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In San Francisco, Brain Surgeons Explore Their Practice Through Art

Neurosurgeon Katherine Ko stands next to her painting "Craniotomy in G Sharp," a depiction of her drilling a skull in preparation for brain surgery. "It's kind of a self portrait," she says. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Neurosurgeon Katherine Ko stands next to her painting “Craniotomy in G Sharp,” a depiction of her drilling a skull in preparation for brain surgery. “It’s kind of a self portrait,” she says. (April Dembosky/KQED)

SAN FRANCISCO — Most of the Moscone Center exhibit hall is full of looming medical machines: brain scanners and brain mappers. Men in suits wait for the wandering neurosurgeon to pass by so they can pounce with their pitch for the latest, greatest technology that will change brain surgery forever.

“Patterns repeat themselves over and over in nature. We see that in our work and in anatomy.” 

But back at exhibit booth 630, it’s a different scene. An art show. Paintings and photographs depict abstract interpretations by neurosurgeons of their work, portraits of neurosurgery patients and natural landscapes that offer a striking resemblance to the human brain.

“Music, art, the visual, the senses — matches and melds with medicine,” says Dr. Katherine Ko, a neurosurgeon from New York who curated the show. “We like to see that left brain, right brain cross over. It’s a respite where you don’t have to concentrate. You can just let your eyes roam.” Continue reading

School Nurses on Front Lines to Raise Vaccine Rates

(Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

Robyn Ettl, Grass Valley Unified school nurse, gives a vision test to second grader Chase Littlejohn at the Grass Valley Charter School. (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource

In her 33 years as a school nurse, Robyn Ettl has listened, sometimes quietly, sometimes not, to parents in rural Nevada County explain why their children don’t need vaccinations against contagious and potentially fatal diseases, including polio, diphtheria, measles and pertussis.

Parents must now meet with health provider before opting-out of vaccines for their children.

Now, with nearly a half a million children in California registering for kindergarten in the fall, school nurses like Ettl are more invested than ever in a delicate task: trying to change the minds of parents intent on opting out of school-entrance immunizations.

Under a state law that took effect Jan. 1, parents may no longer simply file a letter to opt-out of vaccines. Instead, they are required to consult with a health practitioner –- doctor, naturopath or credentialed school nurse –- before they’re allowed to obtain what’s known as a “personal-belief exemption” from their child’s required immunizations. Continue reading

Your Doctor’s Skill at Colonoscopy May Reduce Your Later Colon Cancer Risk

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If you’re going to go to the trouble of having a colonoscopy, you’d probably prefer that you get as much as you can out of the screening test. A new study this week shows that a doctor’s rate of finding and removing adenomas — these are pre-cancerous growths — is linked to the patient’s lower risk of developing colon cancer later.

For every 1 percent increase in adenoma detection there was a 3 percent decrease a person’s colon cancer risk. 

Colonoscopy is one of the recommended screening tests for colon cancer. Yet doctors have differing rates at how often they find these adenomas. This is the first study in the U.S. to look at the association between finding adenomas and later cancer risk, as part of a national review funded by the National Cancer Institute. It was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In the study, researchers at Kaiser Permanente Northern California reviewed more than 300,000 colonoscopies performed by 136 gastroenterologists between 1998 and 2010. Continue reading

50-Year Review: Mammography Benefits Oversold, Harms Minimized

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

Two months ago, a widely publicized Canadian study found that mammograms did not reduce breast cancer deaths, but that study was fiercely criticized by the nation’s radiologists as “incredibly flawed and misleading.”

A few weeks earlier, an analysis found that screening all women annually starting at age 40, as the American Cancer Society recommends, costs $6.5 billion more a year more than following the U.S. Preventive Service’s Task Force recommendation that women be screened every other year starting at age 50.

Now, the latest entries — two studies that try to put all the previous research on mammography’s harms and benefits in perspective.

First, researchers at Harvard took a broad look at all the research on mammograms since 1960 — more than 50 years of study. They also looked at evidence on the harms of false positives and overdiagnoses, in which a woman is treated for a cancer that would never have proved deadly. And they reviewed whether current efforts to try to personalize a woman’s cancer risk helped a woman figure out whether it was worth her while to get a mammogram. Continue reading

Yes, It’s A Headache. No, I Didn’t Need That Brain Scan

Headaches are almost never caused by a tumor, say neurologists. (Getty Images)

Headaches are almost never caused by a tumor, say neurologists. (Getty Images)

Over at NPR, the Shots blog reports that Americans get $1 billion (yes, with a “B”) worth of brain scans every year — because they have a headache. That’s according to research at the University of Michigan.

Headaches are one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor  – up to a quarter of all doctor visits, says Shots.

Sending a billion dollars “down the drain.” Annually.
Presumably people are getting the scans because they’re worried that headache is a sign of something much more scary — say a brain tumor.

There’s just one problem. Most headaches are just that — a headache.

From the Shots post: Continue reading

Use of ADHD Drugs Increasing Fastest Among Young Women

Women ages 19 to 25 have higher rates of ADHD medication use than girls ages 12 to 18. (Getty Images)

Women ages 19 to 25 have higher rates of ADHD medication use than girls ages 12 to 18. (Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

Use of ADHD drugs continues to rise in the United States, but the group whose use is increasing the most may come as a surprise: young women.

