Archive for the ‘Health News’ Category


Does an aspirin a day keep the cancer surgeon away?

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A daily dose of aspirin should be given to people at high risk of bowel cancer, say scientists.

Two pills a day for two years reduced the incidence of bowel cancer by 63% in a group of 861 at-risk patients, a study reported in The Lancet said.

Newcastle University’s Prof Sir John Burn, who led the study, said the evidence “seems overwhelmingly strong”.

Other experts said the findings added to a growing body of proof that aspirin could be used in the fight with cancer.

The study was conducted on 861 patients with Lynch syndrome, which affects one in every 1,000 people.

They struggle to detect and repair damaged DNA which means they are more likely to develop a range of cancers including those of the bowel, womb and stomach.

‘Good deal’
When looking at all patients in the trial, those in the group given 600 milligrams of aspirin every day developed 19 tumours compared to 34 tumours in the other “control” group, a reduction of 44%.

When the researchers looked at just those patients who took the medication for at least two years the reduction was 63%.

There was also an effect on other cancers linked to Lynch syndrome, which fell by half in the treatment group.

Prof Sir John Burn, from Newcastle University, said there were 30,000 adults in the UK with Lynch syndrome.

If all were given the treatment he said it would prevent 10,000 cancers over 30 years and he speculated that this could possibly prevent 1,000 deaths from the disease.

However, there would also be side effects.

“If we can prevent 10,000 cancers in return for 1,000 ulcers and 100 strokes, in most people’s minds that’s a good deal,” he said.

“People who’ve got a clear family history of, particularly, bowel cancer should seriously consider adding low dose aspirin to their routine and particularly those people who’ve got a genetic predisposition.”

Aspirin is already well known to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in high risk patients.

Audrey Francis: walking time bomb

Audrey Francis

Audrey Francis describes herself as “a bit of a walking time bomb”.

There is a history of cancer in her family and she has been diagnosed with Lynch syndrome.
Seventeen years ago she had a hysterectomy. That was when doctors discovered she had not one but two cancers – in the womb and the ovaries.

Tests showed she had a chunk of DNA missing which was causing the cancers: “I actually had the inability to stop the cancers developing,” she said.

She took part in the trial and has since decided to self medicate with aspirin: “I’ve got my fingers crossed and I’m hoping it’ll do the trick for me.”

Other studies over the past two decades have suggested the pain killer reduced cancer risk, but this was the first randomised control trial, specifically for aspirin in cancer, to prove it.

In 2010, a study suggested patients given aspirin had a 25% lower risk of death during that trial.

Prof Peter Rothwell, from Oxford University, who conducted that study said the latest research “certainly helps to build a consistent picture, all pointing in the same direction that there is a link with cancer”.

Cancer Research UK’s Prof Chris Paraskeva said: “This adds to the growing body of evidence showing the importance of aspirin, and aspirin-like drugs, in the fight against cancer.”
‘Balanced argument’
One of the questions asked by the research into aspirin was whether healthy people with no family risks should take the drug.

The lower the risk of heart attack or cancer, the lower the benefit of taking aspirin, yet there are still potentially deadly side effects.

Sir John said that it was a “finely balanced argument” and that he decided the risks were worth it for him.

“I think where we’re headed for is people that are in their 50s and 60s would look very seriously at adding a low dose aspirin to their daily routine because it’s giving protection against cancer, heart attack and stroke.

“But if they do that they’ve got to have their eyes wide open. They will increase their risk of ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeds and very rarely they will have a stroke caused by the aspirin.”



Contraceptive pill  
The study looked at the combined oral contraceptive pill

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Women who take the Pill for 10 years almost halve their risk of ovarian cancer, according to a study.

But experts say this must be balanced against the risk of breast cancer, which is higher in women on the Pill.

For every 100,000 women on the Pill for 10 years there are 50 extra breast cancers and 12 fewer ovarian cancers, data shows.

The study is published in the British Journal of Cancer.

It adds weight to previous research suggesting factors like the Pill and pregnancy can impact on cancer risk by changing the level of hormones in the body.

Dr Richard Edmondson of the Northern Institute for Cancer Research at the University of Newcastle, said: “Women may be reassured to know that the oral contraceptive is not only an effective contraceptive but can have the added benefit of reducing their risk of ovarian cancer.

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These results are important because most women don’t know that taking the Pill or getting pregnant can help reduce their risk of ovarian cancer later on in life”

Naomi Allen University of Oxford

“This is however balanced against a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer.

“To put this in context, it is estimated that if 100,000 women use the Pill for 10 years or more, there will be 50 more breast cancers than would have otherwise occurred, but 12 fewer ovarian cancers.

