Sunday, June 26, 2011

What Really Killed Farrah Fawcett?

Recently Ryan O'Neal sat down for an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan. When I first heard that he was claiming to have potentially been the cause of the late actresses death I was intrigued to see if he was going to comment about HPV (Human Papillomavirus).

It was truly disappointing not only to have no mention of HPV, but to blame it on of all things, his daughter? Unfortunately Ryan O'Neal has had a long history of anger, threats, and drug problems. Now we can obviously add denial to that list. How repulsive for any parent to refuse accountability and responsibility for his own actions and life decisions than to blame it on your child.

He stated in his interview that "we really don't know what causes cancer". Well Mr. O'Neal, in the case of anal cancer, which ultimately took Farrah's life in 2009, we DO know that more than 90% of them are the result of HPV.

While most people relate HPV to cervical cancer, they are blissfully unaware of the myriad of other cancers resulting from this virus nor that there is a vaccine available to help protect against two of the most high risk strains of the virus known to cause most cancers.

Knowing that HPV causes 99.9% of cervical cancers, and since instituting screening programs decades ago the incidence of cervical cancer in the US has dropped 75%. Anal cancers however have been on the rise. A research study conductd by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle Washington shows that over the past thirty years anal cancer in women has increased by 78% while in men, it has increased a staggering 160%. That study was conducted in 2004. Who knows how much higher those statistics have risen in the intervening seven years.

While HPV was never mentioned in Farrah's documentary, statistics would suggest that HPV was involved (though there is a small likelihood that it was not). In trying to overcome the stigma of anal cancer, Farrah created her documentary to educate others regarding this little talked about cancer. Unfortuately, and especially in the opinion of those having HPV, she failed miserably in not providing any type of public service announcement letting people know about anal HPV and more importantly about the vaccine.

The HPV forums were raging for weeks after the documentary, which garnered millions of viewers, aired. Such a lost opportunity for someone of such celebrity not to have gone further and provided information which, since it aired, could have saved countless lives. It definitely has cost some.

I also wish that Piers Morgan, as a journalist, were more educated as to have posed a question regarding HPV in response to O'Neal's comment. It is far more likely if O'Neal had stated he knew he had HPV that perhaps yes, he possibly could have caused Farrah's cancer. Could the stress he attributes to his family life have affected Farrah's immune system making it more difficult for her body to control the HPV? This is certainly a more realistic conclusion.

Whether her cancer was the result of HPV or not, the statistics alone certainly warranted mention in her documentary. Will people remember the documentary? I'm sure they will. Would more people be asking their doctors about anal cancer, HPV and the available vaccine, which has been available since 2006, had it been mentiond? I'm sure they would.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The New Side Effect of Cancer - Bankruptcy

There have previously been studies regarding the link to bankruptcy and cancer. For the most part this information has been obtained from those willing to divulge their bankruptcy filing. However, now for the first time research has been done utilizing the government’s public records regarding bankruptcy filings and the tumor registry recordings of cancer.

According to Scott Ramsey, MD and PhD who lead the study, “The risk of bankruptcy for cancer patients is not well known, and previous studies have relied on individual self-reports about medically related reasons for bankruptcy filing. By linking two irrefutable government records of cancer and bankruptcy, we are able to determine how financial insolvency risk varies by cancer type, treatment and other factors.”

Ramsey is a healthcare economist and an internist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He is also a member of the Hutchinson Center’s Public Health Sciences Division which conducted the study linking the federal governments’ court bankruptcy records in 13 counties in western Washington with the state’s cancer registry data.

The results show that bankruptcy increases an astounding four-fold within the first five years after diagnosis. It is shown to double within the first two years. While medical debt is typically not something an individual enters into voluntarily, credit reporting agencies such as Experian, Equifax and Transunion, (the top 3 credit reporting agencies) continue to include this debt on the patient’s personal credit report.

These results were just presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago. The study was conducted utilizing information from 232,000 adult cancer patients over a period of fourteen years and found that the length of survival correlated to the risk for insolvency.

Interestingly enough, those people on Medicare were less likely to be affected than younger individuals (also presumably with private or no insurance).

Other research has shown that the cost of cancer treatment in the United States has doubled over the past two decades. Many may presume that this is the result of the high cost of new chemotherapy drugs or innovative new treatments. The study concluded however that the actual cause of the dramatic rise in cost was the increase in the number of cancer patients themselves.

With FICO credit scores being utilized for just about everything these days, from obtaining a credit card to obtaining a job, Congress needs to look into modifying the current bankruptcy laws taking into account this new information. The longer a cancer patient survives, the more likely they are to become insolvent. Is what a cancer patient must endure to survive not enough of a punishment? Should a federal law designed to provide an individual with a fresh start be allowed to be utilized in such a way as to totally subjugate that purpose?

If one has a perfect driving record, why should their auto insurance rates go through the roof because they now have a low FICO score resulting from trying to survive cancer? It shouldn't. The road a cancer patient must travel in order to survive is difficult enough. Should they continue to be penalized by the existing bankruptcy laws as the price for having survived?

Perhaps when doctors are explaining to patients the potential side effects of their cancer treatment, filing bankruptcy should now be included in that list.