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Lung Cancer

Leah Sarich | posted Wednesday, Jan 22nd, 2014


For Non Smoking Week and Weedless Wednesday we are revisiting the well known link between smoking and lung cancer.

Lung cancer kills more people than prostate, colon and breast cancer combined. And of course the biggest risk factor for lung cancer is smoking. I spoke with Oncologist and Lung Cancer Specialist Dr. Gwyn Bebb who says 80 percent of his lung cancer patients were or are smokers.

Lung cancer is insidious because you can have large tumours in your lungs and not know it. In fact, Dr. Bebb says 60 percent of patients present with advanced disease, which means they can’t do surgery or the cancer has already spread. Lung cancer is not very sensitive to chemotherapy and often those patient with lung cancer are so unwell they’re unable to tolerate chemotherapy.

The best way to improve survival rates with lung cancer is to catch the disease earlier, but in the past screening has not been viable. The CT scans that currently scan lungs pick up many abnormalities. Doctors don’t know what all these abnormalities are and so these findings need to be biopsied. A biopsy is a major procedure so in the end the risks outweighed the benefits of screening. However, Dr. Bebb says new research shows there is a way to screen patients that can work. But this requires better scanners, better expertise from the medical professionals involved and more clearly establishing which patients are at highest risk. That said, Dr. Bebb says he expects screening for lung cancer to start in Alberta in the next few years.

For more information about lung cancer and quitting smoking visit the Canadian Lung Association’s website.

Narcolepsy in Children

Leah Sarich | posted Monday, Jan 20th, 2014


Narcolepsy in children is quite rare. We only have about 15 cases in Southern Alberta. But the effect of the disorder on the kids and their families is enormous.

Shelley Mahon, a psychologist with the Pediatric Sleep Service and the Alberta Children’s Hospital explains, by the time these kids are diagnosed, they’ve been mislabelled as lazy, unmotivated and unfocused. When in fact, these children have a chronic disorder they can’t control.

Pediatric Neuroogist Dr. Alice Ho explains with narcolepsy there’s a problem regulating sleep and wakefulness. So basically these children have brains that constantly want to shut off and go to sleep. And because there is no cure, this disorder can be very challenging.

There are two kinds of narcolepsy. Narcolepsy and narcolepsy with cataplexy. Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle tone brought on by strong emotion, usually a positive one. So these children will be laughing with their friends and they drop to the floor.

There are medications like stimulants the children take to help them stay awake during the day. But lifestyle changes are also required. These kids have to take two naps a day. That means, one nap will have to be at school. They’ll also have to stay active even though all they want to do is sleep.

Doctors are not really sure what causes narcolepsy.  But in narcolepsy with cataplexy they know certain brain cells have been destroyed. And doctors know it’s an immune process killing those cells. As for what’s triggering this immune response, it can be a number of things from  infections, immunizations, head traumas even cancer.

Bottomline, it’s important to raise awareness about narcolepsy in kids so these children are not seen as lazy or unfocused. They have a brain disorder they simply can’t control.

For more information visit this website.

Alzheimer Awareness Month

Leah Sarich | posted Friday, Jan 17th, 2014


Alzheimers is one of the most common forms of dementia.  We all recognize the symptoms….memory loss, recognition problems and disorientation. But I spoke with Dr. Zahinoor Ismail who practices Behavioural Neurology  and Neuropsychiatry at the Hotckiss Brain Institute and he says the brain controls not only thinking but mood and behaviour too.

Therefore, there is a whole host of neuropsychiatric symptoms of Alzheimers that often go underappreciated. These symptoms include depression, anxiety, apathy, aggression and delusions. Dr. Ismail says these are often the first symptoms of the disease too that are recognized by loved ones. For example, Grandpa has been really edgy lately, or Grandma seems depressed. The question then becomes when did these symptoms start. So for example, if Grandma has a history of depressive episodes, an episode in her 70s may not be  of any concern. However, if Grandma has never been depressed and has her first episode of depression as a senior, this should be a major red flag.

Dr. Ismail recommends the ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy to reduce your risk for Alzheimers. It’s important to be socially active, sitting at home alone and watching TV is not helpful. Do those sudokos and crosswords. It’s also critical to be physically fit. The idea that having a healthy body means you’ll have a healthy mind now has some basis in science.

For more information about Alzheimers visit the Alzheimer Society of Calgary’s website.

There is also a Community Forum tomorrow at the Hotel Blackfoot from 9:30 to 11:30 am. It is free, but you do have to register through the Society.

Male Menopause

Leah Sarich | posted Monday, Jan 13th, 2014


Hot flashes, mood swings…the change of life. Yes, women experience this around the age of 50 and it’s called menopause. But did you know, men go through menopause too??

I spoke with Endocrinologist Dr. David Lau who says yes, men do too, though “manopause” looks very different. Basically around age 50 women’s hormones plunge, whereas for men their testosterone levels drop gradually over time. However, Dr. Lau says in extreme cases men too can experience hot flashes and mood swings. But this is quite rare. In men, their symptoms are much more vague in most cases.

Dr. Lau says men may experience weight gain, reduced muscle bulk and decreased sexual funtion and desire. But if you’re experiencing these symptoms do bring them up with your doctor, because these symptoms could be caused by something else like heart problems or diabetes.

The other tricky thing is testing for low testosterone levels. For those men who do test low, treatment is simple: hormone replacement therapy in the form of pills, gels or injections. But Dr. Lau says this is not common. Most men don’t really test low. Also, most men do not have a baseline with which to compare their results. Men are not often testing their hormone levels when they’re young and virile. However, if men are experiencing symtoms, Dr. Lau says they can make some lifestyle changes that will help. He recommends losing weight, quit smoking and don’t do drugs.

For more information on male menopause click here.

Diabetes Shoes

Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Jan 9th, 2014


Nine million Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes. And 60 percent of them will end up with peripheral neuropathy or numb feet. But a local plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Breanne Everett, the CEO and Co-Founder of Orpyx, has come up with specialized footwear that can help.

Dr. Everett uses the analogy of dental freezing. When your mouth is frozen, dentists advise you not to eat because you could chew your cheek or tongue causing damage to the tissue. With diabetics who have numb feet, they too can exceed certain levels of pressure in spots and basically wear holes in their feet called ulcers. These ulcers get infected and require medical intervention.

But Dr. Everett and her team have developed shoes that will send a wireless signal to a smartwatch the patient can wear alerting them to move or shift their weight to reduce the pressure on certain spots of their foot. These shoes then empower the patient to prevent foot ulcers before they even occur.

The shoes will be available in Canada in the next couple of months. The goal is to have them available to patients with peripheral neuropathy in a clinic setting. The shoes cost 700 dollars US. But they are in two major clinical trials. The data from these trials should show how much money the shoes save the health care system in the long term, so that patients can be reimbursed for the footwear.

For more information on these shoes and Dr. Everett’s company Orpyx, visit their website.