2010's Top 10 Cancer Stories

CURE invited cancer advocate and breast cancer survivor Jody Schoger to share what she thought the Top 10 cancer stories of 2010 were. Her Top 10 list is below.We're a society of list makers. We love categorizing everything we can get our minds around. Not surprisingly, I started thinking about the "year in cancer" as 2010 drew to a close. The list I arrived at below is far from complete, but here goes. 1) Health Care ReformBeginning in 2014--no one can be denied coverage due to a preexisting condition, including cancer. For the self-employed, people in transition, underemployed or in-between jobs, this is huge. Cancer still is a financial albatross, but this is a start. An unhealthy nation can't compete or prosper, regardless of your politics. 2) Komen Can't CureThe slow burn on "pink madness" turned into a bonfire this year, undoubtedly sparked by the one of the worst promotions ever--Kentucky Fried Chicken's 'Bucket for the Cure.'The sick of pink mood prevailed throughout social media, from laughs from Anna Rachnel (@ccchronicles) and her "Pink Boob Awards Gallery Relaunch" to some serious questions from advocate Alicia Staley in "Lawsuits for the Cure." Beneath the laughs and the anger is frustration. The question became: is awareness enough? Getting a mammogram isn't necessarily a preventive measure but a diagnostic one. A vaccine is a preventative measure. Let's find one.3) Breast Cancer AdvancesThis year we saw some interesting turn-arounds in breast cancer, including: > Doctors now say that slowly progressive weight lifting does not increase a woman's risk for lymphadema and in fact, may lower it.> Headlines from the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) about using the bone-building drug Zometa as part of adjunct therapy for stage 2 and stage 3 breast cancers literally contradicted themselves. The problem evolved from comparing two studies that were not alike. Also, an important fact was lost: a 29% survival benefit in women who were five years post-menopause. That's not mincemeat. Good write-ups came from Sally Church (@maverickny) "Some additional thoughts on Zometa in early breast cancer" and CURE magazine's "Mixed Results for Zometa as a Breast Cancer Treatment" in the Winter 2011 issue. > Mammography. Heavy sigh. Do you know why mammography is still paired with the word 'controversy'? Let's move past this. I haven't seen anyone post a convincing risk for 10 mammograms – the number of scans you'd have from ages 40 to 49 by keeping the base screening age at 40. Of all the tests that are abused in medicine, I hardly think it's the mammogram. Other big stories in breast cancer:> Biomarkers: Two ongoing studies, I-SPY 2 and TAILORx, involve molecular profiling to tailor specific treatments for a tumor. This is exciting. Finding the cancer isn't the problem, keeping the cancer from recurring is. These tests could show the way.> Inflammatory breast cancer: one of the most intractable of all breast cancers. A new clinical trial (http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01036087?term=ueno&rank=2) compares chemotherapy regimens for women with newly diagnosed IBC. Principal investigator: Dr. Naoto Ueno (@teamoncology) at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. 4) Lung Cancer Hits the Radar as a Women's Health IssueIn 2010, simultaneous advances in medicine and advocacy helped move lung cancer, the most underfunded yet largest cancer killer in the US, into the public eye.From "Out of the Shadows," an excellent report from Brigham and Women's Hospital, we know that the incidence of lung cancer in women has increased six fold over the last 30 years. Adenocarcinoma, once rare, is now the most common type of lung cancer in women of all ages, particularly in young people who haven't smoked. A study published in the journal Lung Cancer showed CT scans reduced the death rate among 53,000 current and former heavy smokers by 20 percent compared with regular X-ray screening. The study looked at death rates in a different, smaller population of heavy smokers and estimated that those who received up to two CT scans would have between a 36% and 64% lower risk of dying, compared to those who went unscreened. More from NIH: For Lung Cancer, A New Drug and a Way Forward (by Edward Winstead @edwardwinsted) andfrom Reuters: "More Signs Lung Cancer Screening Could Save Lives."5) Patient-Centric CarePatient-centric care, where your participation, your input, your questions and clear communication are not just encouraged but expected--is the new term for a practice excellent physicians have employed for years--taking your experience, wishes and preference into account when tailoring your treatment plan. Here are two great examples:Shared Decision Making, with Dr. Victor Montori at the Mayo Clinic, discusses how important clear communication is from both the patient's and the physician's perspective.The second is a terrific application of theory in practice. I applaud the Palo Alto Medical Foundation for the 2006 creation of PAMF's Cancer Patient Advisory Council. The council does more than committee speak or fill blank pages with names