Saturday, June 7, 2014

Screening prevents thousands of colorectal cancers

Have you ever had a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer? There are many horror stories around about the preparation for this test, but despite the discomfort, there's no doubt that screening colonoscopies do save lives.

A study published this month in the journal Cancer reports that screening data from 1987 to 2010 showed that more people 50 years old and over were undergoing screening colonoscopies (from 34.8% to 66.1%) and the incidence of colorectal cancer was dropping (from 118 cases per 100,000 population to 74 cases per 100,000 population). The authors added:

The incidence of early-stage colorectal cancer also decreased, from 77 to 67 cases per 100,000 population. After adjusting for underlying trends in cancer incidence, colorectal screening was associated with a reduction of approximately 550,000 cases of colorectal cancer over the past 3 decades in the United States.

Colorectal cancer screening recommendations are the same in the United States and Canada. Those at high risk of colorectal cancer normally should begin screening earlier, but in general, at age 50, people should either have their stool tested for blood, a sigmoidoscopy, or a colonoscopy. These tests should continue every two years until the age of 75. After 75, individuals should discuss with their physicians if they should continue screening and, if so, how often.

Why is age 50 the recommended year to begin screening? According to the CDC, 90% of colorectal cancers occur in people who are 50 years old or older. There are other factors that increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Non-modifiable factors include:

  • Family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps,
  • Personal history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps,
  • History of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, and
  • Genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).

Other risk factors are related to lifestyle and are often modifiable, which means you have some control:

  • Sedentary lifestyle, little regular physical activity.
  • Few fruits and vegetables in the diet,
  • A low-fiber and high-fat diet,
  • Being overweight or obese,
  • Excessive alcohol consumption,
  • Smoking.

Friday, June 6, 2014

June is ...... Awareness Month

It's become very common to log on to Facebook or check Twitter and discover, on any given day, that it's XX awareness month/week/day. There are so many that some people may wonder if these awareness times have any impact. I think they do.

Special times set aside for disease or condition awareness allow people and organizations to have a common goal or theme. By having a month dedicated to heart health (February), sepsis (September), or breast cancer (October), plans can be made for events that can have the maximum impact.

Having these awareness times also helps journalists and editors plan stories. It's a good way to bring lesser known illnesses to the pubic eye. For example, May was Huntington's Disease Awareness Month and May 12 was Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. Journalists wrote some stories about these illnesses, which in turn, helps raise awareness.

Some of these observances are world-wide, such as World AIDS Day, which is December 1, while others are specific to certain countries. The United States has a list of National Health Observances, as does Canada, for example. Many of these overlap.

So, what is coming for June? According to the NHO, in the U.S., we have:

And according to the Canadian observances, we have:


June 1 to June 7
June 2 to June 8
June 5

What do you think about health awareness dates? Do you think they serve a purpose?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Exercise benefits seniors - did we need a study for this?

A press release for a study published last week was titled, "Keeping active pays off even in your 70s and 80s." The release goes on to tell us that a study done in the U.K. found that older people who exercise for at least 25 minutes per day (moderate to vigorous) took fewer medications and were less likely have an unplanned (emergency) hospital admission.

While this sounds interesting, is it surprising? People who exercise regularly are generally healthier than those who don't. People who exercise are generally getting out of the house and experiencing social interaction. Exercise helps you maintain good balance, which reduces falls. Exercise also help you maintain an appetite and your gastrointestinal system seems to work more effectively (bringing to mind the evening "constitutionals," or walks that so many people enjoy after dinner). Why would this be any different for people over the age of 70 years?

Exercise should always be tailored to each individual. There is a big push for moderate to vigorous exercise, but not everyone can do it. When this message gets too strong, some people may feel that if they can't go to the gym for a cardio or spinning class, they might as well forego the whole thing. But for many, a tai chi class may be just the thing. Or a leisurely swim a few times a week. It's not heavy aerobics or vigorous exercise, but it might be just enough to keep the body as limber as possible, help maintain balance - and equally important - get people out of the house.

There was even a study several years ago that showed that the physical activity from interactive games, such as with the Wii system, was very helpful for people in long-term care facilities. Is it ideal? Maybe not, but any exercise that can be done safely and is appealing, is better than nothing.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Online health quizzes - worth taking?

A couple of online health quizzes have been making the news lately - one claims to predict the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease and the other says it can predict the chances of you becoming ill later in life. Are these quizzes worth taking? Are they helpful at all?

Quizzes are popular. Take a look at Facebook on any given day and you can find quizzes to identify what rock star you might be, or what TV parent you are most like. You can learn about what color, flower, or food you are. But these are harmless, fun quizzes - what about the health quizzes that claim to tell you how long you are going to live?

We can't deny that the possibility of developing Alzheimer's disease or any type of cognitive (mental) impairment worries many of us. The idea of losing our memory and not being able to manage with every day activities is frightening. But at this point, we can't really tell who will and who will not lose their memory.

Researchers from Baycrest Health Services in Toronto, Canada, developed the Cogniciti's Brain Health Assessment, that takes about 20 to 25 minutes to complete. The developers claim that their test is superior to others on the Internet because it was based on a study of 400 people. When you complete the study, your results show you how well you did compared with others your age and with your level of education. Will this test predict your memory loss risk? No, but it may reassure you if you were worried that you were losing your memory.

