Monthly Archives: July 2006

Smoking, drinking a ‘lethal combination’

  • 7/2/2006
  • Australia
  • staff
  • The Age (

People who both smoke and drink are increasing their risk of head and neck cancer at a much higher rate than those who indulge in just one, researchers in Perth say.

The Australian Council on Smoking and Health (ACOSH) commissioned a desk top study to coincide with the introduction of new laws in Western Australia to ban smoking in all pubs and clubs.

University of WA epidemiologist Dr David Preen has surveyed more than 300 scientific papers on the topic and says it is not just a matter of adding the risks of smoking to the risks of heavy drinking.

“Where you might have a threefold increased risk for smoking and a twofold increased risk for heavy alcohol consumption, you could have anywhere between a 10 or a nine to 15 times increased risk if you combined the two behaviours,” Dr Preen said.

“Less than five per cent of the population are aware of this fact,” said Dr Preen.

ACOSH President Prof Mike Daube said the new study was invaluable.

“There is more evidence, there is more comprehensive evidence and it covers more cancers,” said Prof Daube.

“There’s really good news for drinkers (who also smoke) … which is that if you give up smoking you significantly reduce your risk of some very, very nasty cancers,” he said.

Prof Daube said 75 per cent of the 200 head and neck cancer deaths each year in Western Australia, occurred among people who were both smokers and drinkers.

The state government said it expected another 63,000 West Australians would quit as a result of the new laws.

This was based on research conducted by the Victorian Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, said Health Minister Jim McGinty, which had found that 25 per cent of smokers would quit if it were banned in social venues.

“The linkage between smoking and drinking and cancer of the neck and head are now very well established,” Mr McGinty said.

The new laws come into effect in Western Australia on July 31.

July, 2006|Archive|

Cancer detection-and treatment-might be made easier with newly developed material

  • 7/2/2006
  • Clarksville, TN
  • Greg Kline
  • Clarksville Leaf Chronicle

Head and neck cancers kill about a person a day. Even when treated successfully, they tend to leave patients hurting both physically and psychologically.

“The side effects of our treatment are really devastating in some respects,” said Kenneth Watkin, a University of Illinois speech and hearing science professor.

Watkin, whose research focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of oral cancers, might have found a new way to do both better, using particles 80,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

The particles of a material called gadolinium oxide, developed by the UI professor and former graduate student Michael McDonald, make tumors show up more clearly in magnetic resonance and molecular imaging and in ultrasound and CT scans. That could allow the cancer to be located and attacked with greater precision and less collateral damage to surrounding tissue.

Moreover, the particles are better at gathering neutrons and emitting alpha and gamma radiation than the boron commonly used in neutron capture radiation therapy now, which could permit the use of lower doses of radiation in eradicating a tumor and reduce the negative side effects as a result.

“The treatment (benefit) is a bonus, a great bonus,” said Watkin, who refers to the particles as “multimodal” because of their dual purposes.

Watkin and McDonald, now a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, also have developed a method of coating the particles in dextran, a natural carbohydrate. The coating helps prevent unwanted chemical reactions and particle clumping, which makes for a clearer MRI picture.

Watkin likened the carbohydrate coating to the outer shell of a tiny M&M. It has no effect on the properties of the gadolinium oxide particles.

The coating also provides a surface to which the researchers can attach biologically reactive molecules, for instance antibodies that tend to gravitate to cancer cells.

That technique might be used to make the capsules, in effect, a cancer-seeking smart bomb sized to travel through the bloodstream and find and hit its target.

Watkin said the capsules might be made with payloads other than gadolinium oxide, like drugs for chemotherapy treatment or genetic materials for gene therapy.

“We just encapsulate that inside the shell,” Watkin said.

He said the payload can be released once it reaches the target by using ultrasound to break open the shell.

“It is working really well,” Watkin said.

The researchers already have employed the method to deliver interference RNA, a basic component of our genetic system, to cancer cells cultured in the lab. The intervention halted the cells’ propagation.

