Cancer

Cervical cancer screening update: Not your mother’s Pap smear

Andrea Chisholm, MD
Andrea Chisholm, MD, Contributor

Recent research supports the theory the human papilloma virus (HPV) plays a critical role in the development of abnormal cervical cells and cervical cancers. Based on this knowledge, experts believe that many women are being over-screened and treated for abnormal cells that are unlikely to ever become cancerous. Testing for strains of HPV associated with cervical cancer, along with the Pap smear, may do a better job preventing cervical cancer than the Pap smear alone. Guidelines are evolving and that yearly Pap smear may be unnecessary for many women.

Colon cancer screening: Is there an easier, effective way?

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributor

The preparations necessary for a colonoscopy can be as unpleasant as the test itself, if not more so. A new test can be completed at home and requires no special prep, but the test is more likely to return a false positive, requiring further testing. In addition, some of the research supporting this test was done by the company or co-inventors, so more research is needed.

Movember: Stashing prostate and testicular cancer awareness into the limelight

Paul G. Mathew, MD, FAAN, FAHS

The Movember movement began in 2003 to help raise awareness of prostate and testicular cancers as well as other health concerns including mental health issues. One of the primary goals of this initiative is to encourage men to take the time to pay attention to their health. This includes doing self-exams and getting the necessary screenings so that cancers can be detected and treated earlier.

Treatment versus monitoring of prostate cancer: Survival rates the same after 10 years

Charlie Schmidt
Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Disease

Two new studies add to the evidence that for many men with prostate cancer, if it is detected early and has not metastasized beyond the prostate gland, monitoring the cancer will lead to the same chance of survival after 10 as choosing surgery or radiation. Men treated with surgery or radiation often experience significant side effects. The rates of depression and anxiety were the same in men who opted for monitoring and those who opted for treatment.

Treating the primary tumor can improve survival in men whose prostate cancer has spread

Charlie Schmidt
Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Disease

For men with prostate cancer that has metastasized, treatment usually focuses on the tumors that develop elsewhere in the body. But treating the primary tumor in the prostate with radiation or surgery could result in longer overall survival.

Perspective on alcohol use and cancer risk

Steven J. Atlas, MD, MPH

There seems to be general agreement that, for most people, moderate alcohol use isn’t particularly harmful to health. At the same time, some people have seen the negative effects of alcohol up close and personal. A new study makes alcohol seem even more controversial, suggesting that there is sufficient evidence to say that alcohol causes several types of cancer. However, this startling news it is based on reinterpretation of existing data and may further muddy the waters on the benefits and risks of alcohol use.

New urine test predicts high-grade prostate cancer

Charlie Schmidt
Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Disease

Researchers believe that a non-invasive screening test that can identify genetic markers for high-grade prostate cancer in urine may eventually reduce the number of prostate biopsies needed. However, experts also caution that while the number of non-invasive tests for prostate cancer diagnosis is growing, these are still early days in their development.

E-cigarettes: Good news, bad news

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

While e-cigarettes do not produce the tar or toxic gases found in cigarette smoke, this doesn’t make them a healthy option. The e-liquid found in e-cigarettes still contains highly addictive nicotine that also increases your risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Nicotine also increases the risk of addiction to other drugs and may impair brain development. Rather than rely on the perceived benefits of e-cigarettes, people should avoid smoking altogether.

New blood test for colon cancer screening: Questions remain

Celia Smoak Spell
Celia Smoak Spell, Assistant Editor, Harvard Health Publications

In April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new screening test for colon cancer, making it the first blood-based test for this type of cancer. While this test does make it more convenient for people to get screened for colon cancer, it is also less exact than the current screening methods. It is important to discuss your risk factors and screening options with your doctor.

The risks of active surveillance for men with intermediate-risk prostate cancers

Charlie Schmidt
Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Disease

Many men with prostate cancer benefit from active surveillance, in which treatment doesn’t begin unless the cancer spreads. There has been some debate about whether this strategy is safe for men with intermediate-risk prostate cancer. A new study suggests that this type of cancer is more likely to spread than previously thought — but active surveillance can still be a good option for many intermediate-risk men.