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Digital Mammograms: Pricey And Perhaps No Better for Older Women

In the U.S. 95 percent of mammography machine are now digital.(Mychele Daniau/AFP/Getty Images)

In the U.S. 95 percent of mammography machine are now digital.(Mychele Daniau/AFP/Getty Images)

By Kara Manke, NPR

Medicare spending on breast cancer screening for women age 65 and older has jumped nearly 50 percent in recent years. But the rise in price was not associated with an improvement in the early detection of breast cancer.

“We did not see a change in the detection of early or late stage tumors.”

Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found that Medicare spending on breast cancer screening rose from $666 million in the years 2001-2002 to $962 million in the years 2008-2009.

So why the big increases in costs?

“The way that we screen for breast cancer has changed dramatically,” explains Yale’s Dr. Cary Gross, an internist and a co-author of the study. The study was published this week in the Journal of The National Cancer Institute. Continue reading

New Guidelines Say Many Women Can Skip Pelvic Exam

(Maigh/Flickr)

If this picture makes you shudder, you’ll want to understand the new guideline. (Maigh/Flickr)

No more dreaded pelvic exam? New guidelines say most healthy women can skip the yearly ritual.

Routine pelvic exams don’t benefit women who have no symptoms of disease and who aren’t pregnant, and they can cause harm, the American College of Physicians said Monday as it recommended that doctors quit using them as a screening tool.

It’s part of a growing movement to evaluate whether many longtime medical practices are done more out of habit than necessity, and the guideline is sure to be controversial.

Scientific evidence “just doesn’t support the benefit of having a pelvic exam every year,” said guideline coauthor Dr. Linda Humphrey of the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Oregon Health & Science University. Continue reading

Surprising Advantage for Older Moms: More Likely to Live Longer

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

As a woman who had not just her last child, but also her first child after age 33, I enthusiastically clicked on the NPR story in my Facebook feed this morning.

NPR reports that older moms — women who had their last child after age 33 — have twice the odds of “exceptional longevity” as women who had their last child before age 29. This “exceptional longevity” is defined as living to age 95. The research is according to a study published this week in the journal Menopause.

I got over the fact that “older moms” are women who had their last child after 33, which seems kind of young to me.

NPR explains why there may be a connection between bearing children later and longevity: Continue reading

Whooping Cough Epidemic Continues — 1,100 New Cases in Last Two Weeks

A vial containing the acellular pertussis vaccine. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

A vial containing the acellular pertussis vaccine (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

In the two weeks since California health officials declared a whooping cough epidemic, the state has added 1,100 more cases, officials with the California Department of Public Health said Friday.

That brings the total number of cases to 4,558. A third infant died of the disease recently. The baby, from Sacramento County, had started showing symptoms at just 3 weeks of age. The baby was hospitalized for more than a year and then passed away.

Infants are at particular risk because they cannot be vaccinated until they are several weeks old. Generally, the recommendation is that babies receive the first dose of vaccine at 8 weeks, but in light of the epidemic, state health officials say babies can be vaccinated at 6 weeks.

Continue reading

At Stanford, Using Rodin’s Sculpted Hands to Teach Anatomy

Photo of Auguste Rodin’s “Left Hand of Eustache de St. Pierre” druing the 3D scanning process. (Photo: Matthew Hasel, © Division of Clinical Anatomy, Stanford University School of Medicine)

Photo of Auguste Rodin’s “Left Hand of Eustache de St. Pierre” druing the 3D scanning process. (Photo: Matthew Hasel, © Division of Clinical Anatomy, Stanford University School of Medicine)

By Laura Sydell, NPR

Auguste Rodin is known for his realistic, unflinching depiction of the human form. Some of the French sculptor’s work even shows the ravages of disease and disfigurement. A Stanford University professor and surgeon who noticed these realistic details was inspired to incorporate Rodin into his teaching using a curriculum that combines Rodin’s sculpture with medical science and computer technology.

Superimposing scans of patients’ hands into Rodin’s hands to show 3-D anatomy.

Dr. James Chang first noticed certain details of Rodin’s sculptures when he was a medical resident at Stanford studying hand surgery. He used to relax on the grass at the sculpture garden of the school’s Cantor Arts Center. “The more I looked at the Rodin sculptures … and I focused on the hands, and if you look at each hand … they’re exactly like the actual medical conditions I was treating.”

