Category Archives: Cancer
EBOLA UPDATE: Death Toll Passes 1,200; Improvement Seen in Three African Doctors Who Received Experimental Treatment
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The death toll in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa has passed 1,200, according to the World Health Organization, with infection rates continuing to outpace containment efforts. Concerns over the disease also continue to spread, with a 30-year-old woman in Germany isolated and then taken to a specialist medical unit after being found with a high fever. However, the Liberian information minister was also recently quoted as saying that three African doctors treated with the experimental ZMapp treatment are showing “remarkable signs of improvement.” The drug was used to treat two Americans who are now also showing signs of improvement. Read more on Ebola.
Study: Older Americans Receiving Cancer Screenings Against Recommendations
As many as half of older Americans continue to receive cancer screenings despite the recommendation by several professional societies that certain cancers not be screening for in people who aren’t expected to live for another 10 years, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. “There is general agreement that routine cancer screening has little likelihood to result in a net benefit for individuals with limited life expectancy,” wrote Trevor Royce, MD, in the study. Keith Bellizzi of the University of Connecticut‘s Center for Public Health and Health Policy in Storrs added that "Each screening test carries different risks and benefits ... Individuals should be counseled about these risks in order to make an informed decision (sometimes involving caregivers or family members)." Read more on cancer.
Study: Dramatic Drop in Deaths, Hospitalization for Heart Disease and Stroke
Lifestyle changes, better treatment and effective preventive measures have caused a dramatic drop in deaths and hospitalizations for heart disease over the past decade, according to a new study in the journal Circulation. In a review of data on nearly 34 million Americans covered by Medicare, researchers found that from 1999 to 2011 hospitalizations rates for heart attacks dropped by 38 percent; rates of unstable angina dropped by almost 85 percent; and hospitalizations for both heart failure and stroke dropped by approximately one-third. "The findings are jaw-dropping," said lead researcher Harlan Krumholz, MD, a professor of cardiology at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn, according to HealthDay. "They really show that we have begun to reverse this epidemic of heart disease and stroke." Read more on heart and vascular health.
EBOLA UPDATE: Death Toll at 1,013 as Two More Doctors are Set to Receive an Experimental Treatment
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Two more Ebola-infected doctors are set to receive the experimental ZMapp drug that was given to two American health workers and a Spanish priest. The Americans continue to receive treatment in an Atlanta hospital, while the 75-year-old missionary died early this morning. The death toll of the West African outbreak—the largest Ebola outbreak in history—now stands at 1,013, according to the World Health Organization. Read more on Ebola.
FDA Approves New Colorectal Screening Test
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first stool-based colorectal screening test to identify cancers such as colon cancer or precursors to cancer. The test can detect red blood cells and DNA mutations that can indicate certain types of abnormal growths. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among those that affect both men and women, and regular screening tests for all people ages 50 and older could reduce related deaths by at least 60 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This approval offers patients and physicians another option to screen for colorectal cancer,” said Alberto Gutierrez, PhD, director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a release. “Fecal blood testing is a well-established screening tool and the clinical data showed that the test detected more cancers than a commonly used fecal occult test.” Read more on cancer.
Study: Women, Blacks Affected Most by Heart Disease and Stroke
Women and African-Americans are affected the most by chronic diseases linked to increased risk of heart attack or stroke, according to a new population-based study in the journal Circulation. Researchers analyzed the five major risk factors for heart disease—high cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes—in more than 13,500 Americans from 1987 to 1998, finding that while the combined risk for women dropped from 68 percent to 58 percent, it was still higher than the risk for men, which dropped from 51 percent to 48 percent. The study also found that diabetes more than doubled the risk of heart disease for African-Americans when compared to whites—28 percent versus 13 percent. Researchers said the difference could be because heart disease has been traditionally viewed as a disease of white men, affecting how it is treated. Read more on health disparities.
EBOLA UPDATE: African Death Toll Hits 932 as Liberia Shuts Down a Major Hospital Over Continued Infections
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
St. Joseph's Catholic hospital in the Liberia capital of Monrovia has been shut down after the death of its hospital director from Ebola and the subsequent infections of six staff members, including two nuns and a priest. The World Health Organization reports that there were 45 deaths in the three days leading to August 4—bringing the death toll so far to 932—and is calling for an emergency meeting to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" and to discuss what additional public health measures can be taken. Read more on infectious diseases.
