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Panel of Oncologists Say Obese People Less Likely to Survive Cancer

September 19th, 2013

If you’re overweight, your chances of surviving cancer are far less than if you were of normal weight, studies point out. But it isn’t the number on the scale that affects the chances of survival. It all has to do with the fact that doctors aren’t basing the size of chemotherapy doses on the patient’s weight…and they should be, says a panel of oncologists.

The largest organization of doctors who treat cancer, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, aims to address this fatal error and is offering new guidelines suggesting weight-based doses for obese patients suffering from all forms of cancer.

Even receiving a little less chemotherapy than necessary can severely decrease one’s chance of survival, reports an article in the Washington Post. Alarmingly, various studies have shown that as many as 40 percent of obese cancer patients have been getting less than 85 percent of the right dose for someone their size.

It’s time for that to change, says Dr. Gary Lyman, a Duke University oncologist who led the panel that wrote the new guidelines.

“Don’t call it super-sizing; it’s right-sizing cancer care,” Lyman says. “There’s little doubt that some degree of undertreatment is contributing to the higher mortality and recurrence rates in obese patients.”

Dr. Richard Pazdur, head of the FDA’s cancer drug department, heartily agrees with the panel’s advice.

“By minimizing the dose, or capping the dose, we have been undertreating patients,” he said.

Experts say the dosing applies to all types of cancer normally treated with chemotherapy including breast, colon, ovarian, and lung cancers as well as leukemia and other blood diseases. Mesothelioma patients receiving Alimta or other chemo drugs could be in the same proverbial boat.

Giving too little chemo “could make it as if they didn’t even get treated at all … so they go through the whole ordeal with no benefit, in the extreme case ,” said Dr. Jennifer Griggs, a University of Michigan breast cancer specialist who also worked on the guidelines.

The panel notes that while big certainly isn’t healthy, it’s tending to be the new norm in America, with 60 percent of all Americans considered overweight and some 35 percent falling into the obese category. That’s why this study is so essential.

In addition, similar studies actually show that overweight patients are less likely to develop dangerous, low blood counts from cancer treatment, and that they are able to more quickly clear chemo drugs from their body.

South Carolina Jury Awards $38M in Asbestos Case

September 16th, 2013

After a 2 ½ week trial, a South Carolina man who regularly worked with asbestos-containing materials was awarded $38 million in damages for health problems related to exposure to the toxic mineral.

An article in The State reports that Lloyd Strom Garvin, age 74 of Wagener, South Carolina, was awarded $10 million in actual damages and his wife was awarded $1 million for loss of consortium. In addition, defendants Durco and Crane Co. were ordered to pay $11M each in punitive damages, and defendant Byron Jackson was ordered to pay $5M. All of the defendants deemed the awards unreasonable.

All three defendants are involved in the manufacture of pumps and valves which, for decades, contained asbestos. Garvin told the jury that his years of exposure to the defendants’ asbestos-containing gaskets as well as to packing in valves and pumps that he used in both factory and farm work caused him to develop mesothelioma.

However, a spokesperson for Crane said there is “no credible evidence” that Crane was responsible for Garvin’s mesothelioma, and he called the award “excessive and unwarranted.” The other defendants concurred and will most likely all appeal the verdict.

Garvin was unable to testify in person. Extremely ill, he was recovering from double pneumonia at the time of the trial and his testimony was presented by video. Doctors say he has less than a year to live because of his cancer.

His lawyer asked the jury to consider awarding $1 million in actual damages for each year of life that Garvin was expected to miss because of his exposure to asbestos. National statistics show that Garvin’s life expectancy could have been another 10 to 11 years, the attorney pointed out.

Asbestos Debris a Concern after Indianapolis Warehouse Fire

September 12th, 2013

Marion County, Indiana public health officials have announced that debris left behind after a four-alarm warehouse fire in the city’s Near Eastside neighborhood contains asbestos, a declaration that alarmed many area residents.

