs failed, that was that. But now we can monitor them. And every time new tumours pop up, we ablate them.”

August, 2018|OCF In The News|

HPV: The gender-neutral killer in need of prevention among men

Source: CNN
Author: Dominic Rech

In July 2014, Phil Rech, then 59, was diagnosed with tonsil cancer.

“I had got a lump in my neck. I had the tonsils out, and within the next few days, I was having radical neck dissection,” he said. “Then I had six weeks of intensive, targeted radiotherapy. The burning effect towards the end of the treatment became very painful.”

The therapy involved a radiotherapy mask, molded to the shape of his face, that went over his head as radiotherapy was beamed in, targeting the cancer.

The discovery of his cancer not only startled him, it startled everyone who knew him.
Phil is my dad, and to our family, he had always been healthy: He doesn’t smoke, he rarely drinks alcohol, and he generally stays fairly fit.

But that’s not how cancer works.

At the time of the diagnosis, Phil didn’t question how or what could have caused his cancer, as he focused on getting better.

Like many men in the UK and around the world, he wasn’t aware of a group of viruses that were a threat, human papillomavirus or HPV, which were eventually connected to his cancer.

“To discover it was linked to HPV was a massive shock,” he said. “There was a lot of speculation over what could have caused it. To discover it was that, was certainly a surprise. I didn’t really know it was a threat to me.”

A cancerous virus

HPV is a group of 150 related viruses that can be transmitted through any form of sexual contact, whether kissing or intercourse. In most cases, the human body will get rid of it naturally, but certain high-risk types can develop into things like genital warts and cancers, including cervical, anal and throat.

But there is a vaccine, and how it works is pretty simple. It’s a mimic of the virus particle; when administered into someone’s muscle, it creates many more antibodies than a natural infection would, according to John Doorbar, professor of viral pathogenesis at Cambridge University.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “almost every person who is sexually active will get HPV at some time in their life if they don’t get the HPV vaccine.”

The vaccine needs to be given before a person is exposed to HPV. Its effectiveness in terms of preventing infections is well-known — 100% in some studies — but who gets it is a question of debate around the globe, particularly in the UK.

In the UK, girls ages 12 to 13 are routinely offered the first HPV vaccination. They can get the vaccine for free via the National Health Service from ages 12 to 18. This is encouraged to help combat cervical cancer, which a recent report suggests it has done globally.

In England, between 2010 and 2016, infections with HPV 16 and 18 (two types of the virus responsible for most cervical cancer cases) fell 86% among women 16 to 21 who were eligible for the vaccine during this period, Public Health England found.

But what about men?

Until now, some experts in the UK have argued that men would ultimately be protected against the virus through “herd immunity”: As long as girls are well-protected, the male population should be shielded, too.

But according to the Royal Society of Public Health, which supports providing the vaccine to boys, uptake of the vaccine for girls is insufficiently high to ensure herd immunity in several areas of the UK. Men are still at risk of acquiring HPV from sexual contact with women from countries without a vaccination program, the society said.

In April, NHS England and Public Health England, on recommendation from the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, decided to introduce the vaccine to men 45 or younger who have sex with other men, often called MSM, after concluding that this group does not benefit from herd immunity.

Historically, heterosexual men and young boys have not been offered it through the NHS but can pay to receive it privately. Pharmacies including Boots, Lloyds and Superdrug in the UK charge about 150 pounds ($196) per dose, with people typically needing two or three doses.

But on July 18, the vaccination committee recommended extending the HPV immunization program to boys after it reviewed the evidence for vaccinating boys since 2013. A recommendation last year concluded it was still not cost-effective to vaccinate this group, but experts and campaigners appealed for the committee to look again — and their stance changed.

“It is clear that a programme to vaccinate adolescent males would provide those vaccinated with direct protection against HPV infection, and associated disease including anogenital warts, anal, penile and oropharyngeal cancers,” the statement says. The committee confirmed that evidence has strengthened on the association of HPV with non-cervical cancers, which affect men as well as women, and that vaccination is efficacious in preventing these other HPV-related cancers.

In response to the recommendation, the same day, the Scottish government announced that it would implement a vaccination program to boys as soon as it practically could, Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said. Wales also opted to roll out the vaccine to boys.

The question remaining is whether England will follow suit.

There is some disparity over the number of other countries vaccinating boys against HPV. Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society of Public Health, said 20 countries vaccinate boys, while the HPV Action partnership says that about 15 roll it out to boys as well as girls.

The vaccine has been approved for males in the United States for almost 10 years. Italy and Australia are also pioneering gender-neutral vaccination plans.

Lagging behind and increasing rates

In 2017, after being in remission for three years, Phil’s cancer surfaced again — this time, in the brain and the lungs.

“I started to feel some funny fluttery feelings in my chest,” he said. “It was only my oncologist, who revealed to me that I had six small lesions on my lungs. An MRI scan also showed three on my brain.

“That’s the nature of cancer. It’s a crafty disease,” he said.

A 2017 study found that one in nine American men is infected with the oral form of HPV. Nationwide, rates for oral HPV infections are 11.5% of men and 3.2% of women: 11 million men, compared with 3.2 million women, the researchers estimated.

Among HPV-related cancers, a type of head and neck cancer called oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma was far more likely to strike men in the US, the same study found, with its incidence surpassing cervical cancer among women. Men who have had multiple sex partners, men who reported having sex with men and men with genital HPV infections were found to have the highest rates of oral HPV.

But in the UK, the discussion around vaccinating boys has been ongoing. In less than 10 years, admissions for primary cancerous tumors of the head and neck increased by almost 10,000, according to the NHS, from 29,198 in 2008-09 to 37,417 in 2016-17.

A recent review by the nonprofit medical research group Cochrane acknowledged that HPV was not only linked to cervical cancers, it increases risk of vulval cancers, penile cancers and some head and neck cancers. But the review also said that these cancers were rarer and that ascertaining the effects of vaccination on them may require the evaluation of non-randomized, population-level evidence over many years.

