Personal Health: Chemo brain, stem cells and more

Posted: March 05, 2012

Study: 'Chemo brain' may not go away for cancer patients

Chemotherapy patients have long complained of the mental fog that tends to accompany treatment. Now, a new study suggests that certain combinations of chemo drugs may have long-term effects on cognition.

Researchers looked at 196 women who had been treated for early-stage breast cancer with a three-drug chemotherapy regimen. The women underwent cognition testing an average of 21 years after they had received chemo. They were compared with 1,509 healthy women who had never had cancer. The women in the study ranged in age from 50 to 80.

The women who had chemotherapy fared much worse than the control group on tests of verbal memory, cognitive processing speed, executive function, and psychomotor speed.

Previous studies suggested that "chemo brain" can persist for five years after treatment, but this study is the first to show possible permanent cognitive damage.

- Los Angeles Times

Emergency rooms see more demand for dental treatment

More Americans are turning to the emergency room for routine dental problems - a choice that often costs 10 times more than preventive care and offers far fewer treatment options than a dentist's office, according to an analysis of government data and dental research.

Most of those emergency visits involve trouble such as toothaches that could have been avoided with regular checkups but went untreated, in many cases because of a shortage of dentists, particularly those willing to treat Medicaid patients, the analysis said.

The number of E.R. visits nationwide for dental problems increased 16 percent from 2006 to 2009, and the report released Tuesday by the Pew Center on the States suggests the trend is continuing.

Emergency rooms generally can offer pain relief and medicine for infected gums but not much more for dental patients. And many patients are unable to find or afford follow-up treatment, so they end up back in the emergency room.

Preventive dental care such as routine teeth cleaning can cost $50 to $100, vs. $1,000 for emergency-room treatment.

- Associated Press

Stem cells may help infertile women produce new eggs

For 60 years, doctors have believed women were born with all the eggs they'd ever have. Now Harvard scientists are challenging that, saying they've discovered the ovaries of young women harbor very rare stem cells capable of producing new eggs.

If the report is confirmed, harnessing those stem cells might one day lead to better treatments for women left infertile because of disease, or simply because they're getting older.

"There's much more to the story than simply the trickling away of a fixed pool of eggs," said lead researcher Jonathan Tilly of Massachusetts General Hospital, who has long hunted these cells. Tilly's previous work drew fierce skepticism, and independent experts urged caution about the latest findings.

A key next step is to see whether other laboratories can verify the work. If so, it would take years of additional research to learn how to use the cells, said Teresa Woodruff, fertility preservation chief at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

- Associated Press

Teens more willing to take risk of driving after toking up

Teenagers are driving after smoking marijuana and many don't think there is any danger in doing so, according to a new survey.

The survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions found that 19 percent of teen drivers said they have driven under the influence of marijuana. Just 13 percent of the teens said they had driven after drinking.

Liberty Mutual and SADD said the study, which they have regularly conducted since 2000, highlights a dangerous misconception: Many teens don't consider marijuana an obstacle to driving. More than one-third of teens who have driven after using marijuana say the drug does not affect their driving.

Teens' attitudes about marijuana have changed in recent years. In 2009, 78 percent of teens were at the other end of the spectrum and thought that marijuana was "very" or "extremely" distracting to their driving. The most recent study, two years later, found that the percentage of teens who felt this high level of concern had declined to 70 percent.

- Baltimore Sun