According to an article in the Indianapolis Star, fire inspectors told the press that some debris from the blaze on the 1500 block of Van Buren Street was found a few blocks away, and suspicions about its contents led the department to test it for the presence of the carcinogen. Department spokesman Curt Brantingham said samples taken from rubble that had made its way to the 1300 block of Calhoun Street, down the street from where the fire happened, did indeed test positive for asbestos.

All of the positive samples were found within the same one-block radius, Brantingham said, adding that he believed the presence of the asbestos materials did not pose “an immediate risk” to the residents, stressing, however, that people need to stay away from the debris and shouldn’t attempt to remove it.

“… if people were to move it, disturb it,” he said, “it could make some of the particles go into the air.”

Most of what was found, the article notes, appears to be dark-colored tar-like substances, most likely some sort of roofing material.

As an added precaution, the article noted, Indianapolis public health officials are going door-to-door in the Near Eastside neighboring, posting notices and warning residents of the presence of asbestos and educating them on the dangers of asbestos exposure. Inhaling the tiny fibers can cause a variety of ailments, ranging from breathing difficulties to a serious form of cancer known as mesothelioma.

Lightning Strike Prompts Asbestos Concerns at School

September 9th, 2013

Environmental specialists gave Lewisboro Elementary School in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District in Westchester County, New York the all-clear after asbestos was discovered during an inspection that followed a lightning strike to the school’s chimney.

An article in the Bedford-Katonah Patch reports that asbestos tiles were discovered by inspectors after the Sept. 2nd strike, which closed the school until air and surface testing could be completed and it was deemed that there would be no problems with asbestos exposure.

The district says environmental specialists performed 20 tests in all at the busy school, which included samples from vacuumed material from walls, carpets and floors, along with sampling from the air. Though the tests determined that levels of asbestos in the air were within the legal limits, some abatement will need to be completed, the district reports.

“A minor amount of abatement will take place in the nurse’s office, and we are pressing to complete the work this weekend,” said a spokesperson for the district. In the meantime, parents can send their children to school without worrying about them inhaling asbestos, which can cause a variety of respiratory diseases, such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Asbestos in schools is commonplace when the school building was built prior to the late 1970s. Schools in the U.S. are required to have asbestos management plans in place that indicate where asbestos is located. According to EPA laws, schools must also have an individual on site that is trained in dealing with any asbestos emergencies. That person is usually a member of the maintenance staff.

Famous French Skyscraper Suffering Asbestos Woes

September 5th, 2013

Ask those who work in the 688-foot-high Tour Montparnasse skyscraper in France’s capital city how they like working in the tallest building in town and most will rave about the views and the modern facilities. But, lately, workers have become disgruntled, faced with what Paris authorities are calling a “significant number of exposures to asbestos dust” in recent months.

An article in The Local, France’s English newspaper, reports that the presence of the asbestos dust has been caused by ongoing work inside the massive tower aimed at removing asbestos-containing insulation. It seems, however, that contractors may not be taking the proper precautions to prevent asbestos exposure.

In all, since 2009, there have been 72 occasions during which the concentration of asbestos fibers in the air exceeded the allowable limit. Those events have recently become so regular that many companies were forced to evacuate their workers this summer. Some, like Amundi, a subsidiary of the banks Crédit Agricole and Société Général, have chosen not to return to their offices on the 59th floor, fearing that the health of their workers is in jeopardy. Authorities in Paris have even threatened to empty the entire tower of its 5,000+ workers until the situation is resolved.

It was first revealed that Tour Montparnasse contained asbestos materials in 2005, an issue that made front page headlines. After the revelation, the building’s owners were ordered to remove the carcinogenic material, which can cause mesothelioma cancer, and replace it with something safer. The work began in 2007 and isn’t expected to be completed until 2017. Contractors have had difficulty removing the material from certain hard-to-reach locations, including the fire escapes, and working while the building is occupied has caused further delays.

Asbestos was banned in France in 1997. Tour Montparnasse was built in the early 1970s, around the same time New York’s World Trade Center was constructed, an era when asbestos use was still commonplace.