Beyond the price tag

“The problem is cost-effectiveness, and that is why the government hadn’t made a decision to vaccinate boys in this country,” said Jo Morrison, co-ordinating editor for the Cochrane Gynae, Neuro and Orphan Cancer Group.

However, she added, “doctors and other informed people are looking to get their boys vaccinated.”

Giampiero Favato is one of them. “Twenty years from now, we will laugh about this discussion,” said the health economics specialist at Kingston University. “It is obvious we should vaccinate boys. HPV is a gender-neutral killer. When my son is 12, I will pay for the vaccination if necessary.”

He is skeptical of “herd immunity” and giving the vaccine only to girls: “The current models are not capable of replicating the sexual behavior and preference in the normal population. Most of the models are based on the assumption that sex is only happening between fully heterosexual couples and their partnerships.”

This of course would mean more money for the NHS, but Favato says “price is not the issue,” and the private cost of the vaccine is unlikely be anywhere near that for the NHS, which is likely to get it at a competitive rate. “In Italy, the vaccination costs about $30 to $32 per vial.”

But Helen Bedford, professor of children’s health at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, added that cost-effectiveness still needs to be taken into account and that the method of calculating this is what ultimately needs to change.

“In view of the long interval between infection with HPV and development of disease, [the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] are supportive of changing the methods for calculating cost effectiveness to consider HPV vaccine for boys,” she said. “A review of cost-effectiveness modeling is soon to be concluded, and this is one of the issues that is being considered as part of that review.”

Phil said that if he could have had the vaccine readily available when he was younger, he would have taken it.

He continues to fight his cancer today, but cases like his are increasing amid the discourse on HPV vaccination rollouts in the UK.

“I would urge all boys to be vaccinated as a matter of course,” he said. “We have long vaccinated against the likes of polio, measles, mumps and rubella. HPV is just as serious and life-threatening as any of these.”

Note from OCF: We are one of the first supporters and donors to the HPV Action Partnership that originally supported research and early perception of the concept of boys being vaccinated for herd immunization. This has been a long term endeavor and a labor of love.  Men get oral cancers more than woman do and we want to inform that the HPV Vaccine goes beyond protecting from cervical cancers; it also protects from anal, penile and oropharyngeal cancer.

 

July, 2018|OCF In The News|

Health Insurers Are Vacuuming Up Details About You — And It Could Raise Your Rates

Source: National Public Radio
Author: Marshall Allen

To an outsider, the fancy booths at a June health insurance industry gathering in San Diego, Calif., aren’t very compelling: a handful of companies pitching “lifestyle” data and salespeople touting jargony phrases like “social determinants of health.”

But dig deeper and the implications of what they’re selling might give many patients pause: a future in which everything you do — the things you buy, the food you eat, the time you spend watching TV — may help determine how much you pay for health insurance.

With little public scrutiny, the health insurance industry has joined forces with data brokers to vacuum up personal details about hundreds of millions of Americans, including, odds are, many readers of this story.

The companies are tracking your race, education level, TV habits, marital status, net worth. They’re collecting what you post on social media, whether you’re behind on your bills, what you order online. Then they feed this information into complicated computer algorithms that spit out predictions about how much your health care could cost them.

Are you a woman who recently changed your name? You could be newly married and have a pricey pregnancy pending. Or maybe you’re stressed and anxious from a recent divorce. That, too, the computer models predict, may run up your medical bills.

Are you a woman who has purchased plus-size clothing? You’re considered at risk of depression. Mental health care can be expensive.

Low-income and a minority? That means, the data brokers say, you are more likely to live in a dilapidated and dangerous neighborhood, increasing your health risks.

“We sit on oceans of data,” said Eric McCulley, director of strategic solutions for LexisNexis Risk Solutions, during a conversation at the data firm’s booth. And he isn’t apologetic about using it. “The fact is, our data is in the public domain,” he said. “We didn’t put it out there.”

Insurers contend that they use the information to spot health issues in their clients — and flag them so they get services they need. And companies like LexisNexis say the data shouldn’t be used to set prices. But as a research scientist from one company told me: “I can’t say it hasn’t happened.”

At a time when every week brings a new privacy scandal and worries abound about the misuse of personal information, patient advocates and privacy scholars say the insurance industry’s data gathering runs counter to its touted, and federally required, allegiance to patients’ medical privacy. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, only protects medical information.

“We have a health privacy machine that’s in crisis,” said Frank Pasquale, a professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law who specializes in issues related to machine learning and algorithms. “We have a law that only covers one source of health information. They are rapidly developing another source.”

Patient advocates warn that using unverified, error-prone “lifestyle” data to make medical assumptions could lead insurers to improperly price plans — for instance, raising rates based on false information — or discriminate against anyone tagged as high cost. And, they say, the use of the data raises thorny questions that should be debated publicly, such as: Should a person’s rates be raised because algorithms say they are more likely to run up medical bills? Such questions would be moot in Europe, where a strict law took effect in May that bans trading in personal data.

This year, ProPublica and NPR are investigating the various tactics the health insurance industry uses to maximize its profits. Understanding these strategies is important because patients — through taxes, cash payments and insurance premiums — are the ones funding the entire health care system. Yet the industry’s bewildering web of strategies and inside deals often has little to do with patients’ needs. As the series’ first story showed, contrary to popular belief, lower bills aren’t health insurers’ top priority.

Inside the San Diego Convention Center, there were few qualms about the way insurance companies were mining Americans’ lives for information — or what they planned to do with the data.

Linking health costs to personal data

The sprawling convention center was a balmy draw for one of America’s Health Insurance Plans’ marquee gatherings. Insurance executives and managers wandered through the exhibit hall, sampling chocolate-covered strawberries, champagne and other delectables designed to encourage deal-making.

