Blog Posts

Cancer Vaccines Offer Hope

August 20th, 2019

Vaccines, as you probably know, are medicines that help your body fight disease. If you’re like most people, you received vaccinations against a bunch of disorders – from chickenpox to whooping cough – when you were a kid. Vaccines work with your immune system to recognize and destroy harmful substances, such as disease-causing viruses, that attack your body.

Scientists today are exploring new and better ways to boost the power of the immune system, using vaccines aimed at battling cancer. Cancer vaccines can be used to prevent or treat cancer.

Preventive vaccines currently available include the HPV vaccine, which protects against human papillomavirus (HPV). An HPV infection can lead to cervical, vaginal, vulvar and anal cancer. The hepatitis B vaccine is another preventive cancer vaccine. Hepatitis B infection can cause liver cancer.

Vaccines to treat cancer are a type of immunotherapy because they work directly with your body’s immune system. Cancer treatment vaccines can do several things. These include destroying residual cancer cells after other treatments, stop a tumor from growing or spreading, and prevent cancer that was treated from coming back.

Currently, there are only a handful of active immunotherapies that are approved for treating cancer. There are, however, hundreds more being investigated in clinical trials, in which cancer patients can participate. Clinical trials are research studies that test the safety and effectiveness of new medications, therapies or devices.

While there are numerous cancer clinical trials ongoing, estimates suggest only three percent to six percent of eligible cancer patients participate in them. This not only slows the progress of new treatment development, it also means more than 90 percent of cancer patients may be missing out on potentially life-saving new treatments.

An example is a vaccine developed by researchers at the University of California San Diego Health and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, which is currently in clinical trials. This vaccine, which is for people with deadly metastatic cancer, is specifically created to match each patient’s cancer mutations and immune system.

Study researchers begin by testing patients’ tumors and identifying the neoantigens, or mutations, that cause their immune systems to respond. Researchers then culture the neoantigens with the patients’ T-cells, a type of immune system cell, and give patients a series of three vaccines of the modified T-cells.

To ensure the T-cells remain activated once they reach patients’ tumors, researchers also give patients the immunotherapy medication Keytruda. The bolstered T-cells then go to work destroying the tumor cells.

Another clinical trial, led by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, tested a combination immunotherapy for the treatment of two types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. The two types are diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma.

The treatment tested was a combination of an experimental antibody developed by researchers at Stanford and a commercially available anti-cancer antibody called rituximab.

The experimental antibody works by blocking CD47, a protein that inhibits immune cells called macrophages from attacking and devouring cancer cells. Rituximab amplifies signals to the macrophages to do their job of consuming the cancer cells.

The results of this small, multicenter clinical trial are promising. Half of the 22 people enrolled in phase 1 of the trial had a positive response to the therapy, and about one-third went into complete remission.

These are just two examples of clinical trials looking at new cancer treatments that take advantage of patients’ disease-fighting immune systems. Researchers are hosting many more trials to test vaccines for other types of cancer.

These include cancer of the bladder, breast, cervix, colon, rectum, kidneys, lungs, pancreas and prostate. Other clinical trials are investigating treatments for brain tumors, leukemia, melanoma and myeloma.

If you’re interested in participating in a clinical trial, talk with your doctor about appropriate studies for your situation. You can also look for clinical trials being conducted in your area at clinicaltrials.gov.

By participating in a clinical trial, you may discover a life-altering treatment that works for you when others have failed. You may also help make a new therapy available to others with cancer who previously had no hope. Talk to your doctor and consider taking part in a clinical trial.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month

August 13th, 2019

Why a vaccine this year may be more important than ever

The hottest days of the summer traditionally occur during a span of days that begins in early July and ends in the middle of August. Better known as the “Dog Days of Summer,’’ this period ends this year on the day just before school begins across the state of Florida.

The beginning of the school year also falls in the middle of National Immunization Awareness Month, an annual observance held every year in the middle of August to highlight the importance of vaccinations for all people, no matter their age.

The goal of National Immunization Awareness Month is to raise awareness and educate people on the role vaccines play in preventing a variety of serious and sometimes deadly diseases, and it is taking on added importance this year.

With nearly a thousand cases already reported, the measles outbreak of 2019 already stands as the largest outbreak since 1994 and the largest since measles was declared eliminated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2000.

