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Treatments and Preventions for Breast Cancer; How Safe is Your Food from E. Coli?; Food Ads Harmful to Children?

Aired March 31, 2007 - 08:30   ET


NGUYEN: ...can be a cancer fighter?
REYNOLDS: I'll take it! Chemists at the University of Maryland baked whole grain whole wheat dough at higher temperatures for a long time and found more antioxidants in the crust. And antioxidants are a good thing.


REYNOLDS: But as you could probably figure out for yourself, there is a catch here.

NGUYEN: Uh-huh. Of course there is!

REYNOLDS: Well, if you smother that crust in cheese, sausage, and pepperoni...

NGUYEN: But that's the good stuff.

REYNOLDS: ...that's not going to be helpful, Betty.

NGUYEN: Well, who wants to eat a pizza without that on it?

REYNOLDS: Well, it's better for you.

NGUYEN: It's going to be like eating bread otherwise.

REYNOLDS: But it's good for you. We're trying to help you and your health.

NGUYEN: All right. Let me know how that works.

REYNOLDS: All right. Well speaking of foods here, marketing food to kids, you know, with all the scrutiny, a new report card says not much has changed.

NGUYEN: Who's really responsible for getting kids so obese these days? Dr. Sanjay Gupta has that and all this week's medical headlines on "HOUSECALL", which starts right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cancer in the headlines. HOUSECALL takes your e-mails on breast cancer and brings you the latest news on White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.

Plus, beyond the headlines , we travel to California investigating how safe your food really is. Sanjay Gupta out in the fields bringing you the story.

And children bombarded with TV ads. Are commercials to blame for obesity? Experts weigh in.

SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning and welcome to HOUSECALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This morning, we're talking about the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, also the second deadliest, breast cancer. Now from screening to treatment, new tools are helping decrease deaths from this disease, but that doesn't mean women should let their guard down.


GUPTA (voice-over): Beth Suitt was 30 years old, pregnant with their first child Connor, when she discovered she had breast cancer.

BETH SUITT, BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR: It felt very different. It was very sore. So I wanted to go ahead and have it checked out. And I did. And it turned out, you know, to be cancer at that time. You want daddy to try to pitch it?

GUPTA: She was diagnosed with the most common form of breast cancer called invasive ductal carcinoma.

SUITT: And it was just very surreal. It was, you know, your body is harboring and generating, and given this protective environment to grow life, for a new life. And then on the flip side, I had cells that were inside of me that were cancerous that could potentially kill me.

GUPTA: Breast cancer in your 30s is still rare. Only 5 percent of breast cancers occur in women under 40. However, according to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer during pregnancies does occur, most often between the ages 32 and 38. About once in every 3,000 pregnancies. Genetic mutations are often the cause of breast cancer in young women.

CAROLYN RUNOWICZ, DR., PRES., AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: The women with mutations are at very high risk. We may begin screening with mammogramy or with MRI. For the average woman over the age of 30, though, we discuss breast self-exam.

GUPTA: Beth had no known family history of breast cancer. She did do breast self exams, which is how she found her cancer. After treatment, she's been cancer free for five years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Been doing your self breast exam?


GUPTA: Starting at age 40, the American Cancer Society recommends annual breast exams by your doctor and annual mammograms, x-rays of the breast that can detect abnormalities inside the tissue.

However, some women in their 40s can still have very dense breasts, making it hard for a mammogram to pick up abnormalities. That's why oncologists like this Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, president of the American Cancer Society, encourage women to continue to do breast self exams. It's how she found her own tumor when she was just 41.

RUNOWICZ: I thought I'll never get cancer because this is what I do for a living, I am very careful about my diet, my exercise. And it can't possibly happen to me. And of course, I was incredibly naive. And I felt the lump. And I had a mammogram. It was normal. I had a needle put in. And it was cancer.

GUPTA: Now in her mid 50s, this cancer survivor knows how important regular screenings are, especially since the majority of new breast cancers occur in women 50 and older. Until more is known about the cause of breast cancer, catching the disease early is still the best way to reduce cancer deaths.


GUPTA: And just in the last few months, researchers revealed ways that women can help prevent and survive breast cancer. A new study showed gaining weight after menopause seems to increase your risk of getting breast cancer. But the good news, losing weight also decreased a woman's risk.

Researchers found a new drug combination that may help women with a specific type of advanced breast cancer for whom the cancer drug Perceptin has already failed.

