It is not precisely clear what causes breast cancer. Research has suggested age, gender and estrogen exposure may contribute. While anyone can get the disease, older women are at a greater risk.
Non-invasive (stage 0) and early stage (I and II) breast cancers have a better prognosis than cancer in its later stages (III and IV), and can typically get treated at a much lower cost – sometimes, hundreds of thousands of dollars less. Screening is the best way to find breast cancer in its earliest stages, and the most effective method is an X-ray of the breast called a mammogram. Visit your gynecologist regularly and have an open discussion about what tests you should be having.
One key to proper prevention – and, in turn, keeping your health care costs down – is knowing when your next test is due. That’s where MedBen Worksite Wellness can help.
MedBen Worksite Wellness plan members can track their mammogram compliance by visiting MedBen Access. To see recommended screening dates, or double-check if you missed a test, simply go to medben.com, click on “MedBen Access” and select the “iHealth Information” link under “My Plan”. MedBen Worksite Wellness also provides annual guidelines for cancer prevention and early detection, personalized for age and gender.
MedBen follows American Cancer Society guidelines that state women over 40 years of age should get annual mammograms – guidelines the organization has stood by even after the federal government’s controversial recommendation that women can wait until their 50s to begin screenings. And a new study appears to support the ACS’s judgment.
According to MedPage Today, the study of 7,300 breast cancer patients found that 71% of death from the disease occured in younger women with no history of mammography or with intervals of 2 years or more between mammograms. Median age at diagnosis of fatal breast cancer was 49, as compared with 72 for women who died of other causes.
“Even with effective adjuvant therapies, the best method for women to avoid death from breast cancer is to participate in regular mammography screening,” the authors concluded. “Regular screening increases the likelihood of detecting nonpalpable cancers, and annual screening further increases the likelihood relative to biennial screening.”
“Furthermore, detecting and treating breast cancer in younger women to prevent death may further increase the disease-free life years saved,” they added. “Our findings suggest decreasing the intensity of efforts to screen women older than 69 years while concomitantly emphasizing efforts to screening young women in particular.”
Female members of the MedBen Worksite Wellness program can monitor their compliance with mammograms and other critical wellness examinations by visiting the MedBen Access website and clicking on the Wellness Plan link under “My Plan”.
Could a no-copay checkup mean the difference between high and low blood pressure? Possibly, a new survey finds.
According to the Associated Press, Kaiser Permanente in Northern California monitored patients with high blood pressure over an eight-year period (2001-09). In that time span, the proportion of patients who had their blood pressure under control went from 44% to 80% – well above the national average. The number of heart attacks and strokes in the group also fell substantially.
The researchers point to two factors they believe played a role in the program’s success:
“Patients really liked it because it was shorter, more convenient and more affordable,” said Dr. Marc Jaffe, the lead author and leader of a Kaiser heart disease risk reduction program. Jaffe acknowledged that it’s impossible to know if the blood pressure program can be credited for the declines in heart attacks and strokes, but he thinks it at least contributed.
The benefits of “good” cholesterol don’t stop with a healthier heart. It’s also is an effective cancer-fighter, a new study finds.
According to the Health Hub, researchers at Cleveland Clinic conducted tests on mice using a protein called apolipoprotein A1 (apoA1), a major component of HDL, the so-called good cholesterol. Intrigued by apoA1’s power as a cardioprotective agent, the team dwelved into other potential benefits – specifically, its ability to prime the immune system to fight off cancer.
The research showed that mice that had the apoA1 protein were more resistant to tumor growth and survived longer than their apoA1-lacking counterparts. More importantly, results show that direct injection of apoA1 as a therapy into mice with existing tumors and metastases not only inhibited the growth of tumors and the spread of malignant melanoma and lung cancer, but promoted regression of existing tumors and metastases.
“This is another example of where research in one field can yield exciting new discoveries that could benefit an entirely new pool of patients,” said Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD, section head of Preventive Cardiology at Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Institute.
A Gallup poll released this week reports that 58% of Americans believe it’s okay to charge a higher health insurance rate to smokers, but only 41% agree overweight people should be charged more.