That outbreak has affected people in 26 states, including Florida, and public health officials say the spread is due in no small part to a lack of information regarding vaccines, which some believe to be a cause of autism.

Scientific studies have proved there is no link between vaccines and their ingredients autism and that with very few exceptions, vaccines are safe.

The rise in measles cases this year is not due solely to a lack of vaccines, of course. The virus has also been picked up and spread from people traveling from countries where measles remains a common malady.

That, though, is one reason getting a vaccine this year may be more important than ever. With measles cases already on the rise, the chances of someone unknowingly getting the measles virus while on summer vacation has increased.

Consequently, the days and weeks leading up to the start of the school year are the best time to get vaccinated, and it’s not just small children attending school for the first time who may need to be vaccinated.

The Human Papillomavirus, or HPV virus, is one of the most common, affecting nearly all men and women at some point in their lifetime. Nearly 80 million people in the United States alone are currently infected with HPV, which attacks about 14 million Americans annually.

Teenagers and pre-teens are among those often infected by the disease, which can be spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact. The issues associated with HPV often go away on their own after a year or two, but the HPV virus can linger and lead to certain cancers.

HPV is annually the cause of about 30,000 cancer cases, including cancer of the vagina, cervix and vulva in women and cancer of the penis in men. Thankfully, a simple vaccine can prevent those and other cancers from developing.

The CDC recommends that before their 12th or 13th birthday, all boys and girls get two doses of the HPV vaccine. Because the HPV vaccine works best when administered prior to someone getting HPV, doctors says the HPV vaccine can be given as early as age 9.

Because of the measles outbreak, some older adults are even being encouraged to receive a vaccine booster shot this year. People born between 1963 and 1967, for example, may have received an ineffective vaccine, health officials have said.

As with any medicine, people should always consult with a doctor before receiving any vaccinations. But given the measles outbreak and growing cases of HPV, this year, more than most, is a year in which that consultation could prove critical to good health.

#Ivax2Protect

St. Petersburg Surgeon Performs First 3D-Printed Finger Bone Operation in the United States

August 6th, 2019

Three dimensional, or 3D, printing has had many notable software and technology advances in recent years, and one of the more notable implementations in that progression was recently engineered by a St. Petersburg surgeon.

Dr. Daniel Penello, a surgeon with Alexander Orthopedic Associates, became the first doctor to use a 3D printer to replace a finger bone after a welder named Robert Smith lost virtually all use of his middle finger when a steel beam fell on it and crushed it at work.

While Smith was making the difficult decision of what, precisely, to do with his crushed finger (i.e., leave it uncared for or have it amputated), Dr. Penello contacted Additive Orthopaedics, a 3D printing company that develops advanced orthopedic devices, to see if employees there could create the software and technology necessary to perform the first-of-its-kind procedure.

Additive Orthopaedics responded by obtaining a CT scan of Smith’s opposite uninjured middle finger from Dr. Penello. From that it manufactured a replacement part made of a surgical grade metal that contains a rough inner surface that allows it to attach firmly to the existing bone.

While Additive Orthopaedics worked its magic, Dr. Penello began the long process (five months) of gathering and mastering the precise information he needed to successfully perform the procedure.

Dr. Penello explained to a Patch.com writer that “my primary concern was our ability to develop an implant that would fit anatomically, while being strong enough to withstand the tremendous forces that it would be exposed to during any pinching, gripping, or lifting activities.”

The surgery was performed this past spring, and Dr. Penello deemed it a success as Smith is now doing physical therapy to regain complete usage of both the rejuvenated finger and his hand.

The successful surgery and the ongoing work at Additive Orthopaedics suggests 3D printing may soon impact the medical field in a far greater way, particularly in the area of custom implants, which could become more affordable through this process.

“I picture a 3D printer, sitting at the hospital, and when someone comes into the hospital with a broken wrist, someone will go to the printer and type it in,” Dr. Penello told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “Almost like ‘Star Trek,’ where they type in what they need.” Image courtesy of Tampa Bay Business Journal

That Dr. Penello performed the inaugural 3D printed finger bone operation – at least the first known in the United States – should not come as a surprise to anyone. In an interview in February for “Becker’s Spine Review,” he told a writer:

“I am most excited about the emerging trend of additive manufacturing (commonly known as 3D printing) in the development of patient-matched devices and superior implants. … The additive manufacturing process has the ability to develop custom implants and patient-specific jigs and targeting devices in a much more cost-effective and scalable way.”

