SAFE HEALTH AT HOME
THE ESOPHAGUS, part of the digestive tract, is the muscular tube through
which food passes from the throat to
the stomach. Two types of cancer
develop in the esophagus. The more
common type in the U.S. is adenocarcinoma, which begins in cells that make
and release mucus and other fluids.
Less common is squamous cell carcinoma, which begins in flat cells lining
In 2013, more than 15,000 people
will die from esophageal cancer in the
U.S., and 18,000 new cases will be
diagnosed, according to the National
Cancer Center at the National
Institutes of Health.
Men are more at risk than women
for this disease, as are smokers and
those with chronic gastroesophageal
reflux disease (see GERD article on
Frequently, cancer of the esophagus is not diagnosed until symptoms
are experienced. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the better the chance that
treatment will be effective. If you have
any of the following symptoms, see
your doctor immediately.
• Difficulty swallowing
• Frequent choking when eating
• Pain, pressure, burning or other
discomfort in the chest
• Frequent heartburn or indigestion
• Weight loss and lack of appetite
• Other symptons such as fatigue,
hoarseness, a persistent cough,
hiccups, pneumonia, bone pain
and/or bleeding in the esophagus
Treatment and prognosis
Esophageal cancer is usually not
curable. Surgery or radiation therapy
may improve the chances of survival
when the cancer has not spread outside the esophagus.
To learn more, visit the Esophageal
Cancer Awareness Association at
By Jodi Helmer
EVEN IF YOU know it’s a bad
idea to use an over-the-counter
medication after its expiration
date or share prescription meds
with your spouse, you may still
be making common errors that affect the
effectiveness of your medications. Instead of
making you feel better, you could be making
“Medication mistakes are more common
than most people realize,” says Ranee
Runnebaum, medication safety manager at
Oregon Health & Science University and a
At least 1. 5 million Americans are sickened, injured or killed each year as a result
of errors in prescribing, dispensing and taking medications, according to the Institute
of Medicine, a nonprofit organization.
To stay safe, avoid these common medication mistakes.
Storing meds improperly. The bathroom cabinet might not be the best place to
store medications. “It’s hot and humid in the
bathroom, and that can make medications
break down more quickly and lose their effectiveness,” explains Matthew Grissinger, director of error-reporting programs at the Institute
for Safe Medication Practices. Keeping your
medications in a kitchen cabinet or nightstand
is a safer option.
Measuring inaccurately. Even though
a medication’s directions might call for a teaspoon of penicillin, a spoon from the kitchen
drawer is not accurate. “You could end up getting the wrong dose of medicine,” Runnebaum
says. A 2010 study in the International Journal
of Clinical Practice found that the volume of a
teaspoon ranged from 2. 5 ml to 7. 3 ml,
increasing the odds of taking the wrong dose
of medication when measuring liquids with a
To ensure accurate dosing, use an oral
dosing syringe or a medicine spoon; both are
available in Costco pharmacies.
Skipping doses. Patients forget to take
their medication so often that most prescriptions include instructions for handling a
missed dose. It might not seem like a big deal,
but Runnebaum notes that the impact could
be serious. “With antibiotics, skipping doses
could cause the bacteria to develop resistance,”
she says. Apps like MedCoach and Pillbox
send daily reminders to take your meds.
Storing multiple meds in one
bottle. It’s tempting to condense several different prescriptions into one bottle to save
space, especially when you’re traveling. “Too
many pills look the same,” Grissinger says.
“You may end up taking an extra dose of one
medication or missing a dose of another
because you can’t tell the pills apart.” Keep prescriptions in their original bottles with the
labels from the pharmacy.
Ignoring the labels. In addition to the
dosing instructions, make sure to read the
warning labels on the prescription bottle. “You
need to know why you’re taking the drug and
how you’re supposed to take it,” says Grissinger.
“It’s really important to read all the labels.”
Shopping around. Instead of picking
up blood pressure meds at the pharmacy near
work and filling a prescription for antidepressants at the supermarket, use one pharmacy for
all of your medications. “It ensures that someone is looking at your complete medical record
and can check all of your medications for interactions,” says Runnebaum. C
JUNE 2013 ;e Costco Connection 45
Jodi Helmer is a freelance journalist whose
work has appeared in Entrepreneur, National
Geographic Traveler and Shape.