Health & Medicine

Air quality improves, but Sacramento still among nation’s most polluted cities

Every two weeks, we gather some of the most interesting and intriguing studies from health researchers around the world. Here are the latest:

Despite improvements in pollution levels, the Sacramento area remains eighth in the nation for unhealthy air, according to the latest American Lung Association report.

Sacramento joins Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno and Modesto in the top 10 for worst ozone pollution. It also ranks 14th in the nation for particle pollution, which has been especially bad in recent years because of wildfires, according to a news release about the report.

The report was based on air quality monitoring data collected in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Experts recommend that people with compromised lungs, such as those with asthma or chronic lung disease, monitor daily air reports closely and stay inside as necessary.

“Our state’s air quality continues to hit unhealthy levels each year, putting Californians at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma, (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and lung cancer,” said Olivia Diaz-Lapham, president and CEO of the American Lung Association in California, in the release. “We are seeing continued improvement in parts of the state, but there are too many areas where residents are breathing dirty air and we must work to reduce all sources of air pollution.”

New prostate guidelines urge discussing early screening

A task force of cancer experts changed their recommendations on prostate cancer screenings this month, citing recent research that suggests the test benefits healthy, middle-aged men more than they’d previously thought.

Five years ago, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a group of national experts, discouraged prostate screenings for men at average risk because they believed misleading test results were causing undue worry and unnecessary treatments. Now, based on new research, the group is recommending that all men aged 55 to 69 consult their physicians about prostate screening even if they have no symptoms of the condition.

“We now have a long-term follow-up from clinical trials that show modest benefits and more men are being treated with active surveillance, which may mitigate some of the harms of overtreatment,” said Douglas K. Owens, a Stanford University professor and task force member, in a news release about the change.

About 181,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, and 26,000 of them die from the disease. Decisions about when to test for and treat the disease are complicated because of the side effects of treatment, which often include urinary incontinence or sexual difficulties.

According to task force data, 240 of every 1,000 men who undergo a prostate screening receive a positive result, and only 100 ultimately are diagnosed with cancer.

The task force continues to discourage men 70 and older from being screened because they believe the benefits do not outweigh the harms. African American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer are at higher risk of having the disease.

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola