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THIS WEEK'S STORIES
NEWS FOR THE WEEK 25th JANUARY 2008

Previous week's news

Pill spares women cancer

Friday January 25th, 2008

Women who take the contraceptive pill gain lifetime protection against ovarian cancer, British researchers reported today.

A major analysis of the long-term effects of the pill brings "unequivocal good news", according to articles in the Lancet.

Professor Valerie Beral, of Oxford University, analysed 45 major studies of ovarian cancer, involving more than 23,000 women.

The analysis shows that taking the pill for a decade reduces the risk of getting the disease by about a third.

Professor Beral said: "Worldwide, the Pill has already prevented 200,000 women from developing cancer of the ovary and has prevented 100,000 deaths from the disease.

"More than 100 million women are now taking the Pill, so the number of ovarian cancers prevented will rise over the next few decades to about 30,000 per year."

Her fellow researcher Professor Sir Richard Peto said: "Young women don’t have to worry about cancer from taking the Pill because the eventual reduction in ovarian cancer is bigger than any increase in other types of cancer caused by the Pill."

An editorial in The Lancet states: "We believe that the case is now convincing. Women deserve the choice to obtain oral contraceptives over-the-counter, removing a huge and unnecessary barrier to a potentially powerful cancer-preventing agent.

"A strong message about the overall cancer preventing benefits of oral contraceptives would be a positive public-health message, empowering women to decide for themselves about the evidence."

Lancet 2008; 371: 303–14

Books on Women's Health

Early lung disease from cannabis

Friday January 25th, 2008

The lungs of cannabis smokers show signs of serious damage as much as 20 years earlier than those of tobacco users, according to a new study.

The Australian study, reported in the journal Respirology, compared the development of bullous lung disease in different kinds of smokers.

The disease causes air to be trapped in the lungs and ultimately leads to destruction of the organ.

Researchers found that cannabis smokers developed the illness on average at the age of 41 - compared with 65 in the case of tobacco smokers.

Researcher Professor Matthew Naughton, of Monash University, Victoria, said part of the problem was because cannabis smokers "inhale" more than tobacco smokers.

He said: "Marijuana is inhaled as extremely hot fumes to the peak inspiration and held for as long as possible before slow exhalation. This predisposes to greater damage to the lungs and makes marijuana smokers are more prone to bullous disease as compared to cigarette smokers.

"What is outstanding about this study is the relatively young ages of the lung disease patients."

Respirology January 2008

Cranberry juice passes test

Thursday January 24th, 2008

Drinking cranberry juice can reduce the risk of developing urinary tract infections (UTIs), researchers reported yesterday.

People who are prone to recurrent UTIs may benefit most, say Ruth Jepson of the Department of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Stirling, UK, and colleagues.

They explain that cranberries, and particularly cranberry juice, have been used for decades as a means of preventing or treating UTIs, but the evidence is still unclear. So they examined ten studies of cranberry products including 1,049 participants.

Analysis showed that cranberry juice and capsules may prevent recurrent infections in women, but there was no evidence of benefit in elderly men, elderly women, or people using catheters.

Ms Jepson said: "It's worth noting that many people in the trials stopped drinking the juice, suggesting that it may not suit everyone's taste, or it may be too burdensome and costly to drink the two recommended glasses a day.

"We now need to discover how much a person needs to drink, and how long it needs to be used before the juice starts to have an effect."

The review is published in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library. Ms Jepson and colleagues believe that molecules in cranberry juice may make it harder for bacteria such as E. coli to stick to surfaces, making it more difficult for an infection to build up.

In an earlier analysis, Ms Jepson found that cranberry products reduced the risk of UTIs by 35 per cent, compared with placebo.

Jepson, R. G. and Craig, J. C. Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 1.

Jepson, R. G. and Craig, J. C. A systematic review of the evidence for cranberries and blueberries in UTI prevention. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, Vol. 51, June 2007, pp. 738-45.

Thorn therapy for heart?

Wednesday January 23rd, 2008

Hawthorn extract may have a significant benefit on heart failure symptoms, according to a new analysis.

This herbal treatment is already taken by many people with cardiovascular problems. Heart failure is a common but dangerous condition in which clogged arteries force the heart to work harder and reduce the amount of blood pumped around the body. Symptoms include shortness of breath and fatigue.

Dr Max Pittler of Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, UK, and colleagues analysed ten reliable studies on hawthorn extract involving 855 patients with mild-to-moderate chronic heart failure.

In the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, the researchers report that hawthorn extract "boosted the maximum level of physiological workload" and decreased the "pressure-heart rate product" - how much oxygen is used by the heart.

It also improved patients' exercise tolerance, and reduced their shortness of breath and tiredness. Death rates were not examined in detail. Side-effects included nausea, dizziness and heart and gastrointestinal complaints. They were rare, but Dr Pittler said greater side-effects may occur in patients on certain heart drugs.

Nevertheless, he commented: "Overall, the review showed a significant benefit in symptom control and physiologic outcomes in patients who took hawthorn. If I had chronic heart failure, I certainly would consider using it."

Hawthorn extract may boost the strength of heart contractions, increase blood flow through arteries and reduce irregular heartbeats, he suggested.