They began working with gadolinium oxide because the material is particularly sensitive to the magnetics employed in MRI.

They then decided to test the particles, which they make by breaking up already minuscule nanoparticles of gadolinium oxide, with other medical imaging techniques and were pleasantly surprised by the results.

That, in turn, led them to explore the material’s potential therapeutic properties, said Watkin, who is part of bioimaging research efforts at the UI’s Beckman Institute and a fellow with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the UI.

The researchers outlined the project in the journal Academic Radiology recently. Watkin, who also studies cancer imaging in conjunction with Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, said a lot of work remains before the UI technique is used for diagnostic and treatment purposes, which could take years.

Still to be explored: what the nanoparticles do in the body beyond their relation to cancer diagnosis and treatment; and how long any effects last.

July, 2006|Archive|

Smokeless Tobacco: No Chewing, No Spitting, and Fewer Cancer-Causing Chemicals?

  • 7/2/2006
  • Jacksonville, FL
  • Fatima Quraishi

Smokers who must step outside for that quick fix or whose states are considering public bans may not have to worry much longer – if a new tobacco product hits the market.

Two top U.S. tobacco companies are testing a new “pouch” product that would cease the need for lighters and matches.

Philip Morris USA has introduced Taboka, which comes in small pouches that can be placed between the lip and the gums for five minutes to 30 minutes and then thrown out. Each tin carries 12 pouches of tobacco and costs about the same as a pack of cigarettes. The company is testing the product in Indianapolis retail stores.

Also, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. is testing Camel Snus – named after a popular and decades-old smokeless tobacco product in Sweden – in Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore. It also costs the same as a pack of cigarettes.

Unlike chewing tobacco or similar products – such as dip, snuff or chew – Taboka and Camel Snus don’t need to be chewed or spat out frequently. While they may be convenient, these products still carry their own health risks, albeit smaller than those associated with cigarettes, health experts say.

Smokeless tobacco is ground and pasteurized, and comes in loose and pouch form. Users usually place the product behind the upper lip.

Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds say they’re developing the new pouches in response to smokers’ demands.

Many smokers who use their products, they say, are looking for the most convenient ways they can enjoy nicotine, especially because of increasing smoking bans. A pouch that can be simply tossed out, the companies say, is what consumers want.

Not a Risk-Free Product

Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco pouches have about the same nicotine content.

Jonathan Foulds, director of the Tobacco Dependence Program in New Jersey, said smoking a cigarette, though, was not the same as using a smokeless tobacco pouch. The way in which nicotine is delivered makes all the difference, he says.

“You can’t beat a cigarette for nicotine delivery. It’s much faster and in a more concentrated form,” Foulds said. “Cigarettes are like a Ferrari, and the [smokeless] pouch is like a secondhand Ford.”

Both companies are targeting current adult smokers for the new product and make clear statements about the health risks associated with smokeless tobacco.

Medical experts say that although there are certain risks associated with smokeless tobacco use, the smokeless option is far safer than smoking.

“This is the crux of misinformation. Mouth cancer risks are decidedly lower for smokeless tobacco than risks for smoking,” said Brad Rodu, who has been an oral pathologist for 30 years and is now a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville Cancer Center in Kentucky. He runs a Web site in support of using smokeless tobacco as a way to help smokers stop smoking cigarettes.

Foulds agreed, adding that smokeless tobacco was about 90 percent less harmful than cigarettes.

Even so, he says that mouth cancer is still a possibility and depending on the specific amount of cancer-causing ingredients in different smokeless tobacco products, the risk could be higher. Plus, there is no real way to know what U.S. tobacco companies put in their smokeless tobacco products, Foulds said.

“Part of the problem in the U.S. is that we have almost no control over what the tobacco industry does in terms of how they market these products and what they put in them. Nobody would even know. The regulatory vacuum in the U.S. is part of the problem,” Foulds said.