According to MedCity News, the reason that many Americans are okay with charging a higher rate to smokers is likely because so many American are overweight. Only 1 in 5 adults smoke.
This coming October, the Affordable Care Act will give states the option to charge higher rates to individuals that smoke, but does not allow them to charge higher rates to overweight individuals. Even so, the higher smoking rate is based on the honor system – and the policy cannot be canceled if later it was revealed that an individual is a smoker paying nonsmoker rates.
Many groups are outraged that carriers can charge more to smokers. Cigarette producers, the American Cancer Society and advocates for the poor and minorities believe that the extra charge singles many smokers out, and can actually produce an adverse effect on individuals purchasing policies.
“We don’t want to create more barriers to quitting,” said Dianne Phillips, policy director for the Cancer Action Network in Pennsylvania, a state that will permit insurers to charge higher rates to smokers. “Making it more expensive (might) put insurance coverage out of their reach.”
Retail clinics at pharmacy and department store chains are a growing business – and it’s a trend that has some doctors concerned. While acknowledging their usefulness for minor ailments, the recent announcement by Walgreens that their clinics would diagnose and manage chronic conditions led Kevin Pho to question whether drugstore clinicians should double as primary care physicians:
“Consider the population most likely to have chronic conditions: Medicare patients. A New England Journal of Medicine study found that they already see an average of seven different physicians a year. Seeking care at a drugstore adds another provider, and further fragments care. According to Dr. Jeffrey Cain, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, ‘it is more difficult to comprehensively manage a patient’s care if they are treated in multiple settings.’
“Indeed, I find managing diabetes or high blood pressure is far more effective after developing a relationship with patients and getting to know their individual preferences over time. Patients who go to retail clinics are more likely to see a rotating set of providers. And rather than personalize treatment, they follow standardized medical protocols to abide by the American Medical Association’s retail clinic policies.
“Poor sharing of medical information also fuels fragmentation. Electronic record systems of hospitals within blocks of each other often cannot speak to one another, let alone with one from a retail clinic. It’s unlikely that a drugstore provider can access a patient’s medical record, which would mean starting care from scratch.”
On the Cleveland Clinic Health Hub, ophthalmologist Jeffrey Goshe, MD offers some “do’s” and “don’ts” for safe contact lens use.
DON’T sleep in your contacts. “Almost every study of contact lens-related infections found a strong link between the risk of infection and sleeping in contacts,” says Dr. Goshe.
DO wash your lenses and case properly. Never rinse your contacts with tap water or stick them in your mouth. Rather, clean them with contact lens solution, and clean and dry your case each day.
DON’T wear your lenses past their recommended use. “Some people say they wear them until they feel like they need to be changed,” says Dr. Goshe.“But that’s a sign that something bad has already started to happen.”
DO establish a relationship with an optometrist and stick with him or her. When you jump around from doctor to doctor, you won’t have continuity of care that’s necessary to track your eye health over time.
DON’T ignore the warning signs of infection. “If you are experiencing pain, redness, blurriness or light sensitivity, your eyes may be having a problem that requires medical attention,” Dr. Goshe says.
DO get an eye exam annually. People may not realize that the fit of their lenses can change throughout their lives, and an annual check-up can determine if adjustments should be made.
To help your employees stick to the contact lens “do’s", MedBen offers a group vision plan that promotes regular exams and early detection and treatment of visual impairments. We also provide the highest quality contact lenses at extremely affordable prices, as well as eyeglass franes and lenses.
For additional information about MedBen VisionPlus, contact Vice President of Sales & Marketing Brian Fargus at email@example.com.
An advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration has supported approval of the experimental drug riociguat to treat two types of pulmonary hypertension, Reuters reports. The agency typically follows such recommendations.
Produced by Bayer, riociguat is designed to treat chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension, a rare disease typically caused by blood clots that restrict the flow of blood from the heart to the lungs. The drug would be used for patients who are not candidates for surgery to remove the clots.
It is also designed to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension, in which arteries of the lungs constrict, forcing the heart to work harder. Symptoms of both conditions are similar and include shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness and potential heart failure.
