oral cancer

Penn-led study raises hopes for vaccine to treat head and neck cancer

Date: 09/21/18
Source: The Inquire, philly.com
Author: Marie McCullough

The patient’s head and neck cancer came roaring back, spreading to his lymph nodes and skin, which developed bleeding tumors. Yet despite a grim prognosis, that man is alive and cancer-free more than two years later.

In a study led by the University of Pennsylvania and published Friday, researchers hypothesize that his remarkable remission is due to a promising combination: an experimental cancer vaccine that activated his disease-fighting T cells, plus Opdivo, one of the revolutionary “checkpoint inhibitor” drugs that cut a brake on the immune system.

“Of course, I’m biased,” said Charu Aggarwal, the Penn oncologist who led the study. “In my career, I haven’t seen a vaccine as impactful as this.”

However, the remission may have been due to Opdivo alone; the study lacks data to rule out that possibility.

Robert Ferris, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Hillman Cancer Center and head of the pivotal study leading to approval of Opdivo, called the Penn-led study “an important intermediate step exploring a strategy that we hope will work.”

Conventional vaccines prevent diseases by priming the immune system to recognize the distinctive “antigens” on invading microbes. Therapeutic cancer vaccines, like the one in this study, are intended to work after cancer develops by provoking a heightened immune response.

Despite decades of research, this approach remains experimental. The only approved product, the prostate cancer vaccine Provenge, was barely effective; the maker filed for bankruptcy in 2015.

A major obstacle to treatment vaccines is the fact that cancer arises from the body’s own cells. Although cancer cells produce antigens as they mutate, using these telltale proteins as targets for the immune system has proved to be very difficult.

Even so, at least four pharmaceutical groups are developing therapeutic vaccines that target human papillomavirus, HPV, the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer, head and neck cancer, and some rare genital cancers.

These diseases can be warded off with the preventive HPV vaccine that is recommended for all adolescents, but it didn’t exist until 12 years ago. Much to the dismay of public health authorities, vaccination rates remain low. And while screening can detect and treat cervical precancers, there are no early detection methods for head and neck cancers; experts call the surging incidence of these malignancies an “epidemic.”

The vaccine in the new study, called MEDI0457, was originally developed by Inovio with technology pioneered at Penn. In 2015, MedImmune, which is part of AstraZeneca, acquired exclusive rights to the drug.

MEDI0457 contains a DNA ring called a plasmid that programs the patient’s cells to produce two HPV antigens. The vaccine is injected into the patient’s muscle and enters cells with the help of a small electrical pulse applied to the skin. When the cells make the antigens, this triggers the immune system to activate disease-fighting white blood cells, so-called “killer” T cells.

For the study, published Friday in Clinical Cancer Research, 22 patients with head and neck cancer received conventional treatment — either surgery or chemotherapy and radiation — that eliminated all signs of cancer. This was supplemented by four doses of the experimental vaccine, which caused no serious side effects.

Eighteen patients, or 80 percent, showed elevated T cell activity that lasted at least three months after the final vaccine dose. While that is an encouraging sign, the study was too preliminary to detect clinical effectiveness such as tumor shrinkage or improved survival.

In the one patient who relapsed, cancer recurred seven months after vaccine treatment and spread to his lymph nodes and skin. He was given Opdivo and, eight weeks later, the cancer was gone.

Aggarwal and her co-authors note that such remarkable remissions do occasionally occur with checkpoint inhibitors. But they speculate that the vaccine revved up the patient’s T cells, then Opdivo removed the immune brake, enabling the T cells to attack the cancer.

“The response suggests the vaccine may in some manner prime the immune system, potentially boosting the effects of subsequent [checkpoint inhibitor] therapy,” Aggarwal said.

Rajarsi Mandal, director of the head and neck cancer immunotherapy research program at Johns Hopkins University, took a more conservative view: “They demonstrated vaccine specific T cell proliferation very nicely. But there is not a lot of data to suggest the vaccine is inducing any clinical response in these patients. Overall, it’s very interesting, but future studies are needed to demonstrate definitive clinical responses to the vaccine.”

Still, the combination approach is sufficiently promising that MedImmune is now funding a Penn-led clinical trial of MEDI0457 and MedImmune’s own experimental checkpoint inhibitor.