Dr. Penello, who is board certified in both Canada and the United States, graduated from the medical school of the University of Toronto in Canada, and later worked at the Cleveland Clinic, is well known in his profession.

He has a YouTube video telling viewers of his professional experiences that includes an explanation of how his life vocation was influenced by his father “who sustained a pretty tragic injury in the right hand (that) really altered the course of his life. It led me to the career of my dreams because I love hand surgery.”

 

Welcome to Florida: The Lightning State

July 11th, 2019

Florida’s has long been referred to as “The Sunshine State,” but anyone who sees the proverbial glass as being half-empty instead of half-full would be justified in calling it “The Lightning State.”

With an average of more than 3,000 lighting strikes per day and more than a million lightning strikes per year, Florida ranks fourth in the nation behind Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas in the number of recorded lightning flashes each year.

However, because of its vast population and the fact many of its residents and visitors spend a good deal of their time outdoors, Florida traditionally ranks first in the nation each year in the number of lightning-related deaths and injuries.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that due to an increase in awareness regarding this potentially instant killer, the number of deaths attributed to lighting strikes in the state of Florida has been on the decline in recent years.

Since 2001, when the National Lightning Safety Council launched its first National Lightning Safety Awareness Week, the number of deaths attributed to lightning nationally has been cut almost in half, from about 50 a year to about 30 per year.

That’s still too many, of course, which is why the National Lightning Safety Council continues its effort to educate people regarding lighting and its dangers, particularly here in the state of Florida.

In accordance with the National Weather Service, the National Lightning Safety Council reminds us that if you are outdoors and in a place where you can hear thunder, then you are in a place where you could be struck by lightning.

Simply put, there is no safe place outside when thunderstorms are in the area. That’s why the National Weather Service has come up with the motto, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!”

Of course, heading indoors when thunder roars is sometimes easier said than done. For those situations when immediately heading indoors is not possible, it’s good to keep a few simple safety rules regarding thunder and lightning in mind.

To minimize the potential of injury when lightning is in the area, it’s best to stay away from wide open areas such as fields, hilltops and parking lots. It’s also best to stay as far away as possible from tall trees, even when in the woods.

You also want to stay away from standing water and avoid handling or touching anything that may be wet such, especially golf clubs, tools and metal fences or poles because water and metal are conductors of electricity.

These simple steps can greatly decrease a person’s chances of being struck by lightning, but if someone is struck, there is no need to fear touching the victim because lightning victims do not carry an electrical charge.

Should someone around you be struck by lightning, call 911, monitor the victim as best as possible and perform CPR if necessary until professional help can arrives to attend to the victim.

Melanoma: The Mother of Skin Cancers

June 16th, 2019

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US, affecting about one in five Americans by age 70. In fact, more people in the US are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined. Fortunately, skin cancer is highly curable if detected early and treated properly.

Skin cancer starts in the three main types of skin cells: basal cells, squamous cells and melanocytes. Melanocytes, found in the skin’s middle layer, or epidermis, make the pigment melanin, which gives your skin its color.

Melanoma skin cancer develops when the DNA in melanocytes is damaged, usually by the ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds, and that triggers mutations in the genes. These mutations cause the melanocytes to grow out of control and form tumors.

Melanoma is less common than other types of skin cancers. It is almost always curable if caught and treated early, but if allowed to grow and spread, it can be deadly. In 2019, more than 192,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma, and more than 7,000 are expected to die from it.

Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body, but it is more likely to show up in certain areas. In men, it is most commonly found on the chest and back, while in women, the legs are most often affected. It also commonly occurs on the face and neck.

The exact cause of the genetic mutations responsible for the development of melanoma is still being studied. But researchers do know there are certain factors that put you at a higher risk for this skin cancer. These factors include:

  • Having a lot of freckles, moles, age spots or large birth marks
  • Having light skin that burns easily as well as light-colored eyes
  • Having red or light-colored hair
  • Being older (Risk increases with age.)
  • Having a personal or family history of melanoma
  • Getting a lot of sun exposure

According to the American Cancer Society, unusual moles, sores, lumps, marks or changes in the way an area of the skin looks or feels may be a sign of melanoma or another skin cancer. These changes may also be a warning that skin cancer might occur.

