Is DCIS cancer?

A generation ago, an oncologist might have gone years without encountering a case of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a precancerous breast lesion. But widespread mammography has led to a sevenfold increase in the number of new cases of DCIS. This steep rise has some experts worried, as screening’s ability to find these precancerous lesions has outstripped knowledge about how to classify DCIS and how to treat it. At a recent state-of-the-science conference, scientists debated whether the word “carcinoma” should be removed from the name,  in hopes of reducing fear and stemming a trend of overtreatment of this noninvasive pre-cancer.

Read more about DCIS and the debate about what to call it and how to treat it in my Proto Magazine feature, No Easy Answers, is published in the Winter 2014 issue of Proto Magazine.

Why you may want to avoid a dementia test

Washington Post, December 13, 2013

Excerpt:

Early dementia is difficult to distinguish from mild cognitive impairment, those minor memory blips that sneak up as we age. About one in five people older than 75 have such blips, and most cases never progress to dementia or Alzheimer’s, Spence says. Some memory lapses that may seem like dementia are actually something else. In a study published last year, Danish researchers revisited the records of nearly 900 patients thought to have dementia and discovered that 41 percent of them had received faulty diagnoses.

Read the rest at The Washington PostWhy you may want to avoid a dementia test

The High Cost of Cheap Chicken

I interviewed more than a dozen experts for this Consumer Reports investigation into the safety of chicken sold in grocery stores. Consumer Reports scientists tested more than 300 samples from chickens purchased in 26 states. The results showed that 97% of the breasts we tested harbored bacteria that could make you sick.

Continue reading “The High Cost of Cheap Chicken”

Run Yourself Smarter: How exercise boosts your brain

Run Yourself Smarter: How exercise boosts your brain
New Scientist, November 15, 2013
pdf here: Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

The latest science on exercise and the brain suggests that exercise isn’t an enhancer of normal cognition, it’s a necessary condition. Physical activity has been show to improve brain health across every stage of life.

I’m just saying no to mammography: Why the numbers are in my favor

Washington Post, October 7, 2013

Excerpt:

What my doctor neglected to tell me is that a mammogram was, in my case, more likely to hurt than help me. Few doctors take the time to mention the risks of mammography — especially, the danger of overdiagnosis —that a mammogram might lead a patient to get needled, sliced, zapped with radiation and possibly treated with tamoxifen, a drug that increases risk of uterine cancer, for a breast lesion that wasn’t life-threatening in the first place.

Most people believe that breast cancer is inevitably a progressive disease that will kill you if you don’t remove it in time. According to this idea, which I call the relentless progression model, every big cancer is harmful, every small one is less so and every cancer is curable if only you catch it in time. It’s an appealing, intuitive idea — except that a growing body of research suggests that it’s wrong.

Read the rest at The Washington PostI’m just saying no to mammography: Why the numbers are in my favor

Washington Post: Do Bike Helmet Laws Really Save People?

Do bike helmet laws really save people?
Washington Post, June 3, 2013

Excerpt:

Mandatory helmet laws, like one brought up in the Maryland legislature this winter, might seem like a no-brainer. Yet when the medical journal BMJ polled its readers in 2011, 68 percent of the respondents opposed mandatory helmet laws. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) also opposes mandatory helmet laws, and its members testified againstMaryland House Bill 339, which never made it out of committee before the legislative session ended in April.

Proponents of helmet laws say that they reduce injuries. But evidence for this claim remains mixed.

Read the rest at the Washington Post: Do bike helmet laws really save people?

Athletes, Stop Taking Supplements

Athletes, Stop Taking Supplements
They’re expensive, they don’t improve performance, and they might make you test positive for dope.
Slate, July 26, 2012

Excerpt:

Hardy is among a growing number of athletes who have traced a positive doping test back to a tainted supplement. Swimmer Kicker Vencill and cyclists Flavia Oliveira andScott Moninger (an acquaintance of mine), also tested positive after taking supplements, and 400-meter gold medalist LaShawn Merritt linked his positive dope test to a product called Extenz that he picked up at 7-Eleven. The problem is so prevalent that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has developed an educational campaign for athletes, called Supplements 411.

Supplements are risky thanks in part to a piece of legislation passed in 1994 called the Dietary Supplements and Health Education Act. The DSHEA essentially deregulated dietary supplements, including vitamins, herbs, protein shake mixes, nutritional supplements, and other powders and pills that millions of people of all levels of athletic ability might take to improve their health. Most people assume that if a product is available on store shelves, it must be OK. But supplements are not required to be evaluated or proven safe or effective before they’re sold. New rules finalized in 2007 gave the FDA power to regulate the manufacturing and packaging of supplements, but the agency’s ability to police supplement companies remains limited by DSHEA. Its chief author and most powerful advocate is Sen. Orrin Hatch, whose home state of Utah is home to much of the U.S. supplement industry. Hatch, who attributes his good health to the supplements he takes each day, fought a recent amendment to increase the FDA’s ability to regulate the industry.

Read the rest at Slate: Athletes, Stop Taking Supplements