Dr. Stuart Rich, a panel member and professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, said he was impressed with the apparent ability of a 1.5 milligram dose of the drug to increase cardiac output, or the volume of blood pumped by the heart per minute.
If approved, the drug would be sold under the brand name Adempas.
Is the term “cancer” overused nowadays? Absolutely, a group of medical experts argue.
In a Journal of the American Medical Association editorial, an advisory panel to the National Cancer Institute states that only the lesions that typically kill if left untreated should be classified as cancer. In cases where the lesions pose no immediate danger, patients should be told they have an IDLE disorder, the authors write. IDLE is an acronym for “indolent lesions of epithelial origin,” which is also a synonym for their lazy behavior.
According to USA Today, the panel contends that overdiagnosis of cancer leads to overtreatment – an opinion shared by Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.
“The truth be told, this is very much kind of like racial profiling,” Brawley said. “It looks like what killed somebody 160 years ago, but that doesn’t mean it is going to grow, spread and kill. It may very well be genomically programmed to stay just a 5-millimeter lesion for the next 70 years.”
In a separate interview with NPR, Brawley also noted that by renaming non-threatening lesions, it would help doctor and patient alike understand the true level of the risk.
Dr. David Penson, the senior author, advised that physicians closely monitor slow-growing tumors, rather than treating them as a lethal cancer. “Whether you are using a term like IDLE, indeterminate or indolent, if you take away the word ‘cancer,’ people get to see things a lot differently,” Penson said.
As often happens when a public figure has a medical issue, its treatment undergoes media scrutiny. Such was the case yesterday when it was announced that former president George W. Bush received a stent to clear blocked arteries in his heart.
USA Today reports that stenting is fairly common, with about one million Americans a year getting the procedure. And because placing stents is a much less invasive procedure than open heart surgery, it’s a preferable – and less risky – option.
However, as we’ve previously noted on this blog, such procedures are sometimes unnecessary. A 2011 study found that one in eight U.S. patients who have non-emergency stenting procedures are likely to see more harm than good from the procedure.
A spokeman for Bush said that even though he not been experiencing symptoms commonly associated with a cardiac event, such as chest pain, the stent was necessary.
To encourage cost-effective, safe, and integrated care management for patients affected by cardiovascular disease, MedBen provides a clinically accountable solution: Comprehensive Cardiovascular Care Management. From review of patient medical status and alignment with medically necessary care to pre-negotiation for cost management opportunities, this program is a completely integrated resource that that promotes positive patient outcomes.
To learn more about Comprehensive Cardiovascular Care Management, contact MedBen Vice President of Sales & Marketing Brian Fargus at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taking antioxidant supplements won’t improve the chances of women who are trying to get pregnant, a new review shows.
According to HealthDay News, an analysis of 28 clinic trials that included a total of 3,548 women attending fertility clinics found that inactive placebos or standard treatment, including folic acid, proved just as effective as antioxidant supplements
“There is no evidence in this review that suggests taking an antioxidant is beneficial for women who are trying to conceive,” lead researcher Marian Showell, who works in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, said in a Cochrane Library news release.
On the plus side, the trials that looked at harmful effects of antioxidant supplements suggested that taking then doesn’t appear to potentially endanger women. But the researchers did note that antioxidants and other dietary supplements are unregulated and there is limited evidence on their safety and effects.
While there seems to be a general consensus that our population as a whole could be in better shape, that reality hasn’t motivated the United States to step up obesity-prevention efforts on a national or local level, says a report from the Institute of Medicine.
HealthDay News reports that compared to other countries, America’s investment in the crisis “is too sporadic, presenting serious barriers to understanding the impact of interventions and the need for future investments,” according to a news release from the institute, which advises the federal government on health issues.
The institute report also said current national monitoring of these programs and policies lack adequate leadership, coordination, infrastructure, guidance, accountability and capacity. Moreover, local communities lack the necessary resources to evaluate the scope of obesity problems or develop and monitor obesity-prevention efforts.
“This report is most important,” said Dr. Mitchell Roslin, chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Sadly, it will find that current efforts are not working, especially in economic-challenged areas.”
For obesity-prevention programs to have an impact, “more funding and tough choices will need to occur,” Roslin said.