This biggest warning signs of melanoma are a new spot on the skin and an existing spot that’s changing. There are two common ways to evaluate a spot on your skin. One is the ugly duckling sign. Does the spot in question look different from all the other spots on your skin? If so, you should have it checked by a dermatologist.

The other way to evaluate a spot is the ABCDE method. Look for the following features in a  mole or spot on your skin:

http://www.hopehealthfnp.com/index.php/cancer/know-your-abcdes-of-skin-cancer/

There are several ways to treat melanoma. These include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapy. Targeted therapy uses medicines to stimulate your immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively. Several types of immunotherapy are available to treat melanoma.

Your best bet is to prevent melanoma in the first place. There are a few steps you can take toward that goal. An import first step is to limit your exposure to ultraviolet radiation. That includes exposure to the sun’s rays and tanning beds.

If you have to be in the sun, try to find shade between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun’s at its highest intensity. And before you go out, remember this catchphrase “Slip! Slop! Slap” and Wrap. Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen, Slap on a hat and Wrap on sunglasses to protect your eyes and the sensitive skin around them.

And don’t forget to regularly examine your skin for any new, unusual or changing moles or spots. Anything out of the ordinary that you discover should be further examined by your doctor or a dermatologist.

Take care of your skin, and it will take care of you.

Are Men More Likely To Develop Osteoporosis Than Women?

June 9th, 2019

New Study Reveals Stunning Trend

The precursor to osteoporosis, a silent yet potentially disabling disease that can cause bones to weaken and break unexpectedly, is osteopenia.

Like osteoporosis, osteopenia is a disease most often found in women, but new research suggests middle-aged men may be more likely to develop the disease.

That is the conclusion drawn from a recent study of the bone mineral density in the necks and hips of 173 men and women between the ages of 35 and 50.

The study found that 28 percent of the men studied showed significant signs of osteopenia while 26 percent of the women studied showed those signs.

Osteoporosis is defined clinically as a potentially severe condition in which new bone growth fails to keep pace with bone degeneration.

About 54 million Americans have osteoporosis, and according to the study, a fracture caused by osteoporosis occurs every three seconds.

Osteopathic fractures are also on the rise, per the study, with the worldwide incidence of such fractures expected to increase by 310% in men and 240% in women by the year 2050.

Osteopathic fractures occur most often in the spinal vertebrae and femoral head or hip, but other bones, such as the wrist bone, can break as well. But fractures are not the only damaging result of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis can also result in a loss of height as the effects on the vertebrae, or the bones of the spine, often lead to a stooped or hunched posture.

According to the study, published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, osteoporosis can drastically decrease mobility, lessen the quality of one’s life and even lead to death.

Given the dangers associated with this growing health concern, it’s no wonder doctors have sought to find ways to halt or reverse the effects of osteoporosis.

One such solution is a revolutionary exercise program called OsteoStrong, which helps rebuild bone through once-a-week, 15-minute workout sessions using specialized equipment that includes four bio-mechanical machines.

These machines allow the user to perform resistance-based pushing and pulling exercises with their arms and/or legs. During these sessions, the user can safely exert pressure four to 12 times their body weight.

The concept is the culmination of twelve years of research that looked into the body’s response to growing new bone and muscle structure and improving the density of the bones,” says Mark Brady, president of OsteoStrong in South Pasadena.

“As a result of that research, it is a known medical fact that when you put certain forces on the bones, the body responds by growing new bone tissue. We do this through our short sessions on bio-mechanical equipment, and the results are absolutely amazing.

“Our studies show that on average, OsteoStrong workouts improve people’s bone density levels from three to seven percent a year. In addition, people typically increase their strength by an average of seventy-three percent during their first year at OsteoStrong.”

OsteoStrong has already helped more than 25,000 people reverse the negative effects of both osteopenia and osteoporosis and should remain a critical tool in the fight against this silent disease for years to come.

 

 

The da Vinci Debate

June 6th, 2019

Medical theories abound over what caused the great master to leave so many works, including his most famous, undone?