A reduced mouth cancer risk does not erase all other health risks. Smokeless tobacco products are bad for oral health in general, because they can erode gums and cause lesions in the mouth, Foulds said. It is just as bad for pregnant women as smoking.

Can It Help Smokers Kick the Habit?

While it doesn’t deliver quite as much nicotine as a cigarette, in the long run, smokeless tobacco appears to be just as addictive as cigarettes and can be just as hard to quit.

However, a lot of people in Sweden have used smokeless tobacco – they call it snus – to help then stop smoking, studies show. First-time tobacco users, especially young people, who start with smokeless tobacco usually don’t end up smoking. If they already smoke, they’re more likely to quit with the help of smokeless pouches.

In fact, Sweden has one of the lowest percentages of smokers in Europe.

So, perhaps Americans, too, can use smokeless tobacco pouches as a tool to quit smoking, Rodu said.

Foulds has a similar viewpoint.

“My angle is that two companies who have in the recent decades sold the most lethal products known to man – cigarettes – have moved to a product that is less harmful.”

However, Tabithia Engle, executive director of the Tobacco Free Coalition of Oregon, said that smokeless tobacco pouches were not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes because the surgeon general determined a long time ago that it caused oral cancer and could kill people. It is also as addictive as smoking, she says.

Though anti-tobacco groups like Engle’s organization are pushing for reform, smokeless tobacco products are not subject to federal regulation, and Congress has never granted the Food and Drug Administration specific jurisdiction over the regulation of tobacco products.

However, Engle’s group fears that informing the public about the less-harmful smokeless pouch will encourage young people to pick up the habit. Rodu disagrees.

“I don’t think this is an invitation to use tobacco at all. It’s very much the same as any other harm reduction approach,” he said.

“For example, condoms are not an invitation for people to engage in sexual activity. These are measures to increase safety for people who choose to do so. I don’t believe that the proper provision of information about safer tobacco products is an invitation to use tobacco.”

July, 2006|Archive|

Potential Treatment Found for Aggressive Head, Neck Cancer

  • 7/1/2006
  • San Francisco, CA
  • staff
  • UCSF Medical Center (

Researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center report that they have found a potential molecular cause for the aggressive growth and spread of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, a highly malignant form of cancer with a very high death rate.

The discovery could potentially lead to new treatments, researchers say.

Their key finding is the triple interaction between three players — CD44, a surface receptor molecule that plays an important role in a variety of cellular functions; hyaluronan (HA), a complex carbohydrate found in the connective tissues between cells; and LARG, a signal activator found in tumor cells.

That interaction apparently initiates two molecular pathways that simultaneously cause tumor cell growth and tumor cell migration, says lead author Lilly Bourguignon, a research career scientist at SFVAMC and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

The study results are reported in the current online “In Press” section of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Working with human cancer cells in culture, Bourguignon and her team found that HA mediates the interaction between CD44 and LARG in a way that stimulates a molecular pathway called RhoA. Through a series of complex steps, the RhoA pathway causes the tumor cell’s cytoskeleton — the structure that maintains the cell’s shape — to reorganize in a way that causes tumor cells to migrate to other sites in the body, resulting in cancer metastasis.

At the same time, the HA-mediated CD44/LARG complex also binds with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), located on the tumor cell’s surface, which sets off a second molecular pathway called Ras. In turn, the Ras pathway promotes tumor cell growth.

The result, according to Bourguignon, is an aggressive, fast-growing, and invasive cancer. “The combination of RhoA and Ras pathway activation is deadly,” she says.

Bourguignon cautions that “this is not the only mechanism” by which aggressive head and neck squamous cell carcinoma grows and spreads, “but it is an important mechanism.”

Because LARG is a central player in these molecular interactions, says Bourguignon, it may be the key to a potential treatment that could prevent both pathways from being initiated in the first place.

