Two separate recent studies have addressed two common aspects of cancer care, raising questions about whether the protocols for treating patients with the disease may need to change in the near future, both lessening side effects and lowering patient costs.
Results of the two studies were released this week in advance of the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago, which will begin on May 31, reports Bloomberg. The first studied 1,800 men with early-stage testicular cancer, determining that post-surgical radiation or chemotherapy had no significant effect on long-term survival. The men were followed for ten years and it was determined that 99.6 percent of those who didn’t undergo radiation or chemo immediately after surgery were still alive at the end of that period.
The second study involved patients with lymphoma and determined that patients receiving treatment for that disease weren’t necessarily helped by the expensive imaging scans often used after their treatment, especially scans that use radioactive tracers.
Experts say that these studies are among many that are aiming to help cut down on the nasty side effects experienced by cancer patients, including hair loss and DNA damage, and also aim to address the exorbitant costs of dealing with cancer and its treatment.
“The economics of health care and the quality of care are really being looked at more closely than in the past,” stressed Phil Kantoff, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Why are you doing this? If the answer is ‘that’s what we do,’ rather than ‘there’s a study that shows we save lives this way,’ that’s not good.”
Often, researchers say, the complications of certain conventional therapies outweigh the benefits. They suggest doctors be more proactive in reviewing studies to determine whether what they prescribe will benefit their patients and/or whether to consider other alternatives or none at all.
Researchers note that lowering treatment costs is also essential, especially given some of the sky-high prices charged for newer cancer drugs. Do to the high cost of treatments, cancer patients are shown to be 2.6 percent more likely to file bankruptcy than others their age who do not have the disease.
Customers who store their items in two storage sheds at the decommissioned K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Marquette County, Michigan may not be able to retrieve their items for quite some time now that asbestos has been discovered at the two 40,000-square-foot facilities.
An article in The Mining Journal reports that the two sheds, owned by the Sault Saint-Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, were found to contain loose, damaged asbestos. The discovery was made about two weeks ago. Now, professional asbestos consultants will need to be called in to access the extent of the problem, the article adds.
“The tribe is doing everything it can to expedite this and make sure everyone is safe,” said Saulius Mikalonis, a Plunkett Cooney attorney representing the tribe from Bloomfield Hills.
Mikalonis confirmed that the tribe had been leasing the two sheds to Second Street Storage since 2010 but recently had to repossess the buildings when the temporary storage company fell severely behind on its rental payments. Last month, when they cut off locks and pushed open doors to inspect the premises, they found asbestos-containing pipe fitting tape on the floor. The tribe is now assuming that there is an asbestos problem in both sheds, though testing was only done on one of the buildings.
In the meantime, they are keeping the proper authorities apprised of the situation, including the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
Unfortunately, it could be quite some time before customers have access to the items inside the two sheds, which include boats and recreational vehicles stored their during the winter months. It’s a disappointing situation for those who were awaiting the start of summer and the chance to use their boats and RVs.
“If the amount of disturbed asbestos present is significant or widespread, a specific sequence of steps to wet and dispose of the materials would be required,” the article points out. At this point, no one has the answer.
“It is a complicated, time consuming, and expensive process,” Mikalonis confirmed, stressing that the tribe is determined to do the right thing lest they be hit with expensive fines for violations of asbestos laws, which are designed to help prevent asbestos exposure, which can cause cancers such as mesothelioma as well as other respiratory diseases. Asbestos is often found on U.S. military bases and was long used in naval shipyards as well.
In a move that worries advocates who rally for the rights of mesothelioma sufferers, yesterday the Wisconsin State Assembly passed a bill that will supposedly inject “transparency” into any asbestos-related lawsuits filed in the state.
A story aired on Fox News 11 reports that the measure, proposed by Republican Senator Andre Jacque of DePere, passed the state House of Representatives by a vote of 58 to 39. Next, it goes to the state senate for approval there, after which it may be signed into effect.
Jacque and many of his Republican colleagues were pleased at the outcome, stating that the bill would “prevent lawyers from hiding multiple claims in hopes of maximizing awards.”
Jacque also notes that the bill would help judges and jurors to clearly see how many defendants may be at fault for a particular plaintiff’s illness, ensuring that the defendants divide the damages fairly according to their culpability.
