According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer accounted for 10 million deaths worldwide in 2020. Globally, it is a leading cause of death.

In the United States, an estimated 39.5% of people will receive a cancer diagnosis within their lifetime.

Myths tend to develop around particularly prevalent conditions. It is no surprise, therefore, that people often misunderstand cancer.

“Cancer” is a generic term for a group of diseases that can affect any part of the body. This variety adds fuel to the fire of confusion.

In this article, we hope to dispel some myths and clarify this common and varied group of diseases.

1. Cancer is a death sentence

Cancer is not a death sentence. Despite the sobering statistics quoted above, cancer is not always terminal.

As scientists understand cancer better and develop improved treatments, recovery rates continue to improve.

For instance, in January 2019, an estimated 16.9 million cancer survivors were living in the United States. In the United Kingdom, survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years.

It is also worth noting that survival rates vary significantly depending on the type of cancer. For instance, in the U.K., survival rates for testicular cancer are 98%, whereas survival rates for pancreatic cancer are just 1%.

According to the National Cancer Institute:

“In the United States, the likelihood of dying from cancer has dropped steadily since the 1990s. Now, 5-year survival rates for some cancers, such as breast, prostate, and thyroid cancers, are 90% or better. The 5-year survival rate for all cancers combined is currently about 67%.”

Overall, cancer death rates are slowly declining, although the survival rates of some cancers are increasing more than others. An annual report on the status of cancer in the U.S., which appears in Cancer in 2020, concludes:

“[C]ancer death rates decreased 1.5% on average per year during 2001 through 2017.”

2. Cancer is contagious

This is a myth. Cancer is not contagious. Someone with cancer cannot spread it to others.

However, some sexually transmitted diseases, including human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B and C, can cause cancers in the cervix and the liver. In these cases, an infectious agent causes the cancer, but the cancer itself is not contagious.

As an interesting aside, scientists have documented that cancers in some animals, including Tasmanian devils and dogs, can cause fatal transmissible cancers: devil facial tumor disease and canine transmissible venereal tumor, respectively.

3. Cell phones cause cancer

To date, there is no evidence that cell phones cause cancer. One of the reasons this myth developed is that these devices emit radiofrequency radiation (radio waves), a form of non-ionizing radiation. The body absorbs this radiation.

Scientists know that exposure to ionizing radiation, for instance, X-rays, increases the risk of cancer. However, radiofrequency radiation is non-ionizing radiation, which does not increase cancer risk. The National Cancer Institute writes:

“[A]lthough many studies have examined the potential health effects of non-ionizing radiation from radar, microwave ovens, cell phones, and other sources, there is currently no consistent evidence that non-ionizing radiation increases cancer risk in humans.”

4. Power lines cause cancer

This is also a myth. The extremely low frequency (ELF) magnetic fields produced by power lines are non-ionizing and, therefore, do not cause cancer.

The American Cancer Society writes:

“Several large studies have looked at the possible effects of ELF magnetic fields on cancer in rats and mice. These studies expose the animals to magnetic fields much stronger than what people are normally exposed to at home […]. Most of these studies have found no increase in the risk of any type of cancer. In fact, the risk of some types of cancer was actually lower in the animals exposed to the ELF radiation.”

However, the American Cancer Society also explains that some studies have found a slight increase in leukemia risk for children who live close to power lines. However, the reasons for this remain unclear.

Medical News Today spoke with Dr. Joel Newman, a consultant hematologist and specialty lead for pathology at East Sussex Healthcare Trust in the U.K. He puts the risk into perspective:

“We don’t have any real evidence that cell phones or power lines cause cancer, and there are many other things that we do daily that put us at a much greater risk than these ever could, including smoking and alcohol consumption.”

5. Artificial sweeteners cause cancer

To date, there is no good evidence that artificial sweeteners increase the risk of developing cancer.

The National Cancer Institute explains why this myth may have arisen:

“Questions about artificial sweeteners and cancer arose when early studies showed that cyclamate in combination with saccharin caused bladder cancer in laboratory animals.”

However, they explain that further studies “have not provided clear evidence of an association with cancer in humans. Similarly, studies of other [Food and Drug Administration (FDA)]-approved sweeteners have not demonstrated clear evidence of an association with cancer in humans.”

Similarly, a study investigating aspartame and cancer, which included data from more than half a million participants, found no links between “aspartame consumption and lymphoma, leukemia, or brain cancer.”

6. Cancer surgery causes cancer to spread

This is only a partial myth. It is true that cancer surgery can cause the cancer to spread, but this is rare. As the American Cancer Society explains:

“Advances in equipment used during surgery and more detailed imaging tests have helped make this risk very low.”

A related myth indicates that a tumor will grow faster or spread to other parts of the body when exposed to the air. This is untrue.

7. Herbal medicines can cure cancer

There is no evidence that any herbal medicines can cure or treat cancer.

However, some people find certain alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, meditation, and yoga, help with the psychological stress associated with cancer and some of the side effects of cancer treatment.