“This may be particularly important for women with an increased risk of ovarian cancer in their family.”

Large study
The study followed more than 300,000 women enrolled in a large European study known as EPIC (European Prospective Investigation of Cancer).

The women were taking the combined oral contraceptive pill, which contains two hormones, an oestrogen and a progestogen.

Researchers say they found evidence that taking the Pill for 10 years reduced the risk of ovarian cancer by almost half, compared with women who had used the contraceptive for a year or less.

The data

  • There were about 28 ovarian cancer cases per 100,000 women who used the Pill for a year or less
  • There were about 15 ovarian cancer cases per 100,000 women who took the Pill for at least 10 years
  • Among women who have never been pregnant, there were 34 ovarian cancer cases per 100,000 women
  • Among women who have gone through pregnancy at least once there were 24 ovarian cancer cases per 100,000 women
The team also say it found evidence that having a baby reduced the risk of ovarian cancer; the more children a woman had, the bigger the protection.

However, they add that their research did not find evidence of a link between breastfeeding and protection against ovarian cancer, which has been found in some other studies.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women in the UK, with more than 6,500 cases diagnosed each year. Several factors are known to play a role including age, faults in certain genes, obesity and smoking.

Danger signs
Naomi Allen is an epidemiologist for Cancer Research UK at the University of Oxford who works on the EPIC study.

She said: “Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect and so prevention is key to saving women suffering from this disease.

“These results are important because most women don’t know that taking the Pill or getting pregnant can help reduce their risk of ovarian cancer later on in life.”

Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, added: “Treatment for ovarian cancer is better if the disease is caught as early as possible.

“So all women should be aware of the signs of ovarian cancer like pain in the lower tummy, bloating, increased tummy size, difficulty eating or feeling full.

“If these symptoms are new and happen on most days then it’s worth getting checked out by your doctor without delay.”

Meanwhile a separate study, published in the British Medical Journal, appears to confirm earlier research that suggested that some newer types of contraceptive pill are more likely to cause blood clots.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, said women on pills containing drospirenone, desogestrel or gestodene had double the risk of clots compared with an older drug, levonorgestrel.

Warning over HIV home test kits

Posted: October 28, 2011 in Health News, News


Home HIV testing kits have been illegal in the UK since 1992

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Illegal home testing kits for HIV are giving people incorrect results, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has warned.

It said there were issues with other tests for sexually transmitted diseases which were legal but might also be inaccurate.

The body is investigating a UK website which is selling the tests.

The Health Protection Agency has written to some of those affected to say the tests are unreliable.

Sales records gathered during the investigation showed that about 500 tests for sexually transmitted diseases – such as HIV, chlamydia and syphilis – had been sold.
It warned that as well as home HIV tests being against the law, the other tests did not meet European regulations.

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These kits may be unreliable and there is a significant risk they could be providing the user with a false result”

Susanne Ludgate MHRA

Susanne Ludgate, MHRA clinical director of devices, said: “We’re concerned that there may be a number of self-test kits being sold online that may not be compliant with the relevant piece of legislation and we’re urging people not to consider the internet as a method of anonymous testing.

“These kits may be unreliable and there is a significant risk they could be providing the user with a false result.

“The instructions for use might also be incorrect or confusing and not adequate for someone trying to use the kit in their home.”

She said people should check for the “CE mark”, which shows the tests have been approved.
The Health Protection Agency has contacted those known to have ordered the kits.

Dr Fortune Ncube, from the HPA’s blood borne viruses department, said: “If anybody feels they have put themselves at risk they should contact their local GP or go to their most convenient GUM clinic, where they can receive a full screen for all STIs, including HIV.

“Rapid and confidential tests, as well as sexual health advice, are available through the NHS without charge.”

Obese teenage girl Teenage girls tend to be less active than boys

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Obesity has a greater impact on the blood pressure of teenage girls than on teenage boys, a US study has suggested.

High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke in later life.

The study of 1,700 teenagers, presented to the American Physiological Society conference, found girls had three times the risk of higher blood pressure.

A British Heart Foundation spokeswoman said a third of young people in the UK were overweight or obese.

The teenagers, aged between 13 and 17 had their blood pressure measured as part of school district health surveys and health checks. Their body mass index (BMI) – a measure of weight/height ratio – was also recorded.

There are two types of blood pressure which are measured. Diastolic pressure – the lower number in a reading – measures the force on the arteries between heartbeats. Systolic blood pressure, represented by the top number in a blood pressure reading, is the amount of force that blood exerts on blood vessel walls when the heart beats.

High systolic measurements indicate risk for heart disease and stroke.

