Special Report

The Best Health News Over the Last Decade

Hristina Byrnes

Source: Egor Kulinich / Getty Images

CT scans in high risk patients can reduce overall lung cancer mortality
> Year: 2011
> Category: Diseases

The tremendous effort by researchers and health institutions to develop a cure for cancer over the decades since the legislation for the War on Cancer was enacted in 1971 will likely continue. Any good news on developments are worth noting. The 2011 National Lung Screening Trial showed a reduction in lung cancer mortality of 20% in high risk patients receiving low-dose CT (LDCT) compared to chest X-ray. The CDC recommends that people at high risk of developing lung cancer — heavy smokers, people who have smoked as recently as 15 years, and people who are 55 years or older — undergo annual LDCT scans because of potential risks..

In 2016, there were 218,229 new cases of lung cancer, and 148,869 people died from the disease in the United States, according to the CDC. The American Cancer Society estimates 142,670 deaths from lung cancer in 2019. A major reason for the disease’s high mortality rate is that the tumor does not typically cause symptoms until it spreads, making early screening especially crucial to improving survival rates.

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Melanoma drug approved
> Year: 2011
> Category: Treatment

After more than a decade of no new potential drugs for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, the FDA approved vemurafenib, sold under the brand name Zelboraf, in 2011 for patients with metastatic melanoma with the BRAF(V600E) mutation or for those who have tumors that cannot be surgically removed.

Zelboraf was seen as a major development because it can improve melanoma patients’ quality of life — the drug is a simple pill taken twice a day — and it may extend survival rate. In a trial, the length of time melanoma patients who received Zelboraf lived without the cancer getting worse was almost double the length of patients who did not take the drug.

Since 2011 several drugs have been approved to treat melanoma, and survival rates of this deadly cancer have improved.

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Gene editing is now possible
> Year: 2012
> Category: Technology

Gene editing is the process of changing an organism’s DNA. After decades of research around the world, scientists made a major breakthrough with the discovery of clustered repeats of DNA sequences, known as CRISPR.

First described in 2012, CRISPR, or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is the basis for potentially world-changing gene editing technology, or, as some might say, DNA hacking. It may be used to develop treatments for a range of diseases, including cancer and genetic disorders. In 2015, CRISPR was successfully used for the first time to save a life. Two baby girls, 11-month and a 16-month-old, received gene editing treatment to help them fight leukemia.

While the the gene-altering tool is bringing revolutionary change to health fields, it has also raised serious ethical concerns. Misuses and inadvertently harmful uses of CRISPR include those for creating designer babies, and causing environmental ripple effects by eliminating disease-spreading insects.

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FDA says trans fat should not be considered ‘safe’
> Year: 2013
> Category: Eating

Trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, have been widely used for years, most notably in fast foods. Trans fats can raise the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, lower the levels of good-for-you HDL cholesterol, and increase the risk of heart disease, the No. 1 killer in the United States. And now they are on their way out.

In 2013, the FDA officially announced trans fats should not be considered safe in human food. In 2015, the agency gave food manufacturers three years to phase out the use of trans fats in their products. The deadline was June 18, 2018, although the FDA granted a one-year extension in the use of artificial trans fats in some cases. The ban will be fully implemented in Jan. 1, 2020.

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HIV prevention pill
> Year: 2014
> Category: Diseases

About 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with HIV every year, according to the CDC. Despite advancements in treatment and years of research into the infection, HIV does not have a cure. In 2014, the CDC issued new guidelines that recommend a pill to people at high risk of HIV as a prevention method. High risk people include gay or bisexual men, injection drug users, and women with an HIV+ partner.

The agency said that the pill, sold under the brand name Truvada, may lower the risk by as much as 90% when taken consistently. Truvada has been used to treat HIV since 2012 when the FDA approved the drug. Truvada contains tenofovir and emtricitabine, which when used in combination with other antiviral medication may keep the HIV virus from establishing a permanent infection.