This Week in Health: Cancer deaths decline

Cancer's numbers have gone down. Credit: Metro File
New ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat cancer have led to fewer deaths.
Credit: Metro Archive

Fewer cancer deaths, more survivors today

Location of study: U.S.

Study subjects: Data review

Results: There have been over one million fewer cancer deaths since 1990 and there are more than 13.7 million survivors alive today, according to the American Association for Cancer Research’s Cancer Progress Report 2013. The report cited biomedical research as significant in the lessening of the mortality rate, as well as better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat cancer. As far as potential new cancer treatments, the development of anticancer immunotherapies added to the improvement in cutting the mortality rate. Conversely, obesity and the continued use of tobacco products were cited as problem areas in cancer prevention.

Significance: “One person will die of cancer every minute of every day this year. This is unacceptable,” says Dr. Charles L. Sawyers, president of the AACR and chair of the human oncology and pathogenesis program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. “If we are to accelerate the pace of progress toward our goal, we must continue to pursue a comprehensive understanding of the biology of cancer. This will only be possible if we make funding for cancer research and biomedical science a national priority.”

New hope for AIDS patients

Location of study: U.S.

Study subjects: Monkeys

Results: A possible HIV/AIDS vaccine appears to completely clear an AIDS-causing virus from the body, according to researchers at Oregon Health & Science University. The vaccine was tested on a non-human primate form of HIV that causes AIDS in monkeys. The results were published early online by the journal Nature.

Significance: “To date, HIV infection has only been cured in a very small number of highly publicized but unusual clinical cases in which HIV-infected individuals were treated with anti-viral medicines very early after the onset of infection, or received a stem cell transplant to combat cancer,” says Dr. Louis Picker, associate director of the OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute. “This latest research suggests that certain immune responses elicited by a new vaccine may also have the ability to completely remove HIV from the body.”

More evidence that exercise works for depression

Location of study: U.K.

Study subjects: Meta-analysis of 2,326 people diagnosed with depression

Results: In a review of 35 trials, researchers saw moderate benefits of exercise as aiding treatment of depression and that it is as effective as psychological therapy or taking antidepressants, according to an updated systematic review published in The Cochrane Library. In a previous version, the Cochrane review found only limited evidence of benefit for exercise in depression. However, with more trials stronger evidence has emerged.

Significance: Though researchers weren’t sure how it works, exercise might initiate changing hormone levels that affect mood. Exercise can also provide a distraction from negative thoughts.

Those who can keep a beat might be better at reading and speaking

Location of study: U.S.

Study subjects: Over 100 teenagers

Results: People with a good sense of rhythm have more consistent brain responses to speech than those who have difficulty in keeping a beat, according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Previous research has found that keeping to a steady beat requires synchronization between the parts of the brain responsible for hearing and for movement. Researchers of this latest study at Northwestern University think that musical training could help the brain’s response to language.

Significance: “Rhythm is inherently a part of music and language,” says study author professor Nina Kraus. “It may be that musical training, with an emphasis on rhythmic skills, exercises the auditory system, leading to strong sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential in learning to read.”


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