As the National Cancer points out, just because something is “natural” does not mean it is safe. In some circumstances, herbal supplements can harm a person’s health; they provide a couple of examples:

“[S]ome studies have shown that kava kava, a herb that some people use to help with stress and anxiety, may cause liver damage. And St. John’s wort, which some people use for depression, may cause certain cancer drugs not to work as well as they should.”

It is important that people with cancer speak with a doctor about supplements and vitamins before taking them.

8. Cancer runs in families

Although some cancers are passed on genetically through families, they are the minority of cases: an estimated 3–10% of cancers result from mutations inherited from parents.

Because people are more likely to develop cancer as they age, and people today live longer lives, it is not uncommon for people to have some relatives who develop cancer. This might help explain why this myth persists.

Most cases of cancer are due to a buildup of mutations in genes that accumulate over time. As the American Cancer Society explains:

“Some types of cancer run in certain families, but most cancers are not clearly linked to the genes we inherit from our parents. Gene changes that start in a single cell over the course of a person’s life cause most cancers.”

9. Cancer always comes back

To address this question, MNT spoke with Dr. Collin Vu, a medical oncologist and hematologist at MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. He said:

“Fortunately for all of us, this statement is a myth and entirely not true. The current therapies for cancers are improving to the point where the cure of cancer — that is, treatments that will kill cancer completely — are improving continuously.”

However, he explains that the subject is complicated because “different cancer types have a markedly different ability to be cured, and different cancer types also have different time frames for which a cancer may typically recur. [This] makes it very difficult for patients to know when they may be truly ‘cured’ or when they still have a high risk of cancer recurrence.”

Dr. Vu has great hopes for the future of cancer treatment; he told MNT:

“In the future, with current scientific progress in better treatments for cancer, and improved population awareness of cancer risks and diagnosis, the statement that ‘cancer always comes back’ may become even more of a myth.”

10. There is no cure for cancer

Thankfully, this is also a myth. As medical science delves deeper into the mechanisms behind cancer, treatments steadily grow more effective.

According to Dr. Vu, some cancers, such as testicular and thyroid cancer, have a 60% cure rate. Dr. Vu defines the cure rate as “the population of cancer patients that has the same life expectancy as the general population.”

Breast, prostate, and bladder also have cure rates of around 50%. Dr. Vu concludes:

“As can be seen by the above data, some cancers can be eradicated, but, unfortunately, not all cancers can be cured completely. There is ongoing optimism that cure rates are increasing given the ongoing focus on screening and better treatments for cancer.”

MNT also spoke with Dr. Anton Bilchik, Ph.D., a surgical oncologist, professor of surgery, chief of gastrointestinal research, and chief of medicine at Saint John’s Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. He also leads with a message of hope:

“It is imperative that patients who are diagnosed with cancer, even at an advanced stage, do not lose hope: there are many effective, novel therapies, as well as more effective surgical techniques. A good example is with the use of modern immunotherapy, up to 40% of patients with stage 4 melanoma are curable, and 50% of patients with stage 4 colon cancer metastatic to the liver can be cured with a combination of chemotherapy and surgery.”

In short: although the battle with cancer is ongoing, science is making significant headway.

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Around 1 million people in the United States and 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that affects dopamine-producing neurons. It causes tremors, muscular stiffness or rigidity, and slowness of movement, among other symptoms.

Loss and degeneration of dopamine-producing neurons in a specific region of the brain called the substantia nigra causes the movement-related, or “motor,” symptoms that can characterize Parkinson’s.

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, though several drug treatments can help alleviate the symptoms. The most commonly prescribed medication for this purpose is levodopa (Sinemet), which replenishes dopamine levels.

“Currently, there is no preventive medicine for Parkinson’s disease,” notes Dr. Akiko Kojima-Yuasa, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Human Life Science at Osaka City University, in Japan, “we only have coping treatments.”

One cause of cell loss in the substantia nigra is oxidative stress. This led Dr. Kojima-Yuasa and colleagues to investigate whether sesaminol, a powerful antioxidant, could prevent nerve cell death in a model of Parkinson’s.

Sesaminol is found in abundance in sesame seed husks, which are a waste product from the industrial extraction of sesame oil.

Oxidative damage

The researchers used a toxic chemical called 6-hydroxydopamine to model the oxidative damage that occurs in Parkinson’s.

When they applied the chemical to human nerve cells growing in lab cultures, the concentration of damaging reactive oxygen species increased, and the cells began to die off.

Adding sesaminol to the cultures significantly reduced the concentration of reactive oxygen species and prevented cell death. Sesaminol appeared to shield the cells from oxidative damage by increasing their production of two protective proteins: Nrf2 and NQO1.

Next, the researchers turned to a standard animal model of Parkinson’s disease, which involves dosing mice with the neurotoxin rotenone.

