Friday, December 27, 2013

Cancer 101

photo courtesy of times, uk
Statistically, you probably have a loved one that's struggling, or has struggled, with cancer...but what IS it?

Cancer, at it's most basic, is the term we use when a single cell in our body starts dividing rapidly and invading nearby tissues.  

Generally that single cell is larger and starts replicating out of control and forms a clump of cells we call a tumor.  Then, usually through the blood and lymphatic system, those cells are transported and invade other areas of the body.

photo courtesy of cancerhelpUK

Most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell that started the abnormal growth and division:  for example, cancer that begins in the colon is called colon cancer; cancer that begins in the lung is lung cancer, etc.  So if cancer originates in, say, the lung...then travels to the's STILL considered lung cancer...but once it's traveled to another organ or part of the body, we say that it's "metastasized".

So the word "cancer" really covers many different diseases. At this time, scientists have cataloged more than 100 different types of cancer.

In addition to it's specific cell type, cancer's are also referred to by their "group type" 

  • Carcinoma - cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs. 
  • Sarcoma - cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue. 
  • Leukemia - cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow. 
  • Lymphoma and myeloma - cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system. 
  • Central nervous system cancers - cancers that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.

The measure of "spread" of a cancer is known as it's "stage". Usually:
  •  stage 0 is in situ cancer; only the original cell types have been involved and there's no spread to any other cell "types"
  • stage 1 is localized cancer; the same organ, for example, but pushing through various layers of tissue.
  • stage 2 usually includes spread to the nearest lymph nodes; 
  • stage 3 usually indicates more extensive lymph node involvement 
  • stage 4 always indicates distant spread.

Cancer treatment is rapidly evolving and the current treatment options and alternatives are, not only beyond the scope of this article, but anything we could write would be obsolete by next week.

Please note, though, that all tumors are not, necessarily, cancerous.  A "benign" tumor is a clump of cells that AREN'T showing rapid or abnormal growth, spreading to different parts of the body, etc. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Winter Weather Advisory

This time of year, we want to remind you that, should you slide off the road, if it's at all possible, stay in your vehicle.

If, for some reason, you can't stay in your vehicle, whatever you do, don't follow your tracks back to the highway.

We see it every year: if it's slippery enough that you slid off, then the next person coming along will probably slide off as well and run right into you.

We also implore you to use other common sense measures when traveling in this weather.

  • Keep blankets in your car
  • Make sure your cell phone is charged.
  • Flares if you can deploy them safely

Be careful, be safe.  

We don't want to meet you by accident.

Friday, December 20, 2013

You better not pout, you better not cry...

This year you have some good choices to track Santa's progress across the globe.

While we can only assume the Jasper County Sheriff's department will be issuing their usual "do not detain" radio messages on Christmas Eve, you might want to get started a little earlier.

Norad, in conjunction with Microsoft, has updated their site with lots of fun for children of all ages.  They've taken a small bit of flak for providing Santa a jet fighter escort, but their web and tablet ready site is online and counting down.

Google, not to be outdone, also has a nice responsive site with plenty to keep those kids or grandkids busy for a bit.  

And there's a rumor that there'll be an android specific update coming between now and Christmas.

Whether you're a "Merry Christmas" or a "Happy Holidays" person, we hope that this season finds you surrounded by family and friends and good cheer.  May you be safe and well.

But, if you're not, we'll be here for you.

Monday, December 16, 2013

When it seems to good to be true....

Well, you know how that ends....

There's a lot of health advice out there and we urge you to cast a skeptical eye on all of it: including us.

Health studies are just that.  Studies.  They provide for more information, but rarely are they conclusive.  They add to the body of knowledge, but it takes more than one study before it becomes science.

And sometimes, there's outright deception involved.  The Federal Trade commission has recently begun raising awareness about advertisements that are designed to look like news.  They hide it by calling it "sponsored content", but it's nothing more than an ad.

Sometimes the deception goes even deeper.  The Australian Medical Board just fined a doctor $25,000 for claiming to cure cancer with green tea.

When you're sick, you're desperate for a cure.  The FDA is very slow.  It's only natural for people to turn to unapproved methods for relief.  Some might work, some won't, some will hurt you.

Please, be careful, take your time, do your research:  be a skeptic.

Don't just take anyone's advice, not even mine.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sleep: you need it

Can a good night's sleep keep you healthy?  

The CDC says that sufficient sleep is increasingly being recognized as an essential aspect of health promotion and chronic disease prevention.

Insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions—such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.

Additionally, in recent animal studies, scientists have discovered that sleep allows cerebrospinal fluid to more effectively flow throughout the brain's crevices, washing out the gunk, beta-amyloids, that accumulates and is believed to be a major contributor to Alzheimers and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Sufficient sleep isn't a luxury, it's a necessity for good health. 

And not just tossing and turning in bed, it's important to get good quality sleep.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Measles in the United States

measles virus, cdc photo
The CDC reports that measles are on the rise in the United States, estimating that 2013 will see a 400% increase in the typical number of cases.

Measles are a respiratory disease caused by a virus.  As such, once contracted, there's no real cure...only palliative care.

