Monday, May 21, 2018

Our Top Posts: Winter into Spring 2018

Even in today's frenetic media landscape, health news can still grab the headlines.  It is a real testament to the priority we place on good health and well being - how important they can be not only to ourselves but also to our family, friends, and communities.  In the first part of 2018, we posted pieces on a wide variety of high-profile health topics, but those that stood out the most with CNiC readers were a bit different than our usual.  Rather than being focused on one particular study or news item, they were much broader - taking a big picture approach that provided tips and motivation for putting what we know about healthy lifestyles and disease prevention into practice.  
Certainly in line with this is our most popular post of the year so far - "Spring Ahead: 5 Reasons Spring is a Great Time to Work on Your Health Goals" - which, in addition detailing how spring can inspire healthy behaviors, highlights the recent launch of our newly updated and re-designed health risk assessment tool, Your Disease Risk.

So, as we head toward Memorial Day - and the summer months - enjoy our top 5 posts from the first part of 2018, in order of popularity:

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March 20, 2018
Spring Ahead: 5 Reasons Spring is a Great Time to Work on Your Health Goals

On top of all the other wonderful things about spring, it can also be a great time to work on improving your health.

Don’t groan.

While working on your health goals may not be as fun as watching spring training or walking through a blossom-filled park, your health is important. Very important.  And not only to you but also to those close to you. So why not take a little time to improve your health at a time of year that can give a you a leg-up toward success?

You can re-up on a New Year’s resolution – which for some people can get a bit wobbly around this time of year – or you can leave winter in the rearview mirror and pick something brand new to work on.

And Washington University in St. Louis’s re-designed website, Your Disease Risk, can help. First launched in January 2000, it provides disease risk estimates and personalized prevention tips for 12 different cancers, plus heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and COPD.

Newly updated to work on all screen sizes – from desktop to phone – it is an evidence-based resource that translates the latest science on health and disease prevention into simple messages people can use. And its new behavior rankings function can now show you at a glance which healthy changes may lower your risk of disease the most.

“We designed Your Disease Risk to be an engaging tool to help people learn about their risk and improve their health,” says Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, Professor of Medicine and inventor of the site. “And the new behavior rankings provide added information that can help with setting health goals.”

So, as you consider the goals you want to work on the rest of the year – and how you’re going to meet them – consider why spring can be a great time to do just that... < continue >
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January 24, 2018
In Practice: What I Learned from Weighing Myself (Almost) Every Day

by Hank Dart

In my many years of writing about and promoting healthy behaviors, I’m happy to say that I’ve at least tried to put into practice just about everything I’ve espoused. Of course, like many people, my success at doing so can be uneven. Some behaviors I do pretty well with - like exercise, olive oil, and fruits & vegetables. And some I admittedly struggle with - like, whole grains and added sugar.

But there’s one behavior I've written about a great deal but have never actually done myself. Regular weighing.  Stepping on the bathroom scale every day (or every week) and logging my weight.

Studies show that regular weighing can be a good tool for maintaining weight, especially in those who have lost weight and are working to keep it off. Because weight gain can creep up on people - a pound here, two pounds there - it's pretty easy to step on the scale after some months or years away and be surprised at the number staring up at you. Regular weighing can keep such jolts at bay and help us make small adjustments to how much we eat and how active we are so we can keep moving toward our long-term weight goals – whether it’s keeping weight steady or trying to slowly lose some weight.

And weight is a struggle for most of us in the United States.  Over two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese, and this has a huge impact on the health of individuals and the nation.  Being overweight is a cause of numerous cancers as well as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.  It can also hamper mobility and overall quality of life.

So, after years of writing about the benefits of regular weighing, it was time to put down my keyboard and hop on the scale.  On November 18, the week leading into Thanksgiving, I weighed myself for the first time in probably nine months and began my (almost) daily weighing program (see figure). 
What did I discover over my first two months of weighing? Here are some highlights...< continue >
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March 7, 2018
Quick Nutrition Tips for Lowering the Risk of Colon Cancer

It's March, which means it's both National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and National Nutrition Month. And that's an apt combination.

A number of healthy diet tips can help lower the risk of colon cancer. And they're all pretty straightforward.

Eat whole grains
Whole grains are filled with fiber and other healthy nutrients. And eating more of them can help lower the risk of colon cancer. Instead of foods like sugary cereals, white rice, and white bread, choose whole-grain cereals, whole-wheat bread, and brown or wild rice. If you're not used to eating whole grains, add them to your routine a bit at a time - building up to three or more servings a day. They taste great but can take a bit of getting used to.