The toxin reduces dopamine production in the animals’ brains. This impairs their motor abilities and reduces their gut motility, which are both classic symptoms of Parkinson’s in humans. In fact, people with the disease might experience constipation decades before difficulties with movement become apparent.

Mice that ate a diet containing sesaminol for 36 days had higher dopamine levels and performed better on a standard test of motor abilities than control-group mice that ate a normal diet. The gut motility of the mice in the test group was also normal.

In addition, the mice that ate sesaminol had lower levels of alpha-synuclein in their substantia nigras. Alpha-synuclein is a protein that clumps together to form larger structures called Lewy bodies, which are a characteristic feature of neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s.

The research has been published in the journal Heliyon.

Preventive treatment?

In their paper, the scientists conclude:

“Notably, the protective effect was observed with the feeding of a small amount of sesaminol. These results show that sesaminol is very suitable for use as a preventive treatment of [Parkinson’s disease]. Further detailed elucidation of the mechanism of action will be necessary for practical application.” Dr. Kojima-Yuasa and her team are keen to start clinical trials of the extract.

The authors suggest that sesaminol may be able to cross the blood-brain barrier in humans. This barrier prevents pathogens and large molecules from entering the brain. Further investigation, however, is needed to support the findings.

Overall, it is worth keeping in mind that results of studies in cell cultures and animal models do not always reflect what happens in the human body.

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Researchers have found that aerobic exercise may reduce cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

The research, published as a pilot study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, supports aerobic exercise as an intervention for people with this condition and lays the ground for future, larger studies to corroborate the initial findings.

Alzheimer’s treatments

According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible and progressive neurological disorder.

At its mildest, it can affect a person’s ability to think or remember things. Moderate forms of the condition can affect a person’s brain areas and impair language, reasoning, sensory processing, and conscious thought.

When the disease progresses to become severe, it can stop a person from performing basic, everyday tasks and recognizing or communicating with friends or family.

According to the NIA, researchers estimate Alzheimer’s disease affects over 5.5 million people in the United States. It typically first appears in people in their mid-60s.

The Alzheimer’s Association highlight that there is no known cure for the condition, with treatments instead focusing on easing the symptoms of the disease or slowing its progression.

While various drugs are available in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, there is an emerging body of evidence suggesting that aerobic exercise may also be effective in reducing the progression of the disease.

However, as the authors of the present study note, randomized controlled trials that have put this to the test have produced inconsistent findings.

To begin to resolve this problem in existing research, the present authors devised a randomized controlled trial to act as a pilot study.

This study examined whether a group of older adults with Alzheimer’s disease would have less cognitive decline following 6 months of aerobic exercise compared with the expected level of cognitive decline they would experience if the disease progressed naturally.

Pilot study

The study involved 96 participants aged 66 years or older with Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers randomly split these participants into two groups. One group of 64 people took part in supervised cycling exercise classes three times a week for 6 months.

The remaining 32 participants took part in supervised stretching and range of motion exercise classes, which the scientists matched to the cycling group in terms of the regularity of the classes and their length of time, but at low intensity. This latter group also acted as a control.

Researchers continually monitored participants’ heart rates in both groups. The team also supported the cycling group to achieve 50–75% heart rate reserve while helping the control group maintain less than 20% heart rate reserve.

In addition, the scientists measured participants’ cognition at the beginning of the intervention, as well as at months 3, 6, 9, and 12.

Exercise reduced cognitive decline

The researchers found that both the cycling group and the stretching or range of motion group scored significantly better than would have been predicted if they had continued with treatment as normal.

The researchers used the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive Subscale, a scaling system where a greater number reflects worse cognition.

According to this scale, after 6 months, the cycling group scored 1.0±4.6, and the control group 0.1±4.1. This compares with a score of 3.2±6.3, which would be in line with expectations given the natural progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Prof. Fang Yu, Edson Chair in Dementia Translational Nursing Science at the Arizona State University Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, and corresponding author of the study, “our primary finding indicates that a 6-month aerobic exercise intervention significantly reduced cognitive decline in comparison to the natural course of changes for Alzheimer’s dementia.”

“However, we did not find a superior effect of aerobic exercise to stretching, which is likely due to the pilot nature of our trial. We do not have the statistical power to detect between-group differences, there was a substantial social interaction effect in the stretching group, and many stretching participants did aerobic exercise on their own.”

As a consequence, scientists need to conduct further research to corroborate these initial encouraging findings.

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Nerve damage from neurodegenerative conditions, traumatic injuries, and certain eye conditions leads to disability and death for millions of people in the United States. Currently, doctors consider such damage irreversible.

However, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have discovered a new type of human immune cell that appears to prevent and reverse nerve damage in the optic nerve and spinal cord.

This finding could allow researchers to create more advanced neurodegenerative immunotherapies.

These therapies might offer fresh hope to people with currently incurable neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s diseasemultiple sclerosis, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease. They might also help treat central nervous system (CNS) damage from injury or infection.

