A New Look For Clinical Trials

If you wanted to create a playlist of music that would appeal to many different types of people, you probably wouldn’t ask only middle-aged white men in Los Angeles to tell you you their favorite songs. More likely, you’d include people of many different racial and32-clinical-trials-175x175-WEB ethnic backgrounds from all parts of the country: some who grew up with jazz or salsa music, others who were raised on rock ‘n’ roll, and still others who know their Bach from their Beethoven.

Cancer treatments are kind of like a playlist: Not everyone responds to them in the same way. To get clinical trial results that will be applicable to the broadest range of people, researchers need to enroll women and men of different ages and racial backgrounds in their studies. Yet, when you look at a room of clinical trial participants, you typically see a preponderance of higher-income, middle-aged white men, most of  whom don’t have health problems besides their cancer. But what about African-American women with cancer and diabetes? Or elderly Latinos with kidney problems in addition to cancer? Will the treatment be safe or effective for them? If they aren’t included in the clinical trial there is no way to know.

My feature story in the summer issue of Cancer Today explores efforts underway to increase enrollment and widen access to clinical trials. Read my story.

Thyroid Cancer’s Overdiagnosis Problem

Unknown-1For the past three decades, rates of thyroid cancer have risen. According to researchers, better cancer detection accounts for that increase. Women and men diagnosed and successfully treated for thyroid cancer also are likely to attribute their survival to improved detection. Yet the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises against routine thyroid cancer screening in people with symptoms.

Read my full article online in the current issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute or use:this link

 

Tackling Cancer in Rural Communities

Seeing this article on improving cancer control in rural communities on the NCI website today, made me decide it was time to post on my blog an article I wrote in 2008 for CR, the precursor to Cancer Today.

It’s nearly a decade later, but the issues remain the same.

The Culture and Cancer of Rural Poverty

Nowhere in America is the connection between rural poverty and cancer as clear-cut as in Appalachia

When Bruce Behringer gave a presentation on cancer last year, he began by telling a story. It started with the number 44.

A road in Appalachia“This,” the cancer researcher said, “was our state’s ranking in cancer incidence from 2000 to 2004.” Behringer, who is the executive director of the Office of Rural and Community Health and Community Partnerships at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, then showed the number 20. “And this,” he said, “is where we were in 2005.”

But just as Behringer’s audience began to consider this dramatic jump in the state’s cancer diagnosis ranking, an even more alarming number appeared in his next Powerpoint slide: six. “This,” he intoned, “was our state’s ranking in cancer mortality from 2000 to 2004.”

Finally, Behringer showed the number three. “Folks,” he said, “this is not the University of Tennessee’s football ranking. And it’s not the Lady Vols’ rank in basketball. We were No. 3 in the country in cancer mortality in 2005. And that’s not where we want to be.”

Read the full article

Helping Cancer Patients and Caregivers Navigate Immunotherapy Treatment

Immunotherapy is one of the fastest growing areas of cancer research. The Cancer Moonshot 2020 Program calls for the creation of a Cancer Immunotherapy Translational Science Network to develop and implement immune-based approaches for preventing and treating adult and pediatric cancers. There are more than 500 open immunotherapy trials listed on ClincalTrials.gov and the list of immunotherapy drugs, as well as the cancers they are approved to treat, keeps growing. Educational programs for cancer patients and caregivers are needed to help them understand how, when, or if immunotherapy should be integrated into their treatment—and how it can be paid for.

I worked with the Cancer Support Community to plan and implement a 2-day Immunotherapy Patient & Caregiver Summit. The meeting, held in November 2016, provided a unique opportunity for immunotherapy patients to share their experiences. It also allowed the Cancer Support Community to identify specific needs and concerns of patients who are on these treatments. This is the article we wrote for the American Journal of Managed Care Evidence-Based Oncology about what we learned.

Rolling Up Her Sleeves

When Dina Mired married Prince Mired bin Raad of Jordan in 1992, she became a princess. Five years later, their son, Rakan, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia a few days before his second birthday. That’s when Mired gained a new title: cancer careg58-rolling-up-her-sleeves-175x263-WEBiver. The ones she earned after that: cancer foundation director, advocate, fundraiser.

For the Spring 2017 issue of Cancer Today,  I spoke with Princess Mired about her work to improve cancer care in Jordan. We spoke shortly after she was elected president of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). When she moves into the position in 2018, Mired will be the first Arab and the first nonmedical professional to be president of the UICC.

