Friday, May 27, 2016

“Game-Changing” Study Links Cellphone Radiation to Cancer

Robert Piras/Shutterstock
It's the moment we've all been dreading. Initial findings from a massive federal study, released on Thursday, suggest that radio-frequency (RF) radiation, the type emitted by cellphones, can cause cancer.

The findings from a $25 million study, conducted over two and a half years by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), showed that male rats exposed to two types of RF radiation were significantly more likely than unexposed rats to develop a type of brain cancer called a glioma, and also had a higher chance of developing the rare, malignant form of tumor known as a schwannoma of the heart. The effect was not seen in females.The radiation level the rats received was "not very different" from what humans are exposed to when they use cellphones, said Chris Portier, a former associate director of the NTP who commissioned the study.As the intensity of the radiation increased, so did the incidence of cancer in the rats. (The highest radiation level was five to seven times as strong as what humans typically receive while using a phone.) Although ionizing radiation, which includes gamma rays and X-rays, is widely accepted as a carcinogen, the wireless industry has long noted that there is no known mechanism by which RF radiation causes cancer. 

The researchers wrote that the results "appear to support" the conclusion that RF radiation may indeed be carcinogenic.The findings should be a wake-up call for the scientific establishment, according to Portier, who is now a contributing scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. "I think this is a game changer," he said. "We seriously have to look at this issue again in considerable detail.""The NTP does the best animal bioassays in the word," Portier added. "Their reputation is stellar. So if they are telling us this was positive in this study, that's a concern."Past animal studies have been inconclusive. Most of those suggesting a connectionbetween cellphone radiation and cancer had first exposed rodents to toxic chemicals to induce tumors, which were then shown to grow in response to radiation exposure. But the new study did nothing in advance to stimulate cancer in the animals.The NTP first decided to investigate the carcinogenicity of cellphone radiation in 2001, partly in response to epidemiological studies showing a correlation between gliomas and cellphone use. Some of the studies even showed that the cancers were ipsilateral—meaning they tended to appear on the same side of the head where users held their phones. But other epidemiological studies haven't found links between cancer and cellphones.

The Food and Drug Administration, which is charged with regulating the health aspects of consumer products, says on its website that there is "no evidence linking cell phone use with the risk of brain tumors." It does acknowledge some riskassociated with carrying cellphones too close to the body, but only due to the phones' heating effect. The NTP findings cast doubt on that conclusion: The study was designed to control for heating effects by ensuring that the body temperature of the exposed rats increased by less than 1 degree Celsius. "Everyone expected this study to be negative," a senior government radiation official toldMicrowave News, which was shown partial results from the study earlier this week. "Assuming that the exposures were carried out in a way that heating effects can be ruled out, then those who say that such [carcinogenic] effects found are impossible are wrong."

The study was expensive in part because it required the construction of special exposure chambers that allowed thousands of mice and rats to receive standardized dozes of radiation. For about nine hours per day, for periods ranging from two months to the lifetime of the animal, the rodents were exposed to the RF radiation frequencies used by second generation (2G) phones—the standard at the time the study was initiated.Only the test results for rats have been released so far. Female rats didn't experience significantly higher than normal cancer rates. However, among male rats that received the highest radiation exposures, 2 percent to 3 percent contracted gliomas and 6 percent to 7 percent percent developed schwannoma tumors in their hearts, depending on the type of radiation used. None of the male rats in the control groups developed those cancers.Potentially confounding the results, the rats exposed to radiation on average lived longer than those that weren't. Some outside reviewers argued that the study's authors should have given more weight to that caveat. Reviewers were also puzzled that the unexposed control rats didn't exhibit the usual number of brain tumors. "I am unable to accept the authors' conclusions," wrote Michael Lauer, the deputy director of the National Institute of Health's office of extramural research.In the United States, of about 25,000 malignant brain tumors diagnosed each year, 80 percent are gliomas. Malignant brain tumors are the most common cause of cancer deaths in adolescents and adults ages 15 to 39. 

The authors of the NTP study did not say how their results might translate into cancer risk for humans. But "given the extremely large number of people who use wireless communication devices," they wrote, "even a very small increase in the incidence of disease resulting from exposure to RFR resulting from those devices could have broad implications for public health."

