Still Smoking? An Obvious New Year’s Resolution…

If your friends and family aren’t telling you, I will: Quit Today!  The cancer that causes more deaths than any other in the US is lung cancer.  Smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer and it contributes to deaths by stroke and heart attack.  New research to be printed in the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery has been studying the use of CT (computed tomography) scans to screen for tumors in heavy, long-term smokers and this could have a huge impact on reducing deaths due to lung cancer.  Of course, not smoking at all will have the largest impact, but if you still smoke, the National Cancer Institute’s ongoing randomized Lung Cancer Screening Trial showed that getting CT scans on a regular basis reduced deaths by 20%.  The researchers of the newest study used three dimensional CT scans to look for histoplasmosis which is harder to diagnose on traditional CT scans because the nodules look like tumors.  The study showed that using the proper protocol, doctors were able to avoid unnecessary biopsies of non-cancerous nodules and find tumors early enough for them to be removed. As always with new research, more needs to be done and the researchers cautioned that if this screening becomes standard a very strict protocol for it will need to be followed to prevent unnecessary biopsies.  Currently, there are no truly effective screenings for lung cancer, although there is a cancer screen and tumor marker test that can alert you to possible cancer.  There is also a DNA genetic predisposition test which can point out specific areas where you may have a tendency to particular diseases,...

Alzheimer’s Has a High Price Tag

There are many reasons to continue research into what causes Alzheimer’s and how to prevent it, not least of which is the high cost this cruel disease exacts in financial terms.  Alzheimer’s Disease International, a non-profit organization based in the United Kingdom, presented in their 2010 World Alzheimer Report the financial burden placed on society by those suffering with the disease.  The medical costs of care are higher in wealthier countries because more of the care is provided by healthcare professionals.  In developing countries the cost is much lower, not due to lack of care, but because the care is provided at home by family members and not by professionals.  The time expended is still very high and poses a burden to families. The report indicated that the costs of dementia will rise significantly.  Alzheimer’s Disease International recommends that cost effective medical and social strategies need to be developed to assist the families and the individuals affected throughout the course of the illness.  Additionally, evidence-based prevention strategies need to be developed and implemented.  Tests can provide information about individuals’ risks of contracting the disease but the financial burden isn’t lessened by early detection.  Written by...

Genetic Testing at Berkeley “Adjusted”

The University of California at Berkeley had an interesting idea, “Bring Your Genes to Cal”, but the state Public Health Department disagreed.  The original plan was to test incoming freshman for three genes involved in the metabolism of alcohol, lactose and folates.  The theory was that providing this information to new students would help them manage their health better by perhaps, not drinking as much alcohol, understanding why they got uncomfortable after consuming dairy or increasing their intake of leafy greens to increase their folate levels.  Unfortunately, the California Public Health Department determined that the information could be used improperly. The University agreed not to provide the information directly to students but will test the samples provided voluntarily by approximately 1,000 students to explore these issues.   The unexpected response is providing an experience that the Berkeley professors who started the program didn’t expect.  Based on the adjustment of the program Berkeley is planning open debates and conversations about the ethics of genetic testing.    Some clinics do provide genetic testing to determine a predisposition to specific diseases including certain cancers, coronary heart disease, multiple sclerosis and obesity among others.  These clinics are certified to provide the testing whereas Berkeley is not and the testing was not part of a research study.  The field of genetic testing is expanding dramatically and tests are starting to provide ever more valuable health information.  The ethics of some of these tests and how the information is used is still a major point of controversy. Written by...

OTC Genetic Tests Not Ready for Prime Time

According to MedPageToday, Walgreens has decided to hold off on selling Over-the-Counter Home Genetic Tests.  Walgreens received an email from the FDA asking them to wait because they consider this test a medical device and it is therefore subject to regulation.  A majority of physicians are still not comfortable with allowing these types of tests to be used at home and they continue to recommend that their patients obtain testing at reliable testing facilities where strict protocols are maintained.  The OTC tests that Walgreens was planning to offer allowed results for such conditions as pre-pregnancy, prostate cancer, diabetes and cystic fibrosis. These tests provide information on an individual’s risk of developing numerous diseases within their lifetime as compared to a sample of other people.  The information obtained from a Genetic Predisposition DNA test can be used to change your diet and lifestyle and possibly avoid some of these serious disorders. The results aren’t a guarantee because the environment plays such a large factor in our health.  Still, the ability to take preventive action can be critical. Written by...

Alzheimer’s Disease More Prevalent in African Americans and Hispanics

New research reported by the Alzheimer’s Association states that Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias may go unrecognized in African Americans and Hispanics who may not be as familiar with it and are less likely to get a formal diagnosis.  This often delays treatment because there is a large gap between the time that the family recognizes the cognitive impairment and the time that a doctor is seen for treatment.  Although the disease still shows up most often in white males, specific minority groups are much more likely to develop the syndrome.  The specifics of why African Americans and Hispanics have a predisposition for the disease are not known, but they are more likely to have hypertension and diabetes which are known risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.  DNA lab tests are available to determine your genetic predisposition for specific conditions, including Alzheimer’s, as compared to others in the population.  Be aware of your risk factors and know the signs and symptoms of conditions for which you may have a...