Americans say they’re more concerned about living healthy lifestyles, particularly in regard to their weight and diet, according to a new survey.
USA Today reports that the survey, conducted for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), found 58% say they’re paying more attention to personal health issues than in the past, and eating a healthy diet (57%), maintaining a healthy weight (54%) and reducing stress (45%) are their top concerns.
“What we’re really measuring is a feeling here, rather than a calculated prediction,” says Geoffrey Garin, president of Hart Research Associates, which conducted the survey for PhRMA. “The feeling is, even if my health isn’t great today, I have the potential to turn all that around.”
At MedBen, we believe that a key to changing health for the better is partnering with a primary care physician to track conditions and provide care and counsel when needed. That’s why our Worksite Wellness program emphasizes the doctor-patient relationaship.
Additionally, MedBen uses claims data to detect important health patterns. With useful progress reports and online services that help members keep on top of their testing.
The Food and Drug Administration has announced it will now place warnings on the popular pain reliever acetaminophen, better known as Tylenol.
NPR reports that the goal of the agency’s action is not to make people nervous about using the drug, but rather to make the public aware that its use may cause skin disorders. This may be anything from a simple skin rash to the more serious Stevens-Johnson syndrome.
Johnson and Johnson, the manufacturer of Tylenol, said, “The FDA’s information should be viewed within the context of the millions who have benefited from acetaminophen. The skin conditions cited by the agency, including Steven-Johnson Syndrome, are extremely rare, the causes of which remain the subject of debate.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, the FDA has reported 107 cases of serious skin conditions that were possibly related to acetaminophen, from the years 1969 to 2012. Of their research they found 12 deaths. Johnson and Johnson stated they will work with the FDA with the label changes and warning.
The FDA already places warnings about the risk of these disorders on several over-the counter-drugs including Advil, Motrin, Aleve and Midol.
What started as an aid to kick the cigarette habit has fast evolved into a trendy accessory that appeals to youth and teens as well as adult smokers. But are electronic cigarettes as harmless as their makers would have us believe?
“E-cigarettes”, while designed to look like the real thing, hold a battery that heats a liquid solution into a vapor. Puff on the device as you would a regular cigarette, and the device heats the liquid and changes it to a nicotine-filled vapor.
However, unlike chewing tobacco and traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. While marketed as a healthy alternative to smoking, the FDA and the American Lung Association do not support such claims.
According to the Licking County Health Department, a recent analysis of ingredients in the e-cigarette cartridge found levels of cancer-causing toxins. Also, the cartridges examined were inconsistent, with some nicotine found even in a cartridge marked as non-nicotine.
Eli Alelov, CEO of LOGIC Technology, maker of LOGIC e-cigarettes, told ABC News that e-cigarettes are not a health product, even though they contain no tar or tobacco, or produce no second-hand smoke. As for their usefulness as a smoking cessation tool, “We leave that up to the public: they can use their logic.”
Healthy teeth can contribute to a healthy mind, a new study indicates.
According to WebMD Health News, researchers from the University of Central Lancashire School of Medicine and Dentistry used donated brain samples to study a possible connection between oral health and Alheimer’s disease. Ten of the people had dementia, while 10 did not.
The researchers found the bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis – a bacteria that may contribute to changes in the brain, leading to confusion and failing memory – in the brains of four of those with dementia. And improper diet and brushing habits could allow the bacteria to enter the brain.
This could mean that visits to the dentist could be vital for brain health, said Sim Singhrao, PhD, a senior research fellow at the university. “The future of the research aims to discover if P. gingivalis can be used as a marker, via a simple blood test, to predict the development of Alzheimer’s disease in at-risk patients.”
Studies like this highlight the potential benefits of regular dental care. MedBen Dental emphasizes a preventive approach through regular checkups and hygiene, while offering full-scale coverage. Every basic and major dental service, from x-rays and diagnostic casts to dentures and bridges, can be covered under the plan.
For additional information about MedBen Dental, contact Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brian Fargus at email@example.com.
