Cancer 2018: The Promise of Hope; The Danger of Hype

By Dana Lynch, Executive Vice President, Global Strategy & Business Development

There is absolutely no arguing that academia and the life sciences industry now have an incredible understanding of why and how cancer happens.  New diagnostics and genetic markers, less invasive surgical and radiology procedures, and revolutionary personalized immunologic therapies for managing cancer have dramatically altered the way in which we approach the disease.

As a healthcare communications professional with more than 20 years of experience, I understand the value that PR, marketing and journalism can have in educating and encouraging audiences to learn more about innovation and driving adoption of novel, improved treatment.  I am proud to represent the incredible pharma and biotech companies, scientists and physicians that are committed to improving cancer detection and care, with the common goal of someday eradicating the disease entirely.

Unfortunately, the news and information surrounding these advancements too often gets abbreviated, even sensationalized.  They’re packaged into short headlines, 30-second sound bites or 60-second ads, featuring marketing speak as well as quotes from doctors, patients and celebrities who testify to the battles we are winning against cancer without putting the reality of the continued losses into perspective for the average viewer or listener.  In other words, some manufacturers and cancer hospitals, and very often the media, are generating a lot of hype with the hope they are dispensing.

Imparting hope is certainly critical when reaching out to those impacted by cancer, but I fear that simplifying the reality of a diagnosis with only hopeful and promissory messages, while treating “fair balance” and the realities of metastatic disease as white noise, can backfire.  In many cases, people read cancer-related headlines about the promise of today’s treatments and end up feeling defeated when they realize that this potential progress doesn’t actually apply to them.

My Family’s Experience with Cancer

Now before this comes off gloomy and cynical, let me declare that I have the unfortunate perspective of seeing cancer for what it still is – unpredictable, like life itself, which is evident when reflecting on the cancer journeys of both of my parents.  It is a disease that no oncologist can promise with 100 percent certainty to be able to manage, or cure.

Let’s start with my mother:

  • Diagnosed in 2006 with early Stage 1, hormone-positive breast cancer, HER-2 negative.
  • It wasn’t in her lymph nodes and was treatable without having chemotherapy – the oncologist, surgeon and others who had experience with breast cancer all emphasized this cancer was not just treatable, it was supposed to be beatable.
  • Just four years later, her cancer returned as metastatic disease in her spine and her liver. This time, the promise was that the cancer was treatable, just not curable.
  • In 2016, after six good and bad years of cycling through a variety of treatment regimens, including some of the newest, most promising options, my mom passed away.

Now, let’s consider my father:

  • Diagnosed with Stage 2b Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer in 2008; his tumor was large and not in an optimal location for surgery.
  • Although considered treatable, the survival statistics were not great and without surgery, treatment options were very limited (none of today’s immunotherapies, Keytruda and Opdivo, were available at that time).
  • After intensive radiation and a harsh chemotherapy regimen, his tumor almost miraculously disappeared.
  • Another small tumor appeared one year later, but a surgeon could remove it without requiring additional chemotherapy or radiation.
  • Now, 10 years later my dad (*knocking on my desk*) is cancer-free.

In a simple summary, it didn’t go as expected –my dad beat the odds, my mom did not, bringing me back to the “promises” being made through direct-to-consumer messaging.  It is important to remember that while we live at a time where improved therapies can help us live longer, more productive lives with cancer, we haven’t yet figured out how to fix cancer in every patient and in every scenario.

A Charge for the 2018 ASCO Annual Meeting

This month, a large portion of the international oncology industry will convene in Chicago for the American Society of Clinical Oncologists Annual Meeting.  I know my knowledge and experience with cancer is limited relative to the cancer clinicians and researchers, but I have enough experience from the past 12 years to give some impassioned advice to my clients and other companies in the oncology space, the PR and marketing people who work on their behalf and the media who will cover the meeting.  Please be careful with the promises you are making to patients.  My mother always said, “a promise made should be a promise kept.”  There will be a day when all patients can be treated to cure for a cancer diagnosis, but until we can make this promise, let’s be sure we take care with what we say and maintain the hope without too much hype.

Today’s top health stories: 22 January

Heavy drinking rates amongst youth linked to alcohol TV ads

Image source: Frame Store

A study has found that youths who are highly receptive to alcohol advertisements on television are more likely to develop drinking problems in the future.

Young people aged 15 – 23 were asked which advertisements they remembered seeing on television, with those who recalled alcohol adverts incurring drinking, binge drinking or hazardous drinking at a higher rate than those who did not remember alcohol adverts.

The study suggests that the marketing concepts and campaigns of alcohol companies could be impacting upon the chances of young people turning to alcohol.

Source: Reuters

 

20 minutes of exercise weekly could be enough for healthy life – experts

Image source: Frame Pool

Following criticisms of NHS Guidelines being overly ambitious with their recommendation of 150 minutes of exercise a week, studies have shown that as little as 20 minutes of vigorous exercise a week could be enough to avoid an early death.

The recommendation of 20 minutes a week comes from the British Medical Journal, with the author suggesting that encouraging the end of sedentary life, rather than a life of high exercise, could be more beneficial in getting people more healthy.

The report concludes that research into the effect of promoting reduced sedentary behaviour and increasing light activities is lacking.

Sources: The Guardian, British Medical Journal

 

Cigarettes could be sold in plain packages from as early as next year

Image source: Pharmaceutical Journal

After years of debate, the Government has announced that regulations towards enforced plain and standardised packages for cigarettes will be put to a free vote before the general election.