The works include some of Rodin’s most famous pieces, like the Burghers of Calais, a group of defeated noblemen. Chang noticed that one of the Burghers had fused fingers. “We have children with Apert syndrome that have a similar fusion of the fingers and an open thumb, and we release the fingers to put [them] into a more natural condition,” he says. Continue reading

Study Finds Pesticide Exposure in Pregnancy Linked to Autism

(tpmartins/Flickr)

(tpmartins/Flickr)

Pregnant women living within a mile of fields where pesticides were applied faced almost double the risk of having a baby who developed autism — compared to women who lived more than a mile away, a new study finds.

U.C. Davis researchers tracked pesticide applications on farms in the Central Valley, near Sacramento, and the Bay Area and matched that data to the addresses of women who lived nearby when they were pregnant.

The fetus tends to be vulnerable to certain kinds of insults,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an environmental epidemiologist at the MIND Institute at U.C. Davis and lead author of the study. “Pesticides may be one of those sets of chemicals that we need to be particularly careful about.

The study was published Monday in Environmental Health Perspectives. Continue reading

Stanford Tests Artificial Pancreas on Children with Diabetes

Study participant Tia Geri explains how this artificial pancreas works. (April Laissle/KQED)

Study participant Tia Geri explains how her artificial pancreas works. (April Laissle/KQED)

By April Laissle

This week seven children are participating in a Stanford research study in a somewhat unusual setting — a hotel in Newark, outside San Francisco. Researchers are testing an “artificial pancreas” on these children who all have Type 1 diabetes. The device is the latest advance in diabetes management technology.

“We’re trying to push this system to the limit by having the kids eat a lot and get out and run.”

The artificial pancreas is an android phone loaded with software mimicking the function of a real pancreas. Using bluetooth, the device communicates with two monitors attached to the patient’s body; one that keeps track of blood sugar levels and another that pumps insulin into the body when those sugar levels are too high. It determines when and how much insulin to release and sends that information to the insulin pump without patient intervention.

Researchers say the device could simplify the lives of those with diabetes by taking the guesswork out of treating the disease.  Continue reading

Another Step Closer to Autism Therapy as Medi-Cal Benefit?

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

CMS officials last week approved a state plan amendment for the state of Washington that includes autism therapy as a Medicaid benefit.

It’s the second state in a month to receive that go-ahead from the federal government, and it means autism coverage should be a Medi-Cal benefit in California, as well, according to Kristin Jacobson, president of Autism Deserves Equal Coverage, a not-for-profit autism advocacy group.

The budget passed this week by the California Legislature omitted autism therapy as a Medi-Cal benefit.

Autism advocates hope one day soon CMS will make it clear that applied behavior analysis treatment — known as ABA therapy — should be a required benefit for all states receiving Medicaid, including California. Continue reading

California Assembly Rejects Sugary Drink Warning Label

(KJM-427/Flickr)

(KJM-427/Flickr)

By Fenit Nirappil, Associated Press

A bill that would have made California the first state in the nation to require warning labels on sodas and other sugary drinks was effectively killed Tuesday.

Sen. Bill Monning’s SB1000 failed on a 7-8 vote as his fellow Democratic lawmakers doubted whether a label would change consumer behavior. It needed 10 votes to pass.

Certain sodas, energy drinks and fruit drinks would have included a label reading, “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.” Continue reading

Low-Income Latinas Turn to Group Visits for Prenatal Care

Araceli eats fruit during a break following an exercise on healthy eating during a Centering Pregnancy group in San Francisco. (Deborah Svoboda/The World)

During a Centering Pregnancy group prenatal appointment in San Francisco, Araceli (left) eats fruit following an exercise on healthy eating. (Deborah Svoboda/The World)

Once a month, Irma Vásquez goes for prenatal check-ups at a clinic in San Francisco’s Mission District. But her appointment looks nothing like a doctor’s appointment. Instead of getting one-on-one care, she meets with 12 other Latina immigrants for a group visit.

Studies show group prenatal care leads to better birth outcomes.
The women meet at a community clinic and first take their own blood pressure, weigh themselves, and write down the results. Then they take turns seeing a midwife in a makeshift exam area in the corner of the room. The midwife checks each baby’s heart rate and talks privately with each woman.

Afterward they all sit in a circle and talk — in Spanish — about everything from eating healthy to dealing with domestic problems at home. Finally, there’s group meditation. Vásquez says this is her favorite part.

“It clears your mind of all the things that are going on around you, going on outside,” she says in Spanish. “It makes you more relaxed.” Continue reading