Health Highlights: Sept. 8, 2014

Health Highlights: Sept. 8, 2014

Health Highlights: Sept. 8, 2014

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Study Backs Routine Cancer Gene Testing for Many Jewish Women

Routine screening for breast and ovarian cancer-causing gene mutations should be offered to all women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, say the authors of a new study.

They found that women of Ashkenazi descent who tested positive for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations during random screening had high rates of breast and ovarian cancer even if they had no family history of the diseases, The New York Times reported.

Many of the participants would never have known they had the cancer-causing gene mutations if not for the genetic screening done as part of the study, the researchers said.

Most Jews in the United States are of Ashkenazi descent.

"This should be offered as a universal screening test," said study senior author Dr. Ephrat Levy-Lahad, director of the Medical Genetics Institute at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, The Times reported.

"We should be testing people who are still healthy at a stage when we can prevent the disease," Levy-Lahad added. "And we don't have many diseases with a mutation that so clearly affects risk as BRCA."

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Current standard practice is to screen women for these mutations only if many women in their family have had cancer. In some cases, genetic tests are conducted only after a woman has been diagnosed with cancer, The Times reported.

The new findings are "thought provoking" but routine screening for BRCA mutations in the United States had "not been on the table" and would require careful and extensive discussion, according to Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.

The study "will raise questions among Ashkenazi Jewish women and men about what they should do personally, and that's a very difficult question to answer," he told The Times. "People who think they should be tested really need to be appropriately counseled about the potential benefits and the potential risks."

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A Suicide Every 40 Seconds: WHO

A suicide occurs somewhere in the world every 40 seconds, according to a World Health Organization report.

An analysis of 10 years of data and research from around the world revealed that about 800,000 people kill themselves every year, and that suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 29, BBC News reported.

The report also said that people older than 70 are most likely to commit suicide, and that three times as many men as women die by suicide in richer countries.

Suicide is a "major public health problem," said the WHO, which wants to cut the global suicide rate by 10 percent by 2020. However, it also noted that only 28 countries have a national suicide prevention strategy, BBC News reported.

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