Opponents of the bill, however, say it’s just another way to keep sufferers of asbestos diseases from getting what is due them. Most believe that, if this bill passes through the Senate, asbestos cases will be significantly slowed as the discovery period will take much longer. There will be a lot more paperwork as well.
All of this, they say, is being done in hopes that plaintiffs will die before the cases come to trial, protecting corporations from having to make payouts to the individual filing the suit. Many believe it’s a travesty against individuals who are already suffering greatly, reduced to just a shadow of their former self thanks to the horrifying symptoms of mesothelioma, which often kills victims less than a year after diagnosis. Though new mesothelioma treatments have been developed within the last several years, it’s a cancer that still tends to spread rapidly and responds poorly to most treatments.
At this week’s UN Rotterdam Convention, lobbyists from both Russia and Zimbabwe will be attending for the first time, intent on keeping chrysotile asbestos off the convention’s list of hazardous substances. Prior to this year, Canada – which had a huge interest in the chrysotile industry – played that role.
An article in the Toronto Newspaper The Star reports that now that Canada is no longer the chief party in the cover-up about the truth surrounding the toxicity of chrysotile – or white – asbestos, it is necessary for the countries that still do the majority of the exporting of the material to step forward and make their opinion known.
Russia exports some 750,000 tons of the 1 million total tons exported each year, show estimates from 2011. This is their inaugural visit to the convention and they’ve already made it known that their goal is to prevent the inclusion of chrysotile on the list, which already includes dozens of toxic substances and materials. Zimbabwe, a country which hopes to soon re-open its asbestos mines, will join them in the campaign. Neither country, it seems, is concerned about health and safety.
Canada’s government recently announced that since it no longer has an interest in the asbestos industry, it will not continue to block the inclusion of the material on the list. Quebec lieutenant, Christian Paradis — long a staunch ally of the Quebec asbestos industry – says there’s really no point to it anymore.
“Canada’s message to the world is clear and sordid,” says the article’s author, Kathleen Ruff. “If you can make money from exporting a hazardous substance, then oppose safety requirements, as they might damage profits. If you have no vested interest, then don’t bother to oppose.”
“If other countries follow Canada’s example, the convention becomes worthless,” Ruff points out. “Canada does not even intend to support the listing of chrysotile asbestos. Instead, it will maintain a cowardly, ambiguous silence.”
Chrysotile asbestos, once used in thousands of products, has been proven to cause mesothelioma and other related diseases, even though Canada and other countries have long defended their exports of the material to Second- and Third-World countries, saying that there’s no proof that white asbestos causes respiratory illnesses. Ironically, Canada does not allow the use of asbestos in its own country.
The old Wetmore Elementary School in Utica, New York has sat abandoned for nearly 20 years, waiting for the day when someone would find a new use for the 1900s-era school building. Now, school district officials say thieves who entered the school to steal copper pipes have turned the structure into an asbestos hazard.
An article in the Utica Observer-Dispatch reports that the boarded-up school was broken into in February by individuals bent on finding items they could re-sell for cash. When copper pipes were removed, the thieves disturbed the asbestos insulation around the pipes. That means friable asbestos material is now strewn throughout the school, causing a hazard for anyone else who might dare to enter, including individuals interested in purchasing the building in the future.
“Once we discovered that, we had to shut and seal the building off,” said Michael Ferraro, district maintenance foreman, who noted that a licensed asbestos contractor will be assessing the damage at the property. “We’re trying to get a scope of work together so we can come up with a cost,” he added.
Utica, New York Board of Education President Christopher Salatino said the Municipal Housing Authority has been considering purchasing the property for senior housing, but will want to make sure the property is free of asbestos before proceeding. Unfortunately, however, the cost of the asbestos abatement – which could be as high as $1 million – is putting a damper on the proposed project and keeping others from considering alternative uses for the old school.
Many of America’s schools were constructed with building materials that contain asbestos, particular those built previously to about 1980. Asbestos was a common component in these materials through much of the 20th century and many schools have tiles, acoustical plaster, pipe and wiring insulation, and even stage curtains that might contain the hazardous material. The EPA has laws in effect that govern the maintenance of asbestos in schools and each must have plans in place that show where the hazardous materials are located. According to the rules, school maintenance staffs are supposed to be trained to handle any asbestos-related emergencies as well.
