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Ways to Avoid Swine Flu; Concerns About Cancer Screenings; Drummer Beats Breast Cancer

Aired October 24, 2009 - 07:30   ET


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN HOST: Good morning and welcome to HOUSE CALL. I'm Elizabeth Cohen sitting in for Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Today, we're focusing on keeping you germ-free this flu season -- from airplanes to subways and sidewalks. What you need to know before you leave the house this morning.

And a cancer report out this week questions the effectiveness of some cancer screenings. We've got the facts.

Plus, we're coming at breast cancer from all angles, including a candid talk about men getting this largely female disease.



COHEN: We encounter germs every day in everything we do. Normally, our bodies can fight off those germs before they make us sick. But the H1N1 flu virus is a new strain so most of us have no immunity to it.

I spent the day with Georgia's commissioner of public health to see if there was anything we could try to do to stay healthy while we're out and about.


COHEN: Let's pretend that you and I are going to get on the subway. We stand in line at this kiosk. And let's say I'm sick, I go like this -- I touch this. You're right behind me. Now, it's your turn.

DR. RHONDA MEDOWS, GA. DEPT. OF COMMUNITY HEALTH: And I'm not so happy with you right now

What happens is, and commonly it happens every single day, is that people who have different illnesses, different symptoms, coughing, sneezing, runny noses, sinus infections and whatever, do the same thing that you just did without even thinking about it. H1N1 virus can live on an inanimate object for two to eight hours.

This is a virus that our bodies have never seen before. So, all those people who touch it and they didn't have H1N1, they have no immunity and neither do you. And this is where the adventure actually starts. COHEN: So, we are now standing behind a whole bunch of people.


COHEN: If one of them were sick and sneezed, could we get sick?

MEDOWS: Yes, we can.

COHEN: Even at this distance.

MEDOWS: It's less than six feet. So that spray, that air drop that spray could actually come into your being, your inhaling, your breathing, respiratory droplets.

COHEN: All right. So, we're sitting down here on the subway, really, really closed, smushed together. If I start sneezing, achoo, what are you going to do?

MEDOWS: I'm going to turn my face away and try to avoid the spray.

COHEN: OK. Let me see what would you do. Achoo!

MEDOWS: And I may go and sit next to her...


MEDOWS: ... because she's not sneezing. She looks a lot healthy.

COHEN: OK. But you would actually get up and leave if you sat on the subway next to someone who is sneezing.

MEDOWS: I want to avoid influenza that bad that I would get up and go sit over there.

COHEN: I hear constantly, "Wash your hands, wash your hands." But that's not enough.

MEDOWS: Actually, it's a lot.

COHEN: It is a lot, but it's not enough, because you're surrounded by people all the time.

MEDOWS: That's right.

COHEN: I mean, you can wash your hands all day long but if you're next to someone who sneezes...

MEDOWS: You can't. Washing your hands is not going to do that. You can only do things to try to reduce the transmission.


COHEN: Have you ever been on a flight next to someone who's coughing and sneezing, and well, just doesn't look well, and you think, "Oh, great, now, I'm going to get sick"? In light of the H1N1 flu, many people are concerned.

I caught up with former head of the CDC, Dr. Julie Gerberding to talk about just how far those germs travel on an airplane.


COHEN: We wanted to know what kind of germs do you face when you're on an airplane. We have this nice little airplane here. So, come on and we'll...


COHEN: ... we'll get on there and talk about it.

We're actually sitting far apart. In a real airplane, we'd be shoulder to shoulder. Let's go with the worst case scenario. I have H1N1. I cough and cough and I don't cover it up well. What are the chances do you think that you'll get sick?

GERBERDING: Well, there's a very good chance. Flu is very transmissible.

COHEN: This is a graphic simulation of a cough. The guy in red there, he is the sick passenger and he coughs.

GERBERDING: And there come those droplets. What's happening here is that the ventilation system of the plane is distributing them and basically removing them except for the people who are close.

I mean look at these little dots. They're flying everywhere.

It's a great illustration of why flu is so transmissible. So, if you're in the strike zone and you're at risk, the good news is that if you're anywhere else on the aircraft, you're probably at very low risk.

COHEN: Do I need to worry about the guy sneezing 10 rows behind me?

GERBERDING: You really don't. It's way outside of the zone where the droplets are going to hit you directly.

COHEN: You had an interesting experience. You were just on a flight from San Francisco to Atlanta, and tell me what happened?

GERBERDING: We were ready to taxi down the runway. The lady sitting next to me, is speaking in her cell phone says, "I know I have swine flu. I feel miserable."