Here’s the story.

Going Full Bore

For the Winter 2016/2017 issue of Cancer Today, I profiled Susan Leighton, a 19-year survivor and powerful advocate for ovarian cancer research.

Leightonwinter-cover-susan-leighton-158x203-web has shared her ovarian cancer story too many times to count. She’s spoken in rooms filled with medical students, educating them about ovarian cancer’s symptoms. She’s testified before Congress to garner support for ovarian cancer research. She’s personified hope on telephone calls with women newly diagnosed with cancer or those who have had a recurrence. Her story is backed by a vast knowledge of ovarian cancer science and bolstered by its uniqueness: There are not many 19-year ovarian cancer survivors.

Read the story

Fall 2016 Cancer Today

For the news section of the Fall 2016 issue of Cancer Today, I developed and edited these articles:

  • Thyroid Tumor Gets New Name: Panel Reclassifies a Type of Thyroid Tumor, Says It’s Not Cancer
  • Rare Tumors Can Mimic ADHD: Tumors Tied to High Blood Pressure
  • Do You Know BRCA?
  • Making Decisions About End-of-Life Care: Study Finds Few Terminally Ill Patients Understand Their Prognosis
  • Many Cancers in HIV-Positive Patients Go Untreated: Study Suggests Need to Educate Patients with HIV and Their Doctors

See the full Fall 2016 Forward Look.

Resume

Sue Rochman

2622 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California 94115
415.346.0414 • 415.290.8473
Sue.L.Rochman@gmail.com  • @SRochman

________________________________________________________________

I am a professional journalist covering health and medicine, with an eye toward overlooked and underexplored topics. My areas of expertise include women’s health, cancer, and health disparities. I have extensive experience working with writers, editors, and public relations specialists; identifying, assigning, and editing timely news and feature stories; and writing compelling feature-length articles. I am able to manage multiple projects simultaneously.

Career Highlights

Independent Health/Medical Journalist                                                1989 to Present

Write news and feature articles for national, regional, and special-interest publications and health websites. This includes:

    • Contributing writer and editor for Cancer Today, published by the American Association for Cancer Research. Move articles in the magazine’s Forward Look news section through full editorial process, from assignment through publication. Write news and feature stories.
    • Medical writer for Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. Wrote content for website launch and re-launch. Write news articles for blog and website.
    • Medical writer for BreastCancerTrials.org. Wrote content for website launch and re-launch. Edit trial summaries. Wrote quarterly newsletter.
    • Health writer for Cancer Support Community. Wrote content for site re-launch (coming January 2016). Write guides for cancer patients and survivors.
    • Served as editor at large for HIV Plus, writing news and feature stories on HIV/AIDS.

My work has appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, SELF, The Advocate, MAMM, and the Los Angeles Times. I have written articles and reports for Remedy Health Media/Health After 50 and the UC Berkeley Wellness Report.

Communications Director, Gay & Lesbian Medical Association                      1998 to 2000

      • Responsible for creating and implementing strategic communications plans.
      • Developed and fostered relationships with local, regional, and national media.

Education

Master of Arts, Journalism

S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Bachelor of Arts, Women’s Studies

University of California, San Diego

Awards

Excellence in Journalism Award, Society of Professional Journalists Greater Philadelphia Chapter, 2011

Award for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, Association of Health Care Journalists, 2007

Cancer Seminar Fellow, National Press Foundation, 2003

Easing the Pain

Pain and cancer frequently go hand in hand. Studies suggest between 20 and 50 percent of cancer patients are experiencing pain at the time of their diagnosis. But while pain is common in cancer patients, it’s not always easy to treat. In fact, pain management can be one of the more challenging areas of cancer care. That’s why I decided to write about it for the spring issue of Cancer Today.

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Easing the Pain

Pain is no gain for patients during or after cancer treatment.

 

In 2009, Mike Richardson was diagnosed with melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer, following removal of a suspicious-looking mole near his collarbone. He had surgery to remove the area around the mole, and all appeared well. But two years later, a biopsy of a swollen lymph node in his neck confirmed the cancer had returned. To corral the cancer, Mike had surgery to remove that node and others nearby, followed by radiation. That’s when the pain began.