“I treat patients who have permanent neurological deficits, and they have to deal with debilitating symptoms every day, “says Dr. Benjamin Segal, professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at The Ohio State College of Medicine and co-director of the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Neurological Institute.

“So the idea of being able to restore neurological function and take that burden away from my patients is really amazing.”

Funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Wings of Life Foundation (C.Y.), and the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Research Foundation, the study appears in the journal Nature Immunology.

The emerging field of immunotherapy

Immunotherapy therapies alter the immune response by stimulating it or using the body’s own immune cells to treat disease. Over the past few decades, scientists have begun developing them to tackle a wide range of medical conditions.

Doctors already use immunotherapies to treat certain types of cancer. They help the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Other researchers are investigating whether immunotherapy could help prevent or treat neurological disease.

Researchers have been extensively testing immunotherapies that increase the clearance rate of certain proteins whose accumulation has links with neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies.

Scientists have already created T-cell mediated immunotherapy approaches that target proteins linked with these neurological diseases, such as amyloid-beta, tau, and alpha-synuclein proteins.

Immunotherapy may also present opportunities to prevent and treat nerve damage by activating alternative immune pathways in response to CNS damage.

2014 study found that anti-inflammatory or immunoregulating (M2) macrophages are critical for remyelination, which is a form of nerve repair.

The study

The researchers examined immune cells in fluids and spinal cord tissues collected from mice with optic and spinal nerve damage.

Within these fluids and tissues, the team found a unique type of granulocyte. Granulocytes are a category of white blood cells. Neutrophils are the most common kind of granulocytes.

Neutrophils are scavengers that help destroy pathogens or other unwanted particles in the body. The new type of granulocyte that the scientists identified behaved like an immature neutrophil.

This newly discovered granulocyte helped protect neural cells and tissues from damage in the mice. It also encouraged nerve cell regeneration by secreting a mix of beneficial growth compounds. The team also found a human cell line with similar neuroprotective properties.

“This type of cell actually secretes growth factors to rescue dying nerve cells. It can also stimulate the surviving nerve cells to grow new fibers once they’re severed or damaged in the [CNS], which is really unprecedented,” says Dr. Segal. “This can potentially lead to therapeutic breakthroughs for a wide range of conditions by repairing these nerve pathways.”

However, researchers have a long way to go before doctors can use immune cells, such as this newly discovered granulocyte, to treat humans.

The team’s first major hurdle will be figuring out how to harness the power of this new immune cell and enhance its natural healing effects by growing it in a laboratory setting. Next, they’ll have to prove their newly proposed therapy is both effective and safe in humans.

In the future, the team hopes that doctors can inject these novel cells into people with chronic cognitive deficits to slow down or halt degenerative decline.

Dr. Segal concludes that they have got a lot of work left to do to make their laboratory findings relevant in a clinical setting, but says he is optimistic about the road ahead:

“There’s so much that we’re learning at the bench that has yet to be translated to the clinic, but I think there’s huge potential for the future.”

Nigeria and indeed the African continent was on Tuesday August 25 certified Wild Polio Virus (WPV) free by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Although the virus that once paralysed tens of thousands of children has been ‘eradicated’ on the African continent, a minor strain, circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Virus (cVDPV), still infects hundreds.

Africa announced that it has stamped out wild poliovirus after a three-decade campaign against a disease that once paralysed 75,000 children on the continent every year.

The achievement is a major step toward ridding the globe of the virus that causes the disabling and sometimes deadly disease of polio.

Nigeria was in 2015 removed from the list of countries endemic to polio that is still reporting cases leaving only Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Nigeria’s documentation to be declared polio free was on Thursday, June 18, 2020, accepted by the African Regional Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication (ARCC). The implication of this is that Nigeria has gone through the final process of Wild Polio Virus (WPV) eradication and certification and was officially declared WPV free by the WHO on August 25, 2020.

Indeed, Nigeria recorded this breakthrough in polio elimination despite the activities of Boko Haram and the significant increase in Wild Polio Virus type one (WPV1) cases globally in 2019.

The feat is significant in the face of many challenges including the poor access to children in some parts of the country due to insecurity, poor health seeking behaviour of Nigerians, vaccine hesitancy, malnutrition, poor sanitation, and inadequate funding for Primary Health Care (PHC), especially at State and Local Government Area (LGA) levels.

Nigeria made history on August 21, 2019, when she achieved three years without a case of WPV. The last WPV case was isolated in a child in Borno State on August 21, 2016.

The polio-free certification was after careful assessment of the risk of missed transmission in inaccessible areas of Borno, and other countries in the region where there is lack of confidence in surveillance.

The WHO, for the first time on September 25, 2015, delisted Nigeria from the polio-endemic list after interrupting transmission for 12 months beginning from July 24, 2014. Unfortunately, 25 months later, on August 21, 2016, another case of WPV was discovered.

The country’s giant strides in the area of polio elimination was credited to an incredible resilience within the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) rank and file to fight any outbreak; and the country is now four years without any case of Wild Polio Virus (WPV) and was certified polio free officially, by the WHO, on August 25, 2020.

