Monday, February 29, 2016

Benefits TODAY from the HPV Vaccine (Infographic)

While the ultimate goal of the HPV vaccine is to prevent cancer, that benefit can feel very far off in the future, especially since vaccination ideally takes place in eleven and twelve-year-old girls and boys.  But studies looking at the five to six years after the vaccine was approved and became widely available show that it has real - and it seems impressively big - benefits over the short term.  For more details on the HPV vaccine and recommended vaccination schedule, visit the CDC's HPV page.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

With Breast Cancer in the News - A Brief Primer on Screening and Prevention

by Katy Henke

Breast cancer is back in the headlines this week with the announcement by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (Missouri) that she has been diagnosed with the disease following a routine mammogram.

Because such news coverage can raise questions about current breast cancer screening guidelines and the steps women can take to prevent the disease, we offer this quick primer.  


Breast cancer screening with mammography remains the single best way to protect yourself from the disease. Mammograms do not help prevent cancer, but they can help find cancer early, when it’s most treatable.

For most women, regular mammograms can begin at age 40, but specific recommendations vary by age:

If you are age 40 - 44:
You can choose to begin yearly mammograms. It is important to talk to a doctor about the risk and benefits of mammograms at these ages. 

If you are age 45 - 54:
Mammograms are recommended every year. 

If you are age 55 or over:
Mammograms are recommended every other year. You can choose to continue to have them every year.

Clinical breast exams and self-exams are not recommended. Be familiar with your breasts and tell a health care provider right away if you notice any changes in how your breasts look or feel.

Learn more about the new mammography guidelines from the American Cancer Society.


In addition to getting recommended mammograms, women can also take steps to lower the risk of breast cancer. Some of these steps include being active, staying at a healthy weight, not smoking, and avoiding too much alcohol (see figure). While such healthy behaviors have the biggest impact when started earlier in life, they can have important breast health benefits for women of all ages.

Information for taking steps to improve breast health and lower cancer risk at nearly any age can be found in the free ebook, Together – Every Woman’s Guide to Preventing Breast Cancer.

For additional tips on lowering your risk of breast cancer, see the personalized prevention tool Your Disease Risk and the site 8IGHT WAYS to Prevent Breast Cancer

Monday, February 22, 2016

Big Drop in Cancer-Causing HPV Following Vaccination, But Rates of Vaccination in US Lag

by Hank Dart

Thirteen years ago, in an earlier incarnation of Cancer News in Context, we wrote our very first post about the potential of the HPV vaccine following the release of a promising study in the New England Journal of Medicine. That post - "A Shot in the Arm for Cervical Cancer Prevention" -  concluded:
"While much work remains before there is any sort of widespread cervical cancer vaccination program in the U.S. or abroad, the results of this initial study spawn a realistic hope that over the next decade or so great strides will be made in preventing cervical cancer the world over."
Well here we are, that decade or so on from the original post, and the latest news on the HPV vaccine - as reported in today's New York Times - is quite positive, but with a number of important caveats.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a common sexually transmitted infection, and certain types of HPV are a primary cause of cervical cancer. It's estimated that nearly all adults - men and women - are infected with HPV at some point in their lives. While the body naturally clears most of these infections, some can persist, increasing the risk of cervical (and a number of other) cancers.

New national data, as reported in the Times and published in the journal Pediatrics today, show that in the six years after 2006, when the HPV vaccine became available for girls, rates of infection with four main cancer-causing types of HPV(6, 11, 16, and 18) have dropped dramatically - as much as 64 percent in younger females (age 14 - 19), the age group that had been the most widely vaccinated.

Though only time, and data, will tell for sure, such findings seem likely to translate to significantly lower future rates of cervical cancer in today's groups of vaccinated girls and young women.

Alongside such positive news, however, is the fact that the HPV vaccine remains frustratingly underused in the United States.  As we wrote about in 2014, vaccination rates for the HPV vaccine are much below those of other childhood vaccines.  The most recent numbers show that only 38 percent of girls in the United States receive the complete 3-shot series of the HPV vaccine.  Boys' numbers are even lower - at 14 percent.  And low as these are, they are modest improvements from pervious years.