Ferris, meanwhile, said he is part of a trial of a competing experimental vaccine for HPV-related cancers, plus the approved checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda.

“The preventive HPV vaccine works really well,” he said. “But if you’re too old to get it, there is hope that you can stimulate the immune system to fight the cancer. This [new study] suggests the next logical step.”

September, 2018|Oral Cancer News|

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|

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|

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|

The Sate of Liquid Biopsy

Author:Pam Harrison
Date: March 5, 2018
Source: Medscape.com

So called “liquid biopsies” — which can detect circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in blood samples — are not yet ready for prime time in the diagnosis or management of early-stage or advanced solid tumors, a new expert review concludes.

These assays are also not useful, outside of clinical trials, for monitoring patients for minimal residual disease following definitive treatment of cancer, nor for cancer screening, the expert review concludes.

The review was prepared jointly by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the College of American Pathologists (CAP) and was published online March 5 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“This is an area of great interest to both pathologists and oncologists, [and] it’s also an area where we see a lot of commercial advertisement and a lot of enthusiasm from the public,” Jason Merker, MD, PhD, cochair of the expert panel, who was representing the CAP, said in a statement.

“We thought it was a good time to look at the literature and take an evidence-based approach to various uses for ctDNA assays,” he added.

“Like all new things in medicine, the use of ctDNA assays in routine cancer care requires evidence of clinical utility. At present, there is insufficient evidence of clinical validity and utility for the majority of ctDNA assays in advanced cancer, including those that interrogate a panel of genes,” said Daniel F. Hayes, MD, coauthor of the review, who was representing ASCO.

“What is promising is that this area of research is rapidly evolving, so there should be enough evidence soon to formulate evidence-based guidance for a variety of clinical scenarios,” Hayes suggested.

Review Based on Literature Review

For the review, panel members identified 77 relevant articles in the literature. They limited their analysis to variants in ctDNA for solid tumors and to sequence or copy number variants in DNA.

 

They assessed overall evidence of the ability of a test to reliably detect the variant or variants of interest (analytic validity); whether a test accurately detects the presence or absence of a pathologic state or predicts outcomes for patients (clinical validity); and whether the use of the test improves patient outcomes compared with not using it (clinical utility).

The authors focused largely on the use of ctDNA assays in the setting of metastatic cancer, because that is the area for which there is most evidence. Much less research supports the use of liquid biopsy in other settings.

Advanced Cancer

“Fundamentally, there are two paradigms to demonstrate clinical utility and the adoption of ctDNA as a clinically useful test,” the panel members write.

The most reliable strategy is to conduct a prospective clinical trial designed to evaluate how well the test performs as a stand-alone diagnostic test. However, no such trial has yet been carried out, they write.

The second approach is to assess whether the ctDNA test in question delivers the same information that physicians would seek through tissue genomic evaluation.

“[D]emonstrating that a ctDNA assay has high agreement with tumor tissue genotyping may provide sufficient evidence of utility for ctDNA assays in driving patient treatment decisions,” the panel members explain.

They go on to document how far short ctDNA assays fall with respect to meeting this high level of agreement.

First, only one polymerase chain reactin–based ctDNA test has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency. That test is the COBAS assay for the detection of EGFR genetic variants in non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Another assay is available in Europe for the detection of the KRAS mutation in colorectal cancer (CRC).

“These assays have demonstrated clinical validity but the clinical utility in this setting is based on retrospective analyses,” the panel members point out.

Even in light of these approvals, the panel members note that physicians should continue to rely on tissue sample analysis if nothing is detected on ctDNA testing.

They also point out that ctDNA levels may drop while a tumor is still responding to treatment, and as a result, the sensitivity of the test may be compromised.

As for tumor types other than NSCLC and CRC, there is limited evidence to support the clinical validity of ctDNA analysis, the panel members conclude.

The clinical utility of assays developed for the detection of other potentially targetable variants, such as BRAF in melanoma, is not yet established, they add.

Further confounding the diagnostic potential of ctDNA testing is the fact that advanced cancers may be “genetically heterogeneous.”

Although ctDNA tests may be able to pick up subclonal variants in cancer, these variants may not predict how well patients will respond to treatments that theoretically target the variant.