The wireless industry and many media outlets—particularly tech sites, which depend on the industry for advertising—have confidently proclaimed that the science on cellphone safety is settled. You "can't choose to 'believe' in facts because they are, well, facts," Charlie Sorrell wrote in Wired in 2011, after detailing the results of a Danish epidemiological study showing no link between cellphone use and cancer. "So there you go, people. Finally you can ditch that dorky Bluetooth headset. Your brain isn't being microwaved after all."But Portier says there still isn't enough data to consider the case closed. "There are arguments in the literature now that we are at the beginning of an epidemic of cancers," he told me. "There are arguments against that. It is not clear who is right. I have looked through it. It's a mixed bag."

"We spend as a nation god-awful billions of dollars using our cellphones," he adds. "We are significantly exposed on a constant basis and yet we spend almost nothing on research in this area. We need an influx of research dollars if we want to understand what may be happening, and hopefully be able to prevent it while we still have the time."

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Beat the Heat with these Lymphedema Summer Safety Tips!

Staying Cool
  • When indoors, try to stay where it’s well air-conditioned.
  • The hottest parts of the day are between 11 am and 3 pm – try to limit your time outside during these hours!
  • If you get overheated, elevate your affected limb and place a cold, wet towel over it.
  • Drink plenty of water! Staying well hydrated makes it easier for your body to regulate its temperature.
  • Wear light, loose, non-constricting clothing. This creates better lymphatic flow, as well as keeping you cooler!
  • Powder the inside of your shoes with an unscented bath powder or anti-fungal powder to help prevent fungal infections.

  • Avoid excessive sun exposure, as sunburn will place an extra burden on your lymphatic system and increase swelling.
  • Remember that even if you are wearing a compression garment, it is still possible to get sunburn.
  • Be sure to wear sunscreen when going outside!

  • Chlorine can be drying to your skin, causing breakage and giving bacteria a way to enter and cause infection. You can combat this by applying a moisture barrier cream before getting into the water, as well as after you get out of the pool.
  • Avoid a fungal infection by wearing footwear at all times when you aren’t in the pool, especially in the shower area!
  • When swimming in a natural body of water, wear water shoes to avoid cutting your feet on shells or stones.
  • If you have a skin break on your affected limb, it’s best not to go into the water.
  • While swimming, you can wear an old compression garment or none at all – just be sure to don some form of compression once you get out!
  • Take a bath or shower after swimming, and be sure to dry off completely afterward. Keeping the skin dry is important as excess moisture trapped between your skin and compression garment can promote bacterial growth and risk of infection!

Take Care of Your Garment
  • Get measured for a garment after the hot weather starts, and again after it has ended. This way, your garments will be better fitted to the seasonal changes your edema goes through.
  • Clean your garment regularly to avoid deterioration from sweat, body oils, and sunscreen!
Insect Bites
  • Apply insect repellent before going outside. Avoid using ones with DEET, however. You can do this by purchasing natural repellents from health food stores.
  • Treat insect bites immediately to avoid increased swelling or itching in that area. Wash and dry the area completely before applying antibiotic cream or ointment.
  • If you’re going camping, bring along a specialized first aid kit that includes alcohol wipes to clean any skin breaks, antibiotic cream, and bandages.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bill would help track cancer cases among firefighters

Photo: Brian Tumulty, USA Today
WASHINGTON – Firefighters contract cancer 14% more often than other people because of the toxins they're exposed to on the job, according to congressional lawmakers who want to establish a registry to track those cancer cases.

Legislation unveiled Tuesday would create a National Firefighter Cancer Registry and direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track the types of cancers contracted by volunteer and professional firefighters.

Studying, quantifying and understanding cancer risks for firefighters could lead to better methods of prevention, said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., one of the bill’s authors.

Menendez said research on 9/11 first responders who developed cancer already has proven a link between those cases and toxins at Ground Zero.

“And while that was an extraordinary and tragic event that continues to take lives, there’s been little attention given to a firefighter’s routine and daily exposure to dangerous toxins during the course of their entire career,’’Menendez said.