For all of its beauty, mystery and technical expertise, the Mona Lisa has long been considered an unfinished masterpiece. It remains a subject of debate even today, and not just among artists and art historians, but among medical professionals as well.

In early May, as the art world began to recognize the 500th anniversary of the death of the Mona Lisa’s creator, Leonardo da Vinci, several doctors began questioning the long-standing beliefs regarding da Vinci’s failure to complete the work, which was first discovered in his studio immediately after his death.

One of those beliefs is that da Vinci suffered a stroke that robbed him of the use of his right hand, which is the hand the ambidextrous artist painted with. Another suggests da Vinci’s right hand became deformed as a result of a condition known as Dupuytren’s contracture.

Two Italian physicians – one a plastic surgeon, the other a neurologist – were the first to question those theories, arguing in The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine that da Vinci may have simply suffered a fall that resulted in nerve damage to his right hand.

They based their theory on a drawing created by a contemporary of an elderly da Vinci in which da Vinci’s right arm is wrapped in “folds of clothing, as if it was a bandage, with his right-hand suspended in a stiff, contracted position.

The doctors go on to say that, in the drawing, da Vinci’s right hand does not appear to be gnarled or clenched in the way that it would have been had it been disabled by a stroke and otherwise suggest the disabling cause may have been a palsy known as claw hand.

The authors used another drawing, this one a 1505 depiction of a man identified as an older da Vinci playing a lyre, to rule out Dupuytren’s contracture as the cause of the late-life disability in da Vinci’s right hand.

Dupuytren’s contracture is a progressive disease that gnarls the hand slowly over time. The authors argue that if da Vinci suffered from the disease, its symptoms would have been present in the 1505 drawing, which they are not.

The art world was still digesting the two Italian author’s findings when, in late May, a paper published in the journal Brain suggested yet another reason why da Vinci continued to teach and draw until his death but left many paintings unfinished.

According to Marco Catani, a King’s College of London psychiatrist, and Paolo Mazzarello, a medical historian at the University of Pavia, da Vinci suffered from attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and was a chronic procrastinator who struggled to finish projects.

“Even when Leonardo was finally commissioned with the important project of building a bronze statue of Ludovico’s father, the future Duke asked his allied Lorenzo il Magnifico if he could indicate a more apt Florentine artist for the project because he ‘doubted Leonardo’s capabilities to bring it to completion.’”

Catani and Mazzarello used accounts of da Vinci’s behavior and work habits culled from writings about da Vinci in reaching their conclusion, noting that da Vinci struggled to remain focused on tasks from early childhood on.

They refer to stories of how da Vinci regularly wowed people with his ambitious ideas and projects but often disappointed them because he failed to complete the project he was hired to do. A statue of the father of Ludovico il Moro, the future Duke of Milan, was one such project.

“Even when Leonardo was finally commissioned with the … project … the future Duke asked … if …  a more apt Florentine artist (could be found) because he doubted Leonardo’s capabilities to bring it to completion,” Catani and Mazzarello wrote.

The authors go on to suggest that evidence of ADHD can be found in the history behind the creation of other great works by da Vinci, including The Last Supper, which is painted on a wall in the dining hall of the Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy.

They also suggest that ADHD negatively affected da Vinci’s relationships, career and income, but they note that it may have been at the root of his virtually unsurpassed creativity and imagination.

The difficulties linked to his extraordinary wandering mind caused him deep regrets but did not prevent him from learning and exploring the wonders of human life and nature,” the authors wrote.

 

 

 

 

 

Implants Now The Gold Standard For Replacement Teeth

May 22nd, 2019

The loss of a tooth may be a bit traumatic for a five- or six-year-old child, but it’s all part of the natural growing process, one that adults usually find rather cute. There is nothing cute, however, about adults losing a tooth.

When someone past the age of seven or eight loses a tooth, it’s gone for good, and studies show that more than 178 million Americans have suffered just such a loss while more than 35 million Americans have lost not just one or two teeth but all their teeth.

Most consider tooth loss to be an aesthetic problem, and for those who lose a tooth in their smile line it is. But there are physical problems that develop as a result of tooth loss that are even more concerning.

Over time, the loss of a tooth can lead to a loss of bone in the jaw area where the missing tooth used to be, which can result in changes in a person’s facial appearance, odd shifts in the remaining teeth and a collapse in the person’s bite.