Up front, the prime real estate belonged to the big guns in health data: The booths of Optum, IBM Watson Health and LexisNexis stretched toward the ceiling, with flat screen monitors and some comfy seating. (NPR collaborates with IBM Watson Health on national polls about consumer health topics.)

To understand the scope of what they were offering, consider Optum. The company, owned by the massive UnitedHealth Group, has collected the medical diagnoses, tests, prescriptions, costs and socioeconomic data of 150 million Americans going back to 1993, according to its marketing materials.(UnitedHealth Group provides financial support to NPR.)

The company says it uses the information to link patients’ medical outcomes and costs to details like their level of education, net worth, family structure and race. An Optum spokesman said the socioeconomic data is de-identified and is not used for pricing health plans.

Optum’s marketing materials also boast that it now has access to even more. In 2016, the company filed a patent application to gather what people share on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and to link this material to the person’s clinical and payment information. A company spokesman said in an email that the patent application never went anywhere. But the company’s current marketing materials say it combines claims and clinical information with social media interactions.

I had a lot of questions about this and first reached out to Optum in May, but the company didn’t connect me with any of its experts as promised. At the conference, Optum salespeople said they weren’t allowed to talk to me about how the company uses this information.

It isn’t hard to understand the appeal of all this data to insurers. Merging information from data brokers with people’s clinical and payment records is a no-brainer if you overlook potential patient concerns. Electronic medical records now make it easy for insurers to analyze massive amounts of information and combine it with the personal details scooped up by data brokers.

It also makes sense given the shifts in how providers are getting paid. Doctors and hospitals have typically been paid based on the quantity of care they provide. But the industry is moving toward paying them in lump sums for caring for a patient, or for an event, like a knee surgery. In those cases, the medical providers can profit more when patients stay healthy. More money at stake means more interest in the social factors that might affect a patient’s health.

Some insurance companies are already using socioeconomic data to help patients get appropriate care, such as programs to help patients with chronic diseases stay healthy. Studies show social and economic aspects of people’s lives play an important role in their health. Knowing these personal details can help them identify those who may need help paying for medication or help getting to the doctor.

But patient advocates are skeptical that health insurers have altruistic designs on people’s personal information.

The industry has a history of boosting profits by signing up healthy people and finding ways to avoid sick people — called “cherry-picking” and “lemon-dropping,” experts say.

Among the classic examples: A company was accused of putting its enrollment office on the third floor of a building without an elevator, so only healthy patients could make the trek to sign up. Another tried to appeal to spry seniors by holding square dances.

The Affordable Care Act prohibits insurers from denying people coverage based on pre-existing health conditions or charging sick people more for individual or small group plans. But experts said patients’ personal information could still be used for marketing, and to assess risks and determine the prices of certain plans. And the Trump administration is promoting short-term health plans, which do allow insurers to deny coverage to sick patients.

Robert Greenwald, faculty director of Harvard Law School’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, said insurance companies still cherry-pick, but now they’re subtler. The center analyzes health insurance plans to see if they discriminate. He said insurers will do things like failing to include enough information about which drugs a plan covers — which pushes sick people who need specific medications elsewhere. Or they may change the things a plan covers, or how much a patient has to pay for a type of care, after a patient has enrolled. Or, Greenwald added, they might exclude or limit certain types of providers from their networks – like those who have skill caring for patients with HIV or hepatitis C.

If there were concerns that personal data might be used to cherry-pick or lemon-drop, they weren’t raised at the conference.

At the IBM Watson Health booth, Kevin Ruane, a senior consulting scientist, told me that the company surveys 80,000 Americans a year to assess lifestyle, attitudes and behaviors that could relate to health care. Participants are asked whether they trust their doctor, have financial problems, go online, or own a Fitbit and similar questions. The responses of hundreds of adjacent households are analyzed together to identify social and economic factors for an area.

Ruane said he has used IBM Watson Health’s socioeconomic analysis to help insurance companies assess a potential market. The ACA increased the value of such assessments, experts say, because companies often don’t know the medical history of people seeking coverage. A region with too many sick people, or with patients who don’t take care of themselves, might not be worth the risk.

Ruane acknowledged that the information his company gathers may not be accurate for every person. “We talk to our clients and tell them to be careful about this,” he said. “Use it as a data insight. But it’s not necessarily a fact.”

In a separate conversation, a salesman from a different company joked about the potential for error. “God forbid you live on the wrong street these days,” he said. “You’re going to get lumped in with a lot of bad things.”

The LexisNexis booth was emblazoned with the slogan “Data. Insight. Action.” The company said it uses 442 nonmedical personal attributes to predict a person’s medical costs. Its cache includes more than 78 billion records from more than 10,000 public and proprietary sources, including people’s cellphone numbers, criminal records, bankruptcies, property records, neighborhood safety and more. The information is used to predict patients’ health risks and costs in eight areas, including how often they are likely to visit emergency rooms, their total cost, their pharmacy costs, their motivation to stay healthy and their stress levels.

People who downsize their homes tend to have higher health care costs, the company says. As do those whose parents didn’t finish high school. Patients who own more valuable homes are less likely to land back in the hospital within 30 days of their discharge. The company says it has validated its scores against insurance claims and clinical data. But it won’t share its methods and hasn’t published the work in peer-reviewed journals.

McCulley, LexisNexis’s director of strategic solutions, said predictions made by the algorithms about patients are based on the combination of the personal attributes. He gave a hypothetical example: A high school dropout who had a recent income loss and doesn’t have a relative nearby might have higher than expected health costs.

But couldn’t that same type of person be healthy? I asked.

“Sure,” McCulley said, with no apparent dismay at the possibility that the predictions could be wrong.

McCulley and others at LexisNexis insist the scores are only used to help patients get the care they need and not to determine how much someone would pay for their health insurance. The company cited three different federal laws that restricted them and their clients from using the scores in that way. But privacy experts said none of the laws cited by the company bar the practice. The company backed off the assertions when I pointed that the laws did not seem to apply.

