TIME Cancer

How Where We’re Failing at Preventing Cancer

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JUAN GARTNER—Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF Illustration of cancer cells in middle of dividing

We’ve made lots of progress in preventing cancer, but still have a long way to go in convincing people to drop the most prevalent cancer-causing habits

You have to know your enemy in order to defeat it, and in cancer’s case, we know quite a bit about how to keep tumors from growing. But how well are we exploiting this knowledge?

The latest report, published Wednesday morning, from the American Cancer Society lays out the major risk factors for cancer, along with the screening strategies we have in place and documents whether people have been avoiding risky behaviors and complying with screening guidelines.

The results, says Stacey Fedewa, director of risk factors and screening surveillance and one of the co-authors, are mixed.

MORE: The Cancer Gap

When it comes to tobacco use, the largest preventable cause of cancer, rates of smoking have declined, from 23.5% in 1999 to 17.8% in 2013. But there are still pockets of the country, both geographically and demographically, where rates remain close to what they were 10 years ago. In West Virginia, for example, 273% of adults smoked cigarettes, and 22.7% of American Indians lit up. About 22% of high school graduates smoked, compared to 5.6% of those with a graduate degree. Smoking tobacco increases the risk of lung, mouth, larynx, esophagus, stomach and other cancers

The survey also found that smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes are also becoming popular, particularly among younger people. These forms of tobacco have been linked to higher rates of oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer. People aged 18 to 24 years were twice as likely to use smokeless products like chewing tobacco and snuff than older adults.

The creep of tobacco use into younger cohorts is concerning, since studies show that the younger smokers start, the harder it is for them to quit. In fact, the ACS study found that even one in 10 cancer patients smoked nearly a decade after their diagnosis.

MORE: 66% of People Diagnosed with Cancer Survive At Least 5 Years

Fedewa says that obesity is also connected to a number of cancers, including breast, colon, kidney, pancreas and certain lymphomas and myelomas. And while obesity rates have stabilized, they remain high, with more than two thirds of adults considered overweight or obese. That rate may not change for a while, given the fact that in 2013, 30% of adults said they had no recreational physical activity at all. “I was surprised to see how low the percent of adults who reach the recommended physical activity levels was,” says Fedewa. Government guidelines suggest at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, and only about half of adults accomplish this.

Screening is another area with both good news and bad news. Public health messages about the importance of getting mammograms to detect breast cancer, and colonoscopy to pick up colorectal cancer, have raised awareness about these diseases. But rates of colon cancer screening have remained around 58%. Part of the reason may have to do with cost; studies showed that uninsured people tend to have the lowest rates of cancer screening, something that the Affordable Care Act should change. It’s also possible that conflicting news about the benefits and risks of screening, and changing advice about who should be screened and when — in 2009 groups said that women between ages 40 and 40 years no longer needed annual mammograms — may also hamper compliance.

More studies are also throwing out clues about the best anti-cancer diet, with fruits and vegetables at the top of the list. But, says Fedewa, “only 15% of adults ate the recommended three or more servings of vegetables a day. That’s surprising, and pretty low given all the messages about eating healthier.”

Also discouraging is the continued use of tanning beds despite the fact that the International Agency for Research on Cancer lists the devices as cancer-causing to people. In 2014, 4.4% of adults, and 20% of high school girls, reported using the beds in the previous year. That may explain why rates of melanoma, unlike some other cancers, have been increasing in the past 30 years.

“I don’t think there is one message” about how we’re doing in preventing cancer, says Fedewa. “It’s not all doom and gloom. There is a lot to be appreciated for what we’ve done in tobacco control; that’s a great public health accomplishment. But there is room to grow.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

The Maryland Crab In Your Crab Cake is Probably Fake

chesapeake blue crab
Getty Images

Far from fresh, there's a good chance it's canned and imported

First, we discovered that the fish in our sushi isn’t what it claims to be; then, that 30% of U.S. shrimp is making fools of us. Now, a new report from the conservation group Oceana finds that your tasty Maryland crab cake isn’t safe from seafood fraud, either. A full 38% of Maryland crab cakes the group tested contained imported crab from places as far away as Indonesia and Thailand instead of Maryland blue crab.

“Local rare delicacies in seafood are frequently mislabeled because they’re not widely available,” says Dr. Kimberly Warner, report author and senior scientist at Oceana. “Once you take off the shell of the blue crab and mix it into a patty, it’s hard to tell what it is you’re eating.”

