Little Richard Dies from Bone Cancer, Child Receiving Treatment for Brain Cancer Plays Tic-Tac-Toe With Nurse Through Window to His Room, and More


From influential musician Little Richard passing away due to bone cancer to a dramatic drop in new cancer diagnoses as screenings have been postponed as a result of COVID-19, here are all the major updates happening in the cancer space this week.

Richard Penniman, better known as Little Richard, died on Saturday due to bone cancer, according to his lawyer. He was 87.

Although Little Richard did not invent rock ‘n’ roll, he is considered a pioneer in the genre and influenced generations of artists after him. Known for hits including “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally”, Little Richard pushed the boundaries of the early 1950s rock ‘n’ roll scene through his raucous lyrics, as well as the energy he brought to the stage.

“He was crucial in upping the voltage from high-powered R&B into the similar, yet different, guise of rock ‘n’ roll,” said rock historian Richie Unterberger. Little Richard was also known for changing the look of the modern rock star with his colorful outfits, hair piled six inches high and cinematic makeup. His style was credited with inspiring stars like Elton John and David Bowie.

Under intense pressure associated with performing and receiving unfair pay, in part because of contracts he signed early in his career, Little Richard stepped away from the stage at the height of his popularity. However, he did periodically return to the stage in the 1960s and ‘70s to perform alongside contemporaries including Jimi Hendrix.

“A lot of people call me the architect of rock ’n’ roll,” Little Richard once said in an interview. “I don’t call myself that, but I believe it’s true.”

A new review of studies shows that women who have a diet rich in fiber might have a lower risk for breast cancer.

Researchers from Harvard analyzed 20 published papers on fiber consumption and the incidence of breast cancer and identified those who consumed the most and least fiber in their diet. They found that women with the highest total fiber consumption had an 8% lower risk of breast cancer compared to those with the lowest intake. However, this decrease in risk is a decrease in relative risk, according to Nigel Brockton, vice president of research at the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C.

“Although that might not seem very consequential, it is expected that over 275,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020, so even small changes in risk can have a substantial impact at the population level,” Brockton said in an interview.

7-year-old patient with cancer plays tic-tac-toe with his nurse through the window to his room

Grant Wolf has been receiving treatment for brain cancer over the past nine months at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

During his treatment, Wolf’s nurse, Allie Schuten, had been leaving stuffed animals in his room to brighten his day during those treatments.

However, as contact with patients has been kept to a minimum during social-distancing associated with COVID-19, Schuten came up with a plan to play tic-tac-toe through the window with Wolf.

"I drew a tic-tac-toe board on his door as a way of asking if he wanted to play," Schulten said in an interview. "I still wanted to be able to interact with him and help bring a smile to his face without entering his room." Wolf loves the game, especially when he wins.

"Tic-tac-toe is fun and I like writing on the windows," Wolf said. "My nurses are nice, and they take good care of me." The pair play a few games a day when he is at the hospital to receive his chemotherapy.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and non-essential in-person medical procedures continue to be postponed, physicians are seeing a major drop in cancer diagnoses without proper screening and checkups.

“My level of concern is up with the eight or nine level [on a scale to 10],” said Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, in an interview addressing that the prognosis for these undiagnosed patients could be growing worse. For cancer’s like melanoma, it’s important that they are detected early for patients to avoid a greater risk of death as the cancer spreads.

At the University of Pennsylvania Health System, the number of new skin cancer diagnoses has dropped 80% from early February to March alone. In other health systems, new cancer patients have been roughly cut in half and at the Mount Sinai Tisch Cancer Center in New York they have recorded a 30-50% drop as well.

“It has not been my sense that there is going to be a bump up in cancer mortality because of COVID,” suggested Dr. John Glaspy, an oncologist at UCLA. Rather, he said, “there’s going to be a bump up in workload in a month or two.” Moreover, other oncologists believe that cancer screenings will go from non-essential visits to essential as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. They are in agreement that they cannot be delayed forever.

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