UC Cancer Centers Take on Calif.’s $14 Billion Killer

September 28, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The University of California’s five academic cancer centers, home to some of the world’s leading scientists and physicians, have formed a consortium to better address California’s most pressing cancer-related problems and opportunities, UC President Janet Napolitano and Dr. John Stobo, executive vice president of UC Health, announced earlier this month.

Despite steady declines in cancer rates over the past 20 years, cancer is soon expected to overtake heart disease as California’s leading cause of death. This year alone, 176,000 state residents will be diagnosed with cancer and nearly 60,000 will die from it. The estimated cost burden of cancer in California is $14 billion annually.

The alliance of the UC centers, which all hold the highest designation possible from the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, reflects a new model for cancer research and treatment that calls for the best minds to work together, regardless of where they are, to tackle cancer’s many problems.

Among the projects the Consortium will undertake are precision medicine, clinical trials, population health science, best practices in harnessing big data to improve health, and political engagement for public benefit. A report that outlines the state of cancer in California and how the Consortium is uniquely suited to catalyze the state’s efforts to improve cancer outcomes may be accessed here: http://cancer.ucsf.edu/consortium.

“The University of California – and the people of California – are privileged to have at UC physicians and scientists who are among the very best at what they do: care for patients and conduct research that leads to discovery and new knowledge that benefits us all,” said Napolitano. “The formation of the UC Cancer Consortium will help leverage this institutional strength.”

The centers that make up the consortium are the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, the UC Irvine Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, and the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The past decade has seen unprecedented progress in cancer research and treatment. But with its advances in collecting and analyzing large data and the new ability to look deeply inside the disease’s biology, this era has brought the cancer community to a crossroads. Advances will now come only through coordinated efforts among the most skilled people and institutions.

“The UC Cancer Consortium is uniquely placed to take on California’s most difficult issues related to battling this insidious disease,” said UC Health’s Stobo. “Our research mission and high level of skill also mean that our centers often care for patients with rare cancers who cannot be treated in other hospitals that may lack the expertise or access to clinical trials using the latest experimental drugs.”

Individually, each of the UC cancer centers are hubs of expertise and innovation, and also partner with industry to advance technology, protocols and medicines that become available to practitioners and patients around the world. Their collective expertise and capabilities will enable the consortium to rise to the challenges of the times and to address California’s most pressing cancer-related problems and opportunities. These include costs of care, variability in reimbursement, challenges in research funding, inequities in access to care, disparities in outcomes and public health issues, matching developing drugs to multiple cancer subtypes and rare tumors, and harnessing the profusion of data to improve care and safety.

“This new UC Cancer Consortium represents a forward-looking partnership among leading academic cancer centers,” said the consortium’s inaugural chair, Alan Ashworth, PhD, Fellow of the Royal Society, president of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Each institution has contributed significant advances to cancer research and treatment. Together, we can better serve the people of California and make even greater contributions to the field of cancer.”

Move To End DACA Leaves Some Young Immigrants Fearing For Their Health

September 7, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

LOS ANGELES — For 26-year-old Paulina Ruiz, having legal immigration status is about more than going to school or holding a job. It’s about staying healthy.

The University of California-Los Angeles graduate, whose parents brought her from Mexico to the U.S. illegally two decades ago, has cerebral palsy, a neurological condition diagnosed shortly after birth.

In the past, Ruiz said, she relied on emergency rooms for her health care and rarely could see specialists. She developed kidney and back problems after years of inconsistent medical care and using an inappropriate wheelchair.

But in 2012, she qualified for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which temporarily protected her from deportation. In California, that meant she could get Medi-Cal, California’s version of the Medicaid insurance program for low-income Americans, and regularly see a doctor.

The Trump administration’s controversial decision on Tuesday to scrap the DACA program does more than put nearly 800,000 “Dreamers” in fear of deportation and losing their jobs. It threatens the health care of thousands of young adults like Ruiz, who either have job-based insurance or whose incomes qualify them for Medicaid in California and several other states.

“I am very upset,” said Ruiz, who organizes for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and lives near the city. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to my health.”

The decision is set to take effect in six months, unless Congress comes up with an alternative plan. Trump has said the program, started under President Obama in 2012, rewards lawbreakers who hurt Americans by taking their jobs and depressing wages, a claim some economists dispute. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that the program was unconstitutional because it was a unilateral executive action on a proposal that had been repeatedly rejected by Congress.

Trump, who has suggested he has conflicting sentiments about the program, left open the door for Congress to change it. “I have a love for these people, and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly,” he said, according to The New York Times. But the newspaper noted that he did not call for bipartisan legislation to restore its protections.

