Personalized Medicine is the Future: Are You Ready?

Most of us are used to a “one size fits all” methodology of medicine.  You go in, you get your physical and answer a few questions.  Unless you have symptoms, or are already being treated for something, you are sent home with a clean bill of health.  But what if you know that breast cancer or colon cancer runs in the family?  Just having a family history of cancer may not be enough to raise any questions.  Or is it? The rise of Personalized Medicine, an evolving medicine in which treatments are tailored to the individual, is changing the face of medicine.  If you are at high-risk but still healthy, you may benefit from new technologies that are aimed at improving the treatment of certain types of cancer.  Biomarker tests, such as the CA 125 (Cancer antigen 125) test or the CEA (Carcinoembryonic antigen) test, can identify potential cancers before symptoms appear and can be used to determine how well a patient will respond to treatment.  Although cancer marker tests are not foolproof, they are being used more and more by oncologists to define and manage treatment plans. In addition, the FDA is working with drug and device manufacturers to assess and approve additional tests that will personalize cancer drug treatments based on a person’s genetic makeup.  These tests, called Companion Diagnostics, are targeted specifically at the way each person’s body reacts to a specific drug.  Initially used for the breast cancer drug, Herceptin, the first companion diagnostic test evaluates the level of the protein HER2 in the blood.  If there are high levels, it is an indication that Herceptin...

Teen Pregnancy Prevention: Can You Help?

Did you know that the rate of teen pregnancies in 2010 was the lowest it’s been since 1946?  Either teens are actually starting to pay attention or adults are getting involved and are willing to talk about it so they can make a difference.  Either way, something is clicking with teens.  The pregnancy rate dropped 37% between 1992 and 2005 and the birth rate dropped 33% in that same time period.  These numbers, posted in a document developed by Advocates for Youth is helping to spread the word for National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month (NTPPM) which is going on right now, during the month of May. Are you a teen?  Are you at risk?  Having unprotected sex and keeping your fingers crossed?  According to statistics posted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in the US 3 in 10 girls get pregnant by the time they are 20 years old.  Although girls in the United States begin to explore and experiment with sex at the same age as their European counterparts, they are more likely to get pregnant.  Girls who become pregnant during their teen years are less likely to complete high school or college and more likely to live in poverty.  Using contraception and delaying the start of sexual intercourse has made a huge difference in our numbers and teen pregnancies are the lowest they’ve been in 40 years, but we still have quite a ways to go. Are you a parent, a business person, a religious leader?  Reaching out to the teens in your life, supporting movements like this and encouraging open communication about the risks of teen pregnancy...

Start Early to Prevent Dementia in Old Age

Many people are afraid of finding out that they may get Alzheimer’s disease or any other form of dementia, primarily because there is no treatment.  Would you want to know that you won’t recognize your spouse or children and that you won’t be able to take care of yourself?  Maybe not, if there was nothing you could do to stop it!  Then every slip of the tongue or forgetful moment could cause a panic attack. Would you be able to look forward to your “golden” years?  I don’t know if I would.  Because most people don’t think about it until they already have full blown symptoms, there isn’t much that can be done.  New research is being developed that could detect signs of dementia in patients in their 40s that could allow for preventive changes in diet and exercise that could delay or even prevent the disorder. One test, a computer screening test, takes only 30 seconds and identifies white matter lesions in the temporal lobe that appear to be related to early signs of dementia.  Another is a verbal screening test, dubbed the “Sweet 16” for the 16 questions in the test that appears to be as effective or better than the current standard test the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) which identifies dementia symptoms in older patients allowing for quick and easy detection.  There are also Genetic Predisposition Tests that can look at your overall genetic pattern and possible risk of Alzheimer’s and other diseases.  Knowing that there are more ways being developed that can identify this dreaded disease and preventive measures you can take means maybe we won’t...

Alzheimer’s Has a High Price Tag

There are many reasons to continue research into what causes Alzheimer’s and how to prevent it, not least of which is the high cost this cruel disease exacts in financial terms.  Alzheimer’s Disease International, a non-profit organization based in the United Kingdom, presented in their 2010 World Alzheimer Report the financial burden placed on society by those suffering with the disease.  The medical costs of care are higher in wealthier countries because more of the care is provided by healthcare professionals.  In developing countries the cost is much lower, not due to lack of care, but because the care is provided at home by family members and not by professionals.  The time expended is still very high and poses a burden to families. The report indicated that the costs of dementia will rise significantly.  Alzheimer’s Disease International recommends that cost effective medical and social strategies need to be developed to assist the families and the individuals affected throughout the course of the illness.  Additionally, evidence-based prevention strategies need to be developed and implemented.  Tests can provide information about individuals’ risks of contracting the disease but the financial burden isn’t lessened by early detection.  Written by...

Genetic Testing at Berkeley “Adjusted”

The University of California at Berkeley had an interesting idea, “Bring Your Genes to Cal”, but the state Public Health Department disagreed.  The original plan was to test incoming freshman for three genes involved in the metabolism of alcohol, lactose and folates.  The theory was that providing this information to new students would help them manage their health better by perhaps, not drinking as much alcohol, understanding why they got uncomfortable after consuming dairy or increasing their intake of leafy greens to increase their folate levels.  Unfortunately, the California Public Health Department determined that the information could be used improperly. The University agreed not to provide the information directly to students but will test the samples provided voluntarily by approximately 1,000 students to explore these issues.   The unexpected response is providing an experience that the Berkeley professors who started the program didn’t expect.  Based on the adjustment of the program Berkeley is planning open debates and conversations about the ethics of genetic testing.    Some clinics do provide genetic testing to determine a predisposition to specific diseases including certain cancers, coronary heart disease, multiple sclerosis and obesity among others.  These clinics are certified to provide the testing whereas Berkeley is not and the testing was not part of a research study.  The field of genetic testing is expanding dramatically and tests are starting to provide ever more valuable health information.  The ethics of some of these tests and how the information is used is still a major point of controversy. Written by...