An analysis of prescriptions filled from 2008 to 2012 through Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management company, found that use of ADHD medications rose 35.5 percent overall. The company’s database includes 15 million people with private insurance.

Children and young adults on ADHD medications by gender. (Express Scripts)

Children and young adults on ADHD medications by gender. (Express Scripts)

The medications, largely stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, are still most commonly prescribed to boys ages 12 to 18. In 2012 7.8 percent of boys ages 4 to 18 were taking an ADHD medication — that’s more than twice the rate of girls (3.5 percent). But in young adulthood, ages 19 to 25, men’s use plummets, while young women’s rate increases. From ages 26 to 64, use of ADHD medications by women exceeds that of men.

To find out more about what’s going on, we talked with Dr. David Muzina, a psychiatrist who is the vice president and national practice leader for neuroscience at Express Scripts. This is an edited version of our conversation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others have reported increases in use of ADHD medications in children, but this increase in adults seems huge. What’s happening there? Continue reading

Study: Estrogen Therapy May Help Some Older Women at Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease

Estrogen replacement patches. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Estrogen replacement patches. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Postmenopausal women have heard just about everything when it comes to hormone therapy. In the 1990s, doctors routinely recommended it, believing that it helped women avoid heart attacks, thinning bones and other problems of aging. Then along came the Women’s Health Initiative study, which first found hormone therapy (HT) created more risks than benefits – then found that over time some of those risks subsided, at least somewhat.

“It’s a very provocative finding, without a doubt.” 

But one main criticism of the Women’s Health Initiative study was that women were recruited to start on hormone therapy long after they had gone through menopause. The women were ages 65 or older.

Today, many doctors believe that HT started at the time of menopause — or soon after — can help women with hot flashes, vaginal dryness and other symptoms.

Continue reading

Contra Costa County Maps Schools by Vaccination Rates: Find Yours

The red dots mark a school or childcare facility where the vaccine opt-out rate is 10 percent or more.

The red dots mark a school or child care facility where the vaccine opt-out rate is above 9.9 percent. The statewide average is 3 percent. (Contra Costa Health Department)

In response to the troubling number of children whose parents opt out of vaccines for them, Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) has published an interactive online map of vaccine rates for schools and licensed child-care facilities with at least 15 children at each site across the county.

“There’s not much wiggle room. We need about 90 percent of our community to be immune.”
The screen shot above shows the map. When you visit the site you can click on any of the dots, and a box appears to show you the name of the school, its address and rate of “personal belief exemptions.” While state law requires that every child be fully vaccinated to enter kindergarten, parents can opt out by filing a personal belief exemption (PBE), a signed statement that vaccines are against a parent’s beliefs.

Paul Leung, immunization program manager for Contra Costa Public Health, said the goal of producing the map was to increases awareness. “Many community members may not realize this dangerous, disturbing trend of parents choosing to skip vaccines for their children,” he said. “It not only puts these kids at greater risk of serious, dangerous diseases like measles and polio,” but it also puts others at risk, he said, including those who cannot be vaccinated, such as babies, and children or adults too sick to be vaccinated.  Continue reading

Just One Dose of Many Common Medicines Can Kill a Child

Many over-the-counter products contain acetaminophen. One dose is usually not a problem, but it's easy to lose track of how much your child is taking. An overdose can cause liver failure or death. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Many over-the-counter products contain acetaminophen. One dose is usually not a problem, but it’s easy to lose track of how much your child is taking. An overdose can cause liver failure or death. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By Scott Hensley, NPR

Concerns about drug risks have led 28 state attorneys general to ask the Food and Drug Administration to reverse its approval of Zohydro, a long-acting narcotic painkiller, before the medicine is even put on the market.

People often underestimate the risks of individual drugs and combinations of drugs for young children.

The risks for addiction and overdose from the potent opioid outweigh the benefits of pain relief, critics say. Some point to the risk for children, in particular. A single capsule of Zohydro could kill a kid, the medicine’s instructions warn.

Other opioid painkillers, such as Vicodin and Percocet, are already fixtures in America’s medicine cabinets. And as the prescriptions for drugs like these have surged, so have the reports of overdoses and deaths — for children and adults.

But opioids are just one kind of risky medicine. Doctors have a disturbingly long list of drugs that can lead to the death of a child after just one or two doses. Continue reading

New Food Labels to Focus on Calories, Sugar

Many processed foods, including bottled tomato sauce, have added sugars, which would be required under the proposed label. (Danny Nicholson/Flickr)

Many processed foods, including bottled tomato sauce, have added sugars, which would be required under the proposed label. (Danny Nicholson/Flickr)

By Allison Aubrey, NPR

Ready for a reality check about how many calories you’re eating or drinking?

The proposed new nutrition facts panel may help.

“I’ve been hoping for years that the FDA would list added sugars,” — Marion Nestle, NYU Nutrition Professor 

The Obama administration Thursday released its proposed tweaks to the iconic black and white panel that we’re all accustomed to seeing on food packages.

The most visible change is that calorie counts are bigger and bolder — to give them greater emphasis.

In addition, serving sizes start to reflect the way most of us really eat. Take, for example, ice cream. The current serving size is a half-cup. But who eats that little?

Under the proposed new label, the serving size would become 1 cup. So, when you scoop a bowl of mint chocolate chip, the calorie count that you see on the label will probably be much closer to what you’re actually eating.

Continue reading