Monday, 26 February 2007

Adrenal gland's role in heart failure examined

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Your heart is racing, to the point where it is at risk of failing. But, in a countermeasure atypical of the almost always smart-functioning human body, the adrenal gland responds with an excessive output of fight of flight hormones such as epinephrine and norepindephrine. In effect, the body mistakenly responds by making the heart beat even faster -- clearly a problem. Researchers from the Center for Translational Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia are examining this cause and effect relationship, and hope that targeting the adrenal gland may help stave off heart failure altogether.

By blocking an important regulatory enzyme called GRK2, the researchers prevented the hormone production that causes the heart to pump in overdrive, which is what ultimately leads to heart failure. While previous examination of heart failure has targeted the heart alone as the source for failure, this supplementary look into the role of the adrenal gland may be an effective new prevention strategy.

In the past, doctors have used beta-blockers to block the hormones that force the heart to go berserk and beat like you ate a few handfulls of espresso beans and chased them with a twelve-pack of Red Bull. Researchers involved in this new study instead focused on the adrenal gland, and were able to prevent heart failure in laboratory animals. The researchers are hopeful that their findings will lead to a new class of medication.

Breast cancer theory parallels African belief

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Some scientists believe that surgery to remove a breast tumor may actually help the cancer spread and have recently reported that this same belief may be the exact reason black women are more likely to die of breast cancer.

There is apparently a widespread belief in parts of Africa and the United States that removing a tumor hastens death.

"I must say that I am sure there is more to this than just a myth," said Michael Retsky of Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, who shares his opinions in the International Journal of Surgery.

Retsky still urges any woman with breast cancer to have her tumor removed. And he says chemotherapy is such standard practice for any cancer threatening to spread. It's a safety net of sorts to catch the cells that get away. So if surgery causes cancer to spread, then in theory, chemotherapy should stop the spread.

Retsky, who is not suggesting any change in clinical practice, thinks the subject needs far more research. American Cancer Society experts, who tend to question this theory, agree.

"Whether or not the theory is correct, I have difficulty with the logic that they employed to get there," said oncologist Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society who says women should never delay treatment for breast cancer.

Retsky believes that perhaps surgery, by wounding the body, causes it to produce growth factors that fuel the growth of other, tiny tumors. Or maybe a primary tumor secretes some sort of factor that holds the other tumors in check. When the main tumor is removed, the smaller tumors grow.

But it could be that surgery does not cause a spread at all - and that any belief of this nature has no connection with breast cancer tendencies in black women. It may be that black women just have a genetic predisposition for more aggressive forms of the disease.

Patrick Dempsey partners with cancer support group

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Patrick Dempsey may play a doctor on television's Grey's Anatomy but in real life, he is much like all of us -- especially when it comes to caring for a loved one with cancer.

Dempsey's mother had cancer, received treatment for the disease, and has been surviving for nine years. Yet memories of the journey, an d the overwhelming process of it all, are fresh in his mind.

"It's overwhelming because it's like, there's too many options sometimes," Dempsey said. "It's like, well, why should I believe the doctors? Shouldn't I get a second opinion? Shouldn't I find a specialist?"

Dempsey recalls feeling naive and childlike and powerless in many ways. And now, partnering with Breakaway from Cancer -- a support initiative founded in 2005 -- he is helping others take control of life with cancer.

"You need a support system in to encourage you, to get you up and out of bed in the morning," Dempsey said.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Sunday Seven: Seven ways to act on what we already know

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There's no mystery about how we might help prevent cancer. In fact, we don't even need to venture out of our own minds to figure it all out.

Consider this.

"We estimate that more than 50 percent of cancer incidence could be prevented if we act today on what we already know," says Graham Colditz, M.D., Dr.P.H., and associate director of Prevention and Control at the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

And now consider these seven methods for acting on what we already know about cancer prevention.

One. Lose weight and exercise more. It is estimated that 20 to 30 percent of the most common cancers in the United States are directly attributed to being overweight or physically inactive.

Two. Eat right. Plant-based diets help prevent cancer. Eating fruits and vegetables help prevent cancer. D iets high in red meat and animal fat increase the risk of cancer. End of story.

Three. Quit smoking. We all know smoking is associated with lung cancer, but it's also linked to cancer of the colon, kidney, pancreas, cervix, and stomach. Within five years to 10 years, there is a 50 percent reduction in cancer risk for those who stop smoking.

. Limit alcohol intake. While a few studies claim there are health benefits to drinking wine and other alcoholic beverages, most data show overconsumption of alcohol increases the risk of oral, esophageal, and breast cancers.

Five. Increase folate intake. Epidemiological studies suggest that low folate levels promote cancer development. Experts recommend taking a multivitamin with folate every day.

Six. Stay in the shade. Limiting long-term exposure to the sun and tanning beds, booths, and lamps minimizes the risk of develo ping skin cancer.

Seven. Avoid sexually transmitted diseases. Human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical cancer. Hepatitis B and C viruses can cause liver cancer. Helicobacter pylori causes stomach cancer. It's critical that we protect ourselves during sexual contact if we wish to protect ourselves from cancer.

Knowing the facts about colon cancer

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Colorectal cancer screening prevents more deaths due to early detection than breast or prostate cancer screening. The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center recently published a report on the 12 myths about colon cancer and getting to know them could save your life and the lives of your family and friends. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and the number one cause of cancer death among non-smokers.

Symptoms of colon cancer can include severe abdominal pain, blood in the stool or rectal bleeding, unexplained loss of weight, or major changes in bowel habits (recurrent constipation or diarrhea). But, these symptoms often do not occur until the cancer is in its more advanced stages. An absence of symptoms does not mean an absence of cancer. In fact colon cancer is often referred to as a "silent killer" because of the lack of symptoms until it is in advanced stages. A colonoscopy is the only method that can actually help prevent you from developing colon cancer in the future because during the screening colonoscopy, if the doctor finds polyps, they can remove them from your colon as part of the procedure, preventing the polyps from ever having the chance to develop into cancer. If the polyps found in your colon happen to already be cancerous, they can often be removed during your colonoscopy and treatment can begin right away.

When colon cancer is caught early, it has a 95 p ercent survival rate. That's why screening is so important. Once colon cancer has spread to the liver, it's usually deadly, with only a 9 percent survival rate. Colonoscopy screening is recommended for men and women beginning at age 50, unless other risk factors exist such as family history, obesity, smoking, ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.