In comparison, in Australia, where the vaccine is offered for free at schools as part of its national immunization program, rates of full 3-dose HPV vaccination in girls is over 70 percent by age 15.

No such integration into systems has happened in the United States, and HPV vaccination remains in many ways on the fringe.  Though it has huge potential to prevent cervical cancer - as well as to lower the risk of anal, throat, and penis cancers, as well as genital warts - many physicians aren't proactive in suggesting vaccination, many parents don't know to request it,  and both groups may not be perfectly clear on its safety, effectiveness, and ultimate purpose of preventing cancer.

Clearly, there has been a lot of progress since our post in 2003 but perhaps not surprisingly it has been at a pace slower than hoped.  To be sure, there have been some "great strides" in further developing the vaccine, in documenting its safety and effectiveness, and - in certain countries - developing model vaccination programs.

But there is still a great deal of work to do before we tap the HPV vaccine's full potential in the United States - as well as worldwide.  This latest study shows the likely benefits of developing a better-integrated HPV vaccination program.  Let's use it to spur on coordinated efforts toward that important end.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Taking Steps to Stay Healthy After Cancer (Infographic)

by Katy Henke

Whether you have just been diagnosed, are going through treatment, or are post-treatment, it’s almost never too early to start thinking about your health after cancer. With the help of your doctor, these 8 "ways" can be your guide. Begin with one or two and work your way toward accomplishing each. Your only limitation, really, is when you want to start!  See full details for each, here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Help Protect Kids from Cancer: Support a Ban on Youth Indoor Tanning

by Hank Dart

We've written a great deal in CNiC over the years on the dangers of indoor tanning, with one primary theme being the allure it has to young people, especially teenage girls.  It even seems to border on an addiction of sorts, as some research suggests

With UV exposure in youth and young adulthood a key contributor to later adult risk of skin cancer - including deadly melanoma - it's important to limit such exposure during the early years of life.

A new rule from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposes to protect youth from UV exposure from tanning beds by banning their use by minors under age 18.  Some states already have this restriction in place.  This rule would expand it nationwide, helping to protect all kids across the country.   

See the infographic below for more details, and click to support this proposed rule by leaving a comment on the FDA website by March 21, 2016. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

New Study Finds High Fiber Diet Early in Life Lowers Breast Cancer Risk

by Hank Dart

Though coverage of the Iowa caucuses has eclipsed most other media stories this week, there was still some important health news Monday about a large study finding that a high-fiber diet early in life may lower the risk of later adult breast cancer.

The study, part of the long-running Nurses' Health Study II, included over 44,000 adult women who were followed for 20 years and provided details on what they ate both in their early adults years and during high school.  Fiber intake in both periods of life were found to have an important impact on breast cancer risk, particularly for cancer that develops before menopause.

Women who ate the most fiber as adolescents (around 29 grams/day) had a 24 percent lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer compared to women who ate the least fiber as adolescents (around 18 grams/day).  For fiber intake in the early adults years, the findings were nearly identical, with those eating the most (around 26 grams/day) having a 23 percent lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer than those eating the least (around 12 grams/day).  And for every 10 grams per day of fiber the women ate in early adulthood or adolescence, the risk of overall breast cancer (premenopausal and postmenopausal combined) dropped by 13 or 14 percent, respectively.

Three pieces of 100 percent whole wheat bread has around 10 grams of fiber.

As we've written about previously here in CNiC, and in our new ebook TOGETHER - Every Woman's Guide to Preventing Breast Cancer, more and more evidence points to youth and the young adults years as key to lifelong breast health. And these current findings build on previous results suggesting that plant-based diets high in fiber can reduce breast cancer risk.

For parents looking to help their daughters make food choices that can help lay a foundation for lifelong breast health, there are some simple steps.  Help them focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, while limiting full-fat dairy and meat -- and avoiding alcohol (more). Also key is healthy growth, helping them develop lasting eating and activity habits that help them maintain a healthy weight throughout life (more).  

We know that half of all breast caners can be prevented by steps most women can take.  This new study further confirms that lifestyle choices can have an important impact on breast cancer risk and that a cancer prevention lifestyle can almost never begin too early.