Mr. Norris, I recently heard conflicting reports on mammograms and that there is new evidence that women older than 40 should have regular ones. Hear anything about new evidence? – Shirley F., Minneapolis

In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended against routine mammography to screen asymptomatic women ages 40 to 49 for breast cancer. But a new study, presented to the Radiology Society of North America, shows that women in their fifth decade of life actually do benefit from annual mammograms, regardless of their family breast cancer history.

CBS News reported that the study’s leader, radiologist Stamatia Destounis, spoke against criticism of screening younger women: “You find small cancers that will never be a problem,” Destounis said. “But we found a considerable number that can’t wait. Invasive breast cancers can spread and kill.”

Of 1,071 women screened by Destounis and colleagues, 373 were diagnosed with breast cancer, 61 percent with no history of the disease.

With more than 230,000 women in the U.S. alone diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and more than 26,000 of them younger than 45, it appears to make good sense for women to start routine breast cancer examinations in their early or mid-40s.

However, one word of caution from Dr. David Katz, who is the founder of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center and who wrote the following in response to a similar study about mammography in 2010: “As for harms, we have long known that for every breast cancer found in women under 50, well over ten times as many women will have false positive results. Quite a few of these women will have biopsies. There are, of course, potential complications of the biopsies. In addition, the scar tissue left behind makes future mammograms harder still to interpret, increasing the risks of missing a cancer when there actually is one. And though small, the dose of radiation from routine mammograms can actually contribute, slightly, to breast cancer risk over time.”

Katz also called mammograms before age 50 “a 50/50 proposition” and “a toss-up,” so it might befit all women in that age bracket to heed his further advice: “There is no ‘right’ answer for all women in their 40s. But all you really need is an answer that’s right for you, and that’s what good clinical care is all about. Confer with your doctor; consider pros and cons; your risk factors and preferences. And together, make either heads, or tails, of this particular toss-up.”

I am newly married and heard that laptops can reduce male fertility rates. Tell me it ain’t so, Chuck! – “Ready for Reproduction” in New Hampshire

The medical journal Fertility and Sterility recently reported on a study by Argentine scientists who conducted tests to see whether sperm count lessens when in close proximity to a laptop connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi. Their research discovered that 25 percent of sperm were inactive after four hours of computer exposure, compared with only 14 percent of sperm samples that were at a distance from the computers. And DNA damage occurred to 9 percent of the sperm next to computers, three times the amount of comparison samples.

According to a Fox News report, the scientists who did the study say that the culprit is “electromagnetic radiation generated during wireless communication.”

In a couple of recent articles I wrote on electrosmog, I discussed the potential dangers of an electromagnetic field, or EMF – a collective mass of energy created by electrically charged objects that surround our lives and bodies. Individually, the health risks of the electrical appliances, devices and gadgets that engulf our lives may be minuscule, but cumulatively, they raise the health stakes, especially when placed right on or next to the human body.

This study needs to be verified by further studies, but I’m a firm believer in erring on the side of caution. Though the convenience of laptops is, indeed, found in their portability and placement and their EMFs are few and small, do we really want to be a generation of guinea pigs by daily placing them right next to our reproductive organs?

The answer is simple and common sense. If possible, don’t place your laptop computer directly on your lap. Place it on a table, or, at the very least, use protective pads and even an anti-radiation shield between your body and computer.

In related men’s health news, it was great to hear that mustaches raised awareness and more than $75 million around the world in November for cancers particularly affecting men. It’s true!

The November global charity movement, which began in Australia in 2003 with 30 participants and is now more than 800,000, is simply based upon each male participant’s starting the month with a completely shaven face and proceeding to grow and groom his mustache in an effort to raise funds and awareness for men’s health. One person described it as a walkathon but with facial hair.

The millions raised will go to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Livestrong and the Movember Foundation, among other men’s health partners.

Congratulations, charities and men around the world!

If the movement ever advances from mustaches to beards, I think I can give anyone a run for his money!

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