overcast, some showers, muggy, temps 25
Just finished exercising and swimming, lounging and editing. Fun day. Very quiet. Living off the left-overs from the party the other night. Yum.
The big news in our household is that Michael has been featured in one of our local weekly newspapers - The Townships Outlet. The reporter who wrote the story, Alanna Fahey, did a fabulous job! Here's the story -
Sutton hematologist sheds new light on cancer screening
BY ALANNA FAHEY
Michael Whitehead, former Director of Hematology at the Montreal Children’s Hospital for 25 years decided three years ago to write a book that would both tell a truth and shed light on a controversial type of cancer screening for neuroblastoma– “a childhood cancer that kills too many children, ”according to Whitehead.
“The idea came to me three years ago unexpectedly, prompted by hearing the name of a colleague and remembering this remarkable scientific study we were both involved in,” said Whitehead. Having written countless research grants, scientific articles, chapters for medical texts and journal reviews, Whitehead knew he was ready to go the distance with the encouragement of his wife, New York Times best-selling mystery writer, Louise Penny.
“Louise encouraged me every step of the way. Without her support, I would never have begun this journey, let alone have traveled as far as I have,” said Whitehead.
Whitehead’s Book The Halo Effect and Screening for Cancer is about screening for neuroblastoma. “Neuroblastoma cells make chemicals that can be measured in the urine. Screening was pioneered in Japan and became a universal program with every Japanese child being screened for neuroblastoma. Initial results were so exciting, and seemed to say this terrible cancer could be cured, that everyone wanted to screen for it,” stated Whitehead.
A scientific study mounted to verify the Japanese findings was carried out in Quebec, the only site in North America capable of doing it.
“Half a million Quebec babies were screened over five years and findings compared to unscreened babies in control regions totalling 4.5 million babies. The results proved a complete shock,”Whitehead said. “Screening failed to save a single child. Even more shocking was that none of the children found by screening needed to be treated. Their cancers would have disappeared all on their own. All these children, twice as many as were found in the control populations, were overtreated, exposed to the risks and complications of surgery and chemotherapy. Because of the scientific rigour of this study, neuroblastoma screening ended everywhere. This story has many parallels to cancer screening programs in adults.” said Whitehead.
“Screening for cancer in adults, particularly mammography screening for breast cancer and PSA (prostate-specific antigen) screening for prostate cancer, Whitehead explained, share many of the key problems experienced with neuroblastoma screening. Mildest is the occurrence of false positive results, which require repeat testing to resolve, resulting in anxiety and more testing. Even a biopsy may be needed.
“More serious is overdiagnosis. Cancers found through screening are so slow-growing that they will never cause symptoms. Such cancers are regularly found at autopsy in people who die of some unrelated condition such as a car accident, or heart attack). But no one knows which cancer is which, so both the benign and fatal cancers found by screening are treated the same way - surgery and sometimes radiotherapy.
“We don’t know how many people actually benefit from screening and how many are overtreated unnecessarily and exposed to side effects and risks. That’s mainly what I was referring to.
“The toughest concept for people to grasp is that cancers found by screening are different from those that the doctor sees. Both are called by the same name and lethal cancers are certainly found, often in time to be cured, but there are others that may look the same, but aren’t. These can disappear, stay the same for years or grow so slowly as to never be known to whoever has them.”
Writing The Halo Effect has changed Whitehead in some respects “I have felt stretched by the process, stimulated,” he said. “I’ve a lot more respect for and understanding of writers. I would like to say it has made me a better person, but that’s something only others could see, certainly not myself.
“It has shown me what a brilliant writer Louise is, something I always knew, but can appreciate at a whole new level now, which is a blessing in itself and more than sufficient reward, even if my book ends up under the bed. I can tell you that there is nothing I’d rather be doing than writing this book. It is unbelievably stimulating and exciting.”
Isn't that amazing??? Alanna really is terrific - and so is Michael. I'm SO proud of him. I've read what he's done so far and it reads like a thriller. Absolutely riveting. And what a lovely man, too. I hope you'll get a chance to read it one day soon. You've all been so supportive of him in this process. We'll let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, hope you're enjoying your weekend - be well!