LexisNexis officials also said the company’s contracts expressly prohibit using the analysis to help price insurance plans. They would not provide a contract. But I knew that in at least one instance a company was already testing whether the scores could be used as a pricing tool.

Before the conference, I’d seen a press release announcing that the largest health actuarial firm in the world, Milliman, was now using the LexisNexis scores.

I tracked down Marcos Dachary, who works in business development for Milliman. Actuaries calculate health care risks and help set the price of premiums for insurers. I asked Dachary if Milliman was using the LexisNexis scores to price health plans and he said: “There could be an opportunity.”

The scores could allow an insurance company to assess the risks posed by individual patients and make adjustments to protect themselves from losses, he said. For example, he said, the company could raise premiums, or revise contracts with providers.

It’s too early to tell whether the LexisNexis scores will actually be useful for pricing, he said. But he was excited about the possibilities. “One thing about social determinants data – it piques your mind,” he said.

Dachary acknowledged the scores could also be used to discriminate. Others, he said, have raised that concern. As much as there could be positive potential, he said, “there could also be negative potential.”

Erroneous inferences from group data

It’s that negative potential that still bothers data analyst Erin Kaufman, who left the health insurance industry in January. The 35-year-old from Atlanta had earned her doctorate in public health because she wanted to help people, but one day at Aetna, her boss told her to work with a new data set.

To her surprise, the company had obtained personal information from a data broker on millions of Americans. The data contained each person’s habits and hobbies, like whether they owned a gun, and if so, what type, she said. It included whether they had magazine subscriptions, liked to ride bikes or run marathons. It had hundreds of personal details about each person.

The Aetna data team merged the data with the information it had on patients it insured. The goal was to see how people’s personal interests and hobbies might relate to their health care costs.

But Kaufman said it felt wrong: The information about the people who knitted or crocheted made her think of her grandmother. And the details about individuals who liked camping made her think of herself. What business did the insurance company have looking at this information? “It was a data set that really dug into our clients’ lives,” she said. “No one gave anyone permission to do this.”

In a statement, Aetna said it uses consumer marketing information to supplement its claims and clinical information. The combined data helps predict the risk of repeat emergency room visits or hospital admissions. The information is used to reach out to members and help them and plays no role in pricing plans or underwriting, the statement said.

Kaufman said she had concerns about the accuracy of drawing inferences about an individual’s health from an analysis of a group of people with similar traits. Health scores generated from arrest records, home ownership and similar material may be wrong, she said.

Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit that advocates for privacy in the digital age, shares Kaufman’s concerns. She points to a study by the analytics company SAS, which worked in 2012 with an unnamed major health insurance company to predict a person’s health care costs using 1,500 data elements, including the investments and types of cars people owned.

The SAS study said higher health care costs could be predicted by looking at things like ethnicity, watching TV and mail-order purchases.

“I find that enormously offensive as a list,” Dixon said. “This is not health data. This is inferred data.”

Data scientist Cathy O’Neil said drawing conclusions about health risks on such data could lead to a bias against some poor people. It would be easy to infer they are prone to costly illnesses based on their backgrounds and living conditions, said O’Neil, author of the book Weapons of Math Destruction, which looked at how algorithms can increase inequality. That could lead to poor people being charged more, making it harder for them to get the care they need, she said. Employers, she said, could even decide not to hire people with data points that could indicate high medical costs in the future.

O’Neil said the companies should also measure how the scores might discriminate against the poor, sick or minorities.

American policymakers could do more to protect people’s information, experts said. In the United States, companies can harvest personal data unless a specific law bans it, although California just passed legislation that could create restrictions, said William McGeveran, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. Europe, in contrast, passed a strict law called the General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect in May.

“In Europe, data protection is a constitutional right,” McGeveran said.

Pasquale, the University of Maryland law professor, said health scores should be treated like credit scores. Federal law gives people the right to know their credit scores and how they’re calculated. If people are going to be rated by whether they listen to sad songs on Spotify or look up information about AIDS online, they should know, Pasquale said. “The risk of improper use is extremely high,” he said. “And data scores are not properly vetted and validated and available for scrutiny.”

A creepy walk down memory lane

As I reported this story I wondered how the data vendors might be using my personal information to score my potential health costs. So, I filled out a request on the LexisNexis website for the company to send me some of the personal information it has on me. A week later a somewhat creepy, 182-page walk down memory lane arrived in the mail. Federal law only requires the company to provide a subset of the information it collected about me. So that’s all I got.

LexisNexis had captured details about my life going back 25 years, many that I’d forgotten. It had my phone numbers going back decades and my home addresses going back to my childhood in Golden, Colo. Each location had a field to show whether the address was “high risk.” Mine were all blank. The company also collects records of any liens and criminal activity, which, thankfully, I didn’t have.

My report was boring, which isn’t a surprise. I’ve lived a middle-class life and grown up in good neighborhoods. But it made me wonder: What if I had lived in “high-risk” neighborhoods? Could that ever be used by insurers to jack up my rates — or to avoid me altogether?

I wanted to see more. If LexisNexis had health risk scores on me, I wanted to see how they were calculated and, more importantly, whether they were accurate. But the company told me that if it had calculated my scores it would have done so on behalf of their client, my insurance company. So, I couldn’t have them.

July, 2018|OCF In The News|

Cancer: Can testosterone improve patients’ quality of life?

Source: Medical News Today
Author: Maria Cohut

Cachexia is a condition characterized by loss of body mass — including muscular atrophy — that is usually accompanied by severe weakness and fatigue. Many people who go through cancer experience this.

Studies have noted that “[a]pproximately half of all patients with cancer experience cachexia,” severely impairing their quality of life.

It appears to be “responsible for the death of 22 [percent] of cancer patients.”

What exactly causes this condition — which appears in some patients but not in others — remains unclear, and options to manage and address it are scarce.

But recently, researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston — led by Dr. Melinda Sheffield-Moore, from the Department of Health and Kinesiology — have been investigating the potential of administering testosterone in addition to chemotherapy in order to ameliorate the impact of cachexia.

