2016—a year mostly known for a wild U.S. presidential election with a surprise outcome—is winding down, so now is a great time to reflect on the year in medicine and health.
The UMHS Endeavour looks back at five news stories that shaped the year in medicine and health in 2016 for our third annual “Year in…” review.
- Immunotherapy for Cancer Treatment
Immunotherapy to treat cancer continued to make big news in 2016, with new treatments for head and neck cancer and Merkel cell carcinoma, a deadly skin cancer.
The American Cancer Society website notes, “Immunotherapy is treatment that uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases such as cancer. This can be done in a couple of ways”:
- “Stimulating your own immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells
- Giving you immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins.”
The American Cancer Society says types of immunotherapy include:
“Monoclonal antibodies: These are man-made versions of immune system proteins. Antibodies can be very useful in treating cancer because they can be designed to attack a very specific part of a cancer cell.”
“Immune checkpoint inhibitors: These drugs basically take the ‘brakes’ off the immune system, which helps it recognize and attack cancer cells.”
“Cancer vaccines: Vaccines are substances put into the body to start an immune response against certain diseases. We usually think of them as being given to healthy people to help prevent infections. But some vaccines can help prevent or treat cancer. “
“Other, non-specific immunotherapies: These treatments boost the immune system in a general way, but this can still help the immune system attack cancer cells.’
The most famous cancer patient to be treated with immunotherapy is former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. President Carter had an advanced form of melanoma that spread to his brain last year. He was treated with a new drug, Keytruda, as well as radiation.
The Washington Post reported that immunotherapy worked well on Jimmy Carter, causing tumors to go away, and he was able to stop treatment in March.
“What’s happening to Jimmy Carter is happening to many, many people, “ Louis Werner, of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, told the Washington Post.
- FDA Announces Regulation of E-Cigs
The UMHS Endeavour wrote in May about the FDA’s controversial decision to start regulating e-cigs, the popular smoking alternative many believe is “safer” than traditional cigarettes.
What does the new regulation mean? As the Endeavour wrote, quoting Vox.com, the FDA decided to:
- “Ban e-cigarette, hookah, pipe tobacco, and cigar sales — either in person or online — to minors (some states have already done this).”
• “Require age verification by photo ID for purchase of these products.”
• “Require manufacturers of products that hit the market after February 15, 2007, to register with the FDA and submit their products for FDA approval — disclosing ingredients, safety and emissions data, and manufacturing processes — within 12 to 24 months depending on the regulatory pathway followed.”
- Zika Virus Wreaks Havoc in USA
The Zika virus—an infectious disease spread by mosquitoes and sexual contact that is a serious threat to pregnant women because it causes birth defects—made headlines in 2016. The virus first became widely known in Brazil, and caused many women to avoid traveling to the Rio Olympics this summer.
However, Zika became a public health concern here in the USA when cases were confirmed in several U.S. states, the worst being Florida, with 785 travel-related cases and 184 locally acquired cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
Zika has been a huge problem in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, with more than 33,260 locally acquired cases confirmed by the CDC.
Zika continues to be cause for concern in South Florida and Brownsville, Texas (near the resort of South Padre Island), CDC officials say.
- Birth Control in the Coming Trump Era
The surprising victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election continues to create controversy on all sides of the political spectrum. President-elect Trump told TV’s “60 Minutes” that there is a possibility of pending legislation that may affect women’s reproductive rights in certain states, forcing women to travel out of state to get legal abortions.
A controversial “heartbeat” abortion law in Ohio, which would have made abortion illegal if a fetal heartbeat could be detected, was vetoed by Ohio Governor John Kasich.
“Protecting Reproductive Rights Under Donald Trump,” a December 7, 2016 New York Times op-ed, outlined what might be affected by the new administration.
“Mr. Trump has promised to appoint a Supreme Court justice who opposes Roe v. Wade, but overturning that decision would be a long process, probably requiring two new justices,” the NY Times Editorial Board wrote. “Even without that change, there are many potent ways to restrict reproductive rights — including not defending them against legal attack.”
The Times noted two other causes for alarm.
“Vice President-elect Mike Pence, when he was a congressman, tried to prevent any federal money from going to Planned Parenthood,” the NY Times wrote. “The Trump administration, under Mr. Pence’s guidance, could stop enforcing the Medicaid reimbursement law that prohibits states from discriminating against Planned Parenthood. And Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s pick for secretary of health and human services and an unwavering opponent of the Affordable Care Act, could as head of that department rescind the contraceptive coverage requirement. Such federal actions may well embolden some Republican-controlled state governments to further restrict reproductive rights.”
- Impending Repeal of Obamacare in 2017
Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump spoke repeatedly about repealing Obamacare. Mr. Trump’s G.O.P. victory means Obamacare—the popular term for the Affordable Care Act—will either be completely appealed or at least heavily amended once the new administration takes office in January. When he met with President Obama a couple days after the November 8th election, Mr. Trump said he may keep certain aspects of Obamacare, including not allowing insurance companies to deny people because of preexisting conditions. An estimated 20 million Americans have Obamacare coverage and any effort to take it away from them unceremoniously could have disastrous ramifications for the new administration.
Just how President-elect Trump and congressional Republicans will repeal or amend Obamacare has been a hot topic in the media. The website Politico.com said in a December 1, 2016 post that the G.O.P. may vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act but could delay the effective date for up to three years.
“The idea is to satisfy conservative critics who want President Barack Obama’s signature initiative gone now, but reassure Americans that Republicans won’t upend the entire health care system without a viable alternative that preserves the law’s popular provisions,” Rachel Bade and Burgess Everett wrote in the post.
The actual Republican alternative to Obamacare is anyone’s guess, but G.O.P. officials have already announced possibilities.
The NY Times reported on December 15, 2016 on a Republican proposal for “universal access” to health care as a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.
House Republicans were quoted in the Times as saying “that their goal in replacing President Obama’s health law was to guarantee ‘universal access’ to health care and coverage, not necessarily to ensure that everyone actually has insurance.”
Republicans vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act within the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, with a transition period of “as short as two years or as long as three or four years,” the New York Times said. “During that time, Republicans plan to pass one or more replacement bills.”
Tax penalties for those without health insurance is one thing Republicans plan to get rid of, and the Internal Revenue Service told the New York Times that “more than eight million tax returns included penalty payments for people who went without coverage in 2014.”
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