Warner and her colleagues went to restaurants in the Maryland and Washington DC area and collected 90 crab cakes. The researchers sent them to a lab for DNA testing to determine the species of the crab in the cakes. 38% of the crab cakes sold as local blue crab didn’t contain any local blue crab at all; instead, they were stuffed with imported canned swimming crab, mostly from the Indo-Pacific region. The scientists identified eight species, besides blue crabs, in the supposedly blue crab cakes.

MORE: 2,500 Tons of the Food We Eat Is Fake

The researchers found fraud regardless of a venue’s price point. And all that fraud is economically motivated, Warner says. When menus described jumbo lump crab cakes as coming from Maryland, they were $2.12 higher than those that didn’t specify a region.

Your chances of getting actual Maryland blue crab varied depending on where geographically you dined in or around Maryland. Nearly half of crab cakes found in Annapolis and Baltimore were mislabeled. Ocean City and Washington, D.C., had “fraud” levels of about 38%. Your best chance of getting a real Maryland crab cake is on the Eastern Shore, the researchers found, where only one crab cake out of 11 was mislabeled.

“This is kind of a not-so-secret secret in this area,” says Steve Vilnit, Director of Fisheries Marketing director for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and a contributor to the report. “Maryland does not produce enough crabmeat to supply all the restaurants in the region…but many consumers—tourists and even locals—come to this area and think they’re buying local crab meat because we’re simply in Maryland.” The sad fact, he says, is that not many restaurants use local crab meat.

Maryland blue crab is considered a “best choice” or “good alternative” according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch 2015 recommendations. Ironically, though, it’s often substituted with crab the same regulations mark “avoid”, due to the use of destructive fishing gear like bottom trawling, an industrial fishing method that ensnares any kind of marine species caught in its path.

In March, a presidential task force released an action plan to combat seafood mislabeling and illegal and unregulated fishing, including starting a traceability program and getting rid of harmful fishery subsidies that fuel overfishing by 2020.

In the meantime, however, steering clear of seafood fraud is largely up to you.”We always say to ask more questions from whoever you’re buying your seafood from, whether a restaurant or grocery store or market,” says report author Warner. “If the people who sell us seafood don’t understand that we care about that information, then they’re not going to provide it.”

Buy traceable seafood, the study authors say, which follows fish from where it’s caught or farmed up until it arrives on your plate, when you can, she says.

TIME Research

Your Pet Food Probably Isn’t Made of What You Think

Cat paws with kibble
Getty Images

Bad news for pets with refined palates

A new study published Tuesday night shows many pet food brands contain unspecified animal parts that aren’t listed on labels.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Nottingham and published in the journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, looked at 17 popular wet pet foods for both dogs and cats in U.K. supermarkets. They found that 14 of those brands contained cow, chicken and pig DNA—but none of the brands listed the animals explicitly on the label.

Of the seven products that displayed the phrase “with beef,” only two had more cow DNA in them than combined DNA of chicken and pigs.

That might come as a shock to consumers, the researchers say, but by leaving certain animal parts off the label, the products weren’t breaking any U.K. rules.

“Besides the customer not being able readily make an informed choice on the pet food product due to incomplete disclosure of ingredients (allowed by legislation), there could be the added complication of pet food allergies where a dog or cat could have adverse reactions to certain undeclared animal proteins in a product,” says study author Kin-Chow Chang, a professor of veterinary molecular medicine at University of Nottingham.

Since the items in the study were purchased in the U.K., the findings don’t necessarily apply directly to American pet food since. But the pet foods studied are international brands, and by looking through regulation and labeling requirements for pet food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), what consumers may think is a full beef product, for example, could also have meat from other animals and still be abiding by proper U.S. regulation.

The FDA does not require pet food to have pre-market approval, but says pet food should be safe to eat, have no harmful substances and be “truthfully” labeled.

According to an FDA spokesperson, the FDA has its own pet food regulation, but individual states can also enforce their own labeling guidelines and may have adopted regulations suggested by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

Under these regulations, “meat” that comes from cows, pigs, sheep, goats or any combination of these species can simply be called “meat” on pet food labels. Meat from horses or other species of mammals must be labeled to indicate the species of animal from which the meat comes (e.g. horsemeat or kangaroo meat). The term “poultry” can mean any mixture of species like chicken or duck.

You can determine a lot about what might be in pet food by how it is labeled. For instance, if a pet food product is called “Beef for Dogs,” then 95% of the product must be beef. However, if a pet food product names an ingredient (like beef) in it’s title, but the ingredient makes up less than 95% of the product (but at least 25%), then the name of the product must have a qualifying descriptive term added to it, such as “Dinner,” “Platter,” “Entree,” “Nuggets” or “Formula.”

