Decisions Rendered for Products Alleged to Cause Cancer

On March 27, a New Jersey jury released Johnson & Johnson (J&J) from liability in a lawsuit that alleged that asbestos in the company’s talc-based products caused one man’s mesothelioma. J&J contends that its talc-based products, including its baby powder, are safe. On the same day, in California, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded Edwin Hardeman $80 million in damages, after ruling that Roundup weed killer caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Bayer, the German pharmaceutical company which purchased the agricultural manufacturer Monsanto in June, stated it will appeal the decision and asserted its product is not carcinogenic, according to the New York Times. J&J faces 13,000 talc-related lawsuits nationwide, according to CNBC. Monsanto faces 11,000 similar lawsuits in federal or state court, CNN reports.

FDA Proposes National Standard for Dense Breast Notifications

Following the lead of more than three dozen states who already require mammogram providers to inform women about breast density, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed standards mandating that patients receive letters with information about breast density after mammograms. Dense breasts contain more connective tissue, which appears white on mammograms and can make detecting malignancies more difficult. In addition, having dense breasts increases the risk for developing breast cancer. Almost half of women 40 and older who receive mammograms have dense breasts, according to the March 27 Washington Post. Patient advocate Nancy Cappello, who was diagnosed with stage IIIC breast cancer in 2004, led the charge for dense breast notifications by establishing an advocacy organization, Are You Dense?. She wasn’t told she had dense breasts until she received her diagnosis, which came six weeks after a clean mammogram. Cappello died in November 2018 from conditions related to her cancer, but her husband Joseph applauded the FDA’s action in the Washington Post article.  

Do Patients With Kidney Damage Really Need to Avoid Contrast-Enhanced Scans?

Contrast agents make it easier to detect tumors on a CT scan, but they can also cause kidney damage. Thus, many doctors avoid administering them to patients who have renal problems. Clayton Dalton, a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, questions this practice in a March 23 column for NPR, outlining recent evidence that suggests the risks may be overstated for some patients with impaired kidney function. “The downside is that these patients may not receive the diagnostic information that would be most useful for them,” writes Dalton, who urges patients to talk over the option with physicians.

Columnist Tallies the Financial Burden of Caregiving

Having watched his best friend get through cancer treatment with a strong support system in place, Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, wrote a column about the difficulties of caregiving he witnessed in the March 25 New York Times. “This is not a story about how the system failed, or how people need insurance or access. He had those. He got the care. This is the United States health care system at its peak performance,” Carroll writes. “But I was utterly floored by how hard it all was.”  In addition to interviewing other cancer survivors, Carroll tallies caregivers’ days off from work and describes the strain on relatives who pitch in to watch kids or provide rides to treatments. Noting the limitations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, Carroll questions why so few resources are dedicated to this necessary part of care. “The efforts of caregivers are probably just as important to health as the drugs and procedures the medical system provides,” he writes.

Diamondback Moths, Evolutionary Theory and Cancer

When considering effective approaches to cancer treatment, one might not immediately think of Charles Darwin or diamondback moths. However, an article published March 25 in WIRED shows how one scientist’s understanding of these two topics prompted him to study an unconventional treatment strategy. In the 1950s, efforts to control diamondback moths found success by applying pesticides to vegetation only when moth populations reached a certain threshold, rather than simply blanketing crops. For Robert Gatenby, a radiologist at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, this gave rise to a question: Could using medications only when there are signs of cancer growth—rather than on an ongoing basis—potentially lengthen patient’s response times and delay drug resistance? His study, which looked at 11 patients with prostate cancer, showed an increased length of response compared to previous research using standard dosing.