“[S]ubclonality may undermine the clinical utility of ctDNA assays,” the panel members state.

 

Monitoring Response to Therapy

Ideally, liquid biopsies could help physicians monitor patients’ response to treatment, as some tumor-associated proteins now enable them to do.

This, too, remains a challenge, because quantifying changes in ctDNA over time is not as simple as determining whether or not a variant is present. Nor has the best unit by which to measure DNA burden been established.

“Correlations between changes in ctDNA levels and tumor responses or outcomes have been demonstrated in small proof-of-principle studies in a variety of cancer types,” the panel members acknowledge.

“However, currently there is a lack of rigorous evidence on clinical validity, let alone clinical utility, because few large, prospective validation studies have been performed on ctDNA-based monitoring,” they conclude.

 

Use to Monitor Residual Disease

Researchers expressed hope that after curative treatment of a solid tumor, ctDNA assays could be used to monitor patients for minimal residual disease, much as is done in hematogic malignancies using assays to detect leukemic cells in blood following completion of chemotherapy.

However, there is not enough evidence to support the ability of ctDNA tests to detect low levels of minimal residual disease in a manner similar to assays used in the management of diseases such as leukemia, the panel members conclude.

Moreover, “[t]he false-negative rate of ctDNA analysis in…patients who relapse without ctDNA being detected and the false-positive rate [in] patients who do not relapse despite the ctDNA assay being positive have not been established sufficiently for any assay,” they caution.

There is also no evidence that treatment based on detection of ctDNA improves patient outcomes, a major metric of clinical validity.

Screening for Cancer

In an ideal world, ctDNA tests could be used in the early detection of cancer in patients who have no signs of disease.

However, the feasibility of using ctDNA tests to screen asymptomatic individuals has not been demonstrated.

“[D]iagnosing the presence of cancer in a patient without cancer, and determining tissue of origin, have not been established,” the authors point out.

There is also a risk that such tests might be positive for cancers in cases in which none exists and thus lead to overdiagnosis. Currently, overdiagnosis is a major problem with, for example, mammography in breast cancer and prostate-specific antigen screening for prostate cancer, the panel members observe.

Dr Merker has served as a consultant to or in an advisory role for Bio-Rad Laboratories, Rainbow Genomics, and Genoux and has received patents or royalties or has other intellectual property in the measurement and monitoring of cell clonality. Dr Hayes owns stock or has other ownership interests in OncImmune and InBiomotion and has served as a consultant or as an advisor to Cepheid. He has also received research funding, mostly for his institution, from AstraZeneca, Puma Biotechnology, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, Parexel, and Menarini Silicon Biosystems (aka Veridex/Johnson & Johnson). He also holds a number of patents and receives royalties for some of them.

 

 

March, 2018|Oral Cancer News|

Immunotherapy: beyond melanoma and lung cancer treatment

Author: David Crow
Source: www.ft.com
Date: March 4, 2018
In the late 1800s, William Coley, a surgeon in New York, developed what scientists now think was the first cancer immunotherapy.

Coley noticed one of his patients, Fred Stein, had started recovering from cancer after catching a serious infection. The observation made him wonder whether the bacteria had somehow stimulated the patient’s immune system and recruited the body’s natural “resisting powers” in the fight against Mr. Stein’s tumours.

The surgeon began treating inoperable cancer patients with bacterial injections — known as “Coley’s toxins” — and recorded some success, but his poorly documented findings were dismissed by contemporaries who favoured radiation and chemotherapy.

Mr. Coley died in 1936 and his theories were all but forgotten: it would take almost 80 years for oncologists to take cancer immunotherapy seriously.

Today, immunotherapies are among the world’s best selling drugs and they have dramatically improved the survival prospects for some of the sickest patients, especially those with melanoma and lung cancer.

“Immunotherapy is here to stay,” says Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, chief executive of the Cancer Research Institute. “It’s not just a blip, it’s not overhyped — I think it is going to become the standard of care for many cancer types.”

The most common immunotherapy drugs are known as checkpoint inhibitors, which work by removing brakes in the immune system so the body can attack cancer.