The FDA gives the following example: “In the example “Beef Dinner for Dogs” only one-quarter of the product must be beef, and beef would most likely be the third or fourth ingredient on the ingredient list.”

The researchers say their findings underline the need for better transparency among the pet food industry in order to help consumers make more informed choices about what they are buying for their pets.

TIME Exercise

American Medical Schools Aren’t Teaching the Importance of Exercise

"I was surprised that medical schools didn’t spend more time on it"

Many doctors are finishing medical school without getting any training in the importance of exercise, a new study shows.

Researchers at Oregon State University found that less than half of physicians trained in the U.S. in 2013 had received any instruction on exercise, based on curriculum records listed online.

Of the 118 of 170 American medical schools that listed their curriculum online, 51% of schools didn’t offer exercise-related classes, 21% had one class and 82% didn’t require students to learn about physical activity.

“There are immense medical benefits to exercise; it can help as much as medicine to address some health concerns,” Brad Cardinal, an OSU professor of sports science, said in the study’s press release. “Because exercise has medicinal as well as other benefits, I was surprised that medical schools didn’t spend more time on it.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Researchers Link Virus to Mysterious Paralysis in Children

Study finds more evidence linking enterovirus D68 to mysterious paralysis in kids

From last summer to this March, 115 children in 34 states suddenly developed sudden unexplained paralysis—called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM)—that has kept medical experts scratching their heads about what could be causing it. But in new research published on Monday from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), researchers suggest a specific strain of a common virus could be contributing.

MORE: Parents Hunt for Answers on Kids’ Mysterious Paralysis

Scientists and doctors have long thought that an enterovirus called EV-D68 somehow played a role in the clusters of kids who became partially paralyzed, since the emergence of their symptoms happened at the same time U.S. emergency rooms experienced an unprecedented wave of children coming in with severe EV-D68. But in children who’ve been tested for the virus, it’s very rarely been found in their spinal fluid—the location doctors expect to find it if it’s responsible for paralysis.

The other problem is that enteroviruses are incredibly common, so discovering the virus in children is by no means an anomaly. That makes it difficult to pin the paralysis problem on EV-D68. But now, UCSF scientists have discovered more evidence to link the two. In their study, published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the researchers analyze 25 cases of sudden unexplained paralysis from recent clusters of children. Through nasal swabs, the researchers were able to identify EV-D68 in 12 of those children and found that all of the cases testing positive for the virus were related to a strain called B1, which emerged four years ago with mutations similar to those seen in the polio virus. Even though some of the children in the study were from Colorado and others were from California, they shared the same B1 strain of the virus.

The researchers also discovered this specific strain in the blood of one of the children who developed AFM for the first time. The child was sampled much earlier than the others, though, and researchers think the late timing of testing may have been the reason they didn’t detect the virus in the blood or spinal fluid of most of the children. Even though the researchers couldn’t identify EV-D68 in the children’s spinal fluid, they say they’re not ruling it out, since they also couldn’t find any other infections.

Notably, the researchers also studied the virus in a pair of siblings. One sibling developed AFM, but the other remained normal after symptoms of the respiratory disease went away. This suggests that the reactions to the virus could be genetic, the researchers say.

“The question is, is this coincidental or [are the two] really associated? I think it’s more than a coincidence,” says study author Dr. Charles Chiu, director of UCSF-Abbott Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center. “I think our study answers some of those questions.”

The researchers also sequenced the genome of EV-D68 in six children with AFM and two children without it. They hope that analyzing the virus can help inform future research.

“What’s needed at this point is fundamental biology,” says Chiu. He and his team plan to infect the cells of sibling pairs, where one child got AFM and the other did not, to see if their cells respond differently. Any differences the researchers discover may lead to more knowledge about the underlying causes of the disorder, they say.

TIME Healthcare

4 Skin Conditions That Can Signal Other Health Problems

hand-skin-scratch
Corbis

Skin conditions are often linked to processes occurring throughout the body

Itchy, irritated, or inflamed skin is certainly no fun, but did you know that skin troubles could be related to other health problems?

In many cases, skin conditions are linked to processes occurring throughout the body, and this means they can become risk factors that set you up for other types of illness or injury, says Jonathan Silverberg, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Northwestern University. “The connections are not something patients should ignore or overlook.”