A word of caution. People who are not online savvy may find quizzes like this and be duped into buying products that are supposed to help you minimize or prevent memory loss. If you are looking for quizzes to do, you should not have to provide identifying information and you should not be asked to buy a product. Look for educational websites, from hospitals or universities, or registered organizations to be safest. (Silver surfers targeted)

The second one making the news is the Ontario Life Expectancy Calculator. This quiz asks about your lifestyle and habits and it calculates how long you might live based on your responses. According to the quiz, I should be fairly healthy and live to the age of 93.5 years. Good, that gives me some time yet but I still will look both ways before crossing the street and wear my bike helmet. The goal of these types of quizzes, such as the life expectancy ones, is likely to have the quiz taker look at the results and try to improve on the modifiable lifestyle factors.

If you like to take these types of quizzes, PsychCentral has a whole collection of them that range from serious topics, like suicide risk, to a Facebook intensity quiz.

What do you think of health-related quizzes?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bilingualism helps aging brains

Many of us are lucky, living in countries where more than one language is spoken. I live in Montreal, Canada - in the province of Quebec, which is majority French. It isn't unusual to get in an elevator or stand in line at a store, and hear people effortlessly switching back and forth between French and English. I've also been witness to, and party of, two people speaking in French to each other, only to realize after a while, that both participants are native-English speakers.

There have been studies about child development among children who are exposed to more than one language and the consensus seems to be that learning more than one language is generally advantageous on many development levels. And now there has been a study on the other side of the spectrum.

How does knowing more than one language affect older people?

According to a study published this week in the Annals of Neurology, older adults who speak at least two languages seem to have a slower cognitive decline (loss of memory) than those who are monolingual, or speak only one language. And interestingly, the second language didn't have to be learned when they were children.

This study, done at the University of Edinburg in Scotland, looked at 835 native English speakers who had been born in the Edinburgh area in 1936. The participants took an intelligence test when they were 11 years old, and the participants were tested again when they were in their early 70s. Of the 835 participants, 195 had learned a second language as a child and 65 had as an adult.

The findings of the study showed that those who spoke more than one language, no matter when the language was learned, generally performed better than those who spoke only one language.

The study's lead author, Dr. Thomas Bak, said in a press release:

The Lothian Birth Cohort offers a unique opportunity to study the interaction between bilingualism and cognitive aging, taking into account the cognitive abilities predating the acquisition of a second language. These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain."

What is the take away? It's never too late to learn another language and aside from the wonderful things you can learn by speaking another language, there's a good chance it will benefit you even later in life.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Push yourself - you may be surprised at what you can do

Yesterday, June 1, the city of Montreal hosted its 30th annual bike tour, the Tour de l'Ile. The neighbourhoods change from year to year, so it's a great opportunity to cycle through areas you may not normally see. There are choices to do the regular 25 or 50 km rides, or you can do faster and longer rides. The most popular is the 50 km ride, where you can go at your own pace on city streets that have been closed for bike traffic.

I was supposed to do this bike tour last year with my oldest son, in celebration of my then-almost-one year effort in trying to get fit. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible and while the event wasn't cancelled, I chose not to participate because the whole idea was for it to be fun - and the idea of riding any number of kilometres in the rain, let alone 50 of them, just didn't appeal to me. But the

weather yesterday was spectacular. I did the tour with my son and his girlfriend, along with over 25,000 participants who took to their bikes. Countless of volunteers helped in many ways, from first aid for the human body to first aid (mechanical repairs) for your bike.

Everyone was smiling, everyone was having a good time. There were babies in bike trailers, and I saw a woman who had to have been in her 70s - if not older. Bystanders stood on sidewalks, balconies, and cross streets, cheering us on. Some young entrepreneurs even set up lemonade stands.

I wasn't sure I could do this. 50 km is a long ride - it's about 31 miles. Because of a back injury, I was on a gym embargo for a few months as we strengthened my back and abdominal muscles, so I was afraid I wouldn't have the stamina to finish the course. I was nervous that my legs wouldn't be strong enough - I didn't have confidence in myself. To be honest, I did feel that I would finish, but I thought I'd be a mess: sore, tired, wobbly, and very, very crabby. But I was none of the above. I admit that one steep long hill made me question my sanity. But I cycled past many who chose to walk it. Maybe I should have too, but I was determined to do this whole route on two wheels. A very quick stop at the top to sip some water had me right back on track.

The point I'm trying to make is that we often feel that we might not be able to accomplish something because it's so outside our normal every day lives. Before this, the farthest I had ever cycled (since I was in my early 20s) was about 20 km last year so I wondered why did I think that I could even do this? But I did do it. And that is what counts. And I feel great.

I'm looking forward to seeing where next year's route will be.

Is there something that you have been wanting to do? Something that seemed beyond your reach? Do you think that there may be a way to give it a try?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Blogathon 2014

For the past couple of years, I have participated in a blogathon, meant to encourage bloggers to post every day throughout the month. The goal is to post every day, but a secondary goal for many of us is to help showcase other bloggers who are participating as well. By sharing our collective talent, our own readers may discover new blogs that they find informative and/or entertaining.

Bloggers of all types participate in this blogathon. Some are, like I am, health writers, but there are bloggers whose blogs are about food, science, finance, writing, and more. I'll be linking to a few of them throughout the month and maybe we'll be doing a guest post exchange, as we have in previous years.

So, stay tuned for the next 29 days and see what health news I can dig up and share with you all.