Measles are highly contagious and, if one person has them, over 90% of the people close to that person, who are not immune, will also contract the disease.

About 10% of patients will develop ear infections and about 5% will develop pneumonia.  Rare, but more serious, about 1 out of 1,000 patients will get encephalitis and 1 or 2 out of 1,000 will die.

About 26% of the recent cases have been specifically linked to international travel and the remaining cases are presumed to be contracted from those original cases.

Measles vaccines are estimated to be 95-98% effective, although an increasing number of parents decline vaccination for health, religious, ethical or moral reasons; and vaccination itself is not without a small risk factor. 

Additionally, the effectiveness of the measles vaccine appears to wane in about 5% of the population after 10-15 years.

On the other hand, it's good to keep things in perspective.  The 400% increase estimated for the United States in 2013 means about 240 cases...and we have a population of 314,000,000.

The primary risk, at this time, is for those with no immunity and international travel.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Baby, it's cold outside!

Hypothermia and Frostbite: this time of year, it's prudent to review some basics .

photo courtesy of ehow
Hypothermia is when the core body temperature, usually an average of 98.6, falls below the temperature required for metabolism.  That's 95 degrees...and it's a medical emergency.

Hypothermia is usually caused by a prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, although other situations (like being wet or wind)  can create hypothermic conditions.

Babies and the elderly are at the most risk of developing hypothermia, although certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism can increase risk.  Some medications can increase risk, too, so be sure to read that extra fine print that came with your prescription.

Alcohol and drug use can also increase the risk of hypothermia by dilating your blood vessels (not to mention constricting your judgement).

Most importantly, know the symptoms of hypothermia and treatment.

Even more importantly, think prevention: stay warm.

But remember:  hypothermia is a medical emergency.  Call 911.

photo courtesy of live health

Frostbite is, quite simply, when your skin or tissue freezes.

Frostbite is usually caused by prolonged exposure to temperatures below 23 degrees and is mostly a risk for extremities (hands, feet, ears...).

Blood flow stops in frostbitten skin or tissue, and the area must be thawed and rewarmed to prevent tissue death (gangrene) and infection.

Know the symptoms: If the skin looks white or grayish-yellow or is very cold and has a hard or waxy feel, you may have frostbite. Severe or deep frostbite can cause blistering and hardening. 

Know the treatment: When you first notice signs of frostbite, come out of the cold immediately and gradually rewarm the affected area as rapidly as possible. 

And again: true frostbite is a medical emergency.  See a doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.  Not, necessarily, by ambulance, but go. Now.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Phillips AED recall

Some models of Phillips HeartStart defibrillators are being recalled.

The USDA MedWatch site reports that some models of Phillips Automated Electronic Defibrillator (AED) may not deliver enough voltage to be effective.

The Phillips company has issued a voluntary recall for several of their models...details may be found in this article on their website. The website also has info on how to identify, specifically, which models and units are being recalled.

If you have Phillips defibrillator in your home or business, please check the site above to ensure that your device will work properly.

As info, Southern Jasper County Ambulance Service uses a Physio-Control AED, shown here (the snazzy yellow model) on the left.

We also use the LifePak 15 model (shown here on the right) in the ambulance itself, although it's also portable and can be moved to the patient, if necessary.

When it comes to defibrillators, it's imperative that they work properly the first time, every time, and we're all fortunate that the town and township provide high quality and reliable medical equipment.

It's our pleasure, as volunteer EMS workers, to have this kind of equipment at our disposal: not all EMS agencies are so fortunate.

AEDs are a modern medical marvel and, while they don't work in all cases, they can be very effective for specific types of cardiac arrest, such ventricular fibrillation

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Become your own Big Pharma!

Get smarter!  Do good!  Have fun!

As a follow up to the current state of antibiotic development in the world, there's a crowdfunded/kickstart project creating take home kits to help identify new antibiotics.

Josiah Zayner, a new synthetic biology fellow at NASA, and Mark Opal, a neurobiologist and drug development specialist, have created the Iliad Project to try crowdsourcing as a means of identifying research possibilities.

Currently the CDC estimates that 2 million people in the United States become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics every year and that more than 23,000 die.  

Are citizen scientists the answer?  With the large pharmaceutical companies claiming that there's no profit to be made from antibiotics with research and development costs so high, we can hope so.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Stomach Flu in Indiana

Gastroenteritis, stomach flu, is making it's way across the midwest.

This seems to be a particularly virulent strain with a very rapid onset, although relatively short lived.

Gastroenteritis is generally caused by a class of viruses known as noroviruses. There's no specific medical treatment for viral gastroenteritis. Antibiotics aren't effective against viruses, and overusing them can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Treatment initially consists of self-care measures.

Self treatment for gastroenteritis

Be particularly careful about dehydration and observe some cautions about diagnosing food poisoning as stomach flu.

Dehydration care and diagnosing gastroenteritis

Lastly, as sick as we all are of hearing about it, wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.  There simply is no better way of stopping the spread of these common illnesses. 

Wash your hands: Noroviruses can live for a long time outside the host. 

Here are some links about the recent outbreak outside of Indiana.