It was found obese boys were 3.5 times more likely to develop elevated systolic blood pressure than non-obese boys.

But similarly obese girls were nine times more likely to develop elevated systolic blood pressure than their non-obese peers.

Danger ‘highlighted’
The researchers from the University of California say the link may be counteracting the known protective effect of the hormone oestrogen on the heart.

Dr Rudy Ortiz, who led the study, said: “Overall, there is a higher likelihood that those who present with both higher BMI and blood pressure will succumb to cardiovascular complications as adults.

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This is a very real problem for lots of families”

Natasha Stewart British Heart Foundation

“But the findings suggest that obese females may have a higher risk of developing these problems than males.”

Dr Ortiz said the significant difference between boys and girls could be explained by exercise levels.

“Obese adolescent females participate in 50 to 60% less physical activity than boys in the population surveyed.”

Natasha Stewart, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Here we have yet more evidence highlighting the danger that obesity poses to the health of our children.
“Based on this American study alone, it’s too early to say for sure whether girls are more at risk than boys, but we do know girls tend to be less active than boys which could play a part.
“What is certain is that obesity is clearly putting both boys’ and girls’ health at risk.

“This is a very real problem for lots of families – about a third of young people in England are now overweight or obese.

“Healthy eating and physical activity during childhood is vital to ensure growth, development and a pattern of healthy habits which will carry through into adulthood.”

DNA sequence The woman had some rare genetic changes

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The entire DNA sequence of a woman who lived to 115 has been pieced together by scientists.

The woman, who was the oldest in the world at the time of her death, had the mind of someone decades younger and no signs of dementia, say Dutch experts.

The study, reported at a scientific conference in Canada, suggests she had genes that protected against dementia.

Further work could give clues to why some people are born with genes for a long life, says a UK scientist.

It is more than 10 years since the first draft of the human genetic code was revealed.

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Sequencing the genome of the world’s oldest woman is an important starting point ”

Dr Jeffrey Barrett Sanger Centre

Since then, perhaps a few hundred individuals have had their genes mapped in full, as the technology to “read” DNA gets better and cheaper.

The woman, whose identity is being kept secret, and is known only as W115, is the oldest person to have her genes mapped.

She donated her body to medical science, allowing doctors to study her brain and other organs, as well as her entire genetic code.

Dr Henne Holstege, of the Department of Clinical Genetics at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, says she appeared to have some rare genetic changes in her DNA.
It is not yet clear what role they carry out, but it appears there is something in her genes that protects against dementia and other diseases of later life.

Dr Holstege told the BBC: “We know that she’s special, we know that her brain had absolutely no signs of Alzheimer’s.

“There must be something in her body that is protective against dementia.
“We think that there are genes that may ensure a long life and be protective against Alzheimer’s.”

Proof of principle
W115 was born prematurely and was not expected to survive.

But she lived a long and healthy life, and entered a care home at the age of 105.
She eventually died from a stomach tumour, having been treated for breast cancer at the age of 100.

A test of her mental skills at the age of 113 showed she had the performance of a woman aged 60-75 years.

At post-mortem examination, doctors found no evidence of dementia or the furring of the arteries seen in heart disease.

They are making her gene sequence available to other researchers, to further the cause of science.

The work, which has yet to be published, was presented at the American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting in Montreal, Canada.

Commenting on the study, Dr Jeffrey Barrett, of the Sanger Centre in Cambridge, UK, said it was an important proof of principle.

He told the BBC: “Sequencing the genome of the world’s oldest woman is an important starting point to understand how DNA variation relates to the process of having a long, healthy life.

“But in order to really understand the underlying biology of living a long, healthy life, we will need to look at the DNA sequence of hundreds or thousands of people.”

Lead scientist Dr Dieter Egli: “Research gives hope for making cells to cure human disease in the future”

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A form of cloning has been used to create personalised embryonic stem cells in humans, say researchers.

Genetic material was taken from an adult skin cell and transferred into a human egg. This was grown to produce an early embryo.
Stem cells have huge potential in medicine as they can transform into any other cell type in the body.
However, the stem cells formed contained chromosomes from both the adult and the egg cells.
The technique used – somatic cell nuclear transfer – shot to fame in 1997 when Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, was unveiled to the world.
A South Korean scientist, Hwang Woo-suk, had claimed to have created stem cells from cloned human embryos, but was found to have faked the evidence.
The lead researcher at the New York Stem Cell Foundation Laboratory, Dr Dieter Egli, said there was “a great question mark” about whether the cloning technique could be reliably used in humans.