COHEN: So, in retrospect, you wish you had alerted a flight attendant.

GERBERDING: I absolutely do and I asked myself why didn't I do that.

COHEN: Could you please offer this person a mask? I mean, that sounds so rude.

GERBERDING: I really do wish I had said, "Hello. I'm Dr. Gerberding and I think the person sitting next to me has swine flu? Could you do something about it?

COHEN: And you can say that even if you're not Dr. Julie Gerberding.


COHEN: Now, to increase your chances of staying healthy this season, feed your body the right nutrients, beta-carotenes, Vitamin C and Vitamin A and zinc. Those nutrients boost your immune system and keep you healthy.

Let me show you. We all have white blood cells that ward off diseases like cancer. They also fight viruses and bacteria. Your immune cells fight better when they're properly nourished.

Now, citrus fruits, broccoli and leafy greens are high in vitamin C. This antioxidant tops the list and protects against infection, great, against the cold and the flu.

Here are some other foods: sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, and squash are good sources of beta-carotene. Think orange. These foods increase the number of infection-fighting cells. Now, nuts, seeds and vegetable oil boost your immune cell. These cells produce antibodies that destroy bacteria and germs. Research shows that people who eat foods rich in Vitamin E have a higher immunity.

Now, here's some more. Lean beef, pork, turkey, certain beans like lentils and garbanzo, even yogurt, have large amounts of zinc and zinc helps prevent a weakened immune system.

Now, any experts will tell you that catching cancer early is the best way to beat it. But are the tests we currently use to screens for cancer really working? That's ahead.

And he was the drummer for the rock band KISS. Now, he's speaking out about his breast cancer diagnosis. That's right you heard it. Breast cancer -- it's not just a woman's disease.


COHEN: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL.

Many of us wonder what cancer screenings do we really need and how effective are they? There was an article this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association that calls into question a popular screening test for breast cancer.

To set the record straight, we're joined by Dr. Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Brawley, you know, early one morning this week, I called you to talk about this story. So, let's be clear about something. You told me that you think mammograms are good but not great. So can you talk about that a little bit?

DR. OTIS BRAWLEY, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: Yes. First off, every woman over the age of 40 ought to be getting a mammogram every year. Every year for women age 40 to 50, and every one to two years for women over the age of 50. We have several clinical trials to show that this decreases the death rate by 20 percent to 35 percent.

Now, the problem with mammography is, it's not 100 percent. We have women who end up with stage three or stage four breast cancer diagnosis, who wonder how could this had happened. I got my mammogram as I was supposed to. We have people who think that mammography will keep people from getting cancer 100 percent. And that doesn't happen.

Also, we're now starting to realize that mammography finds some things that look like cancer but actually don't necessarily need to be treated. But we encourage every woman over the age of 40 to get mammography, and if diagnosed, get treated because we do have several studies to show that saves lives.

COHEN: So, in other words, if I hear you correctly, mammograms sometimes fail to find cancer and sometimes they find things that aren't really cancer and don't really need to be treated.

BRAWLEY: Well, I would say they find cancers that don't need to be treated. They actually do qualify as cancers but they don't need to be treated because if left alone, they never harm the woman. But we don't have a test to figure out if Mrs. Jones has a cancer that needs to be watched versus Mrs. Jones has a cancer that needs to be treated. We do have studies to show that if we treat all women who have diagnosed breast cancer, we can actually save lives.

COHEN: So, mammograms are imperfect. Can they be improved? Can we make them better?

BRAWLEY: Well, actually that's one of the reasons why I think the controversy this week is important. We need to realize the limitations of mammography so that we can actually encourage scientists to develop new tests that are actually better than mammography. I think mammography is the best thing we have right now, but we need to do better. We deserve better tests than mammography. But right now, it's the best thing we have.

COHEN: And now, are there some women who ought to get mammograms even before the age of 40?

BRAWLEY: Women who are at very high risk for breast cancer ought to talk to their doctor about screening mammography before the age of 40. There are some women who should. There are also some women who should not.

And one thing that we really want to impress upon people is this very important: if a woman happens to notice a mass in her breast, she needs to go to the doctor, no matter what her age, and the doctor at that point may do a mammogram.

COHEN: Right. That's an important thing to know.

Now, mammograms have been around for a long time. Why haven't they gotten -- why haven't we come up with something better over the years? Or maybe MRIs are better.

