Roundup: Eliminating Cervical Cancer; Social Media’s Impact on Teen Health; and Shingles Vaccine Update

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February 14, 2020


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Cervical Cancer in U.S. Could Be Nearly Eliminated by 2038 or Sooner, Researchers Say

It’s well established that cervical cancer is one of the most highly preventable diseases in the U.S. Now researchers say that cervical cancer could be nearly eliminated in the U.S. in about 20 years — or sooner — if 90 percent of eligible women are screened, a new study indicates.

The disease could be eradicated or become very rare by either 2038 or 2046, according to two computer models used by the researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. These models help researchers convert data into actual forecasts related to the incidence of diseases. Rates of cervical cancer in the U.S. have dropped by more than 50 percent since 1975 to 2015, in larged part to increased screenings.

The study, published in the journal, The Lancet Public Health, estimates that cervical cancer could be eliminated by as early as 2038, based on current rates of vaccination and pap smear screenings. Ensuring that 90 percent of women receive their screenings on schedule could cut that milestone by a decade to either 2028 or 2036.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). In recent years, scientists have developed vaccines that can prevent infection from most of these strains. HPV vaccinations have already dramatically lowered the risk of cervical and other cancers linked to the virus.

In 2016, the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ACOG) revised recommendations for cervical cancer screenings, lowering the age to begin at age 21, and earlier for women who are younger than 21 and infected with HIV.

The American Cancer Society projects that about 13,800 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2020. And about 4,290 women will die from cervical cancer.

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Social Media, Smartphones Increasingly Affecting Mental Health of Teens, Review of Studies Finds

Research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal finds that social media use can raise the risk of mental distress, self-harm and even suicide among teenagers. More than two hours of social media use daily is linked to higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts in girls, researchers found.

The research was based on a review of several studies. In just one of the studies, girls reported having negative feelings about themselves after 10 minutes of browsing Facebook. The risk increases with the amount of time spent on social media sites.

The effects of overusing social media, especially via smartphones, is well documented by the study.

The study states that “high proportions of youth engage in heavy smartphone use and media multitasking, with resultant chronic sleep deprivation, and negative effects on cognitive control, academic performance and socioemotional functioning.”

In the U.S., the proportion of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 years who have a smartphone has hit 89 percent, more than doubling over a six-year period, the study says. Additionally, 70 percent of teenagers use social media multiple times daily, up from about 33 percent of teens in 2012.

There is a need for public awareness campaigns and policy initiatives that “promote nurturing home and school environments” to “foster resilience as youth navigate the challenges of adolescence in today’s world,” urge researchers.

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Shingles Vaccination Could Lower Stroke Risk for Those 66 and Older, New Research Finds

Shingles, a painful bout of rashes and blisters caused by the chickenpox virus, can also increase a person’s risk of stroke. However, seniors who get the shingles vaccine may gain have a reduced risk of stroke as an added bonus, a new study suggests.

The new research, which will be presented next week at the annual American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2020 in Los Angeles, found that the shingles vaccine’s protection was highest for those ages 66 to 79. In those patients, stroke risk dropped 20 percent after vaccination. Among patients older than 80, stroke risk was cut by about 10 percent.

Researchers reviewed Medicare records for more than 1 million patients over the age 66. All received the shingles vaccine between 2008 and 2014. Stroke incidence was tracked for four years after vaccination.

“Approximately 1 million people in the United States get shingles each year, yet there is a vaccine to help prevent it,” said lead researcher, Quanhe Yang, senior scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a statement. “Our study results may encourage people ages 50 and older to follow the recommendation and get vaccinated against shingles. You are reducing the risk of shingles, and at the same time, you may be reducing your risk of stroke.”

In severe cases, shingles can lead to strokes, spinal cord injuries, loss of vision and encephalitis. The shingles virus is active in anyone who has had chickenpox. Once an episode of chickenpox ends, the varicella-zoster virus remains in nerve tissue inactively and can resurface years later as shingles.

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