Throughout the last few decades, as more and more sophisticated drugs are developed to fight cancers of all types, the prices of these drugs continue to rise. Now, specialists who are disgusted at the high cost of these medications are joining together and approaching some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies with an appeal that they begin to consider the patient and not the profit.
According to an article in the Boston Globe, specialists from 15 countries on five different continents decided that they must take a more active role in resisting the high prices of chemotherapy drugs and other medications to fight cancer. Many of those doctors have previously had close ties to the pharmaceutical companies, like Dr. Brian Druker, who was the main academic developer of Gleevec, a Novartis-produced drug used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia.
Last week, a commentary published online by the medical journal, Blood, declared that the prices of drugs used to treat that particular form of cancer are “astronomical, unsustainable, and perhaps even immoral”, and though the doctors who contributed to the article focused mainly on drugs for this type of leukemia, they noted that the prices are just as bad for drugs designed to treat other kinds of cancer as well, including rare cancers like mesothelioma. Some, they say, exceed $100,000 per year. That’s a hefty price, considering many cancer patients are dealing with loss of income while they’re being treated and others may have insufficient insurance coverage.
The doctors went as far as to refer to the high cost of drugs as “profiteering”, no different than someone who raises the prices of essential goods after a natural disaster.
“Advocating for lower drug prices is a necessity to save the lives of patients’’ who cannot afford the medicines, they wrote.
The doctors hope their commentary will prompt dialogue with some of the pharmaceutical companies that are the biggest offenders.
A professor of geography and planning at the California State University at Chico told the school newspaper this week that he’s still concerned about the presence of asbestos in aging Butte Hall, despite the fact that the Division of Occupational Safety and Health performed an inspection and gave the building a clean bill of health.
The professor, Mark Stemen, explained to the newspaper that when Butte Hall was constructed, asbestos was combined with cement materials that were applied as fireproofing on the metal pillars. This was normal practice for construction during the 1970s, when asbestos was still in use but beginning to be questioned.
Stemen says the university is “trying to ignore what they already have acknowledged”; namely, that asbestos material was found in ceiling tiles during a 2010 renovation that addressed lighting throughout the campus.
At that time, Luis Caraballo, director of facilities management and services, notified Gayle Hutchinson, the dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, about the asbestos and she replied with an email noting the ceiling space was made “off limits” several years ago to keep maintenance workers from disturbing the material.
Joe Wills, director of public affairs and publications at Chico State, then explained that that statement wasn’t really true. The space wasn’t off-limits, he said, but it is accessed only when using a so-called containment enclosure, which uses a high-efficiency particulate air vacuum to keep dust from circulating around the building.
But Stemen says there are many faculty members who simply don’t believe the university when they claim that all is safe in Butte Hall. Many still think the cancer deaths of two individuals who worked in the building for years, professor Andy Dick and staff member Tami Harder Kilpatric, were as a result of the poor environmental conditions inside Butte Hall.
“[Faculty members] see this as a ‘Wizard of Oz’ trick they’re trying to pull; don’t look behind the curtain, don’t look above the ceiling tiles,” Stemen said. He doesn’t think the Cal-OSHA investigation was very thorough and cites the continuous issue of falling asbestos material on top of the ceiling tiles as a major hazard.
“The university response is to put duct tape around the holes and seal off the crack between the ceiling to keep everyone quiet,” he said. “The university hasn’t done this for 40 years, and now they have started to seal it up after people started to complain.”
A large construction project inside the University of Rochester Medical Center has been halted after tests came up positive for asbestos at many sites throughout the facility, causing concern about whether or not anyone was exposed to the toxic mineral.
Now, reports a story aired on Your News Now Rochester, the New York State Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have stepped in to investigate, noting the belief that construction workers may have suffered exposure while on-the-job at the medical center, where renovations are taking place inside the former Blood and Bone Marrow Wing.
“Asbestos chemicals chrysotile and anthophyllite were discovered in drywall, caulk, spackle, cement and fire stop materials,” the story reports. “Amounts ranged from as little as two percent to as much as 12 percent of bulk samples.” According to state guidelines, any amount more than one percent is considered hazardous and must be removed.
Asbestos was apparently disturbed during demolition work and, hence, dust may have become airborne. However, the University says that air quality tests performed two days after the second potential exposure turned up negative. But construction workers on the project say the testing was done much too late to determine whether or not the asbestos had permeated the air.