And for those struggling through treatment, the study shows women with early-stage breast cancer can safely wait up to 12 weeks after an operation before beginning chemotherapy.

Now here to bring us up to date on all the latest in treatments and prevention is Dr. Marisa Weiss. She's a radiation oncologist. She specializes in breast cancer. She's also the founder of Welcome back to the show, doctor.

MARISA WEISS, DR., BREAST CANCER SPECIALIST: Well, thank you for having me.

GUPTA: Sure. You know, there's a lot of interest, obviously, in breast cancer research. There's a new test out there I found interesting. Can really spotlight if a women with estrogen-positive breast cancer -- that's something you check -- whether they need chemotherapy. Tell us about that.

WEISS: Well, for women with early-stage breast cancer, no lymph nodes involved, the hormone receptors are present in the cancer. She wants to know, do I really need chemotherapy? Or can I just go with hormonal therapy alone?

And this test tells us what is her risk for developing recurrence after hormonal therapy alone. And will chemotherapy give her a meaningful, extra benefit that makes it worth the side effects? It's called the Oncotype DX test. And it's done on the cancer tissue itself. GUPTA: That's essentially great news, possibly avoiding chemotherapy, or at least picking the people who need chemotherapy a lot better. Dr. Weiss, a lot of questions coming into our inbox. So I want to get started now with one from Martha, who's in Chicago.

She writes this. "My 29-year old younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, as was my older sister who had a double mastectomy. I and my four other sisters" a lot of sisters here, "are obviously quite concerned. Is genetic testing worthwhile, or would regular mammograms be just as effective?"

Sort of a two-part question, doctor. First of all, are mammograms enough for someone with a strong family history?

WEISS: Well, she certainly has a strong family history because two sisters, presumably at a relatively young age, were affected. So a breast cancer gene may run through that family. And she would benefit from genetic counseling, because she and her other four sisters may or may not have a breast cancer gene.

If the family has the gene, the other sisters have a 50 percent chance of getting that gene. But if you get the gene, it doesn't mean you necessarily get cancer, but it means you are at high risk for developing a breast cancer and possibly other cancers like ovarian cancer, colon cancer.

And for you, screening with mammography is very important once a year. That digital mammography is best for women who are 50-years of age and younger. And also, annual MRI scanning is very helpful in finding an invasive breast cancer as early as possible in women at high risk. That's women with a strong family history of breast cancer, like this particular family.

GUPTA: OK, all right, Dr. Weiss. A lot of information. And let's try and stick with genetics here, though, and get to a question from Santa Barbara, California.

Lekha writes this. "Does a family history of breast cancer increase the likelihood of other female cancers?"

I think you sort of touched on that, but do you have to worry about other cancers as well?

WEISS: Yes. If a woman has a history of breast cancer, she is also at increased risk for developing ovarian cancer, colon, thyroid cancer, pancreatic cancer. The chance of getting those things is unlikely, but your risk is still increased. And you do need to follow further, you know, take care of the whole of you in a very proactive way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More on surviving breast cancer later in the show. But first, HOUSECALL heads to California and investigates your food. After the outbreaks, how safe is it really?

And news on a common heart procedure that questions whether it's worth having. Plus, your kids are seeing more on the television than you think. We'll explain when HOUSECALL continues.

HOUSECALL viewers have a chance to win a copy of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's new book on aging. Just log onto the CNN Web site at


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSECALL. I'm here in Central California. It was a starting point of last year's deadly e.coli outbreak. Now, Tiffany and Russell Ericsson were victims of that outbreak. Get this -- just one week after finding out she was pregnant, they consumed some of that contaminated spinach. What followed was a nightmare that would consume their entire family.


TIFFANY ERICKSON: OK, sit down and eat.

GUPTA: Tiffany and Russell Erickson never thought that eating something as healthy as spinach would cause such chaos in their family.

RUSSELL ERICKSON: My wife initially got sick. She just felt really awful and was up all night. And then Regan and Emma both came down with similar illnesses.

GUPTA: Tiffany tested negative for e.coli, but four-year-old Regan and 3-year-old Emma did not. They were a genetic match for the strain linked to the outbreak. Regan faired much worse than the rest. He spent nearly a month hospitalized on dialysis after his kidneys failed.

T. ERICKSON: He was very pale. His eyes and his whole face was just swollen and puffy. And his feet were huge. And it was so scary to look at him and try to remember what he used to look like.