Their discovery was made possible by the research of James Allison, now a professor at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, who spent the 1990s and early 2000s working on immunotherapy even as many other scientists dismissed it as an intriguing but futile sideshow.

60 percentage of advanced melanoma patients who survive three years when they take a combination of two checkpoint inhibitors Checkpoint inhibitors have proven remarkably effective in people with advanced melanoma, a disease once known as the “cancer that gave cancer a bad name” because it had such a terrible prognosis, with most patients dying within three to 18 months.

Today, almost 60 per cent of advanced melanoma patients survive three years if they take a combination of two checkpoint inhibitors, both made by Bristol-Myers Squibb, the US pharmaceutical group that bought Yervoy, the drug based on Dr Allison’s findings, in 2009.

A rival drug made by Merck, known as Keytruda, can significantly boost survival in lung cancer patients when added to a type of chemotherapy, according to early findings from a trial that is due to be published shortly. Other companies, including Roche and AstraZeneca, make competing versions.

It was not until 2013 that checkpoint inhibitors gained widespread acclaim among oncologists, but the drugs were soon being hailed as the biggest breakthrough in cancer treatment since the advent of chemotherapy.

The hype served to cloud some uneasy truths.

When checkpoint inhibitors work, they are remarkably effective, helping patients live for months or years longer than expected with less severe side-effects than other drugs. However, with the exception of the remarkable impact in melanoma and, to a lesser extent, lung cancer, most patients do not respond.

Although immunotherapies have now been approved in a long list of cancers from bladder and gastric to liver, the response rates in these illnesses is lower, with as many as 4 out of 5 patients deriving no benefit at all.

When the second generation of checkpoints, known as PDL1 inhibitors, were approved in 2014, researchers and pharma executives confidently predicted they would quickly push response rates higher by combining them with newer experimental immunotherapies.

So far no one has come up with the magic combination, despite running hundreds of trials.

Giovanni Caforio, chief executive of Bristol-Myers Squibb, hails “unprecedented progress” with immunotherapies, but concedes the next step, which he describes as finding “intelligent combinations”, has not moved as quickly.

“I think that it is not growing at the same speed, but I wouldn’t call it stalling,” he says. “I think it’s moving at a speed that is probably more typical of the speed of [traditional] cancer research.”

Sean Bohen, chief medical officer of AstraZeneca, says the quick advent of checkpoint inhibitors was all the more remarkable because immunotherapy “had been a disappointment for decades”. Yet he cautions progress might become slower because the “science is going to harder places”.

That is not necessarily a bad thing, says Dr. Bohen, because it encourages companies and researchers to work in a more methodical way rather than making speculative guesses: “I believe it’s a healthier way to do drug development”.

The challenge now is finding new drugs that can be added to checkpoints and boost the immune response to cancer without putting patients at risk or causing intolerable side effects.

One hope is a so-called IDO inhibitor, which suppresses an enzyme that tumours use to hide from the immune system. Both Merck and Bristol-Myers are testing their checkpoints in combination with this type of medicine in a partnership with Incyte, a US biotech group that is developing the most advanced IDO inhibitor. The first trials are due to complete in May.

Regardless of whether drugmakers and scientists find the right combination any time soon, the remarkable progress in recent years means the field is unlikely to languish as it did after Mr. Coley’s early discoveries.

 

March, 2018|Oral Cancer News|

Suicide Among Cancer Survivors — Highest Risk in HNC

Author: Roxanne Nelson, RN, BSN
Source: MedScape.com
Date: Feb. 20, 2018

ORLANDO, Florida — Head and neck cancer (HNC) accounts for only about 4% of new cancer cases in the United States, but the risk for suicide among survivors is significantly higher than for survivors of all other cancer types, with the exception of pancreatic cancer.

“The risk of suicide is significantly elevated across cancer sites, and the risk is especially high among HNC and pancreatic cancer survivors,” said Nosayaba Osazuwa-Peters, BDS, MPH, CHES, instructor, Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Saint Louis University School of Medicine, Missouri.

“Cancer survivors are candidates for suicide-related psychosocial surveillance,” he added.

Cancer is the number 2 cause of death in the United States and accounts for 1 of every 4 deaths. Suicide is the tenth cause of death, independent of cancer. “If you add cancer to it, you get the perfect storm,” he said.