“We hoped to demonstrate these [cancer] patients [who received testosterone treatment] would go from not feeling well enough to even get out of bed to at least being able to have some basic quality of life that allows them to take care of themselves and receive therapy.”

Dr. Melinda Sheffield-Moore

The researchers’ findings — now published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle — confirm that administering testosterone to individuals experiencing cachexia can, in fact, improve their quality of life to some extent, by restoring some independence of movement.

Adjuvant testosterone shows promise

The most widely used approach to manage cachexia is special nutrition treatments, but these often fail to prevent or redress the loss of body mass.

So, Dr. Sheffield-Moore and team decided to investigate the potential of testosterone based on existing knowledge that this hormone can help build up muscle mass.

“We already know that testosterone builds skeletal muscle in healthy individuals,” she says, “so we tried using it in a population at a high risk of muscle loss, so these patients could maintain their strength and performance status to be able to receive standard cancer therapies.”

In order to test this theory, the scientists worked — for 5 years — with volunteers who had been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, which is a type of skin cancer.

The patients received chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or both, in order to treat the cancer. For 7 weeks during their treatment, some also received a placebo (the control cohort), while others received testosterone.

Dr. Sheffield-Moore and colleagues noticed that the participants who had been given extra testosterone had maintained total body mass and actually increased lean body mass (body mass minus body fat) by 3.2 percent.

“Patients randomized to the group receiving testosterone as an adjuvant to their standard of care chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment also demonstrated enhanced physical activity,” she continues.

“They felt well enough to get up and take care of some of their basic activities of daily living, like cooking, cleaning, and bathing themselves,” says Dr. Sheffield-Moore.

This effect could make a world of difference to people with cancer, as it allows them to maintain more autonomy.

At present, she and her team are looking to describe cancer patients’ muscle proteomes — the totality of proteins found in skeletal muscles — so as to understand how cancer in general, and specifically cachexia, affects their composition.

According to Dr. Sheffield-Moore, “What the proteome tells us is which particular proteins in the skeletal muscles were either positively or negatively affected by testosterone or by cancer, respectively.”

“It allows us to begin to dig into the potential mechanisms behind cancer cachexia,” she claims.

The scientists’ ultimate goal is to be able to support individuals likely to experience cachexia in continuing to support standard cancer treatment, and maintaining, as much as possible, their quality of life.

July, 2018|OCF In The News|

Smoking hits new low; about 14 percent of US adults light up

Source: https://flipboard.com
Author: Mike Strobbe, AP Medical Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Smoking in the U.S. has hit another all-time low.

About 14 percent of U.S adults were smokers last year, down from about 16 percent the year before, government figures show.

There hadn’t been much change the previous two years, but it’s been clear there’s been a general decline and the new figures show it’s continuing, said K. Michael Cummings of the tobacco research program at Medical University of South Carolina.

“Everything is pointed in the right direction,” including falling cigarette sales and other indicators, Cummings said.

The new figures released Tuesday mean there are still more than 30 million adult smokers in the U.S., he added.

Teens are also shunning cigarettes. Survey results out last week showed smoking among high school students was down to 9 percent, also a new low.

In the early 1960s, roughly 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked. It was common nearly everywhere — in office buildings, restaurants, airplanes and even hospitals. The decline has coincided with a greater understanding that smoking is a cause of cancer, heart disease and other health problems.

Anti-smoking campaigns, cigarette taxes and smoking bans are combining to bring down adult smoking rates, experts say.

The launch of electronic cigarettes and their growing popularity has also likely played a role. E-cigarettes heat liquid nicotine into a vapor without the harmful by-products generated from burning tobacco. That makes them a potentially useful tool to help smokers quit, but some public health experts worry it also creates a new way for people to get addicted to nicotine.

There was no new information for adult use of e-cigarettes and vaping products, but 2016 figures put that at 3 percent of adults.

Vaping is more common among teens than adults. About 13 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes or other vaping devices.

The findings on adult smokers come from a national health survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 27,000 adults were interviewed last year.

June, 2018|Oral Cancer News|

Nivolumab Plus Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy Fails To Improve Outcomes in Head and Neck Cancer

Source: https://www.cancertherapyadvisor.com

 

CHICAGO—Although the addition of stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) to nivolumab did not increase toxicity, it did not lead to any improvement in response rates or survival outcomes among patients with metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), according to an oral presentation at the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2018 Annual Meeting on Friday, June 1.

Researchers sought to determine whether or not SBRT to a single lesion plus nivolumab would improve abscopal responses (tumor regression in non-irradiated lesions) and other outcomes among this patient population.

In this phase 2 interventional study (ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02684253), researchers randomly assigned 53 patients with metastatic HNSCC to receive nivolumab alone every 2 weeks or with SBRT between the first and second doses of nivolumab. The 2 study arms did not have any significant differences in terms of age, EBV/HPV viral status, primary site, or median lines of previous chemotherapy. The median follow-up was 12.8 months.

Results showed that the overall response rate (ORR) was 26.9% (95% CI, 13.7-46.1) compared with 22.2% (95% CI, 10.6-40.8) in the nivolumab alone arm and nivolumab plus SBRT arm, respectively (P = .94). Patients receiving nivolumab alone did not have an evaluable median duration of response (DOR) compared with 9.3 months (95% CI, 55.2-not reached [NR]) among patients in the SBRT arm.

The 1-year overall survival rate was 64% (95% CI, 47-88) in the nivolumab alone arm compared with 53% (95% CI, 36-79) in the nivolumab plus SBRT arm (P = .79); median progression-free survival (PFS) was 1.9 months (95% CI, 1.78-NR) compared with 2.4 months (95% CI; 1.0-11.4) with nivolumab plus SBRT (P = .8).

Treatment-related grade 3 and worse adverse effects were reported in 15% of patients who received nivolumab alone and in 11% of patients who received SBRT plus nivolumab (P = .96).

