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This week in the medical journals

By Peggy Peck Managing Editor

Editor's note: has a business partnership with, which provides custom health content. A medical journal roundup from MedPage Today appears each Thursday.



Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Health Organizations
National Cancer Institute

Unexpected benefit

The biggest medical news story this week was the finding that a drug used to treat and prevent osteoporosis in post-menopausal women -- Evista (raloxifene) -- can also reduce the risk of breast cancer.

But it wasn't reported in a medical journal. Because of the finding's importance to women and their doctors, researchers for the Study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene trial jumped the gun and decided to announce the study results at press conference, rather than waiting until June for a medical meeting, or for publication in a journal.

We have a winner

The study enrolled almost 20,000 women and the bottom line was that Evista was as good as tamoxifen -- the only FDA-approved drug for prevention of breast cancer -- for reducing the risk of invasive breast cancer. What's more, unlike tamoxifen Evista didn't increase the risk of endometrial cancer. As one researcher said, Evista "was the winner."

Evista did not, however, reduce the risk of noninvasive breast cancer, as tamoxifen does. On the plus side, women who took Evista had fewer cataracts and fewer blood clots, including life-threatening blood clots in the lungs.

Evista is not FDA-approved for prevention of breast cancer, although the researchers predicted that Evista-maker, Eli Lilly, will quickly ask the FDA to okay the osteoporosis drug for that indication.

Evista prevents invasive breast cancer in high-risk post-menopausal womenexternal link

Look mom, safe fillings

There was comforting news this week for parents worried about the potential health risks of mercury-based fillings used for repair of cavities.

Two studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the fillings seemed to pose little or no risk to developing brains.

In both studies, children who had cavities filled with the mercury-based amalgam fared as well on tests of thinking and memory as children who had resin-based fillings.

Mercury fillings held health harmless in kidsexternal link

Questioning fetal pain

Also this week, a researcher from the University of Birmingham in England reported that an analysis of research on fetal development confirmed that fetuses are physically incapable of feeling pain until the end of the second trimester. Moreover, a fetus does not recognize pain as a signal of a harmful encounter until after birth, the researcher wrote in BMJ, formerly British Medical Journal.

That said, the researcher added that this bit of science does not "resolve the question of whether abortion is morally acceptable or should be legal."

Fetuses called impervious to sensation of painexternal link

Goth risk factor?

Another study in BMJ linked the Goth subculture to increased risk of suicide and self-mutilation among teens.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow wrote that more than half of 19-year-olds who identified as Goths admitted self-mutilating behaviors such as cutting or said they had attempted suicide.

But the researchers said it is unclear which came first: participation in Goth culture or harmful behavior.

Goth youths prone to suicide attempts and self-mutilationexternal link

No, no, I said right

If surgery is in your future, here is some good news: operating on the wrong site -- like operating on the left knee, when the right knee has the problem -- is actually extremely rare.

Moreover, in major surgery the risk is even less, according to a team of Harvard researchers who reviewed 20 years of botched surgical procedures. But -- and this is food for thought -- these comforting results are largely the result of good luck because, the Harvard team reported in Archives of Surgery, current procedures aimed at preventing wrong-site surgery would only prevent about six of 10 cases.

Wrong-site surgery rare but not entirely preventableexternal link

No cancer risk with breast implants

Here, however, is a concern that can be crossed off the list. Researchers at the International Epidemiology Institute in Rockville, Maryland, said that cosmetic breast implants don't cause cancer.

The researchers, who reported their findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, followed almost 3,500 Swedish women who had cosmetic breast implants for an average of 18 years and found no implant-associated increase in cancer. The women had more lung cancers but that was because the women with breast implants smoked more than women without implants, the researchers said.

No increased cancer among women with cosmetic breast implantsexternal link

An ideal time for a baby

Timing, meanwhile, is everything, especially when timing the birth of siblings, reported a team of researchers from Bogotá, Colombia, in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Babies born too close (less than 18 months apart) or too far apart (five years) are at increased risk for low birth weight. The ideal interval was 18 to 23 months.

Ill-timed birth spacing may compromise perinatal outcomeexternal link

Pass the olive oil, please

A Mediterranean diet may be brain food, according to Columbia University researchers. People who strictly adhere to diets high in fruits, vegetables and cereals, but low in meats and dairy products, had about a 40 percent decreased in risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Moreover, the researchers reported that even people who only sometimes followed the Mediterranean diet reduced their risk of Alzheimer's disease by 15 to 21 percent. The results of the study of more than 2,250 individuals from the Washington Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project were reported in the Annals of Neurology.

Mediterranean diet lowered Alzheimer's riskexternal link

A real benefit for a college degree

Education, too, has major health benefits according to results from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study.

Compared with people who earned advanced degrees, high school dropouts are four times more likely to have calcium buildup in their coronary arteries. And calcium in arteries -- considered a risk for heart attack -- decreases as education increases, so high school graduates had less calcium than high school drop outs, but people who had some college had even less.

The researchers, who reported the finding in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said they don't really know why education protects the arteries but they think it could have something to do with stress, as in less education usually means a lower income and more stress.

Education seems good for the heartexternal link

Vacation planning advice

Planning a vacation? If your plans include a seven-hour plane trip, consider wearing some compression stockings while aloft.

A Cochrane Collaboration meta-analysis of published studies found that wearing the compression hose reduced the risk of developing blood clots in the legs.

Compression stockings cut DVT risk on long flightsexternal link

Tanning parlors target teens

April marks the beginning of the high school prom season, which also triggers an increase in advertising from tanning parlors, said University of Colorado researchers.

They reported in the Archives of Dermatology that about half of high school newspapers in the Denver area carry ads for tanning products, including deep discounts for prom specials or customers who present high school identification cards.

The researchers said that tanning ads should be restricted in the same way that ads for tobacco products are.

Dangerous tanning parlors advertise in high school papersexternal link

Do you have a seat belt for that mower?

Finally, beware the scythe and the mower.

Johns Hopkins researchers reported this week that lawn mowing can be hazardous to your health.

Mowing-related injuries were the cause of almost 12,000 hospitalizations from 1996 to 2004, and each year there are an average of 74,000 lawn mower injuries, they reported in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Who's most at risk? The young, the old and -- of course -- men.

Lawn mowing can be hazardous to your healthexternal link

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