“We just don’t want to see this get pushed under the rug,” said one worker, who wished to remain anonymous. “It’s affected a lot of local construction workers.”
The University reported that they rely heavily on assumptions as well as historical records when it comes to identifying spots that most likely contain asbestos. However, they hadn’t accounted for the fact that the drywall contained the toxic material, so workers began using saws and hammers to tear it out. It was at that point that safety officials detected a “strange material” coating the duct work and drywall joints. Some similar materials had already been removed and placed in dumpsters and later tested positive for asbestos as well.
“I believe it was a surprise,” says Jose Fernandez, the University’s Director of Campus Planning, Design & Construction. “We have always acted as if there was no asbestos material in there.”
The University has now issued an apology to construction workers who may have suffered asbestos exposure while working on the renovation job. They also maintain that no one else in the hospital, including patients, should have been affected by the error.
But workers say more must be done to placate those who may have been placed in danger. “If… they actually acknowledge that the amount of exposure is significant, and do not deny it, that would definitely help,” said one anonymous worker.
Throughout the world and for much of the 20th century, workers in a variety of occupations – mostly men – were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis, yet many never even realized that this exposure was hazardous to their health. As such, cases of mesothelioma continue to increase in many countries, with Australia and England topping the charts for the highest rates of this asbestos-caused cancer.
A recent article in the South Wales (Australia) Courier Post profiles the plight of a long-time power plant worker, who was charged with the task of “mechanical fitter”, a job that exposed him to asbestos every day.
“I knocked off the existing lags with a hammer, and it would break away into clouds of fine dust,” said Robert Maurice Jones in a statement prior to his death earlier this year. “It was a normal daily occurrence. It was impossible to avoid it. I would then arrange for a lagger to re-lag (the machinery) with asbestos.
“The asbestos powder was emptied into a bucket with water. That resulted in clouds of asbestos. As it dried off, more dust was released into the environment,” Jones added, noting that no one wore masks.
Jones told his attorney that fellow power station workers, especially apprentices, would have “snowball fights” with the asbestos, spreading the fibers throughout the plant, unaware that what they were doing was harming their health and the health of others.
The Australian power plant scenario is not specific to that country. Throughout the United States, until the late 1970s, workers at U.S. power plants and at other jobsites suffered asbestos exposure regularly, yet, in many cases, no one informed them that the material was dangerous or provided proper protective gear to prevent inhalation of fibers. As a result, many developed asbestos diseases.
Occupations at high risk for asbestosis and mesothelioma include carpenters, engineers, pipefitters, oil refinery workers, railroad employees, shipyard workers, and many others. Often, their employers were well-informed that the asbestos they encountered every day was dangerous. As a result, many who’ve been sickened by asbestos have filed suit against their former employers as well as U.S. asbestos products manufacturers, seeking the compensation due them for medical bills as well as pain and suffering.
Professor Brett Walker of Montana State University (MSU) will soon be studying the global effects of asbestos use thanks to a 2013 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, which will allow him to travel worldwide to conduct research for his proposed paper, which will be entitled “The Slow Dying: Asbestos and the Unmaking of the Modern World.”
According to a press release by the college, Professor Walker is already an expert in Japanese environmental history and looks forward to learning more about the seriousness of asbestos poisoning throughout the world and the plight of those suffering from asbestos exposure. Walker notes that his studies, supported by the fellowship, will allow him to “look at the possibility of global poisoning as industrial infrastructures around the world are destroyed by terrorism, war or natural disasters, or begin to decay.”
The study will examine a number of locations in the United States, including the most well-known asbestos-related environmental disaster in the country, the site of the W.R. Grace and Company asbestos-tainted vermiculite mine in the town of Libby, Montana near the Canadian border. Walker says he will also travel to Turkey, South Africa, Russia, Quebec and Japan, where he plans to examine archives, conduct interviews with asbestos victims and others, and carry out additional field work that will allow him to compile a comprehensive report.
Walker, who teaches in the Department of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies at MSU, says he hopes to incorporate his studies into his classes at the university. He also hopes to work closely with the school’s Institute on Ecosystems and would like to eventually expand his research to other asbestos-related topics, including the implications of moving materials containing asbestos across national borders.