Replacement options for missing teeth include bridges and dentures, but dental implants have become the gold standard for tooth replacement because they prevent further bone loss and look and function just like natural teeth.

At Dental Specialists of North Florida, John W. Thousand IV, DDS, MSD, is a specialist in implant dentistry, which is the surgical placement into the jawbone of a screw-like post that serves as the foundation for replacement teeth, bridges or dentures.

The Right Choice

The implant itself is a titanium root-shaped body that is surgically placed into the jaw bone. A single implant supports an abutment and a crown, which creates a new tooth. Several implants can be used to support a fixed bridge or even a full denture.

Because implants require a certain amount of bone to attach to, the implant procedure always begins with an examination to determine whether the patient has enough jaw bone to adequately support an implant.

For those who don’t, a bone grafting procedure can be done in which bone from another part of the body or a special bone grafting material designed to enhance new bone growth is seated in the jawbone where the implant is expected to go.

It typically takes between four and six months for the jaw bone to heal to a point where it is strong enough to support implants. During that healing period, patients usually wear temporary, or removable, dentures or bridges.

Once the implants are placed, patients usually need between three and six months for the implants to heal to the point where they can support the abutment and the crown. As with bone grafting, patients typically wear temporary crowns or bridges during that time.

The advantages to dental implants include a more natural feel and look but they don’t end there. Because a full implant-supported upper arch doesn’t cover the palate the way traditional dentures do, they don’t negatively affect a person’s sense of taste.

Another issue associated with traditional dentures that is avoided through implant-supported dentures is the gag reflex that some patients experience because the denture extends over the back of the palate. Implants also aid the digestive process.

That process begins in the mouth with the way we chew our food. Implants allow a person to chew their naturally and properly, which is an important health factor. If certain foods are not chewed properly, some nutrients may not be absorbed into the body.

Implants even have an effect on the foods we eat. People missing teeth or those wearing bridges or traditional dentures may be prohibited from eating certain foods. That’s not the case with dentures, because their natural form eliminates all restrictions.

WATS Happening in Esophageal Cancer

May 8th, 2019

Do you get heartburn after you eat? Maybe you get it once in a while, or maybe you’re one of the 15 million or more Americans who get it every day. That’s about 20 percent of the US population. If you get heartburn often, you may have a condition called acid reflux. If your heartburn is seriously bothering you, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

GERD occurs when acid from your stomach persistently flows, or refluxes, back up into your esophagus, your food tube. What happens is that certain factors, including being overweight, smoking and taking certain medications, weakens the round muscle separating your stomach and esophagus that normally keeps the acid in its place.

GERD doesn’t typically kill you, but it can cause an alteration in the tissue of your esophagus that can turn into esophageal cancer, which is rare but deadly. The alteration occurs when GERD keeps getting worse and the cells lining your esophagus change so that they’re more like cells of the intestines. This is called Barrett’s esophagus.

Barrett’s esophagus can be a precursor to esophageal cancer, the fastest growing cancer in the United States. It starts with a precancerous condition called esophageal dysplasia. Dysplastic cells are those that begin to change and can over time deteriorate further into cancer cells.

Fortunately, esophageal cancer can be effectively treated if caught in its early stages. The way to do that is by visualizing your Barrett’s esophagus using an endoscope and taking samples of the tissue to look for cancer cells.

Detecting cancer cells in Barrett’s esophagus can be tricky, however, because the cells are often flat and spotty in the way they are distributed in the tissue. Getting as many cells as possible in a sample increases the likelihood your doctor will find any cancerous ones.

In the past, samples for biopsy were taken using forceps and pinching off bits of tissue at certain intervals. This method’s chief drawback is that it only gets samples from a small percentage of the total area of the esophagus. Recently, a new system for obtaining cells for biopsy was introduced that can sample up to 70 percent of the affected Barrett’s tissue.

The new technology is called wide-area transepithelial sampling (WATS), and it works with computer-assisted 3-D analysis. That makes it WATS3D. WATS3D uses a special, minimally invasive brush that doctors scrape around the esophageal wall in an up and down motion,. This gathers samples from a wide area and from the tissue layers where dangerous, precancer cells develop.