Read more: 13 Everyday Habits That Age You

Eczema

Eczema is a chronic inflammatory condition known for causing red, itchy patches of skin, but it’s also been linked to sleep disturbances, joint problems, and other injuries. Dr. Silverberg was co-author of a JAMA Dermatology study published earlier this year that found that people with eczema who’d experienced a flare-up in the last year were more likely than those without the condition to have experienced a bone or joint injury, like a fracture, as well.

“There’s a well established association between eczema and sleep disturbances, as a result of its chronic itch, and patients who are sleep deprived are generally at higher rates of traumatic injuries like falls or automobile accidents,” which might explain why they were more likely to experience a bone fracture, Dr. Silverberg says.

But it’s not just drowsiness from a lack of zzzs: “If you’re crossing the street and you’re distracted by itching—or you’re in a fog because you’ve taken a sedating antihistamine to treat that itch—you’re going to be at higher risk for these types of things,” Dr. Silverberg adds.

On top of that, in severe cases, eczema is treated with oral steroids, which over time can affect bone density, possibly contributing further to the possibility of injury. Thankfully, Dr. Silverberg says that intermittent treatment with over-the-counter topical steroids, which is far more common, doesn’t pose the same risks.

Read more: 15 Home Remedies to Make a Pimple Vanish

Psoriasis

An autoimmune disorder in which cells multiply too quickly and form shiny scales on the skin’s surface, psoriasis often occurs alongside arthritis or other joint diseases, in particular psoriatic arthritis. “They’re all related to a common inflammatory pathway,” Dr. Silverberg says. “The good news is that a lot of the newer treatments that are remarkably effective for psoriasis also work well for psoriatic as well as rheumatoid arthritis.”

Recent studies have also linked psoriasis to heart disease, stroke, and poor blood pressure management. While doctors aren’t sure of the exact relationship between these conditions, they suspect that inflammation plays a role here, too.

People with psoriasis—along with eczema and other skin conditions like scleroderma, which causes hardening of the skin—are also more likely than people without psoriasis to be smokers, heavy drinkers, or to suffer from depression or anxiety. “These disorders are potentially the effects of having a chronic, debilitating, and very visible disorder, and they may actually trigger disease or worsen prognosis,” Dr. Silverberg says.

Stasis dermatitis

This is a darkening or discoloration of the skin on your legs and ankles caused by varicose veins or another circulatory problem that leads to swelling that blocks blood flow to the skin. Stasis dermatitis can be a symptom of underlying diabetes and its effects on your body’s circulatory system, Dr. Silverberg says.

Diabetes can also cause skin infections, intense itching, slow wound healing, and diabetic dermopathy, also known as shin spots; in fact, patients with ongoing unexplained itching or skin troubles are often tested for diabetes. “That just emphasizes the importance of following up with your doctor if you have a rash or a [skin] issue that’s not improving on its own,” Dr. Silverberg adds.

Read more: 14 Foods That Make You Look Older

Vitiligo

People suffering from vitiligo, an auto-immune disease that causes white spots (basically spots with zero pigmentation) to appear on the face and body, can have symptoms get worse when they are under stress. “I tell patients that stress is not causing their skin disease; certainly there’s some underlying predisposition to begin with,”Dr. Silverberg says. “But once those risk factors are there, stress can certainly be a trigger.”

The stress-skin connection is perhaps most well documented with vitiligo, but stress is a factor in psoriasis, eczema, and possibly even run-of-the-mill acne. (Though Silverberg cautions that it’s difficult to prove the link between stress and pimples because they’re both so common.)

Finally, there’s some good news for vitiligo sufferers, too: According to a 2010 discovery by University of Colorado researchers, they may have a lower risk of developing melanoma.

The bottom line: your skin can tell you a lot about your health risks, so be sure to listen.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Why Being Put on Hold Drives You Crazy

Changing the music makes customers happier

Waiting on hold with an airline, cable provider or credit card company is a reliably irritating experience. So reliable, in fact, that researchers decided to study it—and might have come up with a fix. Playing pop music instead of instrumental elevator music may make callers less angry when someone finally answers, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

Elevator music, with an easy-listening melody that can repeat endlessly, invokes a feeling in dread in many of us. “You learn to associate that kind of background music with waiting or complaining—those things that normally happen when you call a call center,” says study author Karen Niven, a lecturer at Manchester Business School in England. “When you have some pop music that you wouldn’t expect to hear, it doesn’t prime those same negative thoughts, it provides something of a buffer.”

