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Cure for Cancer Within Reach?; Study: Fish Oil Pills Don't Boost Heart Health

Aired September 22, 2012 - 16:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hi there and thanks for being with us.

I'm reporting from Los Angeles today where we're going to be talking about Omega 3 supplements. A full disclosure, I do take them myself, but some big news says don't bother. There's a new study out there.

Also, my triathlon. After a year of training, we're gong to finally see this big race.

But, first, we're going to put something very important, cancer cures under the microscope.

This week, MD Anderson, the largest cancer center in the world, made this surprising announcement. They said we're finally in a position to radically reduce the death rate from several common cancers. Not some someday, far of in the future, but instead, rather soon. And that includes cancers like melanoma, prostate, childhood leukemia, even the biggest killer, lung cancer.

No excuse it's a big challenge. But one thing, there are some who say we just simply can't afford the staggering cost of new treatments. And we've also heard big promises before to be sure, but this time they're telling us, it's different.


GUPTA: Translate.

(voice-over): Rozlyn Austin is 23 years old. She was half way through her senior year of college last December when she noticed something strange in her left breast.

ROZLYN AUSTIN, BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR: Something was just not right. And I knew it was not. And it just -- you know, I just felt like it was something not good.

GUPTA: Two doctors told her not to worry. But a biopsy told her the truth. It was cancer.

Rozlyn lives outside Dallas. But her father, an x-ray technician, insisted they drive six hours to Houston, in MD Anderson.

The first thing you notice when you get here -- this place is big. In fact, a whole city devoted to fighting cancer. Hallways, like highways here. And if you're walking, stick to the side. That's the part with the blue stripes. More than 100,000 patients every year, nearly 20,000 employees, more than a thousand clinical trials, all of it going on at once.

And now, Dr. Ronald Depinho, MD Anderson's president, says we are at a turning point.

DR. RONALD DEPINHO, PRESIDENT, MD ANDERSON CANCER CENTER: We're in a position to make dramatic impact on cancer morality in this decade.

GUPTA (on camera): You're saying if we do everything right, and five years from now, there will be far fewer people dying from cancer, right?

DEPINHO: Correct. I think that with existing knowledge, and the application of what we know now, we could begin to see dramatic declines in mortality, that would accelerate in years five through 10, and beyond, set the stage for ultimate control of the disease.

GUPTA (voice-over): He calls it the moon shots program, they're pouring in $3 billion over 10 years, at a time when national funding for cancer research is flat. They say that $3 billion will come in equal parts from public donors, research grants and hospital profits.

So, how will it save lives? You might think it's all about wonder drugs. But what strikes me, is that the biggest promises involved things that are much more basic.

DEPINHO: When people talk about curing cancer and wrestling this disease to its knees, they really think in terms of having that magical cocktail for a patient with the advanced disease. It's much more than that.

GUPTA: Take lung cancer, that's the biggest killer of men and women. It's also the first on the list.

DEPINHO: So if you catch stage one lung cancer, you're dealing with about a 20 percent morality, as opposed to advanced stage cancers where you are dealing with about 10 percent survival. So just by shifting the stage, you have an opportunity to impact on 170,000 deaths per year.

GUPTA: He is talking about screening, but screening does have a down side. False-positive test results, leading to invasive procedures. Even surgery for patients who turned out not to have cancer.

Recent studies show, though, if you focus on current or former heavy smokers, that down side is smaller. More the suspiciously findings really are cancer.

GUPTA (on camera): Figuring out who to screen, in this case, heavy smokers, you can make a huge impact.

DEPINHO: A huge impact.

GUPTA (voice-over): Or look at melanoma. (on camera): When you sort of forecast now, a few years into the future, this is a big moment as you're describing for MD Anderson, is there a particular cancer where you think there's going to be the greatest impact?

DEPINHO: Well, the one that I'm most excited about is melanoma.

GUPTA (voice-over): I got an exclusive look at some experimental therapies that in a handful of cases are actually reversing the diseases, that even now is usually fatal once it spreads.