‘Gluten-free’ Labels Must Now Fully Meet FDA Standards
What does a “gluten-free” food label actually mean? Exactly what it says, as of yesterday. August 5 was the deadline for all U.S. foods bearing a gluten-free label claim to meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) final rule covering the issue. The rule sets a gluten limit of less than 20 ppm (parts per million) in foods that carry the label, which is the lowest level that can be detected. The agency issued the rule last August, giving manufacturers one year to bring their product lines into compliance. “Gluten-free” labeling is critical to people with celiac disease, which has no cure and can only be treated through diet. "This standard ’gluten-free’ definition eliminates uncertainty about how food producers label their products. People with celiac disease can rest assured that foods labeled 'gluten-free' meet a clear standard established and enforced by FDA," said Felicia Billingslea, director of FDA's division of food labeling and standards, in a release. Read more on food safety.
Study: Daily Aspirin Linked to Reduction in Risk for Some Cancers
A daily dose of aspirin is linked to a reduction in the risk of developing and dying from colon, stomach and esophageal cancers, according to a new study in the Annals of Oncology. Researchers analyzed the results of available studies, determining “that most people between the ages of 50 and 65 would benefit from a daily aspirin," said lead researcher Jack Cuzick, head of the Center for Cancer Prevention at Queen Mary, University of London, adding, “It looks like if everyone took a daily aspirin, there would be less cancer, and that would far outweigh any side effects.” The most serious side effect associated with aspirin is gastrointestinal bleeding. According to HealthDay, Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, said that while the study does not mean that everyone should be taking aspirin as a cancer-prevention measure, if does mean they should discuss the possibility with their doctors. Read more on cancer.
U.S. Surgeon General Issues ‘Call to Action’ Warning on Tanning and Skin Cancer
The U.S. Surgeon General has released the office’s first Call to Action on the dangers of tanning as it relates to skin cancer, which the Surgeon General called a “major public health problem.” The Call to Action is designed to increase awareness of skin cancer and presents five strategic goals to support its prevention:
- Increase opportunities for sun protection in outdoor settings
- Provide individuals with the information they need to make informed, healthy choices about ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure
- Promote policies that advance the national goal of preventing skin cancer
- Reduce harms from indoor tanning
- Strengthen research, surveillance, monitoring, and evaluation related to skin cancer prevention
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with nearly 5 million people treated for all types combined annually at a cost of $8.1 billion. Melanoma is responsible for the most deaths and 90 percent of melanomas are estimated to be the result of UV exposure. Read more on cancer.
NIH, 23andMe Partner to Expand Researcher Access to Genetic Disease Data
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has entered into a $1.4 million, two-year deal with home genetics startup 23andMe to open up the company’s stores of genetic data to external researchers. The grant will enable the creation of survey tools and other methods to help researchers access information on thousands of diseases and traits for more than 400,000 people who have use 23andMe’s services. “23andMe is building a platform to connect researchers and consumers that will enable discoveries to happen faster,” said Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, in a release. “This grant from the NIH recognizes the ability of 23andMe to create a unique, web-based platform that engages consumers and enables researchers from around the world to make genetic discoveries.” Read more on research.
Study: Students Increasingly Accepting Healthier School Lunches
Despite initial pushback from students wary of revised school lunch policies implemented to provide heathier meals in 2012, a nationally representative sample of 557 U.S. public elementary schools found that approximately 70 percent of respondents said that students liked the new lunches by the second half of the school year. Researchers also found that school meal sales were up for disadvantaged students, who are more likely than their peers to experience a lack of proper nutrition. Read more on school health.
Study: EHRs Don’t Increase the Risk for Medicare Fraud
The use of electronic health records (EHRs) does not increase the risk of Medicare fraud, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Schools of Information and Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health. In the study, scheduled to be published in the journal Health Affairs, researchers analyzed longitudinal data to determine whether U.S. hospitals that recently adopted EHRs also saw increases in the severity of patients’ conditions and payments from Medicare; they determined that adopters and non-adopters saw rates increase approximately equally. "There have been a lot of anecdotes and individual cases of hospitals using electronic health records in fraudulent ways. Therefore there was an assumption that this was happening systematically, but we find that it isn't," said Julia Adler-Milstein, U-M assistant professor of information, as well as an assistant professor of health management and policy in the U-M School of Public Health. Read more on technology.