The authors concluded that “While safe, the addition of SBRT to nivolumab in M1 HNSCC failed to improve ORR, PFS, or OS. This is the first randomized evaluation of the abscopal response in any tumor histology.”

June, 2018|Oral Cancer News|

History of the Anti-Vaccine Movement – When Did the Anti-Vaccine Movement Really Start?

February 8th, 2018
By: Vincent Iannelli, MD
Source: https://www.verywellfamily.com

It is likely a surprise to many people that there has always been an anti-vaccine movement. It isn’t something new that was created by Jenny McCarthy and Bob Sears.

18th Century Anti-Vaccine Movement

In fact, the anti-vaccine movement essentially predates the first vaccine.

Edward Jenner’s first experiments with a smallpox vaccine began in 1796.

Even before that, variolation as a technique to prevent smallpox was practiced for centuries in many parts of the world, including Africa, China, India, and the Ottoman Empire.

In fact, Onesimus, his African slave, taught Cotton Mather about the technique in 1706.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu introduced inoculation to England, having learned about the practice in Turkey. As she encouraged others to inoculate and protect their children against smallpox, including the Royal Family, there was much debate. It is said that “Pro-inoculators tended to write in the cool and factual tones encouraged by the Royal Society, with frequent appeals to reason, the modern progress of science and the courtesy subsisting among gentlemen. Anti-inoculators purposely wrote like demagogues, using heated tones and lurid scare stories to promote paranoia.”

Were those the first vaccine debates?

19th Century Anti-Vaccine Movement

Eventually, Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccine replaced variolation.

Even though this was much safer than the previous practice and smallpox was still a big killer, there were still those who objected.

Much of the resistance may have come because getting the smallpox vaccine in the UK in the 19th century was compulsory—you had to vaccinate your children or you would be fined, and the fines were cumulative.

The Anti-Vaccination League was created shortly after the passage of the Vaccination Act of 1853.

Another group, the Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League, was founded after the passage of the Vaccination Act of 1867, which raised the age requirements for getting the smallpox vaccine from 3 months to 14 years old.

There were anti-vaccination leagues in the United States, too.

That they actually called them “anti-vaccine” is one of the only big differences between these groups and the modern anti-vaccine movement.

Anti-vaccine groups in the 19th Century typically:

  • said that vaccines would make you sick
  • blamed medical despotism, “a hard, materialistic, infidel thing” for creating the vaccination acts
  • warned about poisonous chemicals in vaccines, namely carbolic acid in the smallpox vaccine
  • said that Jenner’s smallpox vaccine didn’t work
  • pushed alternative medical practices, including herbalists, homeopaths, and hydropaths, etc.
  • used their own literature to scare people away from vaccines

They even had some celebrities join the anti-vaccine movement, including George Barnard Shaw, who also believed in homeopathy and eugenics.

20th Century Anti-Vaccine Movement

Anti-vaccine groups didn’t change much in the 19th and early 20th Century.

That’s perhaps not too surprising, as after Jenner’s smallpox vaccine, it would be almost 100 years before another vaccine was developed—Louis Pasteur’s vaccine against rabies in 1885.

And it was more than 50 years before the American Academy of Pediatricsformally approved the use of a pertussis vaccine (1943).

Over the next few decades, the other vital vaccines that we know today were developed, including the DPT vaccine, polio vaccines, and MMR, etc.

Of course, the anti-vaccine movement was alive and well during this time, using all of the same tactics.

In 1973, John Wilson and M. Kulenkampff reported on 50 children seen over 11 years at the Hospital for Sick Children in London. He reported on a clustering of neurological complications in the first 24 hours of the kids getting their DPT shot, even though his team didn’t actually see the children for months or years later.

In 1974, they reported the findings of 36 of these children in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood.

As with a later report by Wakefield, media coverage of this small study led to fear of vaccines and lower immunization rates. John Wilson even appeared on “This Week,” a prime-time TV show in the UK. The consequences were not unexpected. In addition to a large outbreak in England, with at least 100,000 cases and 36 deaths, there were pertussis outbreaks and deaths in Japan, Sweden, and Wales after this study. Pertussis deaths in the UK were likely underreported, though, and some experts think that the actual number of childhood deaths was closer to 600.

While many people think that Lea Thompson’s “DPT: Vaccine Roulette” in 1982 helped create the modern anti-vaccine movement, it should be clear that others had a hand.

This was also the time that Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, a self-proclaimed “medical heretic” and one of the first anti-vaccine pediatricians, became infamous for writing “The Medical Time Bomb of Immunization Against Disease” and making the rounds on the talk shows of the day. Mendelsohn also was against adding fluoride to water and “coronary bypass surgery, licensing of nutritionists, and screening examinations to detect breast cancer.”

Lea Thompson’s show did prompt Barbara Loe Fisher and a few other parents to form the group Dissatisfied Parents Together (DPT). And from there we got her book, “A Shot in the Dark,” that had such a great influence on Dr. Bob Sears, and the eventual formation of the National Vaccine Information Center.

And since excerpts of “DPT: Vaccine Roulette” even ran nationally on the Today Show, it likely influenced a lot more people.

Next came accusations that the DPT vaccine caused SIDS. And that the hepatitis B vaccine causes SIDS. Barbara Loe Fisher was in the middle of many of these accusations, even testifying before Congress.

And while she was certainly not the first anti-vaccine celebrity, this was the time (1990) when Lisa Bonet of The Cosby Show fame went on The Donahue Show and said that vaccines could “introduce alien microorganisms into our children’s blood and the long-term effects which could be trivial or they could be quite hazardous – and they could just be allergies or asthma or sleep disorders or they could be cancer, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, sudden infant death syndrome. It’s very scary and it’s very serious, and I think because I felt wrong doing it…that’s why I didn’t do it. You know we have to think twice. You know why are our kids getting these diseases?”