The one major study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) -- which lawmakers cited Tuesday -- covered about 30,000 career firefighters in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. It found higher rates of many types of cancer among the firefighters, but was limited by its sample size and under-representation of some groups, according to Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.

Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., who developed the idea for the registry after talking to a local cancer survivor, said, “We know there are 84,000 different chemicals, many of which didn’t exist years ago."

House fires can expose firefighters to deadly, flammable chemicals such as synthetics used in living room couches and cleaning fluids under a kitchen sink.

Hanna’s inspiration for the legislation came from Brian McQueen, past chief of the Whitesboro Volunteer Fire Department, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December 2013. After his physicians linked McQueen’s cancer to his more than three decades as a volunteer firefighter, McQueen developed an educational program in central New York to alert others to the potential dangers.

“My passion is to provide cancer education to firefighters across the Northeast, especially throughout New York State,’’ McQueen said. “This actually started when Congressman Hanna attended one of our cancer prevention programs at his home fire department in Barneveld, N.Y. I sat down with him after the program and told him there’s no data. That’s why we’re here today.’’

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Foods that lower breast cancer risk? New study offers clues

Teenage girls who consume large amounts of fruit may lower their future risk for breast cancer, a new study suggests.

Conversely, women who drink more alcohol over time might increase their breast cancer risk, although they could also lower their chances of heart disease, a second report found.

In the fruit study, consumption of apples, bananas and grapes during adolescence was strongly associated with a drop in breast cancer risk. Roughly three daily servings of such fruits was linked to a 25 percent drop in risk by middle age, compared with consuming just a half-serving per day.

Women who ate oranges and/or kale as young adults also seemed to gain some protection from breast cancer, the investigators noted. But drinking fruit juice did not appear to confer any benefit.

"This is the first study that specifically shows that high fruit intake during adolescence may be linked with reduced breast cancer risk," said study author Maryam Farvid. She is a research associate in the department of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Still, Farvid cautioned that "due to the observational nature of the study, we could not provide evidence of cause and effect," only an association between fruit consumption and a drop in breast cancer risk.

In the study, the researchers analyzed food questionnaires completed in 1991 by just over 90,000 women -- aged 27 to 44 -- who had enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study II two years earlier. That survey focused on diets during early adulthood.

In 1998, more than 44,000 of the women completed a second food survey. That survey asked participants to recall what food they had consumed during adolescence.

Food and drink consumption was also tallied once every four years from 1991 to 2013, at which point the women were asked to recall their diets over the prior year. Breast cancer status was tracked every two years.

Over the two decades of the study, more than 3,200 women developed invasive breast cancer. Adolescent dietary information was available for about 1,350 of those women.

In the end, the research team concluded that higher fruit intake during adolescence was associated with a lower risk for breast cancer.

The report was published May 11 in the BMJ.

In an accompanying editorial, a team from the University of Oxford cautioned that "much more evidence is needed" before adolescent fruit intake can be declared protective. At the same time, the Oxford researchers suggested that people of all ages would do well to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.

Farvid agreed. "Parents could do a great job in providing plenty of fruits and vegetables at home, and encouraging teens to adopt healthy eating habits," she said.

That advice was seconded by Lona Sandon, program director in the department of clinical nutrition at the UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"You'll probably never be able to prove cause and effect, but time and time again the data shows that there's something to starting out life with a healthy diet," she said.

"Fruit has vitamins, minerals and all sorts of plant compounds that appear to be healthy for us," Sandon added. "And it's also worth noting that if teens are consuming more fruit, what are they not consuming instead? Are they eating less candy, cookies, cakes and soda? That may play a role as well."

Meanwhile, the second study in the same journal explored the impact of long-term alcohol consumption on breast cancer risk.

Led by Marie Dam of the University of Southern Denmark, that investigation tracked alcohol patterns among roughly 22,000 postmenopausal women between 1993 and 1998, and again between 1999 and 2003.

In the end, the Danish team concluded that women who increased their overall alcohol intake by two drinks per day (over either five-year period) ended up boosting their breast cancer risk by up to 30 percent.