on a roster, but has affected change in both survivor care and wellness programs.6) Palliative & Hospice CareWhen you are newly diagnosed or in treatment, palliative care and hospice services are the very last subjects in mind. As you heal from treatment and begin to value your life more and more, the task of addressing how you want it to end becomes--if not easier--more understandable. Just lifting the blinders and acknowledging the topic is a start.This year a study showed that palliative care actually extended the lives of people with advanced lung cancer. Hospice and palliative care professionals even recommend becoming part of the patient's team when advanced disease is diagnosed. This way, difficult end-of-life decisions can be grappled with before the later effects of illness bring more distress to patients and their families.My attitude about end-of-life treatment changed following the death of my mother. We can't control when we're born, but we can get directives in place that define how we want it to end. There's even a study under way, "Communication in Oncologist-Patient Encounters or C.O.P.E." that will help train professionals to help initiate end-of-life conversations with their patients. 7) The Power of ONENever discount the power of one. Here's what just a few women I've met this year have done to turn the tide:> Suzanne Lindley, @rslindley, founder of YES: Beat Liver Tumors. If you don't know the story of the Texas housewife who took on Congress, please read, "Teaming Up Against Liver Cancers." > Tami Boehmer (@TamiLB) author of Incredible Survivors, intimate portraits of people who are thriving despite a grim prognosis.> Jennifer Windrum, (@jenniferwindrum) a one woman tornado of lung cancer building awareness with WTFLungCancer (@wtflungcancer) > Britta Aragon, (@Britta_Aragon) founder of Cinco Vidas, for her work building awareness about toxins in make-up and skin care products.8) The fastest growing cancer? No, it isn't breast cancer. The fastest growing cancer is thyroid cancer. The disease has a large presence on social media thanks to advocates and writers, including Kairol Rosenthal and Katie Schwartz. These intelligent, passionate and funny women reach thousands. If you know of any women with thyroid cancer send them to "Dear Thryoid" (@dearthyroid) for information, support and community.9) AdherenceAdherence is the ugly step-child of cancer care. This year we found out that almost half of the women who were prescribed hormonal therapies for breast cancer failed to complete their course of therapy. Then a study released at SABCS in December revealed that only half of the study's 1.56 million women age 40 and older received a mammogram in any given year. Only 60 percent received more during a four-year period.The potential for future health woes stemming from these studies is frightening. It's time for all of us to step out of our cancer clusters and advocate. Be bold. Ask your friends, did you get your mammogram this year? Your colonoscopy? When was the last time you had a physical? Women CAN get basic screening at little or no cost. The CDC's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/index.htm has provided free or low-cost screening for more than 20 years. Here's where to start: http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/cancercontacts/nbccedp/contactlist.asp.Adherence is essential in every proactive health measure we make--from a healthy diet to exercise and stress reduction. Our ancestors didn't need a mobile ap to tell them to get up and feed the pigs or milk the cows. The sheer fact that they had animals to tend to made the aspect of choice irrelevant. Maybe we need to reclaim some of that spirit and stop thinking of exercise, as one example, as something we may or may not do. Maybe the choice will be which one, or, what's the most efficient exercise I can do today with limited time. Maybe our choice isn't what silly diet to try next but what foods will I pick to nourish my body today? And finally, perhaps the choice isn't taking the hormal therapy but selecting the most helpful coping strategy for the side effects. We need to help each other do better in every regard. Let's find ways to help each other succeed.10) You are unique. So is your cancer. Personalized treatment will come.Each child has her own unique genetic footprint. So does cancer. Our cancers are not alike. No one-size-fits-all protocol cures breast cancer, or lung cancer, or colon cancer, or leukemia. No one even agrees on what constitutes a "cure." As researchers reach more deeply into cancer cells, following the wandering paths of enzymes and proteins, the whys and hows of recurrence and metastatic activity will begin to fall in place. Perhaps one day, maybe this year, a study result will become the stone that finally creates the avalanche needed to demolish cancer. My dream is to watch this avalanche pass by and around me in my lifetime.Jody Schoger is a writer and cancer advocate living in The Woodlands, Texas. She explores women's cancer news, information and essays on her blog http://womenwcancer.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter: @jodyms.