Niven took control of the music at a call center for three weeks to conduct the study. Instead of playing standard instrumental music without lyrics, she played pop songs. Some had so-called prosocial lyrics, which talked about helping, like The Beatles’ “Help!” and Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World.” Others were just standard pop songs like Jackson’s “On the Line.” Niven also played the standard instrumental music as a control.

After the phone calls ended, the call center operators assessed the callers’ level of anger. Customers were the least angry when they heard standard pop songs, and they acted more upset—equally so—when they heard songs with prosocial lyrics or instrumental elevator music.

Read more: Recording of Man’s Attempt to Cancel Comcast Will Drive You Insane

That surprised Niven, who expected callers who listened to prosocial lyrics to be less angry when they finally spoke to a person. But they seemed to find it annoying, she concluded, since they were likely calling with a complaint or service issue. “If you’re played a song about helping other people and healing the world, maybe that makes you kind of angry,” she says.

Even though people on the other end of the line didn’t hear the hold music, they too were affected by it. Call center operators who picked up the phone reported feeling less emotionally exhausted when dealing with customers who heard standard pop music.

Switching to pop music is not always a welcome fix for call centers, Niven acknowledges, since the centers often have to pay licensing fees to play it. But, as these findings suggest, call centers may make conversations more pleasant on both sides of the line simply by changing their tune.

TIME ebola

Ebola Cases Top 25,000

The outbreak has infected 25,178 people and killed 10,445

More than 25,000 people have been infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, according to a new report.

As of Tuesday, the outbreak, which has persisted for more than a year, has infected 25,178 people and killed 10,445, according to new numbers released by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Overall, the region has seen a drop in the number of confirmed cases and the number of patients filling Ebola treatment centers. However, medical groups have warned against complacency and Guinea has seen a recent uptick in infections. The country also just recently launched an Ebola vaccine trial.

MORE: 14 Emotional Dispatches From Key Ebola Fighters

 

TIME Infectious Disease

1,000-Year-Old Remedy Could Help Cure Superbug

Mixture of onion, garlic, wine and cow stomach bile found to combat staph infections

A 10th-century medicine that was originally used to treat eye infections may also be able to cure staph infections.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham recreated an ancient potion recipe from Bald’s Leechbook, one of the oldest medical texts in existence. By following the recipe steps precisely, including using a wine from a thousand-year-old vineyard, researchers developed a medicine that was found to kill 90% of MRSA bacteria in mice. MRSA is a particularly hard-to-treat bacterial infection resistant to many modern antibiotics.

“When we got the first results we were just utterly dumbfounded,” microbiologist Freya Harrison told CNN. “We did not see this coming at all.”

Researchers aren’t yet sure exactly why the ancient potion is so effective. The odd mixture of ingredients—onion, garlic, wine and cow stomach bile—may create a new molecule when combined or they may be separately killing off different parts of the bacterial infection.

TIME medicine

How 3D Imaging Can Tell Exactly How Old You Are

You may be able to dodge questions about your age, but your face can’t

For the first time, scientists have used 3D imaging of a people’s faces to predict their age. The 3D information was so accurate, in fact, that it was better at pinpointing age than the best known marker, a test that involves studying the DNA.

Reporting in the journal Cell Research, Jing-Dong J Han, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences-Max Planck Partner Institute for Computational Biology, found that certain facial measures are reliable predictor’s of a person’s biological age. The researchers analyzed 3D facial images from more than 300 people, and matched them up with measurements from several dozen blood markers including cholesterol and albumin. Specifically, the width of the mouth and nose, and the distance between the mouth and nose tend to expand with age, and the eyes tend to droop over time. Measuring this change provides a relatively stable way of tracking, and predicting, a person’s age.

“Overall facial features show higher correlations with age than the 42 blood markers that are profiles in routine physical exams,” says Han.

 

Weiyang Chen–2015 Nature Publishing Group. Visualizations of facial aging.

MORE: Human Faces Can Express at Least 21 Distinct Emotions

She arrived at the finding after hearing a colleague present work on using 3D facial images to quantify racial differences. “It immediately struck me that facial images might be a potential good phenotype to include in our study to quantify the extent of aging,” she says. “I did not expect to see such remarkable changes with age, nor did I expect the 3D images to be such an accurate biomarker for biological age.”

Why is it important? Han says that pinpointing how quickly a person is aging via the relatively easy 3D algorithm could have useful health implications that go beyond keeping people honest about their age. Such a measure might provide a window into deeper physiological processes that could be aging abnormally fast. “It might have important implications for assessing the risks of aging-associated diseases, and for designing personalized treatment schemes to improve their life styles and health,” she says.

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