Roundup: Saliva Test Could Help Detect Concussions in Young People

Researchers have found five molecules, called microRNAs, in saliva that could identify concussive symptoms in children, teens and young adults, according to a new study.

The findings focus on these microRNAs, or fragments of genetic material, that are easily detectable in blood, cerebrospinal fluid and saliva, according to the study’s researchers from Penn State College of Medicine.

A test that measures microRNAs in saliva was nearly 90 percent accurate in identifying children and adolescents who had concussion symptoms persisting for at least a month, according to the study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics. That compares to a concussion survey commonly used by doctors that was right less than 70 percent of the time.

As a result of the findings in the latest study, a saliva test may someday be able to diagnose a concussion and predict how long symptoms last, particularly in young people. Concussions most often affect children, teens and young adults who don’t usually demonstrate obvious symptoms.

Researchers noted that there were about 2.8 million traumatic brain injury-related ER visits, hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. in 2013, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly two-thirds of concussions take place in children and teens, the study’s authors emphasized. Many of the injuries are related to school-organized sports activities.

A concussion is caused by a blow to the head or body, a fall, or another injury that jars or shakes the brain inside the skull. The injury usually alters how the brain functions — for a relatively short period of time in most cases. You don’t have to pass out, or lose consciousness, to have a concussion.

If the saliva test pans out, “a pediatrician could collect saliva with a swab, send it off to the lab and then be able to call the family the next day,” Steven Hicks, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Penn State Hershey, told NPR.

The study’s authors also state: “The findings are promising, representing potential biomarkers for the diagnosis, recovery, and prognostic assessment of a sport-related concussion. Salivary microRNAs could also offer insights into the underlying biological mechanisms of injuries, potentially identifying specific targets to modify disease.”

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Should Overweight Women Be Screened for Breast Cancer More Frequently?

Women who are overweight or obese may benefit from breast cancer screenings more frequently than women who are not overweight, a new report by Swedish researchers indicates.

Overweight or obese women are at greater risk of having breast cancer detected after the tumor has grown — over 2 centimeters — than women who are not overweight, researchers also found.

The study looked at data pertaining to more than 2,000 Swedish women. All were aged 55 to 74. They were all diagnosed with invasive breast cancer between 2001 and 2008. The average BMI was 25.6. BMI is an estimate of body fat based on height and weight measurements. A BMI (body mass index) of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

For the Swedish study, the interval between screenings was up to two years. In the United States, the interval is usually about 12 months. The study found that having a BMI above 25 and having denser breast tissue were linked to higher odds of a large tumor at the time of a breast cancer diagnosis after a screening. Only BMI was associated with having a large tumor for “interval cancers,” which refer to breast cancers detected between regular cancer screenings.

Women with a BMI above 25 — with interval cancers — had a worse prognosis compared to women with a BMI under 25. A worse prognosis was defined as the cancer returning or spreading, or death from the cancer, researchers said. The study’s authors said that their findings may be more significant for women in the U.S., because the United States has a much higher obesity rate than Sweden.

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