KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Longer Looks: ‘Irradiating Ourselves To Death’; Women And Pain Treatment

Every week reporter Ankita Rao selects interesting reading from around the Web.

The New York Times: We Are Giving Ourselves Cancer
Despite great strides in prevention and treatment, cancer rates remain stubbornly high and may soon surpass heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States. Increasingly, we and many other experts believe that an important culprit may be our own medical practices: We are silently irradiating ourselves to death. The use of medical imaging with high-dose radiation — CT scans in particular — has soared in the last 20 years. ... emergency room physicians routinely order multiple CT scans even before meeting a patient. Such practices, for which there is little or no evidence of benefit, should be eliminated. Better monitoring and guidelines would also help (Drs. Rita F. Redberg and Rebecca Smith-Bindman).

Slate: Why Philip Seymour Hoffman's Death Is So Scary
He got sober when he was 22 and didn't drink or use drugs for the next 23 years. During that time, he won an Academy Award, was nominated for three more, and was widely cited as the most talented actor of his generation. He also became a father to three children. Then, one day in 2012, he began popping prescription pain pills. And now he's dead. The root causes of addiction, like those of many multifactorial diseases, are frustratingly elusive, a nebulous mixture of genetics, exposure, and environment. ... [In August 2011] I was 39 years old and married; my wife and I had a 1 ½-year-old boy and another child on the way. I’d written three books, won some awards, and was about to start teaching at MIT. ... Being back in Boston was a visceral reminder that there’s an important part of my past that isn’t on the bio page of my website: From 1995 to 1997, the last time I’d lived in the area, I’d been an IV drug addict (Seth Mnookin, 2/4).

The Wall Street Journal: Why Women Are Living In The Discomfort Zone
Several years ago, my neck suddenly went bonkers—bone spurs and a long-lurking arthritic problem probably exacerbated by too many hours spent hunching over a new laptop. … I had been inducted, apparently, into the growing army of American adults living in chronic pain. I discovered that there are 100 million of us, according to the Institute of Medicine. That was surprise No. 1. Surprise No. 2 was that most of us are women. Nobody really knows why. There are cultural factors, to be sure. Women are "allowed" to be emotional about their pain, and men often aren't, so perhaps women's pain gets noticed more. There are complicated hormonal factors too. There are research biases at work as well, ... Both men and women often have to be extremely persistent in the search for a physician who can help with their suffering (Judy Foreman, 1/31).

VQR: Pain
My father was never one to complain. On the morning of the day he died, an ulcer he'd suffered from for years, and left untreated, ruptured and began to bleed. Two days later I met with the town coroner. He told me the end had been painless, that, as his life leached away, my father would only have felt increasingly weak and light-?headed. The coroner, trying to make me feel better, was lying. By any other account, when an ulcer perforates and blood, bile, bacteria, and partially digested food begin to spill into the abdominal cavity, you feel as if a knife has just been buried in your guts. ... All these years later, I’m still struggling to understand why he didn’t just ...  speak that single word: "Help" (Will Boast, 2/2014).

JAMA: Drowning
Dear future self, You watched a child die today. He drowned actually, and you stood in a corner, watching. That’s not fair, of course; as a medical student, you were supposed to just observe. There were already 20 people around him, all trying to save his life. … You didn't talk to anyone about it afterwards. You left the hospital, business as usual. ...  So I want to know how death makes you feel now, years later. How did you cope? ... Do you see a medical student, nurse, or anyone else standing there in the back left corner? You've been there; you should understand what they are going through. Go over and talk to them. Tell them that it's okay to feel (Robert Swendiman, 2/3). 

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