Some recent concerns that certain diabetes drugs may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer are unfounded, according to a spokeswoman from the Food and Drug Administration. Pharmalot reports that the agency’s conclusions about GLP-1 inhibitors are similar to those reached last week by the European Medicines Agency.
“The FDA concurs with the EMA’s conclusions regarding the potential pancreatic effects of GLP-1 based therapies,” the FDA spokeswoman wrote Pharmalot. “The agency believes that the current labeling for approved GLP-1 based therapies reflects the extent of our understanding of the safety signals at this point in time. FDA’s review is ongoing as pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer data are being collected in the cardiovascular outcome trials being conducted with this class of drugs.”
The drugs, which mimic a hormone called GLP-1 to stimulate natural insulin production, include Merck’s Januvia; Onglyza, which is sold by Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca; Byetta, which is also marketed by Bristol-Myers; the Tradjenta treatment sold by Eli Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim, and Novo Nordisk’s Victoza.
Earlier ths year, a study published in Diabetes found, in humans, the drugs caused “marked” cell proliferation and damage, and displayed a potential for eventually transforming into cancer. An ensuing review of pancreas from 20 deceased human organ donors with type 2 diabetes found no evidence to substantiate the claim.
Doctors increasingly prescribe painkillers and CT scans for the treatment of routine back pain even though clinical guidelines recommend otherwise, a new study revealed.
According to the Los Angeles Times, researchers at Massachusetts’ Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School found that from 1999 to 2010, prescriptions for narcotic painkillers to treat back pain jumped 51%. Simultaneously, prescriptions for non-opiate drugs had fallen by the same amount.
The study authors wrote that “well-established guidelines for routine back pain stress conservative management, including use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen and physical therapy.” But while physical therapy remained steady during the study period, more and more doctors choose opoids over NSAIDs, in spite of an earlier analysis that showed painkillers to be ineffective for acute or chronic back pain.
The medical guidelines also recommended that doctors avoid early imaging or other aggressive treatments, except in rare cases. But researchers found that the use of computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) had increased by 57% over the study period.
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The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has endorsed annual CT scans to detect lung cancer in current and former smokers, The Wall Street Journal reports. By doing so, about 20% of lung-cancer deaths might be avoided, the task force concluded.
“We might be able to prevent 20,000 deaths” yearly, estimated Michael LeFevre, co-vice chairman of the USPSTF.
The task force recommended that people consider screening for lung cancer if they are current or former smokers between the ages of 55 and 79, and have smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years and have smoked within the past 15 years.
But not everyone agrees that an annual test, which can cost $100-$300, is a good idea. A separate panel of doctors advising the National Cancer Institute cautioned that too much screening and too much early treatment can sometimes be harmful to patients.
“Physicians, patients and the general public must recognize that overdiagnosis is common and occurs more frequently with cancer screening. Overdiagnosis, or identification of indolent cancer, is common in breast, lung, prostate and thyroid cancer,” the doctors wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“We believe the benefits do outweigh the harms,” countered LeFevre, adding that the decision was largely based on a 2011 study sponsored by the NCI.
A few weeks back, we highlighted an article by a family physician that cautioned individuals about the dangers of using the Internet to self-diagnose medical concerns. Dr. Kenneth Lin warned that many health websites contain “flawed, inaccurate, or biased” information, and that any advice found online should only be followed in conjunction with a doctor’s care.
Still, with our increased reliance on the Internet as a repository of information, it’s unrealistic to expect that people won’t research just what may be causing their sore throat and headaches. So rather than warn patients away from the web, some physicians are doing just the opposite:
“Now more health-care providers are turning the tables, steering patients to new and improved computerized symptom-checkers that make it easier for them to get reliable information about possible diagnoses, research their condition and even connect directly to a doctor. Doctors are adding these tools to their websites and incorporating them into electronic medical records, encouraging patients to use them before office visits to save time and make consultations more productive. Another benefit: Results turned up by a symptom-checker may actually help doctors think of something they hadn’t considered.
“‘Patients are experts on their symptoms and doctors are experts in working out their probable causes,’ and need to work together to formulate a list of possible diagnoses, says Jason Maude, chief executive of Isabel Healthcare, launched in 2001 as a professional online diagnostic checklist for doctors.’