Dr. Faisal Shuaib, a medical doctor and public health specialist, is the Executive Director (ED)/ Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) Abuja.

Shuaib in an interview with The Guardian among other things said the Coronavirus disease (COVID19) pandemic had brought very challenging situations in the entire health systems and economies of nations including Nigeria and this has also affected the Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) efforts in all countries.

What is the significance of the Nigeria being officially certified polio free by the WHO? Shuaib said: “This is indeed an historic day, a day of triumph in our close to three decades of fight against polio, and very significant for Nigeria because we have been removed from the list of countries still circulating WPV and therefore we have restored our pride of place in the committee of nations.

“It also means that sacrifices we have made as a nation for close to thirty years and the huge resources we have committed jointly with our partners in the fight against polio has not been in vein. It is also significant that President Muhammadu Buhari has delivered on his promise to deliver a polio free Nigeria.”

On how the country was able to achieve this feat despite all the changes especially the security challenges in northern Nigeria, the NPHCDA boss said: “We got the right resources from government and development partners, we got the right support from Mr. President, the Honourable Minister of Health (HMH), the state governors, Nigerians, and we got full alignment and support from our traditional leaders especially the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee on Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI)/Routine Immunisation (RI)/Primary Health Care (PHC) led by His Eminence the Sultan, Alhaji Muhammad Saad Abubakar, we got the right support also from our security agencies, we also got the right people in our agency in the in the right places at the right time.”

On the fear of possible resurgence of WPV, Shuaib said: “Yes our great country was almost WPV free in 2016 when we had resurgence of cases from among the trapped children in the insurgency ravaged northeast zone. Therefore the fear of resurgence is real and we have taken a number of steps to prevent this. Deepening our collaboration with the military and security Agencies to expand access to these children is one, and our innovations to reach inaccessible children in all the settlements in these areas is another. We are also determined to maintain our watertight Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) surveillance in Nigeria through application of technology to improve detection of cases in all areas in order not get any surprises.”

On what is being done to ensure that the country remains polio free, the public health physician said: “We will continue our current drive at strengthening Routine Immunisation (RI), which is a key component of polio eradication and is yielding very positive results. We will also maintain our certification standard AFP surveillance system all of which will be sustained under a very strong, revitalized Primary Health Care (PHC) system, which is the main focus of this administration to be able to achieve Universal Health Coverage for all Nigerians. We are also putting a very strong surveillance at our borders and crossing points – sea land and air to ensure that individuals coming from polio endemic countries are fished out and vaccinated in order to prevent importations of all forms of polio viruses.”

How about the issue of circulating vaccine-derived polio virus (cVDPVs) that continues to exist? What is the implication for the quest to eliminate polio globally? The epidemiologist said: “Nigeria is currently surrounded by countries with cVDPVs, for over six months now we have had cases, the last case in our country was January 2020, which is as a result of challenges with the environment, where children who have been vaccinated with Monovalent Oral Polio Vaccine Type2 shed the viral particles in the environment which now interact with other pathogens and becomes virulent especially when children that have not completed their RI got infected. These aren’t part of the process for WPV certification and our great Agency is committed with other partners to address the environmental challenges and stop the circulation of CVDPVs.

“The fact is there is still Afghanistan and Pakistan circulating WPV and therefore the risk of importations is still there in all countries globally so we will ensure as I mentioned that all persons coming from endemic countries are vaccinated through our special interventions strategy of polio vaccinations at borders and crossing points.”

On the relationship between polio and COVID-19, Shuaib said the relationship is that they are viral illnesses and structurally they look similar, their modes of transmission clinical manifestations and infectivity or rate of spread are very different. He said COVID19 spreads much faster and affects individuals of all ages and the pandemic had brought very challenging situations in the entire health systems and economies of nations including Nigeria. He said this has also affected the Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) efforts in all countries.

Shuaib said the situation therefore calls for urgent measures to stop the ravaging effects of the COVI19 infections in Nigeria. “We as an Agency had to develop and emergency COVID19 preparedness and response plan for PHC health facility and community levels, we had to develop COVID19 training manuals for preparedness and response at PHC and community levels within a very short span of time. Currently we are training more than 200,000 frontline PHC worker and community volunteers to be able to have the requisite knowledge to deliver the continuum of package of PHC services and prevent the already happening community transmission of COVID19 in all the states of the federation. We are also ensuring that PHC workers are kitted with basic Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to be able to provide services in all our PHC centres; these include polio vaccinations,” he said.

Shuaib said the greatest challenge they face in the COVID19 pandemic is delivery of PHC services including polio vaccinations. “Health care workers (HWs) are vulnerable and are afraid of clients and clients are afraid of HWs for contracting COVID19 infections but what we have done as I have already highlighted has restored confidence in the system,” he said.