The program allows immigrants between the ages of 16 and 31 who were brought to the United States illegally as children to receive work permits and temporary protection from deportation. Those who qualified were explicitly barred from receiving federal health benefits through Medicaid, Obamacare exchanges or other programs.

Many DACA recipients now have jobs with health insurance. In addition, California, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota and the District of Columbia have used their own money to cover low-income Dreamers through Medicaid, according to Tanya Broder, a Berkeley, Calif.-based senior staff attorney for the National Immigration Law Center.

There are an estimated 220,000 DACA recipients in California, the largest number in the country. Those who meet income requirements — 138 percent of the federal poverty level or $33,534 for a family of four — can qualify for coverage under the state’s “Permanently Residing in the United States under Color of Law” eligibility category.

That coverage is now in question. In California, those at risk of losing Medicaid are 19 and older, because the state under a separate law decided to cover all low-income children, regardless of immigration status, through age 18. That decision was not connected to the DACA program.

With the federal government’s action, “nobody will lose coverage in the Medi-Cal program immediately,” said Ronald Coleman, director of government affairs for the California Immigrant Policy Center, an immigrant advocacy group. But Coleman worries about what happens after March 5, when DACA’s protections will end — unless Congress takes action to protect the program.

The Department of Health Care Services, which oversees Medi-Cal, could not provide a comment on Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday that she expects DACA recipients to start losing their job-based health insurance. Hincapié said she is particularly concerned about the effect of the president’s decision on the mental health of DACA recipients.

“The need for mental health services will only be greater,” she said.

At a protest in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday against the Trump administration’s decision, Jocelin Reyes made a similar point. She said DACA’s protections had helped put some young immigrants’ fears to rest, as they were able to get jobs, attend college or graduate school and come out of hiding.

“A lot of people don’t understand how much fear we had” about being deported, said Reyes, 19, who is about to start school at the University of California-Santa Barbara. “Now that fear has tripled.”

Another demonstrator, DACA recipient Maria Garcia, 22, said that losing her job as a hotel receptionist would mean the end of her job-based health insurance — coverage she relies on for physical therapy for a knee injury and any time she gets sick.

“If they take away my DACA, I’ll get fired,” she said. “And then what will I do for health insurance?”

State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said ending DACA would only hurt “the well-being of these American children who have played by the rules.” And they could end up having to go to costly emergency rooms for medical care.

Lara, who led the charge to get all undocumented children covered by Medi-Cal, said one possible solution in California would be to increase the age limit for Medi-Cal coverage for kids from 18 to 26.

“We have to answer this call to ensure that our DACA students and workers are not pushed aside,” he said.

The California Medical Association said that terminating DACA could indeed hurt the health care workforce.

“Our nation’s health care system has the largest percentage of foreign-born and foreign-trained workers of any industry in the country. Already facing a national shortage of physicians and other health care professionals, revoking DACA could also undermine patient care and disrupt medical schools and hospitals for decades to come,” said California Medical Association President Ruth E. Haskins in a statement.

Ana B. Ibarra contributed to this report.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Bell Gardens Parks to Go ‘Smokefree’

August 31, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Bell Gardens is the latest in a growing list of cities moving to make parks and recreation areas off-limits to smoking.

Under a new policy tentatively approved Monday by the city council, smoking of traditional tobacco products, e-cigarettes and marijuana would be prohibited. The council voted unanimously to adopt the policy, however, before it can become official, the law requires a second reading and vote, which is scheduled to take place at the city council’s meeting on Sept. 11.

“Secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard,” said Bell Gardens Mayor Jose Mendoza. “The intent of enacting an ordinance which totally bans smoking in our parks, public facilities and city events is to protect the non-smokers in our community, especially children from serious side effects like lung cancer, respiratory infections, and asthma.”

BG-Play Smoke Free Feature

According to Mendoza, secondhand smoke is the 3rd leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

The city currently only enforces a state health and safety code that prohibits smoking “in and within 25 feet of any playground or recreational area specifically designed to be used by children,” and “in and within 25 feet of any public building,” according to a Bell Gardens staff report.

Several residents and representatives of the American Lung Association spoke in support of the ordinance during public testimony Monday. In a statement Tuesday, the Lung Association applauded the council for its action.

“We commend the City of Bell Gardens for advancing a smokefree parks policy that will protect community members, especially children, from secondhand smoke exposure in local parks and recreation areas,” said John Yi, the organization’s advocacy director for California. “This effort would not have been possible without the hard work of local high school students who understand how important it is to create smokefree environments for the community.”

