Hope springs eternal


As practicing clinicians, we all want to do what is best for patients. We hope our treatments will improve actual health outcomes (and not intermediate process metrics), so we make decisions based on “evidence” that lies on a continuum from “I hope” on one end to “I’m sure” on the other. This month, our three lead articles represent differing points along that continuum.

Dr. John I. Allen

First, we consider H. pylori and gastric cancer. We know H. pylori eradication reduces ulcer risk and that H. pylori is a risk for gastric cancer. We did not know whether eradication reduces cancer risk. In a large retrospective study from the VA, Kumar et al demonstrated that eradication (not just treatment) substantially reduced subsequent gastric cancers. These data are not definitive, but they nudge us towards the “I’m sure” end of the continuum.

A second group of studies (both retrospective and prospective) suggests that successful weight loss after bariatric surgery was associated with a substantial reduction of risk for 13 cancer types related to obesity. Moderate evidence but again nudging us away from “I hope.”

A third article highlights the recent Clinical Practice Update on Barrett’s esophagus published by the AGA Clinical Practice Update Committee in Gastroenterology’s February 2020 issue. This practice update helps us understand the impact we will make on cancer reduction with surveillance and treatment of Barrett’s. Despite this publication, Barrett’s management remains closer to “hope” than “sure.”

The difficulty we face, as clinician or patient, is what to do when outcomes are really serious but evidence remains close to the “I hope” end. Take a reasonably healthy 68-year-old man with asymptomatic coronary disease, but a very high (and increasing) coronary artery calcium score, despite maximum statins and appropriate lifestyle practices. Should he initiate a PCSK9 inhibitor ($14,000 per year) absent evidence that it would alter cardiac risk? Recently, a retrospective study nudged us along the continuum (Peng et al. JACC Cardiovascular Imaging. 2020 Jan;13[1 Pt 1]:83-93). A serious outcome, suggestive but not definitive evidence, and no time for an RCT. Will such aggressive therapy help? I sure hope so.

John I. Allen, MD, MBA, AGAF
Editor in Chief

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