Personal Health: News and Notes

Posted: July 11, 2011

Adding cancer drugs to others is a prescription for problems

Many elderly patients are taking multiple drugs before they are diagnosed with cancer and begin taking more. That can make cancer drugs less effective or create harmful side effects.

In last week's issue of Lancet Oncology, researchers from Australia and Singapore who reviewed hundreds of studies on drug use concluded that doctors should be doing better inventories of the prescription, over-the-counter, and alternative medicines that patients are taking before they add chemotherapy. Studies from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada showed that older patients were often taking five to nine prescribed drugs.

Potential interactions were most common with warfarin, a blood thinner, and anti-epileptic drugs.

The authors suggested doctors should consider stopping some drugs. And they said patients might face fewer drug-related problems if drugs were prescribed by multidisciplinary teams, if pharmacists were involved and if computers were used to flag interactions. - Stacey Burling

Women who sit too much risk life-threatening blood clot

Women who sit excessively are doubling or tripling the likelihood that they will develop a life-threatening blood clot in their lungs, a study in BMJ found.

Until now, studies about the relationship between sedentary lifestyles and pulmonary embolisms have been inconsistent. But researchers who followed nearly 70,000 female nurses over 18 years found that women who sat 41 hours a week or more outside of work had twice the risk of a pulmonary embolism, compared to those who were most active and sat fewer than 10 hours a week when not working.

While researchers were unable to prove that women in the study got blood clots from sitting too long, experts have often acknowledged that sluggish blood flow in the lower extremities - from inactivity - is most commonly the cause of pulmonary embolism. - Juliana Schatz

Massage may ease back pain more than medication

Massage therapy, frequently used as an alternative way to treat those suffering from chronic back pain, may be more effective than painkillers, according to a recent study.

The research, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, was published last week in Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers studied 401 patients 20 to 65 years old with chronic low back pain and found that the patients who received 10 weekly sessions of message therapy felt more improvements in their symptoms and disability than the patients who received usual medical care such as painkillers.

There were several uncertainties in the study. One was that participants who received medication were aware that they were not getting massage therapy and that others were, perhaps leading them to report worse symptoms.

- Juliana Schatz

One form of Vitamin D prolongs life, study says

Vitamin D may be good for your bones, but could it help you live longer too? A new study in the current issue of the Cochrane Library says that certain types of Vitamin D can.

An international research team reviewed 50 published studies on the health effects of Vitamin D supplementation. The dataset represented 94,148 participants, 80 percent women, with a mean age of 74.

Of four forms tested, Vitamin D3 was the only one found to reduce mortality. Risk of death was descreased by 5 percent, but only when Vitamin D3 was used in combination with calcium. But the same combination was also found to increase risk of kidney stone formation.

- Helen Shen

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