The public health physician recommended that Nigerians should strictly adhere to COVID19 Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) guidelines in order to break the cycle of transmission and flatten the curve, as the country might be approaching another high transmission season.

On concerns that vaccine phobia is setting in again worldwide even in Nigeria, Shuaib said it is deeply concerning that Nigerians have started pushing back and resisting on the issue of COVID19 vaccine even before trials began in some countries due some fear on the imaginary conspiracy theories that have been debunked. Generally vaccine phobia has been around for a very long time and we will continue to engage segments of society to address the fears of our people as we have always done for other vaccines that protects people from vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs).

On why Nigeria is not part of the ongoing clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines just like Egypt and South Africa, Shuaib said there is a laid down process for clinical trails for any vaccine or therapeutic product and FMoH is handling that issue and they will let Nigerians know when the process is completed.

WHO’s director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, on Monday, said: “Future generations of African children can live free of wild poliovirus.” He said 1.8 million cases of polio-related paralysis had been prevented over the past 24 years.

But, according to a report published in New York Times, the victory has a hollow note.

Every year, hundreds of people across Africa are still being infected with circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus, which can infect people in areas where there is only partial vaccination. African cases of the vaccine-derived strain, which results in the same symptoms as the wild kind, increased to 320 last year from 68 in 2018, and could rise again in 2020 because many vaccination campaigns were paused during coronavirus lockdowns.

The polio-free certification applies to what the WHO calls the Africa region — one of its six global zones of operation — and it excludes North Africa. But no North African country has recorded a case of wild poliovirus since 2004, so the whole continent is now considered free of it.

The 46 presidents of the region (there would have been 47, but the president of Mali was recently deposed in a coup) celebrated along with supporters of polio eradication efforts; among them the Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote, on a video conference call on Tuesday.

The United States has been free of wild polio since 1979. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative started in 1988, with the aim of eradicating polio worldwide by the year 2000.

Nigeria was a major sticking point on the African continent. After northern Nigeria boycotted the vaccine in 2003 because of rumors about its safety, an outbreak there spread to 20 countries in five years.

A huge effort was initiated to change minds about the vaccine, and by 2015, it seemed that the situation was under control and rumors sufficiently squashed. But then, in 2016, four new cases of wild poliovirus were reported.

The state they came from, Borno, in northeastern Nigeria, was the site of a vicious insurgency by the extremist group Boko Haram, and getting to the people living there was extremely difficult, both because of the danger and because the Nigerian authorities frequently denied access for aid workers.

But after the four cases surfaced, the global health infrastructure swung into action. Nigeria’s president instructed the military to work with the vaccination teams. A mammoth effort began, using satellite imagery, data analysis and daring methods of getting to seemingly impossible-to-reach children.

WHO’s polio eradication coordinator for the Africa region, Dr. Pascal Mkanda, said: “There’s no program like the global eradication program. There’s no program which uses so much data, so much innovation.”

When the military told them an area was safe, they would start a campaign there within 48 hours. More than 800,000 children were vaccinated this way in 2016. Others were vaccinated at markets on the edge of Boko Haram-occupied territory, when they came to buy provisions. When they went back to their communities, Mkanda said, the vaccine went through their digestive systems and out into the environment, and other children, who had not been inoculated, could then pick it up and also become immune.

Circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus spreads in the same way, except that the virus mutates over time and causes polio.

For example, say vaccinators go to a village to inoculate children.

The children line up by the church or market and get some drops squeezed into their mouths. The drops include a live but weakened version of the virus, which attaches to receptors in the intestines and is absorbed. The weakened virus cannot cause paralysis but teaches the child’s immune system to create antibodies that will fight the real thing if it were to come along.

If some children do not get the message that day, or their parents distrust the vaccine and keep them home, or the vaccinators have to leave early, they may still benefit. If any stool from vaccinated children contaminates local drinking water — or even a puddle that a child might splash in and then ingest — the virus can immunize other children, too.

Very rarely, however, the vaccine virus can mutate back into something resembling the wild kind. If that vaccine-derived mutation keeps spreading because nearby villages are not fully vaccinated, it can, in a few cases — about one infection in 200 — paralyse people.

The name of the polio strain may give the impression that people contract it from vaccinations, but that is not the case.

Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Heidi Larson, said: “It is not very well-named.” There has been talk of altering the name to something less misleading, she said, but any change would probably take too long.

While there has been success in Africa, there has been an increase in cases of wild poliovirus since 2018 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where vaccinators are threatened with violence, and often killed.

Moeti said: “We need to look immediately at the most difficult circumstances, the most disadvantaged people, the most vulnerable people, the hardest to reach people — because that’s where we end up with the struggles at the end.”

The authors of a recent study found that healthy older adults who took a daily, low dose of aspirin were at higher risk of receiving a diagnosis of advanced cancers and dying from cancer than those who took a placebo.

The findings raise the possibility that taking aspirin every day may make cancers worse once they have developed in this age group.