BRAWLEY: Well, MRIs are used in certain instances and MRIs are very important in breast cancer diagnosis. I think, one of the reasons why we have not developed anything better than mammography is they're actually, even in the medical field, a little bit of complacency in terms of use of mammography and a little bit of satisfaction with it. The satisfaction that we need to get away from, as we encourage those physicians and scientists, to develop something that would be better.

COHEN: Well, Dr. Brawley, thank you so much.

And, you know, I think you're going to want to stick around for the next segment. It's also about breast cancer. John Anderson watched four women he loved battled breast cancer. He's advice for helping women through the hardest times in their lives is coming up next.

Also, he was the drummer in the rock band KISS. He's the guy in the cat make-up. Now, he's a breast cancer survivor and he's got a message for men.


COHEN: During the time it takes you to watch this show, 10 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. As with all cancers, this is a shocking diagnosis, and it affects not just the person who's sick but everyone in their life. For every woman diagnosed, there are friends and family struggling to figure out how they can help. That's where our next guest comes in.

John Anderson is the author of the new book "Stand by Her: A Breast Cancer Guide for Men." Now, this book you've written is really incredible. It's for sons, fathers, husbands, brothers, and friends of women who have had breast cancer. You've unfortunately been many of these things. Your mother, your wife, your sister and a family friend -- all of those ladies struggled with breast cancer.

So, what I want to know from you is, what did you do? What could you do to help these women who were struggling with breast cancer?

JOHN ANDERSON, AUTHOR, "STAND BY HER": Well, I think there's five important things you can do. The first thing you can do is listen. It's her disease. You need to hear what she's going through.

The second thing is follow, not lead. The third thing is laugh. I think it's good to have humor, as crazy as it sounds, to get through this. The next thing is show your love. Kiss her, touch her, hold her, make her feel special.

And last thing is, get support not only for her with her medical team and her friends and family, but for yourself as a guy going through this.

COHEN: So, John, your mother had breast cancer, your sister, your wife. Tell me exactly what you mean by following and not leading.

ANDERSON: Well, it's her disease and it's her treatment decision. And sometimes us guys like to take command. We see a problem. We want to solve it.

She's the commander-in-chief. She's the one who has to make the tough decisions. And you have to follow her, not lead.

COHEN: And, John, sadly I know your mom passed away. How are your sister and your wife doing?

ANDERSON: They're all doing great. My wife is going to celebrate her ninth year as a survivor. My sister, her eighth. And Carol, my mom's best friend who I write about in the book is 30-plus years survivor.

So, other than my mom, all three of them are still alive and well

COHEN: I'm sure you've received phone calls or e-mails from men, saying, "Oh, my goodness, my wife was just diagnosed with breast cancer." What's the initial piece of advice that you give them when someone's just been diagnosed?

ANDERSON: Well, I think the initial -- the most important thing is if they can be physically with her, that's great. If they can go with her to appointments, if they can go with her to surgery, to a chemo session. If they can't do that, then make a phone call. There are some guys that are not so emotive to be able to talk about it. So I'll tell 'em, just be by her, stand by her.

COHEN: Thanks so much, John.

Now, if you or someone you love is facing breast cancer or breast cancer diagnosis, we've got help. Go to We've got strategies and tips for getting the care you need.

In your 20s, facing cancer and finally getting your chance and hope. We have an update on a story of survival -- straight ahead.


COHEN: Back in the '70s and '80s, the rock band KISS filled arenas, entertaining in their trademark makeup. Peter Criss was the drummer, and last year, Criss says he flipped out when he found out that he had breast cancer. Yes, men really do get breast cancer. Hundreds die from the disease every year.

I sat down with Criss earlier this week. He's determined to tell other men they could be next.


COHEN: You were the baddest, meanest rocker dude. What did you think when you heard those words, breast cancer?

PETER CRISS, FORMER KISS DRUMMER: I was petrified. I was like, this can't -- you know, this is not happening to me. This can't be happening to me. I went into total shock. I thought, it just doesn't happen to men.

COHEN: Were you ever embarrassed? Did you try to keep it from people that you had breast cancer?

CRISS: Yes. Yes, my wife and I discussed it a lot. We were like -- we can't let anyone know this because tabloids are vicious. I've never seen -- I don't know about you, guys -- but I've never seen a man ever on television saying, "I had breast cancer and I beat it." I've never seen any man say that.

COHEN: So, what made you decide to be the first?

CRISS: I think you should open your big mouth and say something, even if one or two or three or four guys get this, or their wives say to them, "I think, you know, there's something wrong you should check that out." Then it's something a hell of a lot more than a people's choice or a gold record or being in the band.