Limit red meat, especially processed meat
Eating too much red meat – like steak, hamburger and pork – increases the risk of colon cancer. And processed meats – like bacon, sausage and bologna – raise risk even more. Try to eat no more than three servings each week. Less is even better. Fish, chicken breasts and healthy plant-based proteins (like beans) are great alternatives...< continue >

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January 2, 2018
Protect Your Children with the HPV Vaccine

Parents grow up wanting their kids to be healthy and happy. And taking control of your child’s health may be easier than you think with evolving research. We know that with healthy eating, encouraging exercise, staying safe in the sun, and getting scheduled vaccinations your child is on the right path to having a lower cancer risk later in life.

What’s even better news is that within the past decade, a specific vaccine has also been created to protect against at least five different types of cancers. This vaccine, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, is now recommended for all girls and boys during their annual check-ups.
HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection with over 100 different types of strands in existence. In fact, HPV is so common that an estimated nine out of 10 sexually active people will at some point be infected with HPV. Often times, HPV does not present with symptoms, which makes it hard to know when someone may be infected. For this reason, it is important to protect your child against HPV, as some forms of HPV can cause multiple cancers. At least two strands of the HPV virus have been shown to cause cervical, vagina, and vulva cancers in women, penile cancer in men, and head and neck cancer in both men and women. HPV can live for a long time in a person’s body, so someone may not know they have HPV, or an associated cancer, until years after being intimate with someone who carried the HPV virus. Sadly, HPV contributes to over 31,000 new cases of cancer each year, but we can reduce that number by protecting our children with the HPV vaccine.

Unfortunately, nationwide only 65 percent of girls initiate the HPV vaccination series and 49 percent receive the two recommended doses, while only 56 percent of boys initiate and 37 percent complete the series.

The good news is now the HPV vaccine is available for boys and girls to protect thems before they become sexually active...< continue >

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February 27, 2018
Short Take: Calories Matter in Weight Loss, Despite Some Recent Headlines

A recently published clinical trial out of Stanford University found that high-quality low-fat and high-quality low-carbohydrate diets could be equally effective for weight loss.

It was a positive finding from a well-designed study.

Many news headlines about the study, however, focused on something else entirely: that calories don't matter for weight loss. Some examples:

The problem is: The study didn't really find that.

In the trial, approximately 600 overweight and obese adults were randomly assigned to one of two diet groups (low-fat or low-carbohydrate) and followed over a 12-month period.  During the study, participants attended regular nutrition classes where emphasis was placed on healthy, high-quality foods – such as whole grains, healthy fats, and minimally processed foods.

Participants were not specifically instructed to lower their calorie intake...< continue >

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Celebrate National Women’s Health Week With These Five Easy Tips

Time is hard to come by.

 If you’re a woman in today’s world, that’s more than likely one of the constants in your life.

Between work, home, school, and family obligations, the days just fill themselves, leaving little extra. And, though that time-crunch is certainly evident to you – and those around you – federal data bear it out as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Time Use Survey shows that over the course of a typical week, women have five fewer hours to spend in leisure-time activity than men.

In short: you’re busy. Really busy.

But, despite all you have going on, it’s important to take time for yourself and for your health. A healthy lifestyle can give you energy to get through a chock-full day, and some mental armor when stresses build up.

So, for this year’s National Women’s Health Week, here are five quick things you can do for your health that won’t add too much time to your already busy days – and may have big payoffs in the long run.

Try them on for size this week.  See which ones work for you, and keep them going through the rest of May and beyond.

1.          Try a meatless day

A largely plant-based diet filled with fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains is great for overall health – and can lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers, including breast cancer. In the United States, we base many of our meals on some kind of meat – often red or processed meats, which are the least healthy kinds. Going a whole day without meat is a great way to explore vegetarian options and think about making meatless days a regular part of the week.

2.          Stand more

Some say that “sitting is the new smoking,” and while that’s likely a bit of an exaggeration, one large Australian study estimated that sitting too much accounts for around seven percent of all premature deaths. And its negative impact seems to persist even in those who hit the gym or bike paths regularly. Luckily, the fix is pretty straightforward, spend more time standing. Give it a try this week. If you have to sit for long stretches at work or school, stand up and go for a short walk once or twice an hour. Set a timer to remind yourself. If you usually sit while watching TV or being on your computer after work, stand instead, at least for part of the time. It can feel awkward at first but quickly begins to feel normal.