In recent years, there have been high hopes that taking a daily, low dose of aspirin might help protect older people from dementiacognitive decline, and cancer.

Doctors widely prescribe daily aspirin to people at high risk of cardiovascular problems.

In addition, some clinical trials involving mostly middle-aged adults have found that aspirin may reduce the risk of developing cancer, especially colorectal cancer.

However, until recently, evidence for the drug’s use as a preventive treatment in otherwise healthy older people has been lacking.

A study originally published in March 2020 suggested that taking a daily low dose of aspirin did not protect older people from cognitive decline and dementia.

The latest study, which investigated the same cohort of individuals, reports that daily aspirin increases the risk of receiving a diagnosis of advanced cancers and cancer that has spread or metastasized.

The results found associations between daily aspirin and increased cancer mortality over the follow-up period.

The scientists published their findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

ASPREE trial

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the Berman Center in Minneapolis, MN, and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, carried out the recent study.

They analyzed results from the Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) trial, which included 19,114 individuals living in Australia and the United States. None of the participants had cardiovascular disease, dementia, or physical disability at the start of the study.

Most participants were over 70 years of age, apart from African American and Hispanic participants in the U.S., who were over 65 years of age.

Researchers randomly assigned the participants to take either 100 milligrams of aspirin per day or a placebo.

An earlier analysis of outcomes in the two groups after a mean follow-up period of 4.7 years found a higher number of deaths from all causes in the aspirin group. Most of the excess deaths were due to cancer.

The latest study examined aspirin’s effect on cancer diagnoses and deaths as a result of cancer in greater detail.

Overall, 981 participants who were taking aspirin and 952 who were taking placebo developed cancer. This difference between the two groups was not statistically significant.

However, daily aspirin had associations with a 19% higher risk of metastatic cancer and a 22% higher risk of receiving a diagnosis of advanced cancer compared with a placebo.

The results also indicated that people in the aspirin group were at a higher risk of dying during follow-up due to advanced cancer.

“Deaths were particularly high among those on aspirin who were diagnosed with advanced solid cancers, suggesting a possible adverse effect of aspirin on the growth of cancers once they have already developed in older adults,” says senior author Dr. Andrew T. Chan of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

“Although these results suggest that we should be cautious about starting aspirin therapy in otherwise healthy older adults, this does not mean that individuals who are already taking aspirin — particularly if they began taking it at a younger age — should stop their aspirin regimen.” – Dr. Andrew T. Chan

In their paper, the researchers also point out that the increased cancer mortality risk associated with taking aspirin in their study equated to an extra 1.5 deaths per 1,000 person years. This is relatively small compared with the risk of mortality from other causes.

Blunted immune response?

Aspirin reduces inflammation in the body. The researchers write that one possible explanation for their finding may be that aspirin suppresses or “blunts” immune responses that are critical to controlling the growth and spread of cancer at later stages of its development.

They note that other research has found differences between the biology and behavior of tumors in older adults and younger individuals.

“These reports make it plausible that aspirin might also act differently, at the cellular or molecular level, in older individuals,” they write.

A meta-analysis of trials involving populations around 10 years younger than in ASPREE, published in 2019, found that taking daily low dose aspirin for around 5 years neither increased nor decreased cancer incidence or mortality.

Other research suggests that it may take at least 10 years of taking daily aspirin before there is a beneficial reduction in the incidence of colorectal cancer.

There may also be a delayed benefit in older people that only becomes apparent after a longer follow-up period. The authors of the current study write:

“Cancer molecular and genetic data give reason to suggest that the potential adverse impact of aspirin identified in ASPREE might be specific to this age group. The cohort continues to be followed to explore the possibility of a delayed reduction in cancer incidence and/or mortality that may emerge with longer-term observation.”

Macro shot of mid 20's brown eyed woman having her eyes examined at optometrists office. Her head is placed into tomography machine and light beam is shining through her retina and lens.

An eye scanner that Boston University Medical School developed can detect molecular aging in people. The new technique provides an accurate measure of age-related damage and could, one day, play a role in routine clinical practice.

Everyone ages, but not in the same way. Two people of exactly the same age may be in very different states of health.

In other words, chronological age and biological age are different. But while chronological age is very easy to measure, biological age is more difficult to assess.

Although scientists know that there is wide variation in the processes of aging — for example, in the deterioration of cells and tissues — among individuals, there is currently no universally accepted measure of biological aging.

In a new study that appears in The Journals of Gerontology: SerieA, researchers led by Boston University Medical School describe a tool that could fill this gap.

The researchers have developed a new eye scanner that detects molecular signatures of aging in the lens and is entirely noninvasive. Doctors could use it clinically to assess an individual’s aging process and then suggest personalized interventions.

The eyes have it

The dearth of tools to assess aging accurately puts a limit on scientific understanding, senior author of the paper Dr. Lee E. Goldstein explains.

“The absence of clinical tools and metrics to quantitatively evaluate how each person is aging at the molecular level represents a major impediment to understanding aging and maximizing health throughout life.”