She and her fellow researchers found that when a particular segment of LARG, called the PDZ domain, is introduced to the tumor cell, it binds up all available CD44 and EGFR, leaving them unavailable to initiate the deadly twin molecular pathways.

“We have used the molecular binding action of LARG-PDZ against itself,” says Bourguignon. “In the future, LARG could be utilized as a drug target leading to a new therapeutic strategy.”

Currently, there are no really effective chemotherapeutic treatments for human head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, according to Bourguignon. “There are drugs that block EGFR action, but they are not entirely effective,” she notes.

Bourguignon says that since the presence of EGFR marks particularly aggressive cancers, “the CD44/EGFR complex can be used as a marker for potentially aggressive head-neck tumors. This could be correlated with tumor degree and tumor progression in each patient to get a much more accurate picture of the cancer. Most importantly, this complex may be used a clinical predictor for evaluating the potential of head and neck cancers to metastasize,” or spread beyond the initial tumor site.

Co-authors of the study are Eli Gilad, Ph.D., Amy Brightman, B.S., Falko Diedrich, M.D., and Patrick Singleton, Ph.D., all of SFVAMC.

The research was funded by grants from the United States Public Health Service that were administered by the Northern California Institute for Research and Education (NCIRE) and a grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

UCSF is a leading university that consistently defines health care worldwide by conducting advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences, and providing complex patient care.

The mission of NCIRE is to improve the health and well-being of veterans and the general public by supporting a world-class biomedical research program conducted by the UCSF faculty at SFVAMC.

July, 2006|Archive|

UK Study: Oral Cancer Screenings at Dental Checkups Are Cost-Effective

  • 7/1/2006
  • Washington, D.C .
  • Becky Ham
  • Health Behavior News Service (

Dentists and physicians who take advantage of routine checkups to screen their high-risk patients for oral cancer may be the most cost-effective guard against the disease, at least in the United Kingdom.

The new analysis suggests that screening of high-risk patients by dentists could save anywhere from 2,000 British pounds to 12,000 British pounds (roughly $3,600 to $21,700 in U.S. dollars) in health-care costs for each additional healthy year of a patient’s life.

The review is published in the latest issue of Health Technology Assessment, the international journal series of the Health Technology Assessment program of the National Health Service for the United Kingdom.

Dr. Paul Speight of the University of Sheffield in England and colleagues collected data on resources and costs in oral cancer treatment from two hospitals, as well as information from published studies and expert clinicians. They tested a variety of screening scenarios—from no screening at all to screening at all physician visits — on a hypothetical population of Britons age 40 and older.

Screening high-risk patients — those who smoke or who drink heavily — brought about the most significant results.

However, Speight said the estimate assumes that treating precancerous lesions in the mouth lessen the chance that the lesions will become malignant. The review of the medical literature “revealed that there is little evidence that this is the case,” Speight said.

But Dr. Michael Kahn, an oral pathologist with Tufts University and member of the Massachusetts Dental Society, said that there is an “excellent prognosis” for people who catch oral cancer in its earliest stages.

He acknowledged that “once you’ve had a premalignant spot, you’ve already identified yourself as someone more prone to get another one.” Most dental associations recommend extra checkups and self-exams at home for these patients, he said.

Speight and colleagues’ analysis also depends heavily on how much the government-run health service in the United Kingdom would be willing to pay for both screening and treatments for oral cancer, suggesting costs in the United States may not be the same.

The models suggest screening people ages 40 to 70 may be more cost-effective than screening older patients. Screening by doctors was only slightly more expensive than screening by dentists, despite the doctors’ lack of specific training to identify oral lesions, Speight and colleagues found. They suggest that doctors may catch more cancers because they see a bigger slice of the population than their dental colleagues.

Kahn said medical students in the United States do not receive the same intensive training in detecting oral cancers that dentists and dental hygienists undergo. Both dentists and dental hygienists “are absolutely more qualified and experienced in detecting oral cancer” than physicians, he said.