Yi was referring to efforts by local high school students to bring the anti-smoking issue to the public and to encourage city officials to take action.

“A smokefree parks policy is important to me and my community because it will make for a safer and more enjoyable experience for myself and for others,” said Kimberly Gonzalez, a senior at Bell Gardens High School.

According to the Lung Association, exposure to any level of secondhand smoke is harmful. In 2006, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) officially declared secondhand smoke a Toxic Air Contaminant and the United States Surgeon General issued a landmark report concluding that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Policies to limit smoking in parks and recreation areas vary from city to city, and in some cases do not exist. Data from the Lung Association shows this to be true among the cities neighboring Bell Gardens. According to the data, neither Bell nor Montebello ban smoking in city parks, while Commerce restricts smoking at its parks to designated areas, as does the city of Los Angeles.

In unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, including East Los Angeles, smoking is 100% prohibited.

The Lung Association singled out Huntington Park as a “shining star” when it comes to anti-smoking policies, noting that the southeast city has  “comprehensive smokefree policies including 100% smokefree parks” and “an A grade in our 2017 State of Tobacco Control Report.”

Bell Gardens’ move to restrict smoking comes on the heels of a recent poll conducted by the Lung Association to gauge Bell Gardens residents’ views on making parks off-limits to smoking. According to the Lung Association, 89% of those surveyed said they support smokefree park policies and nearly everyone said they “would be more likely to visit a city park if it was smokefree.”

“Recognition that secondhand smoke is extremely toxic has bolstered efforts by local elected officials across the state to take action to protect their residents from exposure,” said the Lung Association, which cited additional efforts to “protect” residents by prohibiting smoking in other public areas, such as entryways around businesses and other areas where people congregate.

When finalized, Bell Gardens’ ordinance will also prohibit smoking in city buildings and facilities, including parking lots and alleys, and at all city-sponsored events.

Violations of the smoking ban could result in a misdemeanor charge, or reduced to an infraction by the city attorney or city prosecutor. A first time infraction carries a $100 fine; second violation $200; and $500 for the third violation in a 12-month period.

Vitamin D Protects Against Colorectal Cancer

March 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A new study by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute investigators demonstrates that vitamin D can protect some people with colorectal cancer by perking up the immune system’s vigilance against tumor cells.

The research, published Jan. 13 by the journal Gut, represents the first time that a link between vitamin D and the immune response to cancer has been shown in a large human population. The finding adds to a growing body of research showing that vitamin D – known as the “sunshine vitamin” because it is produced by the body in response to sunlight exposure – plays a key role in cancer prevention.

“People with high levels of vitamin D in their bloodstream have a lower overall risk of developing colorectal cancer,” said the study’s senior author, Shuji Ogino, MD, PhD, of Dana-Farber, Harvard School of Public Health, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Laboratory research suggests that vitamin D boosts immune system function by activating T cells that recognize and attack cancer cells. In this study, we wanted to determine if these two phenomena are related: Does vitamin D’s role in the immune system account for the lower rates of colorectal cancer in people with high circulating levels of the vitamin?”

Ogino and his colleagues theorized that if the two phenomena were connected, then people with high levels of vitamin D would be less likely to develop colorectal tumors that are permeated with large numbers of immune system cells. Colorectal tumors that do develop in these individuals would, by the same logic, be more resistant to the immune response.

To determine if this is indeed the case, the research team drew on data from 170,000 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, two long-term health-tracking research projects. Within this population, researchers compared carefully selected groups of 318 colorectal cancer patients and 624 individuals who were free of cancer. All 942 of them had blood samples drawn in the 1990s, before any developed cancer. The investigators tested these samples for 25-hydroxyvitamin D, (abbreviated 25(OH)D), a substance produced in the liver from vitamin D.

They found that patients with high amounts of 25(OH)D indeed had a lower-than-average risk of developing colorectal tumors that were enriched with immune system cells.

“This is the first study to show evidence of the effect of vitamin D on anti-cancer immune function in actual patients, and vindicates basic laboratory discoveries that vitamin D can interact with the immune system to raise the body’s defenses against cancer,” Ogino said. “In the future, we may be able to predict how increasing an individual’s vitamin D intake and immune function can reduce his or her risk of colorectal cancer.”

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health, the Friends of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Bennett Family Fund, the Entertainment Industry Foundation, and the Paula and Russell Agrusa Fund for Colorectal Cancer Research.

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