NEWS BLOG from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Archive for January, 2017

Our Biggest Cancer Win is Threatened

Dr. Stanley Marks, chairman of the UPMC CancerCenter

One of the cancer community’s biggest “wins” in the past decade has been shifting public attitudes about smoking cigarettes. It’s now widely viewed as an unpleasant activity that isn’t appropriate in most indoor public settings.

Smoking is no longer “normal,” and our youth smoking rates reflect that. High school smoking rates now hover at less than 6 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

E-cigarettes threaten that hard-earned victory, and that’s why we need the Allegheny County Council to pass the regulation proposed by its health experts to limit e-cigarette use in public indoor spaces.

The regulation before the council doesn’t ban the use of e-cigarettes by adults. It simply gives reasonable protection to people who don’t wish to be exposed to the toxins emitted by these cigarette-mimicking devices and, in turn, limits the renormalization of smoking.

My colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that nonsmokers who started smoking e-cigarettes were nearly four times as likely as their peers who didn’t vape to start smoking traditional cigarettes within the next year – even when they had responded “definitely no” when previously asked if they would smoke a traditional cigarette.

We believe this is, in part, because the act of vaping is so similar to smoking and the nicotine so addictive that the act of smoking is being renormalized. Young people also report being attracted to e-cigarettes due to the fruit flavors, the perception that they are safe and the permissiveness of policies. This is why policy holes need to be filled by the proposed regulation.

In addition, studies have shown that e-cigarettes do give off toxins – possibly as many or even more than regular cigarettes. And, they are definitely associated with second-hand toxin inhalation.

County residents and their children shouldn’t have to inhale e-cigarette toxins when they go out to eat or watch a movie, and they certainly shouldn’t have to inhale it in their workplaces.

I support the proposed e-cigarette regulation before Allegheny County Council, and I ask that anyone who feels similarly contact their council members and voice support.

Dr. Marks is chairman of the UPMC CancerCenter

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Detecting Alzheimer’s Disease in its Earliest Stages

Representation of the molecular structure of the tau protein. Credit: European Bioinformatics Institute

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in collaboration with the University of Chile and the International Center for Biomedicine have developed a blood test that could potentially detect Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages, even before symptoms emerge.

Alzheimer’s disease is a serious neurodegenerative disease affecting millions of lives annually. To date, 5.4 million Americans are affected by the disease, and over 96 percent of those affected are 65 years old or older. Typically, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s develop slowly and worsen over time. Therefore, it’s crucial to detect the disease in its early stages in order to delay disease progression.

The test, which needs to be evaluated in a larger population, has provided a promising new approach to detect Alzheimer’s even before symptoms emerge.

Dr. Oscar Lopez and Dr. James Becker of the Pitt School of Medicine, co-directors of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, led the efforts in Pittsburgh. The research in Chile was led by Dr. Ricardo Maccioni and Dr. Andrea Slachevsky of the University of Chile Faculty of Medicine

The international research team first developed the test by measuring tau, an important brain protein that can lead to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers measured levels of pathological and normal forms tau proteins in a small group of patients and correlated the ratio of the two with the state of disease.

The team found that higher ratios of abnormal tau to normal tau were found in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when compared with normal study participants. More specifically, high ratios were shown to correlate with lower brain volume in areas important in cognitive ability.

This technology is a step forward in using biomarkers to understand the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the researchers. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.


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UPMC Statement on Patient Care Environment


UPMC cannot comment on these allegations; however, we continue to work closely with health officials to ensure the safest possible environment for patient care.

We continue to be transparent with federal and state health regulators and we shared all our findings with them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pennsylvania Department of Health were unable to determine a definitive source for the fungal infections. Despite the lack of a definitive source, UPMC still went above and beyond state and federal recommendations in order to implement changes to protect our patients.  One of the many changes includes the provision of specially treated bioburden-reduced linens to our highest risk transplant patients. In addition, UPMC has shared our evidence-based findings and actions with our peer health institutions to encourage them to examine their protocols.

It is important to remember that the mold that caused these infections is common in all environments and does not cause illness in anyone except for those with the most severely compromised immune systems. UPMC treats the sickest of the sick amongst the transplant population, including patients in need of a transplant that other medical centers won’t perform. In transplant patients with suppressed immune systems these fungal infections are infrequent, but do occur at most major transplant centers without any discernable source.

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More Women at Risk of Dying from Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer hit the news this week in two significant reports, with one finding that more women are at risk of dying from cervical cancer than originally thought.

A new study published this week online in Cancer found women who had their cervix removed or underwent a hysterectomy were never included in previous studies. With them now in the mix, researchers found a 47-percent increased chance of death from cervical cancer among white women, and a 77 percent increase in the risk factor among black women.

“Women with early stage cervical cancer tend to be treated with surgery, while those with late stage cervical cancer are treated with radiation,” said Dr. Robert Edwards, UPMC gynecologist and principle investigator of the Gynecologic Oncology Group for the University of Pittsburgh. “By including both groups, we have a more realistic view of cervical cancer deaths.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer were reported in the United States last year and there were more than 4,000 deaths. These are deaths that could be prevented with two screenings – the human papillomavirus vaccine and routine pap smear tests, Edwards said.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. and has been shown to cause cervical cancer. This vaccine is now recommended for teens and preteens prior to them becoming sexually active. For adult women, it’s the annual pap smear test.

That’s how ESPN sportscaster and ABC-TV “Dancing with the Stars” co-host Erin Andrews discovered that she had cervical cancer.

One day after the new study was released, Andrews revealed her diagnosis. In national news interviews she said she acted quickly and went from diagnosis to surgery, and returned to the NFL sidelines in less than two weeks.

Edwards said having Andrews talk openly about cervical cancer creates a new awareness that he hopes will lead to more women seeking screenings.

“This study tells us we need to do a better job of engaging minorities in cervical cancer screenings,” said Edwards. “There are access and trust issues that need to be addressed so that we can make these screening tests available, and more minority women will actually have them.”

Cervical cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death among women.

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