“They are very well aware that they are responsible for oral cancer screening and take this responsibility very seriously — they are the gatekeepers,” Kahn said. “For the 50 percent of Americans who regularly see their dentist, whether they know it or not, they are being screened for oral cancer during their cleaning and checkup examination.”

Most people do not realize they have oral cancer until the cancer is well advanced, Speight and colleagues found, which can make treatment long and costly. The outlook for oral cancer patients — surgery, radiation therapy and lengthy jaw reconstruction and counseling — can be grim, the researchers say.

“There has been no improvement in survival for decades, and recent studies show that the incidence is increasing,” Speight added. He said the only way to reverse the trend, beyond the push to prevent smoking and heavy drinking “is by improved detection of lesions while they are small.”

Kahn agreed but said, “for the most part, the average American isn’t going to catch [oral cancer] at that stage. If they come to dentists, there is a golden opportunity to catch it early.”

Speight and colleagues say researchers should take a closer look at whether early identification of oral lesions affects future treatment and survival. They also say that their review does not look at the potential negative and positive psychological effects of screening.

July, 2006|Archive|

HPV testing in routine cervical screening: cross sectional data from the ARTISTIC trial

  • 7/1/2006
  • Manchester, England
  • H. C. Kitchener et al.
  • British Journal of Cancer (2006) 95, 56-61

To evaluate the effectiveness of human papillomavirus (HPV) testing in primary cervical screening:
This was a cross-sectional study from the recruitment phase of a prospective randomised trial. Women were screened for HPV in addition to routine cervical cytology testing. Greater Manchester, attendees at routine NHS Cervical Screening Programme.

In all, 24 510 women aged 20-64 screened with liquid-based cytology (LBC) and HPV testing at entry. HPV testing in primary cervical screening. Type-specific HPV prevalence rates are presented in relation to age as well as cytological and histological findings at entry. In all, 24 510 women had adequate cytology and HPV results. Cytology results at entry were: 87% normal, 11% borderline or mild, 1.1% moderate and 0.6% severe dyskaryosis or worse.

Prevalence of HPV decreased sharply with age, from 40% at age 20-24 to 12% at 35-39 and 7% or less above age 50. It increased with cytological grade, from 10% of normal cytology and 31% of borderline to 70% mild, 86% moderate, and 96% of severe dyskaryosis or worse. HPV 16 or HPV 18 accounted for 64% of infections in women with severe or worse cytology, and one or both were found in 61% of women with severe dyskaryosis but in only 2.2% of those with normal cytology. The majority of young women in Greater Manchester have been infected with a high-risk HPV by the age of 30.

HPV testing is practicable as a primary routine screening test, but in women aged under 30 years, this would lead to a substantial increase in retesting and referral rates. HPV 16 and HPV 18 are more predictive of underlying disease, but other HPV types account for 30% of high-grade disease.

H C Kitchener1, M Almonte2, P Wheeler3, M Desai4, C Gilham5, A Bailey6, A Sargent7 and J Peto8,9 on behalf of the ARTISTIC Trial Study Group

Authors’ affiliations:
1Division of Human Development, University of Manchester, Hathersage Road, Manchester M13 0JH, UK

2Non-Communicable Disease Epidemiology Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, UK

3Division of Human Development, University of Manchester, Hathersage Road, Manchester M13 0JH, UK

4Department of Cytology, Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals NHS Trust, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9WL, UK

5Cancer Research UK Epidemiology and Genetics Unit, Institute of Cancer Research, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5NG, UK

6Department of Virology, Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals NHS Trust, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9WL, UK

7Division of Human Development, University of Manchester, Hathersage Road, Manchester M13 0JH, UK

8Non-Communicable Disease Epidemiology Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, UK

9Cancer Research UK Epidemiology and Genetics Unit, Institute of Cancer Research, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5NG, UK

July, 2006|Archive|

Surgeons Pioneer New Jaw Reconstruction Technique

  • 7/1/2006
  • Rochester, MN
  • staff

U.S. surgeons say they’ve developed a promising new method of lower jaw reconstruction for patients who’ve had surgery to remove large oral tumors.