It's vitally important science, but MD Anderson says we'll save more lives through systematic screening and basic prevention, by keeping kids out of the sun.

DEPINHO: We know from a pilot study in Germany that a seven-year intensive screening for skin lesions led to a 50 percent mortality in melanoma. There's no drug that does that.

GUPTA: Also on the moon shot list, prostate cancer, and two types of leukemia. There are new medicines and a growing understanding of the gene genes involved.

Also targeted, triple negative ovarian cancer, and triple negative breast cancer, like Rozlyn's. These cancers are aggressive. But Depinho says our understanding of genetics is now at a point where doctors can make rapid progress developing and using the right treatments.

AUSTIN: I came back positive for BRCA 1.

GUPTA: Rozlyn was fortunate, in that she caught her cancer early. And after surgery and chemotherapy, the doctors say the tumor is gone. Her goal is to be a pediatrician, and for now, she's devoting her time to helping other patients.

AUSTIN: I tell people I see a bright future ahead of me. So I'm going to get right back in school and act like this pretty much never happened.

GUPTA: The moon shot vision is big, as big as MD Anderson itself.

DEPINHO: It's about not just studying, but it's about doing.

GUPTA: And when I asked them isn't it too audacious to say that we're going to cure cancer, they reminded me -- after all, we did put a man on the moon.

DEPINHO: We didn't know everything, and it took Mercury, Gemini, Apollo to mature, to point we can actually get the job done. This is a very analogous time in the history of cancer science and cancer medicine.


GUPTA: And next week, we're going to take a closer look at cancer medicines which cost more than $30,000 for a single round of treatment.

Now in some cases, they prolong life, but just by a few months. Some patients, though, they mean real hope. The question a lot of people ask, who pays?

But up next, heart health and omega 3 supplements. There is a controversial new study. I'm going to tell you what you need to know.


GUPTA: Well, a lot of people make a point of eating fish and other foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, or they take supplements for all kinds of supposed benefits, like a healthy heart. In fact, I take the supplements myself.

But there's a new study that says that the heart benefits for most people just don't exist.

Dr. Melina Jampolis is a board certified physician nutrition specialist. She's been on our program a lot.

Thanks for being with us. This has got you up in arms.


GUPTA: So the study basically says, look, the supplements, they just didn't pan out in terms of the reported benefits? Your immediate reaction to that?

JAMPOLIS: That is what the study said, and when I first heard it this has really profound implications for my practice, and also, in my opinion, for the health of Americans across the country. So I looked over this study with a fine-tooth comb and also look at the 20 studies that this study looked at. It was called a meta analysis.

And in my opinion, there are a couple of major problems with the interpretation that everybody is taking it from this that are incorrect.

First of all, these were done with sick people. The majority of people in the study were secondary prevention. So, they had already had a heart attack. Many of them in the last decade were on multiple cutting edge medical treatments to prevent a second heart attack, or they'd had a life-threatening arrhythmia and they actually had ICDs. So, defibrillators to prevent that from happening again.

So, this is not you and I taking an omega 3, this is sick people. And second of all, they're a supplement. They're a nutrient. They're not a drug.

GUPTA: Right.

JAMPOLIS: Their effect is going to be less focused than a drug. But, there is also fewer side effects. So even if there's a small potential of risk in even the high-risk patients, I think these supplements, or foods.

The study also included two food studies which nobody mentions that had fish --

GUPTA: Let's parse that out a little. So, first of all, omega 3 fatty acids are supposed to decrease inflammation to the body. Omega 3s as the good fatty acids, omega 6 the bad.

But to be clear, anybody, even if they're not sick, if, you know, just makes a lot of bad life-style choices, what can they reasonably expect out of taking the omega 3s?

JAMPOLIS: Well, that's a great question. And again, they are nutrient. They're part of a hearth healthy equation. They're not going to solve -- if you're eating fast food and drinking big gulp sodas and a lot of pro-inflammatory foods, they can only do so much. They're just one soldier in this battle.

So, they're not going to cure everything. But neither are medications. Drugs don't work as well in people that have poor lifestyles. And the majority of us, 97 percent of us are not following four basic things to lower your risk of heart diseases, getting to a healthy weight, not smoking, exercising daily and eating lots of fruits and vegetables.

GUPTA: Right.

JAMPOLIS: So, you know, we're not even doing the basics.

GUPTA: No. It's right. I know. And we, you know, obviously talk about this all the time.

Real quick, supplements versus getting them in foods, because I've always been this, you know, I look at the studies. It's hard to get the good stuff out of food and put it in a pill form, as much as we'd like to think. Is there a difference here with the supplements? I mean, how much benefit are you getting?

JAMPOLIS: Yes, I think for the most part, in most cases, except for maybe vitamin D, getting benefits from the food are best because they come with other complimentary nutrients. So again, we're looking at dietary patterns, not individual nutrients. So food is best, but it's hard to get things from food all the time. Some people don't like fish. I'm not actually crazy about salmon myself. It's a little more expensive. Some people are worried about contaminants.

So, I think supplements can safely filled the gap. But food is always first.

GUPTA: And we have a list of some of the foods. Again, you know, not everybody likes these foods -- salmon, lake trout, sardines, a lot of the fix, mackerel, tuna, but also flaxseed, tofu, walnuts.

Always love having you on the program.

JAMPOLIS: I love being here. GUPTA: You give it to us straight.

Melina Jampolis, thanks so much.

And up next, the woman who literally fell from the sky after surviving a horrific helicopter crash. She's now helping other trauma survivors heal as well.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: Four years ago, Laura Sharpe's life changed in an instant, she survived this terrible helicopter crash, and nowadays, she works to help rehabilitate other trauma survivors through art therapy.


GUPTA (voice-over): Memorial Day weekend 2008, Laura Sharpe and her stepdaughter are headed out of town on a 14-minute flight from Long Beach, California to Catalina Island.

LAURA SHARPE, HELICOPTER CRASH SURVIVOR: There were four of us traveling with two of the helicopter company's staff, and life changed. There was a mechanical failure, and we lost power.

GUPTA: Three of the six aboard died in the crash.

An eyewitness appeared on CNN news room later that afternoon.

DEBORAH HANSEN, EYEWITNESS: It had already crashed and burst into flames, I started to run towards it. I could see people laying outside the helicopter.

GUPTA: Laura's stepdaughter, badly injured herself, saw her unconscious mother and dragged her from the wreckage by her hair.

SHARPE: I think that this was one of those moments that the contrasting blonde helped her recognize and identify me.

GUPTA: Critical care specialist, Dr. Andrea Feinberg, assumed responsibility for Laura's treatment.

DR. ANDREA FEINBERG, INTERNAL MEDICINE, PULMONARY & CRITICAL CARE SPECIALIST: She had literally fallen out of the sky and every part of her body was either fractured or suffering in some way. I just wasn't really sure how she would survive everything.

GUPTA: Laura suffered burns to more than half her body, sustained major brain trauma, severe damage to her eyes and face, dozens of fractures, collapsed lungs, not to mention severe psychological trauma.

SHARPE: It is really powerful that four years -- that it could still be that strong. GUPTA: For the first time in years, Laura is opening a time capsule she's kept sealed since the crash. Inside the plastic container, her purse, which she had with her after the crash.

GUPTA: So, I revisit this moment with utmost respect to the lives that we lost.

I am newly configured from head to toe. They did such a beautiful job putting me back together. I'm like humpty dumpty. It definitely took all the king's horses and all the king's men. But there are still some, you know, remaining visuals. I am delighted to steal present myself as a woman, and fashion statement and not hide my new beauty.

Never fly faster than your guardian angel can fly.

GUPTA: Today, Laura is moving forward, healing by expressing herself through art.

SHARPE: This piece is called "Remembered." And the piece that is at the heart is representative of the cause of the helicopter crash in 2008.

GUPTA: Laura believes in art therapy so strongly, she founded Artists for Trauma. It's a nonprofit dedicated to helping other trauma survivors to heal.

Shelly Jones lost her ability to see following a stoke as a result of a bacterial infection in her heart. She's been paired with pottery.

SHELLY JONES, ARTISTS FOR TRAUMA PATIENT: It is difficult to see when I make a claim, but I can feel it.

GUPTA: And Laura feels she's found her life's purpose.

SHARPE: To bring some joyous interaction, to distract the survivor from their pain, bring them the love.


GUPTA: If you want to learn more about Artist for Trauma, or even make a donation, you can log on to

Also, coming up, my adventure in Malibu -- the big race, the Lucky 7 and I, we were all put to the test.


GUPTA: Last December, we put out a call to all viewers to join me in training for and racing the Nautica Malibu triathlon. We call the team that we put together the Lucky 7. After all that work, all that anticipation, it was finally time for the big race.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I raise my glass, buddy!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How's with waves?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fun like when I was a kid, man!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a great place to be, what a great day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How was the bike?

RICK MORRIS, CNN FIT NATION PARTICIPANT: It was good, awesome, lost my chain about half way, but other than that, no problems.

NANCY KLINGER, CNN FIT NATION PARTICIPANT: Like always to make it to the half way point, now I know I can do it.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you're feeling man?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's awesome. It's awesome. It's great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right around the corner.



ADRIENNE FORGETTE, CNN FIT NATION PARTICIPANT: I didn't stop on the swim, bike or run, and that was my goal. I didn't crash.


MORRIS: Probably the most difficult thing that I have done since leaving the military 12 years ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seventy to 74 -- are you kidding me?


CARLOS SOLIS, CNN FIT NATION PARTICIPANT: This is the new me. And I love you, brother. I love you so much, my family. God bless you guys.

GLENN KELLER, CNN FIT NATION PARTICIPANT: This has been an incredible -- I wouldn't trade this for anything in the world. And I'm just crazy enough to be looking forward to the next one.


GUPTA (voice-over): And we had one other member of the team that you didn't se in the video, the astronaut, Suni Williams. She's currently on the International Space Station. She did that race right along with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks very much. Congratulations on completion of the first triathlon in space.

GUPTA: For her, this is the swim.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And this simulates the muscles that she would be using in the swimming portion of the triathlon.

GUPTA: And then this, the bike, 18 miles. And then finally, the treadmill, four miles, same as we did at the very same time we were running on earth.

SUNITA WILLIAMS, COMMANDER, ISS EXPEDITION 33: It's probably just about 9:00 o'clock in Malibu. I'm happy to be done. It wasn't easy and I'm sure everybody out in California is excited to be done, too.

GUPTA: You can see she has race number 83 hanging right there next to her. That was actually my race number. What about her time?

WILLIAMS: My watch says 1:48:43, for the three events and the transition.

GUPTA: Well, that was faster than mine was. I'd say not fair (ph), down on the ground here, we did have to deal with gravity.


GUPTA: I have to say I'm just so proud of each and every one of our participants this year. Also, I want you to stay tuned to learn how you can join me for next year's Fit Nation Challenge.

Now, time though for "Chasing Life".

Carlos Solis, one of our Lucky 7 triathletes reminds me that small changes are the key to chasing life. Now, Carlos has type II diabetes. And when Carlos started all this, he was significantly overweight, and he was also taking several medications for diabetes. Well, today, Carlos is 80 pounds lighter, and he's off nearly all of his medications.

Now, the pounds started melting off when he did something pretty simple. Carlos just slowed down while eating. You see as a school teacher, Carlos was used to eating food very quickly and also snacking all the time. Well, now, he sets his fork down in between bites. He also stopped grazing, not picking off his wife's plate.

Now this all might not sound like much, but these small changes led to some amazing results, 80 pounds again for Carlos Solis. That's going to wrap things up for SGMD. We want to stay connected with me at

Also, let's keep the conversation going on Twitter, @SanjayGuptaCNN.

Time now, though, to get a check of your top stories in the CNN NEWSROOM.