COHEN: If you were to ever write a song about your breast cancer, what would you call it?

CRISS: "Hard Rock Knockers."


COHEN: I had such great time talking with Peter Criss. He was so incredibly open about his breast cancer diagnosis.

Now, we've received lots of emails about a story we told you about on HOUSE CALL. We wanted to give you an update.

Twenty-nine-year-old Denise Bertholin was diagnosed with a rare form of acute leukemia. We told you about her doctors and how they weren't able to get her cancer in remission with chemotherapy and time was of the essence. Denise needed a bone marrow transplant but the chances of finding a matching donor were complicated by heritage. She's Latina with European ancestry.

But here's the good news and the update: About a month ago, doctors performed a half match transplant from her younger sister Alice. Her doctors say signs are encouraging and they'll test her in the next couple of months to make sure that she is in remission. We wish you good luck, Denise.

And look for CNN's "Latino in America" hosted by Soledad O'Brien. We'll explore how Latinos are reshaping our communities and our culture. "Latino in America" -- tonight on CNN.

Now, you may have noticed that Sanjay is getting fitter. He had a goal to become the fittest he's been in his life when he turned 40. Well that day came this week, happy birthday, Sanjay. We'll find out if he achieved his goal.


COHEN: Sanjay had a special birthday this week. He turned the big 4-0, and leading up to that birthday, he was working out, trying eat well, like the rest of us, trying to reach a goal for his birthday. Let's see how he did.


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: As you may know, over the last four months, I've been on a sort of campaign to get in the best shape of my life by the time I turned 40 years old. It's been tough in many ways. I decided to get a checkup on how I was doing from personal fitness trainer Jillian Michaels. Let's go talk to her.

From the first few days that I did this, and I -- again, I don't count calories, but I was leaving food on the plate.


GUPTA: I was definitely taking smaller portions. It's really conscious. I was hungry the first few days.

MICHAELS: That's so hard.

GUPTA: I was hungry. But I knew once I got beyond that and I had this whole...

MICHAELS: Did you get beyond the physical feeling of hunger? Because when that happens, I'll go with volume. So, I'll get, you know, the salad this big -- yes, fiber and water, nutrient-dense, low calorie when I struggle with that.

GUPTA: But you may have told me, that somebody told me this that, you know, thirst is often misperceived as hunger.


GUPTA: So you think you're hungry but, in fact, you're thirsty.

MICHAELS: Dehydrated.

GUPTA: So, yes, you're dehydrated. And I think, a lot of people just walk around chronic dehydration. So, now, I just drink more water and it's funny, because I -- you know, Jillian, like you studied this like to the core, you know, fitness, exercise, physiology, of all this, but some of the simplest things make the biggest difference.

So, drinking water, pushing a plate away, and exercising when I can.

MICHAELS: How are you doing with sleep? Because sleep really affects my hunger levels.

GUPTA: I won't pass the Jillian test on sleep.

MICHAELS: I know, because you -- I mean, you've got three kids and you're all over the world. How much sleep are you getting and how are you finding that affects you?

GUPTA: Well, it definitely affects me and I feel like, if I can start to get more sleep, I'm going to be even in a better groove. The thing I'm worried about the most now is that I've had this whole inspiring time over the last four months to do this, because 40th birthday, a milestone...


GUPTA: ... an arbitrary milestone at that. I mean, how do I make this a habit? You know, a habit.

MICHAELS: You're going to the gym every day after work. Are you finding that manageable? If that's not manageable, then it becomes, OK, if you can't get the fitness in, then you push the plate away and you eat less calories, you make the quality of your foods count as much as possible, you steal sleep on the plane if that's the only place that you can steal it and you got to make time.

GUPTA: Getting the -- getting the compliment from you today...

MICHAELS: You, I mean, like, I just was like, wow! He looks great -- not that I didn't think you looked great before. Let me just clarify -- you were hot before, and you're hot now, but you just, yes, you look like you're just lean and mean.

GUPTA: I feel great, and I really appreciate it.

MICHAELS: Thank you.

GUPTA: Thanks so much for your help.


COHEN: Happy birthday, hottie!

The next challenge for Sanjay, he signed up for a triathlon and I'm sure he'll be trying to get me and all the rest of us to sign up to get fit this summer. So, stay tuned.

Now, if you missed any part of today's show, be sure to check out the podcast on And click over to our show, we've got links for information in today's show.

Remember, this is the place for answers to all of your medical questions. Thanks for watching.

More news on CNN starts right now.