Friday Frontline: Cancer Updates, Research and Education on January 10, 2020


From the largest one-year cancer death rate drop in the US to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg announcing she is cancer-free for a fourth time, here’s what is making the headlines in the cancer space this week.

The US cancer death rate sees its largest single-year drop yet due to a decline in mortality for patients with lung cancer, according to a new report. The American Cancer Society presented its 2019 data that showed a 2.2% overall drop, between 2016 and 2017, in cancer deaths in the US. This is the largest decline of cancer deaths in the US in a single year. Additionally, 2019 also marked the 26th year in a row that the rate of cancer deaths in the US has dropped.

"What is really driving that is the acceleration in the decline of mortality for lung cancer, and the reason that is encouraging is because lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, causing more deaths in the US than breast, colorectal cancer and prostate cancers combined," said Rebecca Siegel, speaking to CNN, first author of the report and scientific director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.

Treatment for lung cancer has come a long way and new developments continue to make their way to the clinic, especially as targeted therapies show more success in treating patients with lung cancer. While researchers remarked that there is still a long way to go in finding new high-value treatments and giving patients better access, they remain optimistic for the future.

Nine-year-old Miguel Duran is battling stage 4 cancer but was able to achieve his varsity wrestling dreams. “It’s going to be one of those memories that I’m never going to be able to forget,” Arlene Bialk, Miguel’s mother, told Newschannel7 in Wutoma, Wisconsin, on Tuesday night during Miguel’s varsity match. “It means everything to me.”

Miguel has been diagnosed with stage 4 Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that forms in the soft tissue and can affect his movement. His doctors have determined the diagnosis is terminal, and while Miguel may not have a lot of time, he was determined to keep fighting and wrestling in the Wutoma youth program.

This inspired the Wutoma/Wild Rose Warriors high school varsity team to let Miguel wrestle and earn a varsity letter, something he might not be able to do in the future.

“It started as an idea of our high school wrestlers,” said Dean Weiss, Miguel’s youth wrestling coach, and a family friend. “They brought it forward to their coach, and the coach presented it to the family and myself and it just steam rolled from there.”

Surrounded by the whole Wutoma wrestling community, Weiss and Bialk watched Miguel wrestle his best friend on the Wautoma/Wild Rose wrestling team, Christian Weiss, and cheered on as he picked up his first ever varsity win via a pin in the second round. The high school team presented Miguel with his very own varsity jacket after the match.

“He’s a warrior; he’s a fighter,” Bialk said after the match. “He’s got the heart of a champion.”

Just before Christmas Eve, Celgene backed out of a settlement worth $55 million to end payors that accused Celgene of illegally blocking generic versions of potentially life-saving cancer drugs. Celgene, a biopharmaceutical company that develops and commercializes medicines for cancer, was acquired by Bristol Myers Squib and completed its acquisition in November 2019, possibly leading to Celgene dropping the settlement.

The class-action lawsuit—with more than 8,000 individuals and over 800 third party payors, such as insurers and companies that self-insure - filed claims to participate in the settlement that Celgene had agreed to settle in July. 80 other entities filed to opt out of the settlement to bring separate lawsuits against Celgene. Citing the exclusion of these 80 class members, Celgene rescinded their $55 million settlement.

“These kinds of rescission provisions are common in class settlements, but I have never heard of a defendant ever actually rescinding an agreement,” said one of the lawyers representing the class action in a press release. “The settlement had received widespread support from the class, based on the claims rate and the fact that no class members objected to the settlement.”

The plaintiff’s experts estimated that Celgene’s actions made patients and entities from across the nation pay $3 billion more than they would have paid if a generic version of these drugs was available. Now, Celgene goes back to litigation against the putative class, possibly facing exposure greater than $3 billion.

Author of the groundbreaking memoir “Prozac Nation” dies at 52 of complications from breast cancer. Elizabeth Wurtzel became a superstar author after chronicling her struggles with depression and drug addiction in her best-selling memoir that, in turn, started a boom in confessional writing and memoirs. She died January 7th at a hospital in Manhattan at the age of 52.

Ms. Wurtzel originally announced she had breast cancer in 2015 and promised to fight it. She underwent a double mastectomy, but according to her husband, the cancer metastasized to her brain recently.

“By turns wrenching and comical, self-indulgent and self-aware, ‘Prozac Nation’ possesses the raw candor of Joan Didion’s essays, the irritating emotional exhibitionism of Sylvia Plath’s ‘Bell Jar’ and the wry, dark humor of a Bob Dylan song,” wrote New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani when Wurtzel published her debut novel at 27.

“Prozac Nation” became the first in a wave of many memoirs that experts have pointed to as opening the door for women to own who they are without feeling there wasn’t an audience for that sort of writing.

Wurtzel attributed her diagnosis to the BRCA mutation, that she had inherited from her biological father, who she only discovered was her father in 2016.

“Life,” she wrote in a 2018 essay for New York Magazine chronicling this discovery, “is just a shock to the system.”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg announces she is cancer free after beating back the disease for a fourth time. Ginsburg, 86, is the oldest justice on the United States Supreme Court and says she is cancer-free after undergoing radiation treatment for a tumor on her pancreas in August. This past November she was released from the hospital after suffering chills and a fever.

In December of 2018, Ginsburg had surgery to remove cancer from her left lung, marking her third bout with cancer. This will be her fourth time undergoing cancer treatment and coming out the other side.

‘I’m cancer free. That’s good,’ she told CNN on Wednesday in an exclusive interview. The network made a point to add that Ginsburg looked animated and sounded energized through the interview, ready to get back to work as the court prepares to hear arguments.

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