Feb 152015

A rescue dog saved its owner’s life after sniffing out an aggressive tumour in her breast.


Josie Conlon, 46, of Stockton-on-Tees was unaware she had breast cancer until her two-year-old collie Ted began to cry, paw and nuzzle her chest.

But the grade three tumour was caught in time and removed, and now Mrs Conlon has been given the all-clear by her doctor.

“When I got the results from the hospital and was told the cancer had not spread the relief I felt was incredible and it is all down to Ted,” she said.

“It was also at this point that I was told that the tumour I had was particularly aggressive and had been growing very quickly.

“If I’d left it any later before going to the doctor the consequences do not bear thinking about. “

Ted was a rescue dog and so was rarely affectionate with Mrs Conlon. It is thought he had suffered a blow to the head with his former owners and had been kept in a small cage.

Mrs Conlon, who lives with her delivery driver husband Brian, 47, had the lump removed in the middle of December was given the news that the cancer had not spread this week.

Josie Conlon and her Border Collie Ted (NNP)

She faces 18 weeks of chemotherapy and four weeks of radiotherapy to ensure that the cancer does not return, but her prognosis is good.

The mother-of-three is now keen to let others know that they should take noticed of their dogs if they are trying to draw attention to a certain area.

“I think a lot of people would probably just push a dog away if it started clawing at their chest, but dog owners should take notice, because Ted really did save my life,” she added.

This Christmas The Telegraph has been raising money for the charity Medical Detection Dogs which trains unwanted pets to detect cancer. To donate to the charity visit medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk.

Feb 152015


Scientists have discovered changes in the brain among smartphone users were similar to that previously noticed in the brains of talented violinists.

Experts, from the University of Zurich, say the thumb skills needed to type out messages on a touch sensitive smartphone could be changing the ways our brains work.

They said the changes in the brain among smartphone users were similar to that previously noticed in the brains of talented violinists.

It has already been shown that in violinists the area of the brain that controls fingers is larger than in other people’s brains.

The Swiss researchers said people who use their smartphones frequently to message friends and family are influencing cortical activity.

In experiments, they found that the more a smartphone had been used in the past 10 days, the greater the signal to the brain.

The connection was strongest in the area of the brain that controls thumb movement.

Study leader Arko Ghosh decided to investigate the impact that the finger dexterity of smartphone users has on the brain and discovered that the day-to-day plasticity of the human brain could be researched based on smartphone use.

He said: “Smartphones offer us an opportunity to understand how normal life shapes the brains of ordinary people.”

He studied how finger movements activated a particular area of the brain. The researchers measured brain activity in 37 right-handed people, of whom 26 were touchscreen smartphone users and 11 users of old mobile phones. More than 60 electrodes placed on the test subjects’ heads recorded this potential based on movements of the thumb, forefinger and middle finger. The results revealed that the cortical representation in touchscreen Smartphone users differed compared to people with conventional cellphones.

Dr Ghosh was also able to demonstrate that the frequency of smartphone usage influences brains activity. The more the smartphone had been used in the previous ten days, the greater the signal in the brain. This correlation was the strongest in the area that represented the thumb.

Dr Ghosh said: “At first glance, this discovery seems comparable to what happens in violinists.”

However, the researchers were able to make two distinctions.

Firstly, how long smartphone users have owned and used a device does not play a role. In the case of violinists, however, the activity in the brain depended on the age at which they started playing. Secondly, there is a connection between the activation in the brain and the most recent use of a smartphone, while there was no evidence of this for violinists in earlier studies.

Dr Ghosh added: “The digital technology we use on a daily basis shapes the sensory processing in our brains – and on a scale that surprised us.”

The findings are published in the science journal Current Biology.

Feb 152015

Sugar is worse than salt for pushing up blood pressure, research has suggested.

Added sugars are more likely to have a greater role than salt in causing high blood pressure and heart disease, according to the study published on Thursday in the online journal Open Heart.

However, academics have claimed the research has been “over exaggerated” and is not based on any new evidence.

The authors of the study say the benefits of cutting salt intake to lower high blood pressure “are debatable” and claim dietary guidelines should be focused more on reducing sugar and less on salt.

They claim people who have a daily intake of more than 74 grams of high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener used in processed foods such as fruit-flavoured and fizzy drinks, have a 30 per cent higher risk of high blood pressure.

Of particular concern, they say, is that UK and US teens may be consuming added sugars up to 16 times the recommended limit.

Cardiovascular research scientist Dr James DiNicolantonio, at the Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, has published the paper, with Dr Sean C Lucan, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

In their paper, entitled The wrong white crystals: not salt but sugar as aetiological in hypertension and cardiometabolic disease, they say: “Sugar may be much more meaningfully related to blood pressure than sodium, as suggested by a greater magnitude of effect with dietary manipulation.

“Compelling evidence from basic science, population studies, and clinical trials implicates sugars, and particularly the monosaccharide fructose, as playing a major role in the development of hypertension [high blood pressure].

