August 3, 2011

Even with my novels I can't seem to avoid health advocacy.

I've been a bit quiet over the past week as the publication date for my second Avon historical romance is coming up, which mean that I have to put a lot of effort into writing blog posts for various romance blogs in the hope that doing so will motivate readers to buy my book.

You can read a good interview with me wearing my novelist hat--and comment to win a free copy of my first novel, Lord Lightning--HERE.

But even when I do something as inconsequential as writing a passionate tale of love and redemption, fate seems to have decreed that it's my job to help people with challenging health issues. Because no sooner was my latest book, Star Crossed Seduction, accepted by my publisher, than I learned that it would be included in a campaign meant to raise awareness of ovarian cancer.

The campaign is called "Kiss and Teal"--referring to the teal blue ribbons used by the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance for its fund raising efforts. The reason for Avon's participation is personal--one of Avon's top editors and one of its biggest bestselling authors both lost their mothers to ovarian cancer recently and together they came up with the idea of using the fact that millions of women buy romance novels to make women more aware of the warning signs of ovarian cancer and of the organization that can help them find the best treatment and clinical trials.

Avon will be donating a portion of the proceeds from every book sold that has the "Kiss and Teal" medallion on the cover, including Star Crossed Seduction, to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. Our publicist is also arranging media appearances for us authors--most of whom are far more successful and famous than I am--and gave us an orientation with someone from the Alliance who taught us a lot about this deadly disease. This will make it possible for us to tell a larger audience about the warning signs of this cancer that is the fifth most common cancer killer of women.

My college roommate died of a form of cancer closely related to ovarian cancer at the much-too-young age of 28. Her death was one of the first events that made me aware of the dangers of pharmaceutical drugs, because she was a DES daughter. Her mother had been prescribed a hormone pill that was supposed to avoid pregnancy complications. Instead, it caused terrible damage to the children of those who took it, including fatal cancers like those that killed my roommate and reproductive tract anomalies. It is still causing significant problems in surviving DES daughters--they have a greater risk of ovarian cancer--and in the grandchildren of the women who took it.

Every woman should read about the warning symptoms of ovarian cancer which you'll find HERE. If you are a DES daughter, it is even more important that you do this.

This early experience with a drug whose negative impacts took decades to emerge should have made doctors think about the long term impact of drugs they prescribe. DES was prescribed in the late 1940s. But obviously, it hasn't. Hormones were new and exciting in the 1940s in the same way that drugs that block receptors and turn off gene expression are in this decade.

Which is why, as long term readers of this blog know, I continue to worry about the long term impact of prescribing DPP-4 inhibitors like Januvia and Onglyza that turn off a gene the body uses to fight ovarian cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer and lung cancer. (Details HERE and HERE).

Just this week, a friend of the blog sent me a study, published back in February in the journal, Gasteroenterology, and completely ignored by the health media, which found a much higher incidence of pancreatic and thyroid cancers among people taking Januvia and Byetta. You can read it HERE.

Though there are issues with the methodology used--which the authors are very frank in describing--there is no question that, as we learned from the artificial hormone DES years ago, drugs that use novel mechanisms that mess with hormones (like GLP-1) and supress gene expression(as does Januvia, Onglyza, etc.) may very well cause cancer--and they will do it after a much longer time period has passed than the brief two or three years over which which drug acceptance studies last. (After a drug is approved there is no significant tracking of its subsequent connection with cancers, and the database that attempts to collect this data is, as the Gastroenterology study discusses, quite limited and flawed.)

The lesson is clear. Drugs have short term benefits that may be much easier to see than the long term disturbances they make in our body that might kill us. Messing with systems we don't really understand--like the human body--is going to produce unexpected results.

So here's a bit of ovarian cancer awareness for those of you with diabetes--and you don't have to buy my novel to benefit from it, though of course I hope you will. Anyone with a family history of ovarian cancer should stay away from any drug that inhibits DPP-4. It will take 20 years for it to become clear what the impact of turning off this tumor suppressing gene really is.

But it is often hard to know if you have a family history of ovarian cancer, due to the huge burden of shame and silence that kept women of earlier generations from telling anyone that they suffered from this kind of cancer. So if you have had female relatives who died of any mysterious cancers, you should be particularly careful about what drugs you take, and it is essential that you NOT take any of the DPP-4 inhibitors that make it easier for a preexisting ovarian cancer to spread.

Metformin, fortunately, seems to have a protective effect against cancer, which is why I, a melanoma survivor, take it even when my blood sugars are in very good control.



Scott S said...

Actually, the deal you have struck with Avon is the kind that can benefit many people, and I believe is not the sort of blatant product placement we typically see, so I congratulate you on this effort. It looks like I win for most parties involved!

Jenny said...


Thanks! I will admit my first thought when this campaign was announced was of all that awful pinkwashing that puts pink sneakers on NFL lineman without doing a thing to improve the lot of people with breast cancer.

But I was so impressed by the woman from the Ovarian Cancer Alliance who oriented me. She was very knowledgeable about recent research and her organization appears to be using its modest resources very wisely. I was told that was why the Avon editor who started this campaign chose her organization to work with.

poulingail said...

The fact that I enjoy historical romance novels brings me to comment on your post but I found out about it reading Diabetes Update in my RSS. Reading about the Kiss and Teal campaign is enlightening as well. I'll keep my eye out for the label.

Jenny said...


I've found a few fans through mentioning the books here, though my guess is I've probably appalled some others who might think such pursuits weren't compatible with Serious Scientific research.

Lisa Coker said...

A true renaissance woman!

Thank you for the work on the diabetes blog and book - what must be a labor of love. And congratulations on the upcoming release of Star Crossed Seduction. Science and romance go great together.

Jenny said...

I've since found out that Stephanie Laurens, one of the top bestsellers in the romance genre earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and ran her own cancer research laboratory before she published her first novel.

Her next book is also involved in the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance campaign.

Natalie said...

Congratulations on your book! :-)

I have been wary of oral meds for exactly the reason you speak of -- long-term effects. I'm doing fine on a reduced-carb diet (~60g) and an average of 35u of insulin a day.

But I've been thinking about metformin because I do have some insulin resistance (mild), and I have been wondering whether metformin would be worth it. But it seems that metformin has been in use long enough to be fairly sure that it doesn't have long-term effects?

Jenny said...

Natalie, Almost all the long-term effects of Metformin are positive--less heart disease, less cancer. The one possible negative is that some people after taking it for many years become deficient in Vitamin B12. This is easy to check for and fix, but not common. A good doctor will check your B12 levels every few years to be sure, but I don't hear from people who ran into this problem.

v/vmary said...

is there any research showing that cancer rates go up once blood sugars consistently surpass a certain threshold? in other words, does the stay under 140 number also hold true for cancer prevention, or could cancers show up an even bg lower levels?

Jenny said...

I haven't researched this fully, but from what I have seen, lowering blood sugars probably won't prevent cancer which is caused by damage to DNA, though since cancer cells burn a lot of glucose, keeping blood sugars normal may help slow their growth.

v/vmary said...

are there any books or any lines of thought that you follow for cancer prevention? i know keeping blood sugar below 140 at all times, taking metformin, and keeping you vitamin d level at 40 are things you do, but are there any other strategies you follow?

Jenny said...

There is no fool-proof way to avoid cancer. Anyone who claims there is selling false hope. It seems to be very much a matter of bad luck, genes, and unavoidable exposures to radiation--including the sun--and a host of chemicals that pervade our environment.