Fist Bumps May Be the Best Greeting for Reducing Germ Transmission
Want to meet society’s hand-to-hand greeting expectation while also reducing the transmission of germs? Try a fist bump. Researchers from the Institute of Biological, Environmental, and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom used a germ-covered glove test to determine that handshakes transmit nearly twice as many bacteria as high-fives, which in turn transmit more bacteria than fist bumps. The study in the American Journal of Infection Control determined that duration and grip of a physical greeting also increased the number of bacteria transmitted. “Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious diseases between individuals,” said author, David Whitworth, PhD. “It is unlikely that a no-contact greeting could supplant the handshake; however, for the sake of improving public health we encourage further adoption of the fist bump as a simple, free, and more hygienic alternative to the handshake.” Read more on infectious disease.
Fear a Greater Motivator than Data When it Comes to Using Sunscreen
Fear over developing skin cancer is a larger motivator for people’s usesof sunscreen than actual data that quantifies their risk, according to a new study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on approximately 1,500 people with no history of skin cancer, finding that for people who reported “never” using it and those who reported “always” using it, worry was a greater factor than education about risk, and the greater the worry, the more likely the use. “Most health behavior studies don’t account for the more visceral, emotional reactions that lead people to do risky behaviors, like eat junk food or ignore the protective benefits of sunscreen,” says Marc Kiviniemi, MD, lead researcher and assistant professor of community health and health behavior in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions. “This study is important because most of what we do in public health communications focuses on spreading knowledge and information. By not addressing emotions, we are potentially missing a rich influence on behavior when interventions do not address feelings.” Read more on cancer.
HHS’ Million Hearts Initiative Launches Health Eating Resource Center
The Million Hearts initiative from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has launched a new online resource center to promote healthier eating by individuals and families. The Healthy Eating and Lifestyle Resource Center features lower-sodium, heart-healthy recipes and family-friendly meal plans, and emphasizes managing sodium intake. The searchable recipes include nutritional facts and use everyday ingredients. “This resource helps people see that it’s not about giving up the food you love, but choosing lower sodium options that taste great," said Tom Frieden, MD, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Small changes can make a big difference. We can prevent 11 million cases of high blood pressure each year if everyone reduced their daily sodium intake to 2,300 mg.” The Million Hearts initiative was launched with the goal of preventing 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. Read more on nutrition.
3-D Mammograms Improve Breast Cancer Detection Rate, Reduce Recall Rate
Tomosynthesis—also known as 3-D mammography—can increase the detection rate of breast cancer while also decreasing false positives that can lead to multiple and unnecessary re-tests, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers analyzed the results of 454,850 examinations, finding that when 3-D mammography was combined with traditional digital mammograms the detection rate for breast cancer climbed 40 percent while there was a 15 percent decrease in the recall rate, or the percentage of women who needed additional screening due to inconclusive results. The findings come as more and more hospitals and physicians are turning to 3-D mammography. The researchers cautioned that more study was needed into the relatively new technology. Read more on cancer.
AAP: Reading to Young Kids Starting in Infancy Improves Literacy Later in Life
Read to your kids—aloud and every day—starting as early as their infancy. That’s the latest recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) Council on Early Childhood. The policy statement is set to appear in the August print issue of the journal Pediatrics. "This is the first time the AAP has called out literacy promotion as being an essential component of primary care pediatric practice," said statement author Pamela High, MD, director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, R.I., and a professor at Brown University. "Fewer than half of children are being read to every day by their families, and that number hasn't really changed since 2003. It's a public health message to parents of all income groups, that this early shared reading is both fun and rewarding." According to the AAP, reading proficiency in the third grade is the most important predictor of eventual high school graduation, but approximately two-thirds of all U.S. children and 80 percent of kids living in poverty finish third grade lacking in reading proficiency. Reading aloud to a young child can promote literacy while also strengthening family ties. Read more on pediatrics.
NIH Releases Tools to Help Older Adults Quit Smoking
While overall U.S. smoking rates are dropping, approximately 10 percent of adults over the age of 65 still smoke. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has created a new online resource with videos, worksheets, interactive tools, strategies, quizzes and more to help older smokers who are thinking about quitting. “Most older adults know that smoking is harmful, and many have tried unsuccessfully to quit, often a number of times. But stopping smoking is a difficult goal that still eludes many older smokers,” said Erik Augustson, program director of the Tobacco Control Research Branch at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which developed the topic for NIHSeniorHealth. “This new topic, which offers a mix of tips and tools geared to the needs and experiences of older smokers, is an important, easy-to-use resource that can benefit those trying to quit for the first time as well as those who have tried before.” Read more on tobacco.