The samples taken by WATS3D are then analyzed by the computer system. The maker of WATS3D borrowed technology from the US Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as the Star Wars program, and a unique algorithm the WATS3D computer uses to analyze the samples.

The computer has a special neural network, or “brain,” that can see virtually the entire sample. The computer scans the sample three dimensionally and takes the 200 most suspicious areas and projects them on a monitor for the pathologist to read. The images provide crucial information about the cells’ structure that helps doctors accurately detect cancer.

WATS3D has been shown to be an effective tool in the fight against Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. In one study, using WATS3D increased detection of Barrett’s esophagus by 83 percent and of precancerous esophageal dysplasia by 88 percent. That’s a huge improvement.

It doesn’t take much time, either. WTAS3D is performed during a standard endoscopy. It adds about five minutes, if that, to the time it takes to do the endoscopy. That sounds pretty reasonable to me to increase your chances of catching esophageal cancer in its earliest stages.

Addiction Damage in America

April 9th, 2019

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported some disconcerting news last month when it released the results of a study on drug overdose deaths among American women ages 30 to 64.

The study, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on January 10, found that death rates in this group skyrocketed 260 percent from 1999 to 2017.

According to the study investigators, who reviewed death certificate data from the National Vital Statistics System, the death rate among women rose from 6.7 deaths per 100,000 people, or 4,314 total overdose deaths, in 1999 to 24.3 per 100,000, or 18,110 deaths, in 2017.

(Although not investigated by the study, some researchers suggest similar increases in overdose deaths are being seen in American men.)

The study also looked at the types of drugs responsible for the overdose deaths. Investigators found huge increases in deaths involving heroin, as well as those caused by synthetic opioids and by benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium, drugs primarily used to treat anxiety.

These statistics highlight the horrendous problem with addition to prescription medications, particularly opioid painkillers, this country now faces. Our first reaction might be to try to find someone – doctors, insurance companies or the pharmaceutical industry – to blame for the problem. However, your brain might be the most culpable.

When it comes to opioids in particular, anyone can become addicted. When you take these drugs, they activate powerful reward centers in your brain. They release those feel-good endorphins, which dull your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure. They also create a sense of wellbeing.

When these drugs wear off, however, so do those good feelings. But you want those feelings to continue, so you keep taking the drugs as prescribed until you develop a tolerance to them. That’s when the dose you’re taking no longer provides the same good feelings they used to and that you desire.

At that point, you might start taking more medication than prescribed or taking it more often. Eventually, you find it impossible to make it through the day without the drug. You feel you simply can’t live without it. That’s addiction.

If your doctor prescribes an opioid pain medication, and you take it as directed, you decrease your risk for becoming addicted. But some of the more than one-third of all Americans in chronic pain do get addicted, and there are often warning signs that they’re in trouble. Here are seven warning signs of painkiller addiction courtesy of WebMD.

  1. You think about your medication a lot. – You’re preoccupied with when you can take your next dose and whether you’ll have enough medication to get you through.
  2. You take different amounts than your doctor prescribed. – As mentioned, you take more than prescribed or take it more often than prescribed.
  3. You “doctor shop.” – You try to find different physicians who will give you prescriptions for the painkillers when your own physician restricts your supply.
  4. You get medication from other sources. – You order the drugs over the Internet, steal them from relatives or friends, or buy them on the street.
  5. You’ve been using the painkillers for a long time. – You’re still taking the painkillers long after the pain should have gone away, or you’re taking them because of the way they make you feel.
  6. You feel angry when anyone talks to you about your use of the drugs. – You get irritated or defensive whenever anybody approaches you about taking the medication.
  7. You’re not quite “yourself.” – You stop taking care of yourself like you used to. You’re less concerned about your appearance. You’re moody, angry, nervous or jittery. You sleep more than usual, and you ignore your responsibilities.

If you suspect you have an addiction problem, seek help. Talk to your doctor. He or she can recommend an addiction recovery center, or you can call a center directly.

You can also call 800-662-HELP (4357). This is the national helpline run by the US government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This administration provides free, confidential information and referrals for substance abuse and mental health services.

The most important thing is that you be honest with yourself and your doctor about your drug use. And if you think you have a problem, open up and seek help. Don’t become another number in next year’s overdose death statistics.

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