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This Week in the British Medical Journal: Mar 2, 2011


In the British Medical Journal this week, a team of researchers report results of a cohort study to examine the association between smoking and the risk of invasive breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Nearly 80,000 women were enrolled, and the researchers found that compared with women who had never smoked, breast cancer risk was elevated by 9 percent among former smokers and 16 percent among current smokers. "Active smoking was associated with an increase in breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women. There was also a suggestion of an association between passive smoking and increased risk of breast cancer," the authors write.

Also in the British Medical Journal this week, medical oncologist Michael Crawford says the UK still needs more resources to diagnose cancer. The poor survival of people with colorectal cancer in the UK is associated with a later stage of the disease at diagnosis than in comparable countries, Crawford says. "Timeliness of diagnosis is a defining characteristic of high quality cancer care, and higher stage at diagnosis means that the UK is diagnosing bowel cancer late, not that others are diagnosing it early," he adds.

The University of Newcastle's Ray Moynihan reviews Over-diagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health this week. The book posits that some patients are being "overdiagnosed" with conditions that will never cause symptoms or result in death, and that the treatments may do them more harm than good. The best known example of this is prostate cancer, Moynihan says. "Concern has been widespread for years that mass screening programs may cause many men to be given a diagnosis and treated unnecessarily, sometimes with highly invasive and harmful procedures," he adds.

And finally, Ned Stafford eulogizes Arthur Schatzkin, the researcher who discovered that high fiber diets don't prevent colorectal cancer. His study caused clinicians to rethink the dietary suggestions they gave to patients, and he helped form a database that "has led to at least 100 scientific papers and continues to be used by nutrition and cancer researchers worldwide," Stafford says. Schatzkin died from brain cancer in January of this year.

The Scan

And For Adolescents

The US Food and Drug Administration has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for children between the ages of 12 and 15 years old.

Also of Concern to WHO

The Wall Street Journal reports that the World Health Organization has classified the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.617 as a "variant of concern."

Test for Them All

The New York Times reports on the development of combined tests for SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses like influenza.

PNAS Papers on Oral Microbiome Evolution, Snake Toxins, Transcription Factor Binding

In PNAS this week: evolution of oral microbiomes among hominids, comparative genomic analysis of snake toxins, and more.