Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
An expert panel said this week that the PSA test should no longer be used to screen healthy men for prostate cancer. The new advice came from the U.S.. Preventive Services Task Force. It said the test does not save lives and can cause harm. Research published this week says that about 13% of parents don't follow the recommended schedule for children's vaccines. Some delayed or skipped shots, believing this was safer. Another study focused on human papilloma virus, which causes most cervical cancer. Now it's also causing more cancers of the upper throat, the study found. Other research calculated much higher risks of some health and pregnancy problems for women exposed to the drug DES in their mother's wombs. Another report concluded that hospitals with low quality and high costs also often have many old, poor and uninsured patients. Finally, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died this week. He had been diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas 7 years ago.
This Issue: Panel Rejects PSA for Prostate Cancer Screening Survey: Many Parents Delay, Skip Vaccines Virus Causing More Throat Cancers Jobs Dies after Battle with Pancreatic Cancer Study Tallies Risks for 'DES Daughters' Study: Low-Ranked Hospitals Have Needier Patients
In the News:
Panel Rejects PSA for Prostate Cancer Screening
PSA blood tests to screen for prostate cancer do more harm than good, an influential panel of experts said this week. The report came from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. This group advises the government and doctors on preventive care. In the past, the task force had said there was not enough evidence to advise men to get PSA tests or not. The new statement specifically advises against the tests for routine cancer screening. A high PSA level sometimes indicates that a man has prostate cancer. But other things can cause a high level. Men need to get a biopsy -- a type of surgery -- to find out the cause. Task force members looked at all previous research on the subject. One study estimated that 2 out of 5 cancers found after a PSA test were too slow-growing to ever cause harm. The task force concluded that PSA testing does not reduce death rates. And it found that testing causes harm. Men may get biopsies they don't need. This can lead to infections and other problems. Treatments for prostate cancer can cause problems with sexual function and urine control. The report is a draft being released for public comment. The Associated Press wrote about it.
Survey: Many Parents Delay, Skip Vaccines
Many parents choose not to follow the recommended vaccine schedule for their children, a new survey has found. About 13% of parents with children under age 6 said they followed a different schedule. About 2% refused all vaccines. More than 80% of those who followed a different vaccine schedule said it was safer. Almost as many said it allowed them to skip vaccines that were not needed. Even some parents who followed the recommended schedule had doubts about it. About 1 out of 5 of these parents said that delaying doses was safer than the recommended schedule. The survey was done in 2010. It included 750 households. Among those who followed an alternate schedule, about half refused one or more vaccines. About half delayed some vaccines. More than one-third delayed the second and third doses for multi-dose vaccines. Nearly one-fourth had their children get separate shots for measles, mumps and rubella. These vaccines usually are given as one shot. The journal Pediatrics published the study this week. The Associated Press wrote about it.
Virus Causing More Throat Cancers
Cancers of the upper throat are increasing, and the main reason is a virus spread by sex, a new study finds. Human papilloma virus (HPV) causes cervical cancer. But it also can cause cancer in upper throat. This is called oropharyngeal cancer. It is also found in the tonsils and the base of the tongue. Rates of this cancer have risen 28% since 1988. And most of these tumors now carry HPV, the new study found. In the past, these cancers were most often linked to tobacco or alcohol abuse. Other types of head and neck cancer have declined in the last 20 years. The new study looked at stored tumor tissue from 271 patients with oropharyngeal cancer. About 16% of the samples from the late 1980s carried HPV. By the early 2000s, 73% did. Researchers said the proportion of tumors with the virus tripled. Tumors without the virus were down by half. Researchers said this may be linked with less use of tobacco. The Journal of Clinical Oncology published the study this week. The Associated Press wrote about it.
Jobs Dies after Battle with Pancreatic Cancer
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died this week after living more than 7 years with a rare form of pancreatic cancer. He had surgery in 2004 for an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor. This type of tumor in the pancreas is much more treatable than the more common type. Average survival is 7 to 8 years. Some people have lived 20 to 30 years. Jobs released few details about his medical condition or treatment. But he did acknowledge having a liver transplant in 2009. Doctors interviewed by the Associated Press (AP) said that was a sign that his cancer probably had spread to the liver. There is some evidence that a liver transplant can cure some people with the type of cancer Jobs had, an expert told. But this would be effective only if it had not spread beyond the liver.
Study Tallies Risks for 'DES Daughters'
Women exposed in their mother's womb to the drug DES face a doubled risk of early breast cancer, among other health problems, a new study finds. These women also are twice as likely as average to have problems getting pregnant. DES was used for 30 years to help prevent miscarriages. But doctors later found out that it didn't work. It also was linked to a rare form of cancer in the vagina. The new study looked more closely at other health risks. It included about 4,600 "DES daughters." They were compared with 1,900 similar women whose mothers had not used DES. Researchers used surveys and medical records to track their health. When last surveyed, their average age was 48. DES daughters were more than twice as likely as the other women to have early menopause. They were twice as likely to have a pre-cancer found during a Pap smear. Their rates of problems in pregnancy and childbirth ranged from nearly 2 times to 5 times normal. The newborn death rate was 8 times normal. The New England Journal of Medicine published the study this week. The Associated Press wrote about it.
Study: Low-Ranked Hospitals Have Needier Patients
The nation's worst hospitals also treat more of its neediest patients, a study released this week found. The study used several data sources to analyze 3,229 U.S. hospitals. Researchers found that 122 hospitals ranked in the top group for quality and also were in the group with the lowest costs. Another 178 hospitals fell into the bottom group for quality and the top group for costs. The "worst" hospitals treated twice the proportion of elderly black patients and poor patients as the "best" hospitals. Patients in the "worst" hospitals were more likely to die of heart attacks and pneumonia, the study found. These hospitals were more likely to be in the South. The "best" hospitals were more likely to be in the Northeast. The journal Health Affairs published the study. The Associated Press wrote about it.
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