At the same time, Dam and her colleagues found that women who increased their alcohol consumption ended up with a 20 percent lower risk for heart disease, relative to women whose drinking patterns didn't change.

Interestingly, cutting back on alcohol did not translate into improved odds in terms of either breast cancer or heart disease, the team team noted.

"We've known for a long time that alcohol consumption is related to breast cancer," said Sandon. "So this is not surprising, even if it is a conundrum in terms of heart health. But if you have risk factors for breast cancer in your family, perhaps drinking red wine is not a good choice," Sandon added.

"And there are better things you can do for heart health than drink," she said. Her suggestions: "Exercise, eat whole grains and stay at a healthy weight."

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Can How You Wear Your Hair Cause Hair Loss?

No one wants to lose their hair and fortunately, for many women, balding is entirely preventable. While 95 percent of hair loss in men is caused by male pattern baldness, which is largely hereditary, women lose hair for a wider variety of reasons, such as stress, childbirth, or taking certain birth control pills. Other types of female balding may be easier to control than previously thought, at least according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins researchers.

The new report published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that certain hairstyles increase a woman's risk of baldness and avoiding them can keep locks full and flowing.

"Hair is a cornerstone of self-esteem and identity for many people, but ironically, some hairstyles meant to improve our self-confidence actually lead to hair and scalp damage," said Crystal Aguh, study author and assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. What hairstyles are linked to baldness?

Not all hairstyles are created equal. 

According to researchers, styles that may lead to balding include braids, dreadlocks, weaves, tight ponytails, and extensions. They put more tension on the wearer's hair follicles, especially when the hair is tightly styled.

The exact mechanics of traction alopecia, which is what scientists call hair loss caused by tension to the hair root, is pretty simple. When hair is pulled back and stretched — like when a person styles their hair in a tight bun or braid — stress is carried down the hair shaft to the follicle. Put enough tension on the root for long enough and hair loss may start.

The risk of balding from traction alopecia can be enhanced by other styling decisions, too. Chemical straightening, coloring, frequent wig wearing, and other process that make your hair brittle can also put added strain on your hair and scalp, increasing the chances that a tight hairstyle will cause your hair to fall out according to the study.

So braids aren't okay?

It's not that simple, say researchers.

Tight hairstyles are usually fine, according to the study, but wearers need to be conscious of how frequently they wear their hair in these styles. Researchers advise that braids should be loosened every two to three months to give hair follicles a break, and styles that involve high levels of tension should be removed every six to eight weeks — like weaves and extensions. Black women were most likely to suffer from traction alopecia because such high-tension hairstyles are more commonly worn, with around one-third of Black women suffering some kind of hairstyle related hair loss.

Even if traction alopecia sets in, all isn't lost. Not only is this kind of hair loss entirely preventable, since it's caused by hairstyling decisions, but it's also often reversible — if patients seek early treatment from medical professionals.

"We have to do better as care providers to offer our patients proper guidance to keep them healthy from head to toe," Aguh said about the findings. "[S]imply telling patients to abandon [certain hairstyles] won't work for everyone. Instead, physicians can educate themselves to speak with patients about making the best hairstyling choices to minimize preventable hair loss."

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

7 Signs You Could Have Trichotillomania

Although it affects a small proportion of the population, trichotillomania is a relatively well-known disease. A quick Google search comes up with dozens of personal essays, support groups, and YouTube videos devoted to discussing compulsive hair-pulling. That being said, the signs of trichotillomania go beyond what most people understand about it; like many psychological disorders, there's more at play than the easily-recognized symptoms — in this case, hair-pulling. The irresistible urge to pull out your hair is the defining characteristic of trichotillomania, but there are a number of other behaviors needed to take it into disordered territory.

Trichotillomania is one of several disorders on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, which share some similarities with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Like OCD, trichotillomania is characterized by compulsions — specifically, the irresistible impulse to pull out hair. People usually focus on the scalp, but it's not uncommon to pull at eyebrows, eyelashes, or even pubic hair. In order to be considered trichotillomania, the Diagnositic Statistical Manual (DSM) 5 notes that the hair-pulling has to be so extensive that it causes hair loss, usually in the form of bald patches.