A few years later, in 1994, the first deaf Miss America was crowned, with her mother blaming the DPT vaccine for her child’s deafness. Like many other vaccine-injury stories, Heather Whitestone’s story wasn’t what it seemed. Her pediatrician quickly came forward and set the record straight—she was deaf because of a life-threatening case of Hib meningitis and the subsequent treatment with an ototoxic antibiotic. It took several days for the media to run the corrected story, though.

Born in 1973, it would be another 15 years before the first Hib vaccine was approved and began to be routinely given to children. The DPT vaccine, which has never been shown to cause hearing problems, had nothing to do with Heather Whitestone’s deafness. It certainly didn’t stop anti-vaccine groups from using her initial story and the media coverage to scare parents about vaccines, though.

This is about the same time that Katie Couric did a segment on the NBC News show Now with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric about DPT “hot lots.”

But of course, things didn’t really get moving in the modern anti-vaccine movement until the 1998 press conference for Andrew Wakefield’s study, when he said that “that is my feeling, that the risk of this particular syndrome developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines.”

ABC’s 20/20 even got in on the anti-vaccine misinformation, raising “serious new questions about a vaccine most children are forced to get” in their 1999 episode “Who’s Calling the Shots?”

The media didn’t take as big an interest in the fact that:

  • a series of lawsuits in England which were brought against the manufacturers of the DPT vaccines claiming they caused children to develop seizures and brain damage all found that the DPT vaccines did not cause vaccine injuries
  • a 1991 IOM report which concluded that the evidence doesn’t indicate a causal relationship between DPT and SIDS and there was insufficient evidence to suggest a causal relationship between DPT and chronic neurological damage and many other disorders
  • many cases of alleged vaccine encephalopathy secondary to the DPT vaccine were in fact caused by Dravet syndrome

It should even be considered “media malpractice” that they didn’t correct all of the misinformation in the Vaccine Roulette piece.

21st Century Anti-Vaccine Movement

The anti-vaccine groups in the 21st Century aren’t that much different from their 19th Century counterparts. They still:

  • say that vaccines will make you sick
  • blame Big Pharma
  • warn about poisonous chemicals and toxins in vaccines, although they continue to shift which chemicals they worry about, moving from thimerosal to formaldehyde and aluminum, etc.
  • say that Jenner’s smallpox vaccine didn’t work and neither do any of the other ones
  • push alternative medical practices, including herbalists, homeopaths, chiropractic, naturopaths, and other holistic providers
  • use their own literature to scare people away from vaccines

One difference is that instead of a few people writing pamphlets with their anti-vaccine ideas, like they did in Boston in 1721, now anyone can reach a lot more people by starting their own website or blog, posting in message boards, writing a book, or getting on TV, etc.

Another is that even more than the late 20th Century, we saw a great rise in the media scaring parents about vaccines in the last 10 or 15 years, including:

  • Jenny McCarthy on Larry King Live
  • Holly Pete on Larry King Live
  • Jenny McCarthy on Oprah in 2007
  • Jenny McCarthy in Time magazine in 2009
  • Matt Lauer interviewing Andrew Wakefield on Dateline in 2009
  • Katie Couric and HPV in 2013
  • Barbara Loe Fisher discussing “Forced Vaccinations” on Lou Dobbs in 2009
  • Matt Lauer and his hour-long Dateline episode, A Dose of Controversy, with Andrew Wakefield himself
  • Robert DeNiro on the Today Show in 2016

This is also the time when we saw the rise of the celebrity anti-vaccine spokesperson and the pandering pediatricians.

And we should have seen them coming. We were less than a week into the year 2000 when Cindy Crawford appeared on Good Morning America with her celebrity pediatrician, Dr. Jay Gordon.

But what’s really different today? Although the great majority of people still vaccinate their kids, clusters of intentionally unvaccinated children are certainly on the rise. And it is these clusters of unvaccinated kids and adults that are leading to a rise in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases that are getting harder to control.

One thing that may be different now is that more people have grasped on to the Natural is the new Medicine movement. From amber necklaces and essential oils to sports magnets and homeopathic “medicines” on pharmacy shelves, these things go hand in hand with the modern anti-vaccine movement.

In addition to pandering pediatricians who push non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedules, we now have more and more chiropractors, naturopaths, holistic pediatricians, and integrative pediatricians who might advise a parent to skip vaccines altogether. And with Dr. Oz on TV pushing a lot of these types of holistic remedies on TV every day, it probably does seem like an OK thing to do.

Big natural remedy websites that also push everything from organic food to medical conspiracy theories also provide a lot of fodder for anti-vaccine folks. Many others push fear about chemicals, so it isn’t surprising that it would be easy to scare parents about vaccines.

But still, it is important to keep in mind that these things have not become mainstream, it is just that the anti-vaccine movement has become a big business. From selling vitamins, supplements, e-books, e-courses, and holistic treatments to pushing for new laws ensuring that kids can stay intentionally unvaccinated and unprotected, they are the very vocal minority.

Of course, that doesn’t make them right.

Get Educated. Get Vaccinated. Stop the Outbreaks.

May, 2018|Oral Cancer News|

When Is Insurance Not Really Insurance? When You Need Pricey Dental Care.

May 21, 2018
By: David Tuller
Source: https://khn.org

I’m 61 years old and a San Francisco homeowner with an academic position at the University of California-Berkeley, which provides me with comprehensive health insurance. Yet, to afford the more than $50,000 in out-of-pocket expenses required for the restorative dental work I’ve needed in the past 20 years, I’ve had to rely on handouts — from my mom.

This was how I learned all about the Great Divide between medicine and dentistry — especially in how treatment is paid for, or mostly not paid for, by insurers. Many Americans with serious dental illness find out the same way: sticker shock.

For millions of Americans — blessed in some measure with good genes and good luck — dental insurance works pretty well, and they don’t think much about it. But people like me learn the hard way that dental insurance isn’t insurance at all — not in the sense of providing significant protection against unexpected or unaffordable costs. My dental coverage from UC-Berkeley, where I have been on the public health and journalism faculties, tops out at $1,500 a year — and that’s considered a decent plan.

