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The Biggest Health Stories of 2011

From Steve Jobs to the radiation in Japan, here are the top health stories of last year.
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From Japan’s food radiation scare as a result of one of the biggest natural disasters in recorded history to the death of the legendary Apple CEO Steve Jobs who succumbed to pancreatic cancer, health topics were among the biggest issues to unfold in 2011. Here is a look back at some of the most talked about health stories of the previous year.

Radiation Scare In Japan
After a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a subsequent tsunami devastated Japan on March 11, serious concerns regarding the threat of radiation to the country’s food chain started to arise. The tragedy resulted in a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan’s northeast region. In spite of strident efforts to achieve a shutdown and avoid further radiation leakage, people who lived around the power plant tested positive for radiation. A ban on beef shipments was implemented following a discovery that some livestock farmers fed their cattle with contaminated hay. The feeds were allegedly exposed to radioactive cesium from the damaged nuclear facility. The Japanese food scare rippled around the world as the United States banned the importation of dairy products and other produce from Japan’s disaster-hit regions. Some European and Asian countries also followed suit. Experts at the Food and Drug Administration are particularly concerned about the long-term effects of the leakages, saying that it could take decades to clean up the radioactive particles from the environment.

Steve Jobs Lost Battle With Cancer
The death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs focused media and public attention on a rare form of cancer. In 2004, Jobs was diagnosed with neuroendocrine pancreatic tumor, which accounts for fewer than five percent of pancreatic cancers. Also called islet cell carcinoma, this uncommon type of cancer affects the cells that produce hormones in the pancreas. The tumors are usually detected late because they progress slower and are less aggressive.

Steve Jobs generally kept details of his treatment private. His biographer later revealed that the visionary who introduced the iPhone, iPod and iPad to the world, opted for alternative therapies. For seven years, Jobs battled his illness with the aid of herbal remedies, acupuncture and a vegan diet.

Significant Advances On Cancer Research
Steve Jobs was not the only celebrity claimed by cancer last year. Former boxing heavyweight champion Joe Frazier also succumbed to liver cancer at the age of 57. Incidentally, 2011 marked the 40th year since Congress passed the National Cancer Act of 1971. In June, scientists announced that they’re on the tipping point on the war against cancer. New research is paving the way for personalized therapies that could help patients more effectively. Furthermore, seven out of the 35 drugs approved by the FDA in 2011 were for cancer treatment.

Prostate Screening Controversy
While there were major advances in cancer research, there were also controversies. Early last year, the Preventive Services Task Force gave a D rating to the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test used for screening prostate cancer. This D rating suggested that the harm from prostate exams outweighs the benefits, and the task force recommended the cessation of the test. These findings were immediately contested by the Prostate Cancer Foundation, claiming that numerous prostate cancer survivors benefited from the screenings.

Zombie Invasion Preparedness Plan
When the Center for Disease Control and Prevention launched their campaign entitled "Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse," in May last year, their blog site crashed due to the overwhelming number of curious visitors. In reality, it was just a very smart tactic to promote emergency preparedness among citizens. The CDC took advantage of the popularity of zombie-themed movies, TV series and videogames in order to get the public’s attention. They provided a number of helpful tips on how to survive the first couple of days after a zombie apocalypse—or a real emergency like flood, earthquake, hurricane and any other disaster.

These are just some of the health headlines that shook the world in 2011. We can certainly expect more this year with the numerous advances and breakthroughs in health research.

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