GUPTA: Regan was one of many. By the time last year's spinach e.coli outbreak had run its course, 204 people were infected with the deadly strain, 104 hospitalized, and 3 people died.

There have been several food-borne illness outbreaks since then. More e.coli in lettuce and salmonella in peanut butter. The FDA says the food supply is safe and the risks are minimal, but...

DAVID ACHESON, DR., FDA: The change is needed to say this isn't going to happen again, they're not there yet. There are a lot of people working towards that, but we're not there yet.

GUPTA: Regan is doing much better now. He's still on medications and sees doctors regularly. His parents say he has more than the physical scars to show from his ordeal.

R. ERICKSON: It's not over. I'm afraid it won't ever be over because he'll constantly have to watch, you know, his diet and his blood pressure and other things. He'll have to be vigilant his whole life.

GUPTA: And yet, after everything her family went through, Tiffany says she still thinks, in general, that food is safe. And she does plan to eat spinach again.


GUPTA: Now not everyone agrees with Tiffany. Industry experts say sales of leafy greens have fallen off about 30 percent amid fears of another outbreak. So I sat down with the head of food safety at the FDA and asked him, is the spinach any safer this year as compared to last?


ROBERT BRACKETT, DR., FDA: I think the food is very safe in this country, by and large. And in fact, according to CDC statistics, it appears to even be getting safer over the last few years. And I think the reason that the food safety crisis, sometimes described that way, is because these outbreaks are rare. They are sensational.

One thing that we have in this country that other countries perhaps don't have is people take for granted that their food is safe, because it generally is. I use the analogy to air travel, which is the single most safe way that one can travel, but when there's an issue or when there's a crash, this makes big news, and it's the same thing with food safety.

GUPTA: When people are watching right now, they say I love spinach, it's a health food, I eat it all the time, but it made people die. Not that many, but a few people died, a lot of people got sick. This year can I say that it's safer than it was last year?

BRACKETT: I would hope that it would be safer, because more...

GUPTA: Can you say that, though? I mean, is there anything put in place to actually make that happen?

BRACKETT: Well, we've got a better indication of where the problems might be. So we're watching for it. But until we identify exactly where it's coming from and exactly which actions should be put in place, we'll have to wait and just see if bad luck happens again. But I think every year as we follow up more and more on these, I think that the risk goes down.

GUPTA: Do you eat bagged spinach?

BRACKETT: Yes, I do. I do eat bagged spinach.

GUPTA: Well, it was interesting, because we talked to a few people out there who -- associated with the industry who say maybe it's not the safest thing, bagged spinach.

BRACKETT: Well, one other thing you have to consider is what your odds are in this case. There are literally millions of bags of greens sold every day. There were probably several hundred bags that were contaminated. So it is, you know, just a very minute chance that you're going to get that bagged spinach.

And it only happens occasionally even when it does happen. So the health benefits of fresh greens and having a healthy diet has to be weighed against the chance that you might get a chance contamination.

GUPTA: Is there a particular time of year that it might be more often, more likely to happen?

BRACKETT: Well, statistically, we've seen this usually occurring more in the early fall. We're not sure why. Again, this is some of the research that has to be done. There might be something climactic about it. It might be the way that the temperatures are changing, or perhaps the way the soil conditions are. We're not quite sure, but that is historically when we've seen these occur.


GUPTA: Now you know when the risks might be higher, but there are steps you can take today to try and ensure your own food safety and keep yourself from getting sick.

First off, when shopping, pick up your meat, fish, or poultry last. You can keep them chilled longer that way.

Second, get them in the refrigerator as soon as you get home. That's important because bacteria like e.coli can double every 20 to 30 minutes, especially on a warm day.

I'm traveling around the country investigating from farm to fork what happened with our food safety and what went wrong. Coming up in May, we'll have a special investigative report.

Also coming up on the show, we'll have an update on White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. And also a common heart procedure might be no better than taking medication. We'll have a full report coming up.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. I'm in Salinas, California, on an assignment, but it has been a busy week with medical news. Judy Fortin now with "The Pulse".


Out of the office for only a few days and White House Spokesman Tony Snow says he's already eager to return. Snow will undergo treatment for a recurrence of colon cancer, which has now spread and attached to his liver. The liver is the most common organ colon cancer spreads to.

Dr. Randy Hetch from UCLA Medical Center on CNN's "Larry King Live" talked about the difference between treatment and cure.