“Survivorship does come at a cost, and this is one of the more unfortunate costs of cancer survivorship,” Osazuwa-Peters told delegates here at the Cancer Survivorship Symposium (CSS) Advancing Care and Research.

Currently, there are more than 16 million survivors in the United States. The good news is that more people are surviving cancer, and there is now more focus on competing causes of death and comorbidities, he explained. There is also more focus on the increased risk for acute and late toxicities, which needs to be addressed as the rate of survival increases.

Osazuwa-Peters pointed out that there are “a lot of unmet psychosocial needs and struggles with functionality in this population. The overall risk of suicide among cancer survivors is 50% higher than in the general population.”

Findings from a recent study presented in 2017 at the European Psychiatric Association Congress found that a diagnosis of cancer significantly increases an individual’s risk of dying by suicide by 55% as compared to those without cancer.

“Throughout the lifetime of a survivor, the risk of suicide consistently remains higher,” Osazuwa-Peters pointed out.

Suicide Risk Significantly Higher in HNC

In this study, Osazuwa-Peters and colleagues sought to estimate the incidence of HNC-associated suicide in comparison with other common cancers and to quantify the suicide rate among HNC survivors compared with survivors of cancers other than HNC.

They used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database from 2000-2014 to identify all cancer deaths that were confirmed as suicide. The death rates from suicide were estimated for the 21 most common cancers, including HNC.

SEER data revealed that there were 4513 suicides among 4,235,657 cancer survivors during that time frame. This extrapolates to an incidence rate of 23.6 suicides per 100,000 person-years.

For cancers in all other sites combined, the suicide rate was 45% lower than for HNC for both males (mortality rate ratios [MRRs] = 0.55; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.48 – 0.64) and females (MRR = 0.55; 95% CI, 0.37 – 0.81).

Pancreatic cancer was the only cancer type in which the suicide rate was higher than for HNC (86.4 suicides per 100,000 person-years for pancreatic cancer vs 63.4 suicides per 100,000 person-years for HNC). When stratified by sex, this finding held true only for males; the suicide MRR was significantly higher for male pancreatic cancer survivors compared to that of HNC survivors (MRR = 1.54; 95% CI, 1.23 – 1.90). For females, the suicide MMR was highest with HNC compared with all other cancer types.

“A lot of conversation revolves around depression and fear, but depression does not equate to suicide, and data show that even patients who screen okay for depression still commit suicide,” said Osazuwa-Peters. “There are other factors, such as pain and fear, that may heighten the risk of suicide.”

It is important “that suicide is tackled as a problem” when guidelines are developed by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and other major players, he said.

“Misery Index”

In a discussion of the paper, Christopher J. Recklitis, PhD, MPH, director of research at the Perini Family Survivors’ Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, noted that the suicide risk among cancer survivors has been studied for a while, and it has previously been suggested that HNC survivors are particularly at risk.

 

“This study is important because it focused on head and neck cancers, which isn’t often seen, and we can say that these data are largely confirmatory showing the elevated risk,” he said. “My take on this is that it highlights the need for better integration of mental health care into medical survivorship care.”

Not only does the risk for suicide need to be considered, but in general, the psychosocial needs of this population need to be considered more broadly, because suicide is something of a “misery index,” he commented.

“The number of people who are unfortunately ending their lives through suicide suggests that there is large group of people who are quite miserable and thinking about suicide and suffering in a way that needs attention,” he said.

But the study opens the door to several questions, he noted, namely, what is it about HNC that explains this excess risk?

“HNC survivors face poor prognosis, pain, disfigurement, and functional impairments, but that can be said of other cancer survivors,” he pointed out. He added that this group also has a higher risk for substance abuse and depression, but it is not known whether that risk contributes to risk for suicide.

“We need to understand these risks better so we can identify patients at risk and provide effective interventions, and also support the medical providers caring for this high-risk group,” Recklitis added. “We also need to move beyond registry data and study the risk over the course of survivorship, as it can change over time.”

Dr Osazuwa-Peters and Dr Recklitis have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Cancer Survivorship Symposium (CSS) Advancing Care and Research. Abstract 146, presented February 17, 2018.

 

 

February, 2018|Oral Cancer News|