U.S. Government, FDA not doing well enough for smokers’ lung care

by Colonel on June 30, 2011

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”   A panel advising the U.S. Food and Drug Administration voted against approval to use an extremely popular but pricey cancer drug to treat breast cancer. While the FDA denies cost is a factor in its decisions, some conservative critics of the FDA say the agency is making life-or-death decisions for patients based on money considerations.

Two seemingly unrelated medical reports released on Wednesday will add to the dilemma over how much money and effort to spend saving, or improving, a life. One study shows that a potentially expensive X-ray protocol can detect lung cancer early enough to save patients’ lives. And a report from the U.S. Institute of Medicine advises a major rethink of how Americans treat pain.

The IOM, which advises the federal government and Congress on health issues, says the National Institutes of Health should take the lead on transforming pain research.

The report found that every year, at least 116 million adult Americans suffer chronic pain, with fallout costs of between $560 billion and $635 billion. It calls on Medicare, Medicaid, workers compensation programs, and private health plans to find ways to cover interdisciplinary pain care.

“All too often, prevention and treatment of pain are delayed, inaccessible, or inadequate. Patients, health care providers, and our society need to overcome misperceptions and biases about pain,” Philip Pizzo, a professor of pediatrics, microbiology, and immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine and chair of the Institute panel, said in a statement.

“We feel that there is a moral imperative that we seek to do something about this problem as it relates to America” he said.

Also on Wednesday, the New England Journal of Medicine published a government study seeking to settle the issue of whether it is worthwhile to screen smokers for lung cancer, the most deadly cancer in the United States and the world.

The National Cancer Institute team found a 20 percent reduction in deaths from lung cancer among current or former heavy smokers who were screened three years in a row with a special X-ray called low-dose helical computed tomography, compared to standard chest X-rays.

This idea has been controversial for more than a decade, with proponents saying it is vital to catch lung cancer early to save lives and years of expensive but futile treatment. Critics fear that having early screening could dissuade some smokers from quitting and produce “false-positive” results that would lead to dangerous interventions such as lung biopsies.

Lung cancer presents an especially difficult problem because it rarely causes clear symptoms until it is far too late to save the patient, and many people feel smokers have brought the problem upon themselves.   ” [/expand]

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