For some people, the action might be so automatic they don't realize they're doing it, while others may have specific rituals surrounding the hair-pulling. The disorder's specifics are different for everyone, but there are a number of signs to look out for. Let's examine a few below.

1. You Find Relief From Pulling Out Hair 

A central aspect of trichotillomania is the relief that comes from pulling out hair; this is sometimes preceded by a feeling of tension that can only be released by the behavior, especially if you're resisting the urge. (If you're familiar with OCD, you no doubt recognize this is pretty much the definition of defintion of a compulsion, although the tension felt with trichotillomania isn't necessarily anxiety.)

2. The Urge To Pick Is Uncontrollable

People with trichotillomania may try to resist the urge, but one of the criteria for the disorder is its uncontrollable nature — you might try to stop, but you can't without help.

3. You Develop Bald Spots 

As discussed above, the hair-pulling has to be so intense that it causes thinning or loss of hair entirely in the affected areas.

4. You Try To Hide It

Trichotillomania involves a sense of shame surrounding the hair-pulling, which causes many people to go to great lengths try to hide signs of the disorder, especially if bald spots start to form. However, the actions may become so automatic that some people with trichotillomania don't even realize they're pulling hair out.

5. It's Long-Lasting 

Trichotillomania is a chronic disorder that often, but not always, starts in childhood and continues to adulthood. Although it may improve or worsen throughout your life, trichotillomania is typically a chronic condition.

6. It Worsens With Stress

Researchers have noted many similarities between trichotillomanio and OCD — namely, the ritualistic nature of the actions and the feeling of relief upon performing them. Like those with OCD, the International OCD Foundation writes that people with trichotillomania may find their symptoms worsening during times of change, whether negative or positive.

7. It's Not Self-Harm 

It's easy to assume that hair-pulling stems from a desire to self-harm, but people with trichotillomania aren't usually trying to hurt themselves any more than someone who bites their nails. As the Trichotillomania Learning Center points out, the disorder resembles tics or rituals more than self-harm.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Personalized Breast Cancer Treatment Gets Closer to Reality

Breast cancer's distinctive genetic patterns could pave the way for more personalized treatment in the future.

New research adds fuel to the movement toward more personalized treatments for cancer.
In two corresponding studies published Monday in the journals Nature and Nature Communications, researchers sequenced the genomes of 560 breast cancers from people around the world and discovered five new genes that may spur breast cells to turn into breast cancer cells. The report marks the largest whole-genome sequencing study of a single cancer type.

“We wanted to be able to profile each cancer patient, to see if we could further our understanding of personal cancer genomes,” says lead study author Dr. Serena Nik-Zainal of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in an email to TIME.

The research team was also able to identify 13 gene mutation patterns, called mutational signatures. These signatures are imprints of the biological processes that go awry in cells when they turn into cancer, says Nik-Zainal. “We can pull all this data together—the genes and the mutation patterns in each patient—[to] determine the personalized genomic profile of each cancer patient and through comparing and contrasting these patients, learn a lot about individual patient cancers,” she says.

The researchers suggest that the distinctiveness of breast cancer profiles could eventually be used to identify other people with cancer with similar abnormalities.

In the study published in Nature Communications the researchers observed that the mutations that appear in cancer vary in terms of where they occur throughout the genome. “We know genetic changes and their position in the cancer genome influence how a person responds to a cancer therapy… This study both gave us the first large-scale view of the rest of the genome, uncovering some new reasons why breast cancer arises, and gave us an unexpected way to characterize the types of mutations that happen in certain breast cancers,” said study author Dr. Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute in a statement.

Nik-Zainal says the next step for the research is to use the genomic data in clinical trials to test different drugs. “I envision a future where we would all get our bits of tumor and biopsied tissue sequenced at the point of suspicion of cancer,” she says. “This should help us know all the important genes and all the important signatures that are present and give us critical clinical interpretation that then could help guide treatment options.”

She adds: “As we gather more a more data, we will learn more about each cancer and improve on our methods to treat everyone more efficiently and more effectively.”