RANDY HETCH, DR., UCLA MEDICAL CENTER: You know, if somebody's cancer has only come back in the liver, those we can cut out for a cure sometimes. If it comes back outside the liver or sometimes the lung, we can treat those patients and improve their life expectancy, but we can't cure those patients.

FORTIN: After heart disease, cancer is the most common cause of death in the United States. This year, nearly 600,000 Americans will die of cancer.

A blockbuster new study is challenging one of the procedures most commonly used to unclog arteries and relieve chest pain. Researchers found drugs alone worked just as well as angioplasty and stints when it comes to treating people with so-called stable angina. That's chest pain that occurs with exertion, then goes away. 2200 patients with stable angina were studied.

Doctors say the results are good news that might suggest many patients can avoid an invasive, expensive procedure. But it's of no use to people who have chest pain all the time, even while resting.

An aspirin a day may help reduce the risk of death for all women, not just those with heart conditions. Aspirin is believed to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes by blocking platelets from forming blood clots. Both the authors of the new report and their critics caution women to talk with a doctor first before beginning a daily aspirin regimen. Sanjay, back to you.

GUPTA: All right, Judy, thanks.

Thousands of ads out there pushing our kids to eat junk food. Coming up, experts are keeping food companies on task and finding out how they measure up.


GUPTA: Welcome to HOUSECALL. You see these ads primarily on weekend mornings. They're targeting kids, pushing them to eat candy and other junk food. Question is, are they harmful? Some experts say yes. And now a new report says despite years of criticism, these food companies are still primarily marketing junk to our kids.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the number one network for African- American...

GUPTA, CNN HOST (voice-over): It's Vicky Rideout's job to keep an eye on advertising that can affect our health, especially children. And she's not happy with what she's seeing.

VICKY RIDEOUT, KAISER FAMILY FOUNDATION: Kids of all ages in this country are exposed to what I think by anybody's standards would be a large amount of food advertising on television every day. Thousands of ads a year.

GUPTA: Rideout is a vice president with the Kaiser Family Foundation. This week the foundation released its largest study ever on TV food advertising for kids. Of the thousands of ads studied, 34 percent were for candy and snacks, 28 percent for cereal, and 10 percent for fast food. Get this -- not one advertised fruits or vegetables.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All laziness is suspended until further notice.

GUPTA: And only 15 percent of the ads showed children in some type of physical activity.

RIDEOUT: I guess I would say that's a relatively small proportion of the ads that include physical activity now.

GUPTA: And the issue isn't even new. In a report by the Institute of Medicine back in 2005, research showed that there was a direct connection between food ads for kids and childhood obesity. The report recommended advertising companies push healthier products and show physical activity in their ads. So far, change has been slow.

MIKE MCGINNIS, INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE : I think companies are clearly getting it. I think they're not sure what to do yet, but there's no question that they're concerned, as they should be, about the public concern over the increase in childhood obesity.

GUPTA: Corporations are generally motivated by profit. And fatty snacks tend to be popular. Pepsico, which owns Pepsi, Fritolay and Tropicana is trying to market more healthy, yet tasty items.

NANCY GREEN, PEPSICO: All of the products that were advertised were baked that were advertised to children. So it's looking at our healthier products.

GUPTA: The Kaiser Family Foundation hopes impress on advertisers that the childhood obesity problem is not going away until real changes are made.


GUPTA: And that Institute of Medicine report that we just mentioned also recommends that companies stop using cartoon characters to push products. And this Kaiser Family Foundation report found that 11 percent of ads still use some sort of children's television or movie character. So some improvements still needed there.

Coming up, what to do after a breast cancer diagnosis?


GUPTA: For more about breast cancer, click over to our Web site, You're going to find links there to the latest studies and CNN stories on breast cancer.

Also, don't forget to check out It has a wealth of resources for patients, survivors, and loved ones. Dr. Marissa Weiss has been our guest. She's the founder of Do you have a final thought today for our viewers? WEISS: Well, I know how scary and overwhelming a breast cancer diagnosis is, but the good news is that it's not a death sentence. And it's not an emergency. You have time to read information and find out what you're up against, how to solve the problem, and also how to connect with other people.

And at, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, we're open to provide that information, and for the community of other survivors who can really give you the encouragement that can really make you feel much better.

GUPTA: Well, thank you so much, Dr. Weiss. We're out of time, unfortunately, for today. Dr. Marisa Weiss, thank you for being with us this morning. Make sure to tune in every weekend as well for another edition of HOUSECALL. E-mail your questions. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.


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