“Mike started having general soreness,and then he started to have some pain,and then that pain began to become extreme,” recalls his wife, Eryn Richardson. “It was unbearable. He couldn’t sit or lay down. He would say ‘everything hurts.’ ” The pain would make the 40-mile drivefrom their home in Black Diamond, Alberta, Canada, to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary seem even longer. Yet when her husband, who died in March 2013, told his oncologist about his discomfort, the physician had little to offer, Richardson says. “Her response was ‘just take some Tylenol or Advil,’ ” she says. “She didn’t seem concerned.”

But to those close to him, it was clear Mike was not doing well. After two months of chemotherapy, the 50-year-old had dropped 50 pounds, and his clothes hung on his 6-foot-plus frame. “He wasn’t the same person,” says Richardson. “He didn’t have a lot of go to him anymore and he didn’t have any drive. And he was frustrated because he didn’t feel his oncologist was taking his pain seriously. His complaints about pain didn’t seem to resonate with her.”

One day, following a routine appointment, a nurse handed Mike a pamphlet about support for cancer patients. Using a phone number on the pamphlet, he scheduled an appointment with a psychologist who had experience with melanoma patients. At the first meeting, the psychologist asked Mike to rate his pain on a scale of one to 10. “When Mike said eight,” says Richardson, “he was flabbergasted.”

The psychologist made an appointment for Mike at the pain clinic at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre for the following day. It took a few more weeks for the specialists there to get Mike on the right dose of the right medications. But after that, his pain was better managed. “He got his appetite back,” says Richardson, “and he began to feel more human.” Still, the Richardsons couldn’t help but wonder: Why had it taken nine months for Mike to get proper pain management?

Read the full article in the Spring 2016  Cancer Today.

Even NPR Doesn’t Always Get it Right

If you listen to NPR, you may have heard this news story about how eating fiber can reduce a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer.

The reporter discusses this study, which was published online today in the journal Pediatrics, on dietary fiber and breast cancer risk. The data come from the Nurses Health Study II which is investigating the relationship between oral contraceptives, diet and lifestyle risk factors and overall health in 116,686 women. The researchers started following these women in 1989, when they were between the ages of 25 and 42.

In 1998, 44 263 of these women were asked questions about their diet during high school; since then, 1118 of these women have developed  breast cancer. Based on their analysis the researchers conclude,”Among all women, early adulthood total dietary fiber intake was associated (my emphasis) with significantly lower breast cancer risk.”

Note the words I emphasized: “was associated.” That’s precisely what this study showed. Why use the word “associated?” Because this is an epidemiology study. This type of study can show a correlation, but it cannot prove causation. It’s possible that the women who said they ate more fiber as teens had other aspects of their life–a good diet, exercise, not smoking, etc.–that also played a role in reducing their breast cancer risk.  It’s also possible that many of these women misreported what they ate as adolescents, since they were answering questions about what they ate as teens when they were between the ages of 35 and 52.

Before discussing their own research, the study’s authors explain, “Previous studies of fiber intake and breast cancer have almost all been nonsignificant, but none of them examined diet during adolescence or early adulthood, a period when breast cancer risk factors appear to be particularly important.” Yet, what’s the NPR headline: A Diet High in Fiber May Help Protect Against Breast Cancer.” Umm, not really.

And what does the NPR reporter say about the study: “… if you’re skimping on fiber, the health stakes are high, especially if you’re a teenage girl. A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics concludes that eating lots of fiber-rich foods during high school years may significantly reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.” Umm, not really, either.

As you now know from what I explained earlier,  the study did not conclude “eating lots of fiber rich food may significantly reduce” breast cancer risk. It concluded, “a higher fiber intake was associated with lower breast cancer risk and suggests that intake during adolescence and early adulthood may be particularly important.”

We should all–adults and adolescents alike–eat a high fiber diet. It helps maintain a healthy weight and helps decrease risk for heart disease and diabetes.

We should all also pay close attention to the types of studies journalists report, and how they report them. Here’s what the researchers conclude:

The findings in this large prospective study support the hypothesis that consumption of foods high in fiber reduce breast cancer risk. These results also suggest that dietary fiber intake during adolescence and early adulthood may be particularly important. Our findings are in line with the American Cancer Society guidelines to consume foods rich in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and indicate the importance of adopting these food choices during childhood and early adult life.

The reporter should have reached the same conclusion too.

Tip of the hat to MR for getting me to write about this by suggesting the headline.