Michigan Men Mishandled Asbestos at Charter School

September 2nd, 2013

Three Bay City, Michigan men have been indicted by a federal grand jury for the mishandling of asbestos at a converted former church that is set to house a branch of the Bay City Academy for the upcoming school year.

According to an article in the Bay City Times, two of the men – Roy C. Bradley Sr. and Gerald A. Essex – worked together to convert the former church in time for the charter school to take possession for the 2013-2014 school year. During the process, the two “knowingly failed to remove and cause the removal of all regulated asbestos-containing material from that facility in accordance with the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants,” the indictment says.

The third man arraigned on the charges was Rodolfo Rodriguez, a carpenter who had also been working on the renovations. He has been charged with single counts of tampering with witnesses, victims or informants, and making false declarations to a grand jury. The former is a 20-year felony, reports the newspaper.

Prosecutors allege that Rodriguez “deliberately made false statements regarding the amount of asbestos-containing material that had been removed from the church and gave misleading statements as to the identities of those doing the removal.”

The new Bay City Academy is one of three in the city. Owner Steve Ingersoll, an optometrist, said he was shocked by the charges involving the renovations as he believed everything was in order and all work was being done according to code.

“It’s a surprise in that we’ve had the usual regulatory inspections and whatnot related to all aspects of environmental issues from the start of construction, through construction and after construction and each year thereafter,” he said. “There’s never been a test that showed any sort of problem. Environmentally, the building is fine and always has been.”

“The allegation is that apparently some of [Bradley’s] workers encountered asbestos, but that doesn’t seem right because it should have all been removed by the time the guys got on the site,” Ingersoll said, adding that he believed Bradley hired an asbestos contractor to remove any harmful materials, which can cause mesothelioma if inhaled.

Employees Return to Federal Building after Year-Long Asbestos-Caused Absence

August 29th, 2013

Federal workers in Oak Ridge, Tennessee will spend the next month moving back into their offices at the Joe L. Evins Federal Building after being forced out more than a year ago due to the discovery of asbestos dust in the buildings heating and air conditioning system.

An article in Oak Ridge Today reports that some 350 workers were displaced in June 2012 when inspectors noticed that loose asbestos-containing insulation had fallen into the duct work and may have been circulating throughout the building, putting those individuals at risk for asbestos exposure. Most of those employees had to move to other locations while the U.S. General Services Administration, which owns the building, hired asbestos contractors to remove the old, damaged insulation.

Last year, after the material was discovered, air testing determined that employees were not exposed to asbestos dust, but that didn’t stop many who came to work daily at the 42-year-old building from being concerned about their health. In past news articles, many expressed their concern about the asbestos-containing insulation that had apparently been glued to metal ductwork but had come loose. Some plan to regularly undergo chest x-rays or other screening tests due to fears about diseases like mesothelioma, which can go undetected for decades and then appear suddenly.

The asbestos insulation was actually quite widespread, reports Saudia Muwwakkil, regional public affairs officer for the General Services Administration.

“The project included removal of asbestos-containing material from HVAC fan coils and pipe chases, demolition and construction of affected wall partitions, and surface cleaning on floors, ceilings, and walls,” said Muwwakkil, noting that the work affected about 92 percent of the facility.

Grant Helps Make Historic Theater Asbestos-Free

August 26th, 2013

As part of a 10-year renovation project at one of Ohio’s most historic theaters, contractors will spend the next six weeks removing asbestos materials that have made the old building unsafe in the past for both employees and patrons.

An article in The Herald-Star reports that scaffolding was erected this week so that workers from Lepi Enterprises of nearby Zanesville, Ohio could begin the process of removing yards of asbestos-covered pipes from the theater, which opened in 1925 but ceased operations in 1979 and was used only as storage space for the last few decades. Fans of the old theater are anxious to have it up and running again.

The $49,748 contract for asbestos abatement is being paid through the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund grant received by the city last year. Representatives from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Developmental Services toured the theater earlier in the summer to review renovations, and will be on hand to make sure all procedures are correctly carried out so that no one suffers asbestos exposure during the removal.

