Roundup: U.S. Premature Births Rise for First Time in 8 Years; Prostate Cancer Biopsies, Surgeries Decline 'Significantly'

The rate of premature births, or “preterm births,” in the United States increased in 2015 for the first time in eight years, according to new data. A new report by the March of Dimes also found that minorities are still seeing premature births at higher rates than the rest of the population.

Babies born too early face a higher risk of health complications that can last a lifetime.

The widening differences in prematurity rates across different races and ethnicities resulted in the United States earning a “C” grade in the organization’s 2016 March of Dimes Report Card. The state of Florida also received a “C” grade, registering a 10 percent preterm birth rate, according to the March of Dimes.

“The March of Dimes strives for a world where every baby has a fair chance, yet we see this is not the reality for many mothers and babies,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, in a statement. “Babies in this country have different chances of surviving and thriving simply based on the circumstances of their birth.”

The U.S. preterm birth rate increased from 9.57 percent to 9.63 percent in 2015, according to finalized data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

Across the country, preterm birth rates were nearly 48 percent higher among black women and more than 15 percent higher among American Indian/Alaska Native women, compared to white women.

Premature birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) is the leading cause of death of babies in the U.S. Babies who survive an early birth often face prolonged health issues that include breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays. “Americans lead the world in medical research and care, yet the

U.S. preterm birth rate still ranks near the bottom of high-resource nations,” said Dr. Edward R.B. McCabe, March of Dimes Chief Medical Officer.

The 2016 Premature Birth Report Card provides rates and grades for states and counties in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, based on NCHS data.

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Prostate Cancer Biopsies, Surgeries Decline ‘Significantly’

There have been “significantly” fewer prostate biopsies and surgeries over the past four years since a U.S. panel of experts issued new recommendations in 2012 that steered most men away from routine prostate cancer screenings using PSA testing, researchers reported this week.

Four years ago, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against screening men for prostate cancer using the PSA screening that is part of a man’s routine blood labs after the age of 50, or younger if there is a family history of prostate cancer. PSA stands for Prostate Specific Antigen. The recommendation does not apply to PSA testing for monitoring prostate cancer progression after diagnosis or treatment. However, the PSA has not proven reliable and it has resulted in thousands of men annually getting painful, invasive biopsies that may not have been necessary, the USPSTF said. Sometimes, high PSA readings that may be false or misleading are responsible for surgeries that can leave men impotent, incontinent or both.

The research findings released this week, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Surgery, shows that the new guidelines have indeed cut back on the number of procedures that men are undergoing.

“Following the 2012 USPSTF recommendation, prostate biopsy and RP (radical prostatectomy) volumes decreased significantly,” the new study found. “A panoramic vantage point is needed to evaluate the long-term consequences …”

There are now concerns that some men with dangerous cancers may go undiagnosed because of the ongoing debate over the PSA screening and early treatment options for prostate cancer. About 240,000 U.S. men are diagnosed every year with prostate cancer. The disease kills about 27,000 a year.

The USPSTF in 2012 said the PSA test found very few men with prostate cancer who needed treatment, and caused men to be needlessly treated for slow-growing prostate tumors that never would have harmed them.

“Following the USPSTF recommendation against prostate cancer screening, the use of screening PSA and and digital rectal examinations decreased substantially over the ensuing years,” researchers said in the study released this week. Because of the decline in using PSA screenings, and the potential ripple effect of fewer men being screened overall, “it is critical to examine the downstream effects of decreased PSA screening to inform future policy,” the study’s authors said.

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