Health Advice



Cancer Deaths Are Down -- And Up

Scott LaFee on

Overall, cancer deaths continue to decline, but the news isn't universally good. Between 2001 and 2018, lung cancer deaths steeply declined, as did rates for melanoma, female breast and colorectal cancers.

Cancer incidence rates are higher for men, but increasing among women. Black people have lower rates of cancer incidence than white people, but higher mortality rates.

Cancer rates among children are climbing, as are rates for cancers such as leukemia, brain and lymphoma.

Bringing Better Health With Them

Recent immigrants to the U.S. are less likely to have chronic health conditions than other demographic groups, according to new research. Roughly one-third of immigrants who have been in the U.S. less than five years reported excellent health, and 42% of those in the country longer than five years. By comparison, just 27% of U.S.-born adults said they were in excellent health.

Regardless of U.S. citizenship status, immigrants tended to have lower rates of hypertension, heart disease and asthma compared to U.S.-born residents. They were also less likely to have health insurance or regular medical care.

Body of Knowledge

The human body is covered in stripes called Blaschko's Lines, which are typically invisible. They are consistently V-shaped on the upper spine, S-shaped on the abdomen, inverted U-shaped from the breast area to the upper arm, and perpendicular down the front and back of the lower extremities. They are artifacts of the pathways of epidermal cell migration and proliferation during fetal development.

Named after the German dermatologist Alfred Blaschko, who first described them.

Get Me That, Stat!

Menthol cigarette smokers have a harder time quitting. New data shows that smoking menthols decreases the likelihood of smokers being able to quit for a year by 53%, and 28% for quitting for just one month.


34.5: Percentage of American adults who have not visited a dentist in at least a year

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Stories for the Waiting Room

A diagnosis of HIV used to be considered a looming death sentence, but new data shows the mortality gap closing between persons with HIV and the general population.

The five-year mortality risk among HIV patients entering care between 1999 and 2004 was 14.5%, but dropped to 5% between 2011 and 2017. The general population's five-year mortality risk between 1999 and 2005 was almost 3.5%, down to roughly 2% between 2011 and 2017.

Doc Talk

Arrector pili: The small muscle associated with individual hair follicles that enables hair to stand on end

Phobia of the Week

Nyctophobia: Fear of darkness, also called achluophobia, lygophobia and scotophobia


"You know you've reached middle age when you're cautioned to slow down by your doctor, instead of by the police." -- Comedian Joan Rivers (1933-2014)

Medical History

This week in 1899, the first American automobile fatality resulted when Henry H. Bliss, 69, was run over as he alighted from a streetcar at Central Park West and 74th Street in New York City. He stepped into the path of an approaching taxicab driven by Arthur Smith. Bliss was taken to the hospital, where he died of injuries sustained. Smith was arrested and charged with manslaughter, but acquitted on the grounds that he had no malice and was not negligent.


Perishable Publications

Many, if not most, published research papers have titles that defy comprehension. They use specialized jargon, complex words and opaque phrases such as "nonlinear dynamics." Sometimes they don't, and yet, they're still hard to figure out. Here's an actual title of a published research study: "Chemical processes in the deep interior of Uranus."

OK, the authors are physicists, and the paper, published in 2011 in the prestigious journal "Nature Communications," is seriously about magnetic fields surrounding distant plants, but really, they didn't see the, uh, humor of their title?


Match these 18th century terms for illnesses with their modern-day names.

No. 1: Bad blood

No. 2: Softening of the brain

No. 3: Falling sickness

No. 4: King's evil

No. 5: Congestive chills

A) Malaria

B) Scrofula (a swelling of the glands)

C) Encephalomalacia

D) Epilepsy

E) Syphilis

Answers: 1-E; 2-C; 3-D; 4-B; 5-A.

Med School

Q: What is the difference between a sprain and a strain?

A: A sprain is the stretching or tearing of ligaments -- tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones together in joints. Ankle sprains are the most common. A strain involves an injury to a muscle or to the band of tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone. The conditions are often confused because the injuries are very similar, with some common symptoms (limited flexibility, swelling and pain around the affected joint). Sprains typically involve bruising while strains may feature muscle spasms.

Last Words

"How did the Mets do today?" -- Major League Baseball catcher and World War II spy Moe Berg (1902-1972). The Mets won that day.


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