To address this, Dr. Goldstein and a team of investigators from institutions including Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School looked to the eye.

The eyes are a good measure of aging because they contain cells that are generated in the fetus and not replaced. This means that the cells that a person is born with remain with them for life.

These cells are called primary fiber cells, and they occur in the lens, which focuses light onto the back of the eye. Incidentally, these cells also contain the highest concentration of protein in the human body.

Importantly, these proteins do not regenerate, so they accumulate damage throughout life. This damage could provide a molecular readout of the aging process. As Dr. Goldstein puts it, the lens proteins provide a “permanent record” of a person’s life history.

Decoding the molecular record

To decode this molecular information, the researchers used a technique called quasi-elastic light scattering, or QLS, which uses lasers to measure the size of particles.

The technique works because the molecular damage that occurs to lens proteins over time causes the proteins to change shape and stick together. This aggregation of altered proteins changes the scattering of light in a way that QLS can detect.

The team first tested the technique in isolated lens proteins that they had incubated in a test tube for different lengths of time — up to almost a year — to mimic the way these proteins would age in people aged 12, 30, and 53. They found that, over time, the molecular signature of the proteins changed as they expected and that this was detectable using the QLS scanner.

They then tested the scanner, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have deemed a “nonsignificant risk device,” in a trial of 34 people aged between 5 and 61. Impressively, the scanner was able to detect the same age-related changes that the researchers saw in the lab.

Precision medicine

Although further testing is necessary, the authors say that these results support the use of the scanner to track molecular aging in people.

They state that the tool could work in a similar fashion to other clinical biomarkers, such as brain imaging for Alzheimer’s disease and blood tests for diabetes.

“[E]ye scanning technology that probes lens protein affords a rapid, noninvasive, objective technique for direct measurement of molecular aging that can be easily, quickly, and safely implemented at the point of care. Such a metric affords potential for precision medical care across the lifespan.” – Dr. Lee E. Goldstein

Doctors could eventually use the tool in routine clinical practice to provide an individual measure of molecular aging and perhaps even help identify interventions to extend the healthy period of a person’s lifespan.

President Muhammadu Buhari has congratulated fellow citizens on the joyous and historic occasion as Nigeria becomes Wild Polio Virus Free.

Mr Buhari also appreciated all partners, local and international, for their relentless efforts in ensuring the clean health bill.

The president made his feelings known in a statement released by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in Abuja an Sunday.

According to the president, this achievement reflects the resilient spirit of Nigerians, particularly the capacity of hardworking men and women in the health industry, who drew resources and support from multiple sectors to deal a final blow to the deadly virus.

He said: “This achievement is not only one of the great successes of this generation of Nigerians but also one of the obvious dividends of this administration, which is consistent with our progressive investment in the health of our people since 2015.

“This landmark achievement is also a promise kept to all Nigerians. As you will recall that in August 2015, barely three months after we assumed office, I promised Nigerians that: ‘My government shall provide the necessary resources and commitment required to strengthen the health system, routine immunisation and ensure the country is certified Polio free.”

The president noted that in 2016, the country suffered a major setback in the polio eradication efforts with the outbreak of the Wild Polio Virus in Borno, after about two years without any case.

Mr Buhari recalled that he promptly directed the immediate release of N9.8 billion to the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) to contain the outbreak.

“Subsequently, we have been meeting all our financial obligations to bilateral and multilateral agreements, and also provided the moral support and leadership required at all levels to motivate the men and women in the frontline of polio eradication.

“In addition, we sincerely appreciate our donors and development partners who stood by the country during those trying times,” he added.

According to him, this achievement is a hard-won battle spanning over three decades of hard work and dedication by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).

He also lauded the Federal, States and Local Governments, polio eradication team at all levels, the nation donors and development partners, both local and international for their contributions in achieving this feat.

“As we recall, the polio eradication structures were used when Nigeria successfully eradicated Ebola Virus Disease within the shortest possible time in 2014.

“I am glad that these same human, material and technological resources have been deployed to steadily increase Routine Immunisation coverage and are being organised to implement the fight against community transmission of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This big battle would not have been won without the support of our donors and development partners.

“These include Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Aliko Dangote Foundation, Rotary International, United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, USAID, Sir Emeka Offor Foundation, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and European Union.”

The president also acknowledged the contributions of the Global Health Canada, German Development Bank (KfW), WHO, UNICEF, Nigeria Governor’s Forum, Polio Survivors Group, the media, faith-based and other non-governmental organisations.

Besides, he noted the immense contribution of traditional and religious leaders who mobilised communities to accept immunisation and other government programmes.

“The final theatre of the polio eradication fight was particularly championed by the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee on Polio Eradication and Primary Health Care (NTLC) under the guidance of His Highness, Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Saad Abubakar, and strategic leadership of late Shehu of Bama, Alhaji Kyari Ibn Umar El-Kanemi.

“We thank you all for the leadership and partnership over the years,” the president said.