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Scientists make skin cancer breakthrough, older women having more babies and is ADHD a real disease?

A round-up of the morning’s health news headlines on Monday 31 March.

The BBC reports that scientists say they have taken a step forward in understanding why some people are at greater risk of skin cancer because of their family history.

A newly identified gene mutation causes some cases of melanoma, says a UK team. The discovery will pave the way for new screening methods, they report in Nature Genetics.

The risk of melanoma depends on several factors, including sun exposure, skin type and family history. Every year in the UK, almost 12,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma.

About one in 20 people with melanoma have a well-established family history of the disease.

A team led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK, found that people with mutations in a certain gene were at extremely high risk of melanoma. The team found cancers such as leukaemia were common in these families, suggesting the gene may underlie other cancers and not just melanoma.

The Daily Mail writes that the number of women over 50 who are having babies has more than doubled in five years. It reports that the latest figures show that every week around three children are born to a mother in her fifties.

Health ministers revealed the sharp rise in older mothers in a parliamentary question. In 2012, there were 154 babies born to mothers over the age of 50, up by a third in a year.

The figure has more than doubled since 2008 when there were 69 births to women aged 50 and over. In 2000 the number was 44.

The number of births to mothers aged 40 and over has also risen, up 13 per cent from 26,419 in 2008 to 29,994 in 2012. It means one in 25 are to mothers who have turned 40.

Even someone who has a child aged over the age 35 is considered an ‘older mother’ by  medical professionals.

Around 20% of babies are born to women aged 35 or older, the highest proportion since records began in 1938.

At the same time, only 23% of births were to women aged under 25 in 2012, down from almost half in the early 1970s.

Meanwhile the Guardian reports that ne of the world’s leading neuroscientists has suggested that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not ‘a real disease’.

On the eve of a visit to Britain to meet work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, Dr Bruce D Perry told the Observer that the label of ADHD outlined a broad set of symptoms. ‘It is best thought of as a description. If you look at how you end up with that label, it is remarkable because any one of us at any given time would fit at least a couple of those criteria,’ he said.

Prescriptions for methylphenidate drugs, such as Ritalin, which are used to treat children diagnosed as suffering from ADHD, have soared by 56% in the UK, from 420,000 in 2007 to 657,000 in 2012.

Perry, a senior fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy in Houston, Texas, said he was concerned that children were being labelled as having ADHD when that merely described the symptoms of a range of different physiological problems. The symptoms that lead to a diagnosis of ADHD include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness over a sustained period.

Perry added that clinicians were also too readily prescribing psychostimulants to children when the evidence suggested there were no long-term benefits. Animal studies have raised concerns over the potential for damage to be done.

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