This new approach, first tested on rabbits, was to be outlined Wednesday at a meeting of the International Federation of Head and Neck Oncologic Societies in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

“We think this new process can be a huge advantage for patients and a good tool for reconstructive surgeons,” lead investigator Dr. Daniel Price, an ear, nose and throat surgery resident at the Mayo Clinic, said in a prepared statement.

“We’re excited about it. It will not completely replace the current mandible reconstruction method — transfer of bone — but down the road, I think that this method of reconstruction will be done regularly in patients with cancer involving the mandible,” Price added.

The current standard procedure for jaw reconstruction in these patients uses bone transferred from the fibula in the patient’s leg, along with surrounding muscle, skin and blood vessels. This method produces good functional and aesthetic results but does have some negative aspects. For example, the surgery is costly and takes all day. Plus, the second surgery site in the leg means patients are less mobile after the operation.

The new approach uses a procedure called “distraction osteogenesis” to restore the section of jaw that’s lost during tumor removal surgery. With distraction osteogenesis, a cut is made at one of the remaining ends of the jawbone. Pliable soft tissue appears and a special device is used to stretch this tissue across the gap in the patient’s jaw. This soft tissue eventually hardens into bone.

Within 24 hours of the stretching process, radiation therapy is administered in order to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.

The next phase of the research will involve larger animals, the Mayo team said.

July, 2006|Archive|

Blue Light Shines Spotlight on Oral Cancer

  • 7/1/2006
  • Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • Scott Fields

A hand-held light may soon help dentists and physicians find oral cancer faster and more reliably.

That’s important because in America alone each year 30,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer, and only half of them will survive more than five years, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

And people who do survive oral cancer may do so at the cost of painful and disfiguring surgery, as chunks of tongue, jaw or palate are carved from the patient’s mouth.

The problem, says Miriam Rosin, a cancer biologist at the British Columbia Cancer Research Center in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is not only that dentists and general practitioners don’t do frequent enough inspections, but that when they do, they usually inspect the mouth under ordinary light.

Ordinary light doesn’t highlight what has turned out to be a reliable indicator of some cells’ health: their natural fluorescence.

In the right environment, specifically under a specialized blue light, cells can flash their condition like a lighthouse warning of a submerged reef.

This new device, called a Visually Enhanced Lesion Scope, or “VELScope,” (combined with program of regular oral checkups, Rosin cautions) could reveal early evidence of the fast-spreading disease, which is most common in smokers and heavy drinkers.

Used correctly, the device can spotlight cells that have turned to the dark side, literally, as well as those that are teetering on becoming cancerous.

“You shine a blue light on the tissue and it excites fluorophores in the tissue to release fluorescence of a specific wavelength,” Rosin explains. “It looks green, because we have filters in the system, and what we’re looking for is the loss of that green color.”

When viewed through an eyepiece attached to the light source, healthy cells shine pale green. But abnormal, potentially cancerous “dysplastic” cells look dark green to black.

Dark cells don’t necessarily equal cancerous cells, she says, but a biopsy would be a wise next step.

In fact, when Rosin’s group shined the VELScope into 44 mouths, healthy cells were correctly distinguished from abnormal cells for 43 of the patients.

In these tests, the scientists were able to detect all of the patients who did not have abnormal cells in a specific test site and were able to detect cancerous conditions with 98-percent confidence.

July, 2006|Archive|

Cancer alters drivers’ outlooks

  • 7/1/2006
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Randy Covitz
  • The Witchita Eagle (

It started with an aching wisdom tooth.

The pain throbbed in the right side of Bobby Hamilton’s jaw, but because it’s hard to smile for the television cameras and do postrace interviews with sore gums, he put off having the tooth pulled until the NASCAR Craftsman Trucks Series season concluded last November.