AHA: Only One-third of Cancer Patients with Heart Problems Seek Proper Treatment
Approximately 12 percent of older breast cancer patients go on to develop heart failure within three years—often as a result of their cancer treatment—but only one-third of those patients sought the help of a cardiologist within 90 days of experiencing heart problems, according to the American Heart Association. Patients who do not see a cardiologist are less likely to receive the standard therapy for heart failure, putting them at risk of lower quality of care and demonstrating an important area where oncologists and cardiologists can collaborate, according to Jersey Chen, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and a research scientist and cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente. “The bottom line is, if you have breast cancer and you’re treated with anthracyclines or trastuzumab, you should know they have side effects,” said Chen in a release. “And if you have symptoms of heart problems like shortness of breath or swelling in the feet or legs, seek attention quickly, preferably with doctors familiar and comfortable with treating heart failure after cancer therapy.” Read more on heart health.
Long Hours Spent Sitting Linked to Higher Risk for Colon, Endometrial Cancers
Previous studies have linked extended time spent sitting to health problems such as heart disease, blood clots, higher blood sugar and even early death. According to a new study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, you can now add increased risk for colon and endometrial cancers to the list. Researchers analyzed the findings of 43 studies covering 70,000 cases of cancer, determining that:
- People who spent the most time sitting during the day had a 24 percent increased risk of getting colon cancer
- People who spent the most time sitting in front of a television has a 54 percent increased risk for colon cancer
- There was a 32 percent increased risk for endometrial—or uterine—cancer for women who spent the most time seated and a 66 percent increased risk for those who watched the most television
- Every two-hour increase in sitting time was linked to an 8 percent increased risk of colon cancer and a 10 percent increased risk of endometrial cancer
Read more on cancer.
Older Hispanics Taking their Medicines Because of Medicare Prescription Drug Plans
Hispanics have reduced the gap with whites in taking prescribed heart medicines since the 2006 launch of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit—Medicare Part D. The findings were reported in a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Quality of Care and Outcomes Research 2014 Scientific Sessions earlier this month. Researchers reviewed prescription drug data from Medicare’s national Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for white, African-American and Hispanic Medicare seniors for the years 2007-10. After Part D, adherence rates increased among all racial groups, with the highest increase in whites and Hispanics, but increased only slightly among African-Americans.
- Hispanics’ total group adherence rate improved about 60 percent.
- Whites’ adherence rate improved 47 percent.
- African-Americans’ adherence rate improved about 9 percent.
Read more on heart health.
USDA Announces Grants to Help Repair Houses in Rural Areas
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced it is seeking applications for grants of about $4 million to preserve and repair housing for very-low- and low-income families living in rural areas. The funds are being made available by the USDA Rural Development's Housing Preservation Grant program. Eligible applicants include town or county governments; public agencies; federally recognized Indian Tribes; and non-profit and faith-based organizations. Applications are due July 28. Examples of previous grants include a 2012 award to Habitat for Humanity Lake County (Calif.), which received a $55,000 Housing Preservation Grant to help 12 low-income homeowners repair their homes. One person helped was a Vietnam veteran who used a wheelchair and could not leave his home without assistance. Habitat for Humanity widened his doorway and installed a wheelchair lift. Read more on housing.
Many U.S. Cancer Survivors Face Serious Financial Burdens
Many U.S. cancer survivors face significant economic burdens due to growing medical costs, missed work and reduced productivity, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Cancer survivors face physical, emotional, psychosocial, employment and financial challenges as a result of their cancer diagnosis and treatment,” said Donatus U. Ekwueme, PhD, a senior health economist at CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. The number of cancer survivors is expected to increase by more than 30 percent in the next decade—to 18 million Americans. Researchers analyzed data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s 2008-2011 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to estimate annual medical costs and productivity losses among cancer survivors aged 18 years and older, and among persons without a cancer diagnosis. Among those employed, more than 42 percent had to make changes to their work hours and duties. The report also found that about 10 percent of survivors aged 65 years and younger were uninsured and likely to have a larger financial burden compared to survivors with some source of payment for medical services. Read more on cancer.