But Dr Gregg Fonarow of the University of California at Los Angeles, USA, is not convinced. He points out that a large new study found only limited benefit. Hawthorn "is not a harmful therapy, but it's one that is not particularly helpful nor that would be recommended", he believes.

Pittler, M. H., Guo, R. and Ernst, E. Hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 1.

No eggs in MMR

Tuesday January 22nd, 2008

The MMR vaccine can safely be given to children with egg allergy, experts said yesterday.

Provided children have not had problems with other vaccines, they are in no danger from the MMR.

Experts issued the advice in a bid to encourage more parents to take their children for vaccination as, they said, administration of the vaccine is failing to hit targets.

The numbers of children have the vaccine slumped amid false reports it was linked to autism - and although the claims have been disproved has not fully recovered.

The British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology said children were being exposed to "unnecessary suffering and occasional serious consequences" through not receiving the vaccine, which protects against mumps, measles and rubella.

The organisation's paediatric allergy group said it had considered the issue and found that, at worst, there might be traces of hen's egg protein. It said the protein would be "highly processed" and in too small quantities to trigger an allergic reaction.

Group chair Professor John Warner, of St Mary's Hospital, London said: "Egg-allergic children who have not had problems with other vaccinations can safely be given MMR in primary care.

"Specialist assessment is only required if any previous vaccinations have resulted in a severe allergic reaction (including any breathing problems or collapse)."

Women and caffeine - good and bad news

Tuesday January 22nd, 2008

A new study has shown a strong link between caffeine and miscarriage, US researchers claim.

The study appears in the current online issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The researchers, from California's Kaiser Permanent Division of Research, said women who consumed 200 mg or more of caffeine per day (about two cups of coffee) doubled their miscarriage risk.

Caffeine sources also included tea, fizzy drinks and hot chocolate.

The study surveyed the caffeine habits of 1063 pregnant women from 1996 to 1998. It controlled pregnancy-related symptoms of nausea, vomiting and caffeine aversion that tended to interfere with the determination of caffeine's true effect on miscarriage risk.

Author Dr De-Kum Li said the findings showed that pregnant women should consider stopping all caffeine consumption during pregnancy.

"This research provides clearer and stronger evidence that high doses of caffeine intake during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage," Dr Li said.

However, Dr Alan Leviton, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School who reviewed the study, said: "Of the women participating in this study, 59 per cent of the women classified as having a miscarriage had it before enrolment.

"Thus, this is not a prospective study as claimed by the authors."

Meanwhile a second study suggests women who drink coffee can reduce their risk of developing ovarian cancer.

The findings, reported in the journal Cancer, come from a continuing study of some 121,000 being conducted by Harvard Medical School.

The researchers found no link between alcohol and tobacco and this kind of cancer - but found that caffeine consumption seemed to help, especially if a woman had not used contraceptive pills.

The researchers, led by Dr Shelley Tworoger, write: "The possibility that caffeine may reduce ovarian cancer risk, particularly for women who have not previously used exogenous hormones, is intriguing and warrants further study, including an evaluation of possible biological mechanisms."

American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology January 2008; Cancer Online January 22, 2008.

Books on Women's Health

New lupus gene findings

Monday January 21st, 2008

British researchers have found several new genes linked to the "devastating" disease lupus, it was announced last night.

Researchers at Imperial College, London, announced their findings in the journal Nature Genetics jointly with teams from the USA and Sweden.

The disease mainly affects women and causes joint pains and skin rash and can lead to inflammation of internal organs.

The findings relate to three genes - ITGAM, PXK and KIAA1542 - and come from a study of some 720 white women wiht lupus, compared with more than 2,000 without the disease.

Researcher Professor Timothy Vyse said: "This study represents a milestone in progress towards unravelling the secrets of the disease.

"Lupus is a complex disease, which is hard to diagnose, and it can cause many different and unpredictable problems for patients. Living with lupus can be really tough. We currently can treat the disease by suppressing the immune system, but we urgently need to understand in much more detail what goes wrong with the immune system so that we can design better treatments."

He added: "We are continuing to work on refining these genetic studies. Blood samples from patients with lupus have helped us already and we are very grateful to those who have given us samples. We always need more samples and would like to hear from anyone with lupus who would like to help us by giving blood samples for this important research."

Nature Genetics, AOP 20 January 2008, doi:10.1038/ng.71

Mother and child cancer link

Monday January 21st, 2008

Some childhood cancers are linked to the development of breast cancer in the children's mothers, British researchers have found.

The Manchester study identified a cancer of the connective tissues, rhabdomysosarcoma, as especially likely to occur in children whose mothers developed breast cancer.

Children who developed cancers of the skin and the brain were also more likely than others to have mothers who developed the disease, the researchers found.

The findings come from a study of some 2,668 children with cancer diagnosed in Manchester over a 40-year period and have been published in the new on-line journal produced by the European Institute of Oncology, ecancermedicine.

The researchers found that the mothers of the children with cancer were at greatest risk of developing cancer in the ten years following birth.

There was an especially strong link when children developed rhabdomyosarcoma before birth.

The researchers, led by Dr Dong Pang, say that there may be changes in pregnancy, possibly genetic mutations, that place both child and mother at risk of cancer.

They add: "It is thought that this mechanism may also be operating in mothers of children with other types of cancers"

ecancermedicalscience 2008: 1:57

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