When the swelling in his neck persisted, Hamilton was examined in early February. And after competing in the first three trucks races of the season, Hamilton received the dreadful news.

Hamilton had head and neck cancer embedded in the right side of his neck.

“Cancer is a strange deal,” said Hamilton, 49. “We’ve learned when it starts up around the head area, it travels downward toward the right side of your body. It just stayed in my neck. It froze there.”

Before embarking on a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Hamilton, a four-time winner on the Nextel Cup circuit and the 2004 Craftsman Trucks Series champion, faced some major decisions.

As owner of Bobby Hamilton Racing, he was responsible for operating two other racing teams. So Hamilton imported his son Bobby Hamilton Jr. from Bobby Dotter’s Green Light Racing and put him — and the future of BHR — in the seat of his Dodge.

Bobby Hamilton Jr. will be in the field for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 on Saturday at Kansas Speedway, but his thoughts will be with his father, who is recuperating at his home near Nashville, Tenn.

“It’s really been an emotional ride,” said Bobby Hamilton Jr. “I worry about my dad. On top of that, I’ve never had to feel the pressure as far as, ‘We have a sponsor for this year and next year. If things don’t work out good, if we go out there and flop around and don’t perform like Fastenal is expecting, we may not have anything in two years.’

“So then we have 60-some-odd employees wondering what is going to happen. So the pressure is just unbelievable.”

Hamilton’s biggest motivation, however, is keeping up his dad’s spirits.

“This makes me more determined than anything,” said Hamilton Jr. “Seeing my dad smile after we run good or seeing that he is enjoying how the shop is doing what it is supposed to be doing…. With him being there and sitting back in the shop and tinkering with things and working with the guys, that’s really what’s keeping everybody going.”

In Hamilton Jr.’ s first race in the No. 18 truck, he won the pole at Martinsville and finished 10th. The next week, he finished seventh at Gateway outside St. Louis. Since then, it’s been a struggle with no finish better than 13th in the past six races.

The news of his father’s illness had a profound effect on Hamilton Jr., whose wife, Stephanie, has lost several family members to cancer.

“My way of dealing with it was not talking about it because I didn’t have the words,” Hamilton Jr. said. “When people asked how my dad was, I said, ‘He’s fine. He’s just taking a break.’ I looked at it like he was just on a beach somewhere hanging out. The fact is, he’s battling cancer. We’re not going to beat it if one of us is hiding from it. We have to be behind him.

“But I know there might be a day — and I hope to God it never happens — that I might lose him. We weren’t a family that would pat on each other or hug on each other before a race. But now, I make sure that every time I leave him — if I’m leaving the shop or if he walks out the door — I’ll tell him I love him.”

Hamilton Sr. finished chemotherapy treatments and radiation on June 7. He lost his voice for a bit, endured a terrible sore throat and battled fatigue. He hasn’t given up on returning for the final race of the season on Nov. 17 at Homestead Speedway outside Miami.

“I will be back at the track as soon as my white blood count gets higher,” Hamilton Sr. said. “I’m anxious but will do what the doctor ordered.”

During his illness, Hamilton stayed busy by spearheading Craftsman For a Cure, a charity benefiting the American Cancer Society Relay for Life and the Victory Junction Gang Camp for children with chronic illnesses. Through auctions of memorabilia, ticket packages to races and items autographed by NASCAR drivers, more than $50,000 was raised, and donations are still pouring in.

“It’s a part of life,” Hamilton said of his cancer. “I don’t like it, but it’s going to make me a better person at the end. It’s going to make me give back, and that’s what we’re trying to do with this Craftsman For a Cure. I will always be involved in things like this if I can.

“Drivers carry a shield around them, and they are afraid if they let that shield down, then that’s a little bit of a weakness. The one thing I have learned is everybody is going to deal with this at some point in their life. Everybody knows somebody or has had a family member go through it.”

While undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, Hamilton was offered VIP treatment at the hospital because there were so many race fans there wanting to wish him well, but he refused to take private entrances or stay in isolated rooms.

“I look at human life different now,” Hamilton said. “I talk to patients at the hospital every day. I want to sit right out there with them. I have learned to cherish everybody’s life. We’re all human beings. Do some of us live right? Probably not. Do all of us live right? No.

“Somebody will get mad on the highway and say, ‘You blankety-blank.’ That’s not me anymore. When somebody calls or stops by and asks, ‘Is there anything we can do?’ I’ll say, ‘Don’t forget to hug your wife or your kids or your grandkids tonight and tell them that you love them. Make sure you do that every night.’

“That’s what you learn going through something like this.”

July, 2006|Archive|

Vaccine Advice Seen As Sensitive Issue

  • 7/1/2006
  • New York, NY
  • Mike Stobbe

Taking up a sensitive issue among religious conservatives, an influential government advisory panel Thursday recommended that 11- and 12-year-old girls be routinely vaccinated against the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also said the shots can be started for girls as young as 9, at the discretion of their doctors.

The committee’s recommendations usually are accepted by federal health officials, and influence insurance coverage for vaccinations.

Gardasil, made by Merck & Co., is the first vaccine specifically designed to prevent cancer. Approved earlier this month by the Food and Drug Administration for females ages 9 to 26, it protects against strains of the human papilloma virus, or HPV, which causes cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancers and genital warts.

Health officials estimate that more than 50 percent of sexually active women and men will be infected with one or more types of HPV in their lifetimes. Vaccine proponents say it could dramatically reduce the nearly 4,000 cervical cancer deaths that occur each year in the United States.

The vaccine is considered most effective when given to girls before they become sexually active. About 7 percent of children have had sexual intercourse before age 13, and about a quarter of boys and girls have had sex by age 15, according to government surveys.

The committee’s vote was unanimous, with two of the 15 members abstaining because of they have worked on Merck-funded studies. The committee also voted to add the HPV vaccine to the coverage list for the federal Vaccines for Children program, which pays for immunizations for uninsured and underinsured children.

Some health officials had girded themselves for arguments from religious conservatives and others that vaccinating youngsters against the sexually transmitted virus might make them more likely to have sex. But the controversy never materialized in the panel’s public meetings.

Earlier this year, the Family Research Council, a conservative group, did not speak out against giving the HPV shot to young girls. The organization mainly opposes making it one of the vaccines required before youngsters can enroll in school, said the group’s policy analyst, Moira Gaul.

The government advisory panel did not recommend that the vaccine be required by schools, though some organizations – including Planned Parenthood – have advocated such a step.

Surveys suggest the shots will have little effect on youngsters’ sexual behavior, said Nicole Liddon, a behavioral scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a recent survey of virgins 15 to 19, only 10 percent of boys and 7 percent of girls cited fear of disease as a reason not to have sex, Liddon said.

The vaccine comes as a $360 series of three shots, and in tests has been highly effective against HPV. The vaccine is formulated to address the subtypes of HPV responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and 90 percent of genital warts.

In a public comment session at Thursday’s meeting, all nine speakers supported recommending the vaccine to females 9 to 26, the broadest possible group under FDA license. The speakers included a state senator from Maryland and the chief medical officer of AmeriChoice, a UnitedHealth Group company that manages state Medicaid programs.

The panel focused on 11- to 12-year-olds in part because children that age already routinely get two other shots.

Several speakers also called for the immunization of boys, as soon as studies are completed on the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness for males. HPV has been linked to penile, anal, and head and neck cancers and a tumor-like condition of the respiratory tract.

Merck officials said clinical effectiveness studies in males should be completed by 2008.

Merck officials also said they can provide the more than 19 million doses that health officials expect would be used in the next year.

July, 2006|Archive|