Dolly the sheep Dolly the sheep

He said other “groups had tried before, but failed”.
Writing in the journal Nature, he said his group had also failed using traditional techniques.
When they removed the genetic material from the egg and replaced it with the chromosomes from a skin cell, the egg divided but failed to go past the 6-12 cell stage.
However, when they left the egg’s own genetic material in place and added the skin chromosomes, the egg developed. It reached the blastocyst stage, which can contain up to 100 cells and is the usual source of embryonic stem cells.

Stem cell techniques

Eggs and sperm both have one set of chromosomes, which combined means adults have two copies of each chromosome.
In this technique the two adult copies are added to the single copy in the egg meaning a total of three, which can be problematic.

Why stem cells?

Many diseases are impossible to treat. As the researchers put it they “cannot be cured, they can only be cared for”.
Stem cells are one of the great hopes of medicine because they can turn into any other type of cell – nerve, heart, bone, skin, liver etc.
Create heart cells and it might be possible to repair the damage from a heart attack. Insulin-producing cells are destroyed in patients with type 1 diabetes, but stem cells could one day be used to grow more.
There are already clinical trials taking place. The first embryonic stem cell trial in Europe, testing a treatment for progressive sight loss, has started in London.
However this does not use the patient’s own cells. Immunosuppressant drugs are likely to be needed to prevent rejection. This is why making stem cells from the body’s own cells is seen as such a gold standard of medicine.

Often embryos without the correct number of chromosomes do not develop at all. Down’s syndrome is caused by three copies of just one chromosome.

Researchers will need to produce embryonic cells which have only donor DNA, however, once the egg starts to divide the chromosomes are combined in the nucleus and would be near impossible to separate.
Dr Egli told the BBC: “The cells we have made are not yet for therapeutic use. There is clearly more work to be done, this is early days.
“We see this as a step on that road, so now we do know that a human egg can turn an adult specialised cell, such as a skin cell, into a stem cell.”
Prof Mary Herbert, from the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University, said: “This study shows that the conventional approach to somatic cell nuclear transfer is inefficient in humans.
“However, the authors were able to increase the efficiency by leaving the host oocyte [egg] genome in place.
“While this approach does not in itself provide a solution, it takes us a step closer to understanding where the problems lie.”
No embryos required Recently a different route to stem cells has been used. Instead of using an egg, a chemical bath “reprogrammes” an adult cell into a stem cell.
While this is seen as more ethical, there are concerns about whether such cells could be used therapeutically. There are differences between embryonic and “induced” stem cells, with the latter being more prone to expressing cancer causing genes.
Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, from the UK National Institute for Medical Research, said: “This paper will be seen as significant both by those who are trying to use somatic cell nuclear transfer to produce human patient-specific embryonic stem cell lines and by those who oppose human ‘cloning’ experiments.”

Guinea worm There is no cure or vaccine for guinea worm

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The UK government is backing a new campaign to try to rid the world of guinea worm by 2015.

There were almost 2,000 cases of the debilitating parasitic disease in Africa last year.
The push to eradicate guinea worm has been led by The Carter Center – set up by the former US president, Jimmy Carter – since 1986.
The Department for International Development (DfID) is ready to donate £20m to the drive.
It’s thought this will fill about a third of the funding gap. Ministers are now calling for other donors to make significant contributions.
Although it doesn’t usually kill, guinea worm causes agonising pain and leaves some sufferers bed-ridden after they contract it by drinking contaminated water.
Months after drinking the water, a metre-long spaghetti-like worm emerges from the patient’s body through a blister in the skin.
Perpetual cycle The worm ejects many thousands of larvae if it comes into contact with water – perpetuating a cycle of disease.
There is no cure or vaccine, so the UK aid money will be used by the Carter Center to help train people in tracking outbreaks and using cloths to filter drinking water.
Last year, there were 1,797 cases of guinea worm in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Mali and Chad.
Nigeria, Niger and Ghana have succeeded in recent efforts to wipe out the disease.
When the Carter Center began its work on guinea worm 25 years ago, there were about 3.5m cases in 21 countries in Africa and Asia.
Mr Carter said: “Guinea worm has horrendous consequences for sufferers in terms of their immediate health, and their education and employment.

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President Carter’s commitment has brought guinea worm to the brink of eradication.”

Stephen O’Brien International development minister

“It prevents people from escaping poverty.

“I welcome the challenge laid down by the British government. I call on other donors to match their efforts.”
If the campaign succeeds, it will be the first time a disease has been wiped out through education – rather than the use of a vaccine or medicine.
The international development minister, Stephen O’Brien, said: “President Carter’s commitment has brought guinea worm to the brink of eradication.
“It has never been a question of if we can rid the world of this ancient disease – but when.”