Today’s Headlines: Mammograms, Surgery Problems and HPV

Regular mammography with ultrasound unreliable for dense breasts.  The medical community has long struggled to effectively screen women with dense breast tissue for breast cancer. That’s because dense tissue is harder to see through, making it easier for cancer to hide from view. In the past, the solution had been to supplement the mammographic view with an ultrasound of suspicious areas. But “new research suggests that for women with dense breasts, conventional mammography supplemented by an ultrasound scan is a costly addition unlikely to improve detection or reduce breast-cancer deaths. But compared with conventional mammography alone, 3-D mammography, also called tomosynthesis, does increase the likelihood of detecting cancer in women with dense breasts.” The results come from two studies, neither of which compared 3-D mammography directly with mammography plus ultrasound. While ultrasound had been thought to help visualize worrisome spots on mammograms, one of the studies found that “sonogram scans frequently turn up false positives, prompting many women to undertake the risk, cost and inconvenience of having a breast biopsy when they either do not have breast cancer or have forms of cancer that will not ultimately threaten their lives.” (LA Times)

Problems after surgery best dealt with at the same hospital. While most who undergo surgery heal well without trouble, some experience problems. For many reasons, those who have complications may end up in a hospital different from the one where they had surgery. But new research says complications are best dealt with at the hospital where the surgery was done. According to the research, “patients who went to a hospital that didn’t do the original operation for treatment of a complication have a higher risk of death. Even when the team accounted for how sick patients were, what type of hospital they went to, and how far they traveled for care, they still found that patients had higher mortality rates when they had post-operative care at a different facility.” The research team thinks this is because the new care team doesn’t know much about the patient or the surgery that was done, causing them to take longer to figure out what’s going on. They may not even specialize in the kind of surgery performed. One physician noted that this shows the importance of planning at the hospital. “Patients shouldn’t leave the hospital without a follow-up appointment scheduled and clear directions on who to call for help when complications arise.” (Fox)

HPV vaccine doesn’t increase risky sex. The HPV vaccine blocks infection from most strains of the HPV virus responsible for most cases of cervical cancer among women. Some initial concern had arisen that this might make some girls and young women feel safer engaging in risky sexual behavior. Not so according to a new study that is the largest to date. “Teen girls in the study who were vaccinated against HPV were no more likely to become pregnant or contract another sexually transmitted infection (STI) than girls who were not vaccinated. Using health databases in Ontario, the researchers studied more than 128,000 girls, half of whom were eligible for the vaccine in school. The other half had gone through grade 8 before the vaccine was offered. In grades 10 through 12, more than 10,000 of the girls became pregnant, and 6,000 contracted an STI. But the girls who had been vaccinated were no more or less likely to experience pregnancy or an STI than those who had not been vaccinated.” (Reuters)