“Moreover, evidence suggests that sugars in general, and fructose in particular, may contribute to overall cardiovascular risk through a variety of mechanisms.”

They claim that worldwide sugar-sweetened drinks consumption has been implicated in 180,000 deaths a year.

“Just as most dietary sodium does not come from the salt shaker, most dietary sugar does not come from the sugar bowl; reducing consumption of added sugars by limiting processed foods containing it, made by corporations, would be a good place to start,” they add.

“The evidence is clear that even moderate doses of added sugar for short durations may cause substantial harm.”

However, Professor of Emeritus of Nutrition and Dietetics at King’s College London, Tom Sanders said there is “no evidence” to support their findings.

“In my opinion the effects of added sugars are exaggerated in this article,” he said.

“Cutting salt intake and losing weight will lower blood pressure, but the evidence for a direct effect of added sugar is tenuous.

“Most of the salt in the diet comes from bread, processed meat, pickled foods and salt added during food preparation and at table. Salt intake has fallen in the UK as manufacturers have reduced the amount of salt added to food. This has also been accompanied by a fall in blood pressure.

“Added sugar intake is derived mainly from sugar-sweetened beverages, confectionery, cereal products, such as cakes and biscuits. The easiest way to reduce added sugar intake is to limit sugar-sweetened beverage and confectionery consumption. However, as far as I am aware there is no evidence to show that blood pressure is lowered when sugar-sweetened beverages are replaced by artificial sweeteners.”

The article suggests limiting salt intake to between 3 to 6 grams a day but Gaynor Bussell, Dietitian and Public Health Nutritionist, said in the UK the recommended amount is double that.

She said: “The authors appear to have built an argument to support a particular view: that fructose is bad and salt may be ok. It is not based on original work, nor has the evidence presented been balanced to include all evidence on the causes of hypertension. Their stance does not have the backing of a broader evidence base.

“It needs to be stated that it is the whole diet that’s important when addressing implications to health; it’s not just sugar or salt that need addressing but also issues such as total calorie intake, fibre, fats and vitamin and mineral intake also. Excessive intake of any macro or even micronutrients are not conducive to health, which is why in the UK, for example, we advocate a limit of 6g salt a day certainly not 3g claimed to be advocated in this study and currently about 90g of total sugars a day.”

Prof Francesco Cappuccio, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Warwick, said he agreed that high-sugar diets may “substantially” contribute to heart disease but both salt and sugar intakes needed to be targeted.

“The emphasis on reducing sugar, and not salt, is disingenuous,” he said.

“Both should be targeted at population level for an effective approach to cardiovascular prevention.

“The authors claim that ‘lowering sodium levels in processed foods could lead to an increase consumption of starches and sugars’. But there is absolutely no evidence to support this statement from a physiological or nutritional viewpoint. This shift in attention from salt to sugar is scientifically unnecessary and unsupported,

“We must stop this false argument about reducing either salt or sugar. Both must be reduced if we are to meet the UN targets of a reduction of cardiovascular disease of 25 per cent by 2025.”

In the report, the authors claim people whose dietary intake of added sugars accounts for up to a quarter of their total daily calories have almost triple the risk of heart disease than those who consume less than 10 per cent.However, Professor Susan Fairweather-Tait, of Mineral Metabolism at the University of East Anglia (UEA), said in 2010 research by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded there was no evidence for an association between intake of sugars and blood pressure.

Feb 152015


Breastfeeding could cut the chance of breast cancer by up to one fifth, a major international study has found.

Research on more than 750,000 women found it was a “powerful strategy” to reduce the risk of cancer, especially the most aggressive types of disease.

Experts said thousands of cases of cancer could be prevented and lives saved if Britain improved rates of breastfeeding, which are the lowest in the western world.

Just half of mothers in the UK are nursing their child at six weeks, and just one per cent follow NHS advice to provide their child with breast milk only until six months, official figures show.

Previous studies have suggested that breastfeeding has a protective effect against cancer, but have suggested the impact is relatively small.

But the major study- which spanned four continents, and will be presented at San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas – suggests the effects are far more dramatic.

The meta analysis of 27 studies found that breast feeding reduced the risks of invasive breast cancers by around 10 per cent in most cases – and up to 20 per cent for the most deadly types of disease.

The research, led by American cancer charities, with the Washington University School of Medicine and Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, found it not only protected against common types of breast cancer but against triple negative cancer, one of the most difficult to treat.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Britain, suffered by one in eight women, with more than 50,000 diagnoses and 12,000 deaths a year.

Researcher Dr Graham Colditz, Associate Director of Prevention and Control at Washington University School of Medicine’s cancer centre, said higher uptake of breastfeeding could potentially prevent tens of thousands of cases of cancer.

“Broader uptake of breast feeding and completing up to 12 weeks of breast feeding for each baby can significantly reduce the subsequent risk of breast cancer,” he said.

The study did not conclude what the optimum duration of breast feeding was, but the risks seemed to reduce the longer women continued, authors said.

“The closest we came to an average risk reduction is a 10 per cent reduction in risk of breast cancer for women who had ever breast fed a baby,” Dr Colditz said.

