Welcome to this week’s medical news round up! In our latest edition, we bring you the healthcare topics that have been under the microscope over the past week, just in time for your med school applications.
Joining us this week: a blood test for detecting Alzheimer’s disease, migrant health risks and cervical screening.
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As we’ve heard in recent medical news, Alzheimer’s disease starts to develop decades before we see the devastating symptoms, so the focus of current research is on early detection and treatment.
A new blood test can now detect levels of a protein called neurofilament light chain (NfL), which scientists have identified as a useful marker for Alzheimer’s disease.
The research team followed participants both with and without a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s and measured their NfL levels.
The study concluded that levels of NfL became markedly different up to 16 years before symptoms were expected to be seen. On average, differences in NfL became apparent 6.8 years before symptoms actually developed, with the peak just before symptoms appeared.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, but this protein will allow researchers to test the effect of new drugs in the hope of developing a treatment.
A third of those living with dementia in the UK do not have a diagnosis, so there is an ever-growing need for accurate and early methods of detection.
Although NfL shows promise, according to medical news shows there are concerns its levels can be increased with brain injury and multiple sclerosis. With an ageing population with multiple co-morbidities, it is questionable how helpful this marker will be for such individuals.
Question to think about- Which health and social resources do you think are most important for our ageing population?
In other medical news, WHO Europe suggest that although migrants are at risk of falling ill whilst in transit to other countries, they also face more danger when they arrive, due to unhealthy diets, living conditions and obesity epidemics.
The report suggests that migrants and refugees are at greater risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease when they move to more developed countries. They are also more likely to experience depression and anxiety.
Migrants and refugees make up 10% of the population covered by WHO Europe, much less than many citizens estimate. There is also criticism for nations such as the UK for charging some migrants and refugees for health care.
The topic of migrants and healthcare is often a political weapon, used to provoke emotion and fear. However, this report shows that the number of migrants and therefore the demand on health services is a lot less than many estimate.
In the UK, those outside the European Economic Area who stay for more than 3 months must pay £150-£200 to use the NHS. The government claims this will combat ‘health tourism’. However, WHO argue that free healthcare is the best way to protect the health of those in host nations and new arrivals.
Question to think about- What is you opinion on charging patients for healthcare?
Read: Migrant Entitlement to NHS Services (Very good summary of definitions, laws and issues!)
Cervical screening, or a smear test, has now become synonymous with embarrassment, pain and fear. These negative connotations have led to the numbers of women attending their routine smear test plummeting.
The numbers of young women avoiding screening is of particular concern, as only 65% of those under 35 attended their last appointment. The primary issue appears to be embarrassment, with 72% of young women delaying or never attending screening for this reason.
All women between 25 and 64 received a routine invite for screening. The aim is to reduce the number of women developing and suffering from cervical cancer. Since the introduction of the programme in the 1980’s, the number of cervical cases has dropped by 7% each year.
It is frightening to think that because of embarrassment, millions of women are missing potentially life-saving screening. According to statistics in the medical news, 5 million women are currently overdue for their test.
The fear of pain, embarrassment and general intrusion is completely understandable, but with the right information, may be eased or even eradicated. Most smear tests are not painful but may be uncomfortable, it takes a matter of minutes and staff try their best to make the procedure as dignified, private and comfortable as possible.
Embarrassment is a more difficult issue, as the problem is deeply rooted in society. A larger social movement may be required, towards body positivity and away from teaching young girls to be embarrassed, frightened or ashamed of the intimate parts of their bodies.
Question to think about- How do can we boost the number of women attending cervical screening?
Words: Katie Burrell
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