3.          Think about alcohol and your health

Alcohol is a complicated topic when it comes to health. While moderate drinking (up to 1 drink a day for women) can lower the risk of heart disease in older adults, it can also increase the risk of certain cancers. And when it comes to breast cancer, having just 3 drinks a week can increase risk. As recently detailed in a popular magazine article, the health benefits of alcohol are often promoted much more than its risks, which on top of a higher cancer risk, can include dependence, injuries, and car crashes. Thinking about your health priorities can help you decide how you may want to approach alcohol. For most women who drink moderate amounts or less, there’s no reason to stop. At the same time, not drinking is a healthy choice, too. Those who drink more heavily, though, should cut down or quit. A doctor or other health care professional can help you work through any questions you have about how alcohol may impact your health.

4.          Step on the scale a few times

For many people, this one falls into the “really-easy-but-don’t-want-to-do-it” category. And that’s OK. But research does show that stepping on the scale regularly – however hard it may be – can give feedback that helps people keep weight in check. If getting a handle on your weight is one of your goals, give weighing a try this week. As described in a recent first-hand account here in CNiC, regular weighing can be hard to get started but prove really helpful after you get into the groove.

5.          Steer clear of calorie-filled drinks

We tend to not think about it much, but many of us get a lot of calories from beverages – like sugary sodas, energy drinks, and certain coffee drinks. These drinks tend to be a double whammy against health. Not only do they lack nutritional value, but they’re also packed with calories that don’t fill you up, making it more likely that you overeat over the course of a day. Try switching to water or unsweetened tea and black coffee this week and see how easy it can be to keep it going from there.

Bonus.  Check out our resources on women’s health

From our 8IGHT WAYS to Prevent Cancer series to our Your Disease Risk health assessment to our breast cancer book, TOGETHER, we have great resources to help you develop a plan to improve your health.

Friday, May 11, 2018

HPV Vaccine Prevents Cervical Pre-Cancer - New Report

By Hank Dart

An important new report further confirms that the HPV vaccine is both safe and extremely effective at preventing cervical pre-cancers that could develop into cervical cancer.

The report, published Wednesday in the Cochrane Library, reviewed the results of 26 HPV vaccine clinical trials that included over 73,000 girls and women ages 15 - 45 followed for between six months and eight years.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection, with up to half or more of adults -- men and women -- getting infected at some point in their lives.  Most of these infections clear up on their own.  Some, however, can persist.  And if they are of a high-risk type of HPV, they can increase the risk of certain cancers -- particularly cervical cancer.  Around 70 percent of cervical cancers are linked to HPV16 and HPV18. This new review assessed the potential benefits and risks of HPV vaccines that target these two high-risk types.

The researchers found the HPV vaccine to be very effective at preventing cervical pre-cancers -- abnormal changes in cervical cells that can develop into cancer.

In females aged 15 - 25 who did not have a high-risk HPV infection at the beginning of the study, those who received the HPV vaccine had a 99% lower risk of developing HPV16/18-linked cervical pre-cancer (CIN2+) compared to those who did not receive the vaccine (see figure).  And even when including those who may have had an HPV infection at the beginning of the study, those who were vaccinated had a 54 percent lower risk of HPV16/18-linked cervical pre-cancer (CIN2+) than those were weren't.

The researchers also found no difference in rates of serious side effects between those who were vaccinated and those who weren't. But they also noted that more extensive data are likely needed to fully explore any impact on such rare health events.

Our very first post in Cancer News in Context way back in 2003 was on the potential benefits of the, then new, HPV vaccine - "A Shot in the Arm for Cancer Prevention."  Now in 2018, this new report in the Cochrane Library demonstrates further the true prevention benefits of the vaccine.

In a prepared statement, Dr. Jo Morrison, Consultant in Gynaecological Oncology at the Musgrove Park Hospital in the United Kingdom, said:
"These data show that immunizing against HPV infection protects against cervical pre-cancer, and it is very likely that this will reduce cervical cancer rates in the future."

Yet, rates of vaccination in the United States lag.

Current guidelines recommend a 2-dose series of the vaccine for both boys and girls at age 11 or 12. In 2016, however, only 44 percent of boys and 55 percent of girls ages 13-17 had had 2 or more doses.  Rates of other childhood vaccinations, by comparison, are often around 90 percent or higher.

To bring rates of HPV vaccination up, we need to effectively communicate to parents the importance of the vaccine and its demonstrated safety, train physicians to recommend it, and implement policies that promote and sustain its use.

Compared to many other steps to lower cancer risk, HPV vaccination is relatively quick and simple. And it potential benefits are huge.  To realize these benefits, we just need more shots in the arm.