Dental policies are more like prepayment plans for a basic level of care. They generally provide full coverage for routine preventive services and charge a small copay for fillings. But coverage is reduced as treatment intensifies. Major work like a crown or a bridge is often covered only at 50 percent; implants generally aren’t covered at all.

In many other countries, medical and dental care likewise are segregated systems. The difference is that prices for major procedures in the U.S. are so high they can be out of reach even for middle-class patients. Some people resort to so-called dental tourism, seeking care in countries like Mexico and Spain. Others obtain reduced-cost care in the U.S. from dental schools or line up for free care at occasional pop-up clinics.

Underlying this “insurance” system in the U.S. is a broader, unstated premise that dental treatment is somehow optional, even a luxury. From a coverage standpoint, it’s as though the mouth is walled off from the rest of the body.

My humbling situation is not about failing to brush or floss, not about cosmetics. My two lower front teeth collapsed just before my 40th birthday. It turned out that, despite regular dental care, I had developed an advanced case of periodontitis — a chronic inflammatory condition in which pockets of bacteria become infected and gradually destroy gum and bone tissue. Almost half of Americans 30 and older suffer from mild to severe forms of it.

My diagnosis was followed by extractions, titanium implants in my jaw, installation of porcelain teeth on the implants, bone grafts, a series of gum surgeries — and that was just the beginning. I’ve since had five more implants, more gum and bone grafts and many, many new crowns installed.

At least I’ve been able to get care. The situation is much worse for people with lower incomes and no family support. Although Medicaid, the state-federal insurer for poor and disabled people, covers children’s dental services, states decide themselves on whether to offer benefits for adults. And many dentists won’t accept patients on Medicaid, child or adult, because they consider the reimbursement rates too low.

The program typically pays as little as half of what they get from patients with private insurance. For example, as Kaiser Health News reported in 2016, Medicaid in Colorado pays $87 for a filling on a back tooth and $435 for a crown, compared with the $150 and $800 that private patients typically pay.

“It’s really a labor of love to do it,” said Dana Lubet, a recently retired dentist in Madison, Wis., who estimated Medicaid paid only a third of his costs. Accepting too many, he said, “could easily kill your practice.”

A few years ago, while in his mid-50s, Nick DiGeronimo, a facility maintenance worker at a New Jersey sports center, obtained private insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, hoping to get treatment for progressive tooth decay.

He needed two implants but, to his dismay, the plan did not cover them. To pay the $10,500 bill, he had to take out loans. “Dental insurance is basically useless,” said DiGeronimo. “It’s a sham, a waste of money, and another case of the haves versus the have-nots.”

As for older Americans, many lose employer-based dental coverage when they retire even as they suffer from increasing dental problems. Among those 65 and older, 70 percent have some form of periodontal disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet basic Medicare plans do not include dental coverage, although options exist for seniors to purchase it.

Overall, in 2015, almost 35 percent of American adults of working age did not have dental insurance. By contrast, only about 12 percent of American adults under 65 did not have medical insurance in 2016. That lack of coverage and treatment can diminish economic and social opportunities — for instance, it can be costly at work or in a job interview not to smile because of unsightly or missing teeth.

Eventually, poor prevention and treatment can become a medical problem — leading to serious, and occasionally deadly, health consequences. In an infamous 2007 case — described by Mary Otto in her book “Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality and the Struggle for Oral Health in America” — Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old boy in Maryland, died after a tooth infection spread to his brain. The family’s Medicaid coverage had lapsed.

Research has demonstrated links between periodontal infections and chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Studies have found associations between periodontitis and adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as premature labor and low birth weight. Tooth problems also hinder chewing and eating, affecting nutritional status.

The split between the medical and dental professions, however, has deep roots in history and tradition. For centuries, extracting teeth fell to tradesfolk like barbers and blacksmiths — doctors didn’t concern themselves with such bloody surgeries.

In the U.S., the long-standing rift between doctors and dentists was institutionalized in 1840, when the University of Maryland refused to add training in dentistry and oral surgery to its medical school curriculum — leading to the creation of the world’s first dental school.

Dentists have in some ways benefited from the separation — largely escaping the corporate consolidation of American medicine, with many making good livings in smaller practices. Patients often willingly pay out-of-pocket, at least to a point.

Some people deliberately forgo dental coverage, considering it less urgent than having insurance against medical catastrophes. “You might not get a job as hostess at the restaurant, but by the same token people that have a lot of missing teeth live to tell the tales,” Lubet said.

With fluoridation and advances in treatment, many Americans have come to take the health of their teeth for granted and shifted their attention to more cosmetic concerns. And the dental field has profited from the business.

In my experience, which includes extensive travel in other countries, Americans often seem disoriented or even horrified when confronted with imperfect dentition. During my period of intense dental care here, I hated wearing temporaries and often braved the public with missing front teeth. I found myself routinely reassuring people that, yes, I knew about the gap, and yes, I was having it dealt with.

Meanwhile, the bold line between what is covered or what is not often strikes patients as nonsensical.

Last fall, Lewis Nightingale, 68, a retired art director in San Francisco, needed surgery to deal with a benign tumor in the bone near his upper right teeth. The oral surgeon and the ear, nose and throat doctor consulted and agreed the former was best suited to handle the operation, although either one was qualified to do it.

Nightingale’s Medicare plan would have covered a procedure performed by the ear, nose and throat doctor, he said. But it did not cover the surgery in this case because it was done by an oral surgeon — a dental specialist. Nightingale had no dental insurance, so he was stuck with the $3,000 bill.

If only his tumor had placed itself just a few inches away, he thought.

“I said, what if I had nose cancer, or throat cancer?” Nightingale said. “To separate out dental problems from anything else seems arbitrary. I have great medical insurance, so why isn’t my medical insurance covering it?”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

May, 2018|Oral Cancer News|