“The project should last about six weeks, and all of the asbestos will be completely removed from the building. I am very glad we were able to receive the state grant to do this project and appreciate the efforts by the city and the Jefferson County Regional Planning Commission,” said Scott Dressel, president of the Grand Theater for the Performing Arts Restoration Committee, who assured everyone that the stage and seating area would be completely sealed during the asbestos removal.

“No one will be allowed in the theater until the work is done,” stated Dressel, who noted that his team of volunteers would be working on exterior projects while Lepi Enterprises was addressing the toxic asbestos insulation inside.

Study Shows Reducing Caloric Intake May Improve Response to Some Cancer Treatments

August 22nd, 2013

A new French study examines how what you eat and how much you eat during cancer treatments may determine how successful your treatment might be, especially where so-called targeted cancer therapies are concerned.

The study, with results published this week in an online version of Blood, the Journal of the American Society of Hematology (ASH), was conducted by the French Institute for Health and Medical Research in Nice, France. It was one of just a handful that have sought to study how caloric intake affects cell death during treatments.

“While we know that consuming excess calories is associated with increased cancer risk, far less clarity exists in the scientific literature about how calorie restriction and the body’s metabolism can potentially affect the body’s response to cancer treatment,” said lead study author Jean-Ehrland Ricci, PhD, of the French Institute for Health and Medical Research in Nice, France. “By understanding the link between metabolism and the body’s natural cancer suppressors and activators, we can perhaps improve the efficacy of therapy and improve survival for patients suffering from specific types of cancer.”

“When humans and animals consume calories,” the study explains, “the body metabolizes food to produce energy and assist in the building of proteins. When fewer calories are consumed, the amount of nutrients available to the body’s cells is reduced, slowing the metabolic process and limiting the function of some proteins.”

“These characteristics of calorie restriction have led researchers to hypothesize that reducing caloric intake could potentially help inhibit the overexpression of the protein Mcl-1, an alteration associated with several cancers.”

Targeted therapies are becoming increasingly popular in the realm of cancer treatment, with these therapies being used to treat a variety of types of the disease. Researchers strive to continue to understand how to make these treatments even more effective and studies like the one completed in France provide even more hope for patients stricken with cancer, including rare types such as mesothelioma.

Senator Baucus Brings Medicare Official to Asbestos-ravaged Libby

August 19th, 2013

Montana senator Max Baucus has a vested interested in the people of his state and understands firsthand what the town of Libby has suffered through during the last few decades.

He’s brought a host of people to visit the small town near the Canadian border, intent on convincing them to help the more than 4,000 people who have been touched by exposure to asbestos due to a long-operating, asbestos-tainted vermiculite mine. This week, Baucus’ companion was a Medicare official who also wanted to see for herself what asbestos had done to this once vibrant town.

According to an article in the Missoulian, Baucus asked Marilyn Tavenner, newly-appointed to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to come meet the people of Libby, particularly those who have suffered personally from the effects of asbestos exposure as well as family members of those who’ve already passed from diseases such as mesothelioma cancer. Tavenner, who has a picture of one such victim on her desk in Washington D.C., eagerly accepted the invitation.

Baucus had approached Tavenner in the past about the fact that Medicare was delaying victims’ settlement payments. Now, he wants to convince her to expand additional Medicare benefits to asbestos victims who have moved out of the area. Libby victims receive health care coverage under Medicare due to a provision Baucus wrote in the Affordable Care Act but, currently, only those living in Lincoln and Flathead Counties quality for that coverage.

“Libby asbestos victims who no longer live in either county can’t receive the special home care services, special medical equipment, help with travel to get care, special counseling, nutritional supplements and prescription drugs not covered by Medicare drug plans,” the article notes. The agency headed by Tavenner has the option to change that.

Tavenner said she hopes the change will come within the next few months, and certainly before the end of the year. It may be Baucus’ last Libby-related victory before he retires, as he will not seek re-election in 2014.