Experts said that not all of the reasons for the effect were known but that it seemed the high hormone levels required for lactation appeared to affect cell growth, protecting the breast from changes which increase the risk of breast cancer.

The fact women do not usually ovulate while producing milk is also understood to protect against cancer of the breast and ovaries.

The research examined 27 studies over three decades, involving 750,000 women, 36,000 of whom developed breast cancer.

It concludes: “Breastfeeding is a powerful strategy to reduce the risk of several aggressive breast cancer subtypes, with a relative risk reduction of approximately 10 per cent to 20 per cent, depending on receptor status.

Midwives said women should be given more help to persist with breastfeeding, in order to help their children and protect themselves.

Official NHS advice says mothers should give their children only breast milk until the baby is six months old, but just one per cent achieve this.

Latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development comparing 21 countries show that at three months, UK rates are the lowest in the Western world.

The international comparisons from their 2009 report show 13 per cent of mothers in Britain exclusively breastfeeding at three months, a figure which has since risen to 17 per cent.

Last week, mothers ’groups criticised British attitudes to breast feeding, after Claridges asked a feeding mother to cover her child with a napkin, and Ukip leader Nigel Farage suggested those breastfeeding should “sit in the corner”.

Proportion of children who were exclusively breastfed at 3 around 2005 (OECD Family database)

Anees Chagpar, Associate Professor of Surgery at Yale Cancer Center, said: “It is fairly well accepted now that breast feeding is healthy for the baby and has benefits for reducing breast cancer risk.”

“When Britain has one of the lowest rates you have to ask the question why? Are British women educated enough about breast feeding, or are there other reasons or barriers getting in the way?”

Jacque Gerrard, director for England at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “The RCM is committed to supporting members to help women give every baby the best possible start in life.

She said breastfeeding provided a “unique opportunity for mother and baby attachment”.

“It is without doubt a positive way for a woman to give her newborn the best possible start in life, and support her own health at the same time,” she said.

Katherine Woods, from Breast Cancer Campaign, said the study clearly highlighted that breastfeeding can lower the risk of breast cancer for mothers.

She said: “More research is needed for us to better understand the connection and to find out which types of breast cancer it affects the most and why.”

Yinka Ebo, Health Information Lead at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said there were many actions -including breastfeeding – that a woman could do to protect against breast cancer.

“There are many things a woman can do to help reduce her risk of developing the disease,” she said.

“These include maintaining a healthy weight, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink and being regularly physically active,” she said.

Feb 152015


With its links to gang warfare; drugs and drive-by shootings the hip-hop music scene has never professed to be beneficial for health.

But now psychiatrists at Cambridge University believe that ‘hip-hop’ therapy could help people who are depressed or mentally ill.

In an article in The Lancet Psychiatry, the team claims that lyrics which speak of overcoming hardships and struggles offer a refuge for the desperate, while ‘rapping’ problems acts as an emotional outlet.

“Much of hip-hop comes from areas of great socioeconomic deprivation, so it’s inevitable that its lyrics will reflect the issues faced by people brought up in these areas, including poverty, marginalisation, crime and drugs,” said Dr Akeem Sule, of the University of Cambridge.

“In fact, we can see in the lyrics many of the key risk factors for mental illness, from which it can be difficult to escape.

“Hip-hop artists use their skills and talents not only to describe the world they see, but also as a means of breaking free. There’s often a message of hope in amongst the lyrics, describing the place where they want to be – the cars they want to own, the models they want to date.”

Hip-hop originated in the South Bronx area of New York during the early 1970s and has become notorious for glamorising violence and objectifying women.

David Cameron warned that the genre “encouraged people to carry guns and knives” and the Wikipedia ‘list of deceased hip hop artists’ currently runs to 141.

Most, like Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. died of gunshot wounds, drugs overdoses or car accidents, although ‘Pimp C’ died from a combination of sleep apnea and too much cough syrup.

However the academics at Cambridge claim the bleak vision created by artists can reach people who feel in an equally hopeless place.

They recommend The Message by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, released in 1982, which includes the lyrics: “I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice”

They also cite Juicy by The Notorious BIG, which is “dedicated to all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothin’” but details how he became successful.

The team points said the technique is similar to the process of ‘positive visual imagery’ which is being investigated by the University of Oxford.

This technique is a form of therapy whereby the patient is encouraged to use the power of their imagination to help them through difficult times, including through depression and bipolar episodes.

“We believe that hip-hop, with its rich, visual narrative style, can be used to make therapies that are more effective for specific populations and can help patients with depression to create more positive images of themselves, their situations and their future,” says Dr Sule.

The psychotherapists are keen to take HIP HOP PSYCH into prisons, schools, and hostels to promote positive self-esteem through engagement with hip-hop artists.

“It’s been about forty years since hip-hop first began in the ghettos of New York City and it has come a long way since then, influencing areas as diverse as politics and technology,” said co-author Dr Becky Inkster Clinical Neuroscientist in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge.

“Now we hope to add medicine to the list.”