Public Health News Roundup: July 30
Task Force Calls for Regular Lung Cancer Screening for Older, High-risk Patients
New recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force call for annual lung cancer screenings for people ages 55-79 who smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years, or the equivalent (e.g., two packs a day for 15 years). Low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans utilize an X-ray machine to take a series of detailed pictures that can help identify smaller tumors earlier, allowing for earlier treatment and improved health outcomes. “Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States and a devastating diagnosis for more than two hundred thousand people each year,” says Task Force chair Virginia Moyer, MD, MPH. “Sadly, nearly 90 percent of people who develop lung cancer die from the disease, in part because it often is not found until it is at an advanced stage. By screening those at high risk, we can find lung cancer at earlier stages when it is more likely to be treatable.” Lung cancer kills about 160,000 Americans each year. Read more on tobacco.
Study Links Breastfeeding, Higher Intelligence in Kids
Children who breastfeed score higher on intelligence tests later in life, according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers found that for each month spent breastfeeding there were slightly higher results on the intelligence tests at ages three and seven, though not on tests of motor skills or memory. Mandy Belfort, MD, who led the study at Boston Children's Hospital, said the study accounted for parental intelligence and other home factors and provides parents with one more piece of important information when making a decision on the complex question of whether to breastfeed. "Given the size of the benefit, I think this should be helpful for women who are trying to make decisions about how long to breastfeed… because there are many factors that go into that decision," said Belfort. "You have to weigh that against the time that it takes, maybe the time that it takes away from work and your other family duties." Previous studies have linked breastfeeding to lower risk of ear and stomach infections, as well as eczema. Read more on infant and maternal health.
NCI: ‘Cancer’ May Need to Be Redefined
The dramatic increase in cancer screenings over the past few decades has resulted in overdiagnosis and overtreatment, in part because of confusion—by both patients and physicians—over which types of cancer are actually lethal and require immediate treatment. As a result, a panel of experts commissioned by the U.S. National Cancer Institute has recommended that the word “cancer” may need to be redefined to differentiate between lethal and indolent cancers. The recommendations were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "We're still having trouble convincing people that the things that get found as a consequence of mammography and PSA testing and other screening devices are not always malignancies in the classical sense that will kill you," said Harold Varmus, MD, director of the National Cancer Institute, to The New York Times. "Just as the general public is catching up to this idea, there are scientists who are catching up, too." Over the past several years the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has also called for an end to regular mammography screening for women under 50, as well as the widespread use of PSA tests to identify prostate cancer. Read more on cancer.