MARCH 30, 2005

One screen leads to another
ANN ARBOR — Despite being of uncertain value, prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing is far more popular than the tried and true colorectal cancer (CRC) screening. Of 22,617 men over 50 in a recent study, two-thirds had undergone recent PSA testing, but less than half were up to date on CRC screening. The research, published in February's Journal of the American College of Surgeons, found that the most important factor that determined who received CRC screening was having had a PSA test. The authors speculate that men who are comfortable with one form of cancer screening would be more open to another.

Androgen deprivation: PSA sets the bar
PHILADELPHIA — One proven use for the PSA test is figuring out how to approach treatment for prostate cancer. It's known that androgen deprivation can help prostate cancer patients, but researchers are still a little foggy about what PSA levels warrant using the treatment. A recent study of 1,003 prostate cancer patients stepped in to fill the void. After some fancy statistical wizardry, researchers decided that patients with PSA levels of over 30ng/mL are at high risk and should be considered for androgen deprivation, as well as radiotherapy. Full results can be found in the March 15 International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics.

Lactation in the jet age
LUBBOCK, TEXAS — Researchers at Texas Tech University have found a toxic chemical from jet fuel in breast milk. The study, published online February 23 in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, looked at 36 women from 17 states. They found that levels of perchlorate -- which inhibits iodide uptake by the thyroid gland -- were as much as 20 times higher than the safe dose. Mums in California reported the highest levels and local environment advocates believe the Colorado River -- a major source of Californians' potable water -- may be contaminated due to debris from former defence and space program sites.

Dethroning the disease of kings
CHICAGO — A sexy new drug has taken the decidedly unsexy world of gout by storm. Febuxostat, a nonpurine selective inhibitor of xanthine oxidase, performed significantly better than placebo in reducing serum urate concentrations in a 28-day trial of 153 patients -- without side effects. However, tried and true treatment colchicine prophylaxis did even better, managing to reduce the number of gout flares compared to placebo a feat that febuxostat failed to do. The research is published in the March issue of the Journal of Arthritis and Rheumatism.

Baby heart scandal aftershocks
BRISTOL, UK — The Bristol Royal Infirmary baby heart scandal started with the deaths of 29 infant heart surgery patients and ended with a 529 page report and two surgeons being struck off. The report led the government to demand in 2001 that heart surgeons make their success rates public by 2004, but hospitals have been slow to act. UK newspaper The Guardian recently gained access to data from several hospitals and found that many are still struggling to collect such data, let alone release it. Physician score cards are always controversial, especially since death rates are often skewed by factors like patient age and comorbidities.

Think before you ink
SAN DIEGO — Tattoos are in vogue but those who get them could risk more than parental disapproval. Findings presented March 13 at the 229th annual meeting of the American Chemical Society showed that the chemicals used in tattoo inks may cause side effects in some people, including a burning sensation during an MRI and the migration of metals in the ink to other parts of the body, like the lungs. To top this off, lower-back tattoos have also come under scrutiny. Though evidence is still lacking, some believe tattoo ink could interfere with epidurals by seeping into the lower lumbar region of the spine -- in the worst-case scenario possibly causing paralysis.

Fly the germ-filled skies
BURLINGTON, MA — The 2002 SARS outbreak showed the world how commercial air travel can facilitate the spread of disease. A new study published in the March 12 issue of The Lancet shows that airplane ventilation systems could be to blame for the easy passage of microbes. In their literature review, the researchers found that although planes are still conducive to the spread of disease, the risk can be minimized. Proper ventilation can remove up to 63% of pathogens in the air. The authors did note that the passengers' perceived risk of catching something is greater than the actual risk.

Strike two for vitamin E
HAMILTON — The fallen miracle vitamin once thought to ward off heart disease has suffered another debilitating blow. A study in the March 16 JAMA shows that vitamin E provides no benefit in warding off heart disease or cancer and can actually increase the risk of heart failure. Researchers followed 7,030 participants who were given 400 IU of vitamin E or placebo for a median followup of seven years. They found absolutely no benefit from taking the supplement. An earlier study, in the November 10 Annals of Internal Medicine, was the first to debunk the vitamin E myth.

Head for the healthy hills
ATHENS — Julie Andrews had it right in The Sound of Music: the hills are alive. According to research published in the April issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, living in higher altitudes is good for your heart and might actually help you live longer. The study followed 1,198 participants over 15 years. They found that mountain dwellers actually had more risk factors for heart disease -- they drank more, had higher cholesterol and blood pressure, and higher triglycerides and blood fat. Despite it all, they fared the best. The researchers think the 'protective effect' of living in higher altitudes is due to increased physical activity under conditions of mild hypoxia.




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