Adolescents ages 12-17 in foster care are significantly less likely to talk to a parent or guardian about the dangers of substance use compared to other adolescents, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The report found that while 58.9 percent of adolescents living with biological parents have these discussions and 57.6 percent of adolescents living with adoptive parent have the talks, that percentage drops to 51.1 for adolescents in foster care. “Youth in foster care may face special challenges that make it essential that they, like other youth, get effective substance use prevention messaging,” said Frances M. Harding, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. “We need to explore innovative approaches to providing this prevention messaging to them—especially in ways that also engage parents and guardians. That’s why we’re very excited about our new national public service campaign, Talk. They Hear You....[which] empowers parents and caregivers to talk to their children as young as nine years old about the dangers of underage drinking.” Read more about substance abuse.
DOT Announces Grants to Improve Transportation that Gets People to Job Training and Other Services
The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced about $100 million in competitive grant funds through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) new Ladders of Opportunity Initiative. The funds can be used to modernize and expand transit bus service specifically for the purpose of connecting disadvantaged and low-income individuals, veterans, seniors, youths and others with local workforce training, employment centers, health care and other vital services.
Proposals from organizations seeking grants must directly address ladders of opportunity for riders, including:
- Enhancing access to work for individuals lacking ready access to transportation, especially in low-income communities
- Supporting economic opportunities by offering transit access to employment centers, educational and training opportunities, and other basic needs
- Supporting partnerships and coordinated planning among state and local governments and social, human service and transportation providers to improve coordinated planning and delivery of workforce development, training, education and basic services to veterans, seniors, youths and other disadvantaged populations
“Over half of the roughly 10 billion transit trips taken each year in the United States are by bus—and nearly half the buses people depend on are in marginal or poor condition,” said FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan. “This new initiative will help ensure that millions of riders can count on safe, efficient, reliable bus service that connects them with opportunities and services so and services so essential to daily life.” Read more on transportation.
Study Finds Link Between Risk of Breast Cancer and Number of Moles
In the future, physicians may be able to improve early breast cancer screening and treatment with a quick count of the number of moles on a patient’s arm, according to a two new studies in the journal PLOS Medicine. American and French researchers, in two separate studies, found a link between the number of moles on a woman’s arm and their risk of breast cancer—one study found that women with 15 or more moles on a single arm were 35 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than were women with no moles. The scientists said one plausible reason for the link is that these women have higher estrogen levels; estrogen can feed the growth and spread of many breast tumors, and research also connects the hormone to moles. However, researchers also noted that more study was needed to reach a definitive conclusion. "Don't panic,” said Barbara Fuhrman, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, in an editorial accompanying the studies. “This is very interesting biologically, but it probably doesn't tell us a lot about an individual woman's risk of breast cancer. It probably tells us more about the general etiology [causes] of breast cancer." Read more on cancer.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched three very pink infographics aimed at raising awareness about breast cancer among young women who may not realize they can be at risk for the disease—usually because of a gene mutation inherited from their mother or father.
The campaign, called “Know:BRCA” uses pink for all three of the new infographics because that color is widely identified with breast cancer awareness campaigns. The graphics focus on:
- Knowing about BRCA1 and BRCA2
- Knowing that everyone has BRCA genes
- Knowing your genetic risk factors
According to the CDC, most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older. However, each year in the United States about 9,000 women younger than 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer. In this younger group the cancer is generally more aggressive, found at a later stage, has lower survival rates and can often be linked to a mutation in one or two genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Usually the BRCA genes protect people from cancer, but mutations to the genes can increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in general and especially in younger women. Discussions with physicians and genetics counselors about family history of breast and ovarian cancer can determine the need to test for the gene mutations. And if the tests are positive, health care experts may advise preventive treatment to help avoid breast and ovarian cancer, such as long-term medication or prophylactic mastectomy—the surgery actress Angelina Jolie chose last year because of her family history of breast cancer.
Without treatment, women with a BRCA gene mutation are seven times more likely to get breast cancer and 30 times more likely to get ovarian cancer before age 70 than other women.
The goal of the new infographics is to encourage women to learn their family history of cancer and then talk to their doctor if they have:
- Multiple relatives with breast cancer
- Any relatives with ovarian cancer
- Relatives who were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer before age 50
The CDC also recently released a new physician tool to help doctors advise young patients about BRCA testing and prophylactic treatment.
>>Bonus Link: Read a new New York Times story on the evolution of breast cancer treatment