The news has come on the same day that a Washington state attorney general has campaigned to raise the legal smoking age in the state to 21.

The brand names of the cigarettes will still be placed on the boxes, as well as smoking health warnings.

Sources: The Independent, Reuters

Today’s top health stories: 16 January

App released that can help scientists research the cure for Alzheimer’s

Image source: SBNation

A new app has been released on the Google Play store that ‘donates’ a phone’s processing power towards Alzheimer’s research while the owner is not using the device.

Vijay Pande, a leading doctor and part of the team behind Alzheimer’s research, believes that there needs to be around 150,000 ‘phone-days’ for the next major breakthrough to take place. It is thought that the app could make a large contribution in speeding up Alzheimer’s research.

Folding@Home is available now on Android devices and Google Chrome via the Google Play Store.

Source: The Independent

Salt increases the risk of stomach cancer

Image source: KevinMD

New research suggests that salt increases the risk of stomach cancer, according to statistics provided by NHS Choices.

Along with the long-established connection between salt and high blood pressure and heart disease, salt encourages the growth of a bacteria that inflames the stomach, leading to cancer.

Current British salt targets for adults is no more than six grams per day, with the World Health Organization suggesting five grams.

Source: Express

 

Breakthrough in the reasons behind shell shock brain injury

Image source: Independent

Scientists have made a major breakthrough in shell shock, the reaction of trauma incurred by soldiers who have been a part of warfare.

One century since when the first cases of shell shock were identified during World War One, scientists believe that they have identified a unique brain injury that impacts upon decision making and reasoning.

The Veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress estimates that around 50,000 veterans will suffer from a mental health problem as a result of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Source: The Independent

Today’s top health stories: 12 January

NHS patients to be offered self-referral cancer tests

Image source: The Guardian

As part of the NHS’s target to diagnose 10% more people with cancer at its early stages than in 2014, patients are to be given the option of booking referral appointments directly with hospitals and testing units instead of first visiting a GP.

The NHS believe that a 10% increase in early stage cancer diagnosis would mean that the number of patients alive five years after diagnosis would increase by 8,000.

As well as introducing self-referral bookings to patients, other NHS initiatives under the same scheme are:

  • Tests for different types of cancers at the same time and day of original appointments
  • Fast-tracking of patients through community pharmacists when cancer symptoms are suspected and ongoing
  • GPs to send patients for cancer tests without having to first refer to a cancer specialist

Source: BBC News, The Independent

National Obesity Forum warn that treating obesity could ‘break the NHS’

Image source: Locally Healthy

In a bid to slow the increasing cost of obesity on the NHS, the National Obesity Forum has stated their desire for annual weight monitoring of every adult.

Obesity costs the NHS £45 billion per year, with the National Obesity Forum warning that the costs could ‘break the NHS’. In the last two decades obesity levels have doubled, with 67% of men now overweight or obese. This week is also National Obesity Awareness Week.

Highlighting the obesity epidemic in Europe and the Western hemisphere, last week the American Medical Association voted to classify obesity as a disease.

Sources: The Daily Mail, Prevention

WHO: e-learning for doctors and nurses as effective as traditional training

Image source: Thrivase

The World Health Organization has advised that electronic education for some healthcare professionals can be just as successful as face-to-face education. It is hoped that the WHO’s approval will go towards encouraging more people to train in healthcare, helping to plug the 7.2 million shortfall of healthcare professionals worldwide.

The study, conducted at Imperial College London, found that distance learning and electronic education enables greater access to teaching. However, barriers still exist at places where electronic media and the Internet are not regularly available.

Source: Reuters

 

Today’s top health stories: 08 January

Pharma companies threaten legal action over NHS England’s decision to halt access to expensive drugs

Image source: The Guardian

Pharma companies have expressed their discontent at NHS England’s expected plans to remove access to a range of medicines due to their high prices.

NHS England’s Cancer Drugs Fund, which was set up to allow patients access to drugs regardless of their cost and has been used by 55,000 people, is set to be £100m over budget by the end of the financial year.

Medicines which will be no longer paid by the fund include breast cancer drugs Eisai’s Halaven (eribulin, breast cancer), Sanofi’s Zaltrap (Aflibercept, bowel cancer) and Roche’s Kadcyla (Trastuzumab emtansine, bowel cancer).

Chief executive of Myeloma UK, Eric Lowe, believes that the Cancer Drugs Fund is unsustainable and a “policy anomaly”.

Sources: Financial Times, BBC News

 

Scientists discover 25 new antibiotics in clinical study

Image source: Institute for Creation Research


Following a three-year gap since the last clinical discovery of antibiotics, a novel approach to cultivating bacteria has led to a yield of 25 new antibiotics.

These new antibiotics, described by the researchers as the “tip of the iceberg” in their published journal in Nature, could potentially revive antibiotic discovery.

Recent decades have seen microbes become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, leading to so-called ‘super bugs’ which have caused media stirs.

Source: BBC News

 

Signs that Ebola is slowing in Sierra Leone

Image source: MarketWatch

Although 248 new confirmed cases of Ebola have been reported in Sierra Leone during the past week, the spread of Ebola in the country appears to be slowing according to the World Health Organisation.

Ebola cases in Sierra Leone far outstrip those of any other country, with almost 10,000 cases and 3000 deaths. Ebola cases are still underreported throughout western Africa.

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, head of the United Nations Ebola response team, is warning against complacency in Sierra Leone against the continual threat of Ebola:  “It is only at this moment of optimism and relative success that sometimes we are worried of a sense of complacency”.

Sources: Reuters, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention