bone growth

  1. How back pain could give you cancer

    Spine drug in cancer link

    One minute, you're battling back pain... the next, you're fighting off cancer.

    When it rains, it pours, right?

    But this isn't just some run of freakishly bad luck -- because the treatment that was supposed to FIX your back may have actually CAUSED your cancer!

    A new look at the data on spinal fusion surgeries finds that docs who use a drug that's supposed to stimulate bone growth may as well be implanting a cancer time bomb inside your body.

    One year later, your risk of cancer climbs by more than 250 percent... and the clock keeps ticking. By the third year, your risk shoots up by 500 percent.

    Five years later, who knows -- but maybe you should thank your lucky stars you're even around that long, because one of the cancers linked to the drug is among the deadliest: pancreatic cancer, which kills 20 percent of its patients within a year and 96 percent within five years.

    The drug, sold under the name Infuse, was also linked to cancers of the breast and prostate -- and Dr. Eugene Carragee said the risks seemed to come from the higher doses of the drug that were rejected by the FDA earlier this year.

    But don't breathe a sigh of relief just yet -- since the lower dose has already been approved, docs are free to use the higher dose off-label as much as they want, however they want, whenever they want.

    And they're taking full advantage of that: A recent study of data from one hospital found that Infuse was used off-label during spinal fusion surgeries 96 percent of the time.

    If the name Infuse sounds familiar, it's because this isn't the first time I've had to warn you away from it. Earlier this summer, I told you how the researchers who swore up and down that the drug was risk-free were actually collecting millions of dollars from the company that makes it.

    More recent studies exposed the true risk: Up to 50 percent of the patients given the drug faced side effects that include infection, male sterility, pain, bone loss, and unwanted bone growth.

    And now cancer is on that list? When it comes to Infuse, I've got one word: Refuse.

  2. Spinal scandal

    Surgeons hide bone treatment risks

    Medical research is a pay-for-play business. If you're willing to pay, researchers will play.

    Here's the latest: A handful of surgeons came out with a series of glowing "studies" claiming that a new bone treatment procedure had virtually no risks.

    No risks, huh?

    Nothing sets off my BS meter like those two little words -- especially when you're talking about something as complex as a bioengineered protein used to spur bone growth during spinal fusion surgeries.

    Sure enough, a new look at the data found that anywhere between 10 percent and 50 percent of patients suffered conditions such as male sterility, infection, increased pain, bone loss and -- picture the horror of this one -- unwanted bone growth.

    Are we talking an extra arm here... or just a sixth finger?

    Of course, there's a reason researchers were so willing to overlook these risks -- 62 million reasons, to be precise. Fifteen of the key surgeons behind 13 Infuse studies collected a combined $62 million in payments from Medtronic for other work, according to The Spine Journal, which devoted an entire issue to the scandal.

    And to this day, some of those researchers remain positively delusional.

    Dr. Thomas A. Zdeblick, who co-authored three of the studies, told the New York Times he had no "direct financial interest in the success of Infuse or Medtronic."

    Is this guy for real?

    The Times says Zdeblick collected more than $20 million in royalties from the company for his patents on several devices, including one used with Infuse.

    "No direct financial interest" my rear end!

    But there's a bigger problem here -- way bigger than Zdeblick or Infuse -- and that's the peer review process, which is now exposed for the joke that it is.

    Every one of those 13 studies made it through -- which shows that peers aren't doing a whole lot of reviewing.

    Think about THAT the next time you read a breathless report on the next big drug or medical device.

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