Doctors and clinicians from a wide array of specialties will offer their insights about the importance of preventive care at an upcoming community health forum in Hartford, featuring a keynote address by Dr. Jewel Mullen, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health. “Get Health Wise: The Benefits of Preventive Care” on Oct. 7, hosted by the Conn. Health I-Team, will give attendees the opportunity to hear presentations from doctors and clinicians at various health care stations. A panel discussion – with a question and answer period – will follow.
Medicare-funded breast cancer screenings jumped 44 percent from $666 million to $962 million from 2001 to 2009, yet those added costs did not improve early detection rates among the 65 and older Medicare population, according to a Yale School of Medicine study published recently in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The increase was due mostly to the use of costlier digital mammography ($115 per screening) compared to film mammography ($73 per screening), along with newer and expensive screening and adjunct technologies, including breast ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and biopsy. The study is the second from Yale since January 2013 to conclude that increased Medicare spending for breast cancer screening does not necessarily translate into better outcomes. The latest study has spurred debate about the cost and value of mammography in Medicare beneficiaries, particularly women 75 and older. Some physicians recommend continued screening, while others argue that it is unnecessary and only fuels anxiety among older women.
Dr. Erin Hofstatter, a young research scientist and breast cancer specialist at Yale’s Smilow Cancer Hospital, often prescribes tamoxifen, raloxifene and similar drugs to her patients. The drugs “reduce your risk (of cancer recurring) by half … but they come with baggage,” she tells her patients, “hot flashes, night sweats, leg cramps, small risk of uterine cancer, small risk of blood clots, small risk of stroke, you have to get your liver tested.”
Hofstatter’s unease with standard treatments for breast cancer has spurred her to seek alternative, safer ways to treat breast cancer. To this end, she has begun a study of black cohosh, in the pill form of an herb from the buttercup family, used for thousands of years by Native Americans to treat menopausal symptoms.
“There’s data to suggest that [black cohosh] is protective,” she said, “both in breast cancer survivors and potentially preventive in women who’ve never had breast cancer, based on a few large observational trials.”
Just as practices like acupuncture and meditation – once considered, at best, nontraditional are now widely used to help patients cope with the side-effects of cancer treatments and other illnesses, natural products – foods (blueberries, walnuts, soy), herbs like black cohosh and plant-based anti-oxidants like capsaicin (which makes hot peppers hot) have become accepted subjects for research. But far from simply embracing these practices or foods, scientists now apply rigorous scientific methods to what are considered non-traditional medications to determine just how effective – or ineffective — they are. A similar scientific focus is being directed at exercise, diet, and meditation.
US Rep. Rosa DeLauro and leading breast cancer experts from The Breast Center-Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven and the Hospital of Central Connecticut will be the featured panelists at a unique community forum organized by the Connecticut Health I-Team (www.c-hit.org), a non-profit news service that provides in-depth coverage of health care issues. The forum – “Beyond The Pink Ribbon: New Frontiers In Screening, Treating and Preventing Cancer” – will focus on the latest inroads and challenges in breast cancer detection and treatment. The event is open to the public, and early registration (at www.c-hit.org) is encouraged. Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit The Breast Center – Smilow Hospital and C-HIT’s ongoing health journalism. Speakers include: Dr. Anees Chagpar, director of The Breast Center – Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, who led the effort for Yale to become the first NCI designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Northeast to have a nationally accredited breast center; Dr. Regina Hooley, a radiologist and researcher at the Yale Cancer Center who specializes in ultrasound screening, mammography and breast density; and Dr. Kristen Zarfos, a renowned surgeon and women’s health specialist at the Hospital of Central Connecticut who led a successful grassroots campaign to ban “drive-through” mastectomies in Connecticut.