By J. Ron Eaker, M.D.
We live in an age of information overload. Do a Google search on anything reasonably relevant and you get more than a million hits, many of which have little or nothing to do with your search topic. Nevertheless, information is ubiquitous. What is in short supply is useful information.
As a public service, I have culled the vast recesses of the InterWeb and discovered new studies, useful facts and fodder for water cooler gossip, all touching on women’s health.
A new study out of the Duke Cancer Institute indicates that women who have the BRCA 1 gene mutation are at increased risk for an aggressive form of uterine cancer. This particular mutation has long been known to increase a woman’s risk for both ovarian and breast cancer, so it’s not completely a surprise that other cancers involving the female reproductive tract are involved.
This is the first study looking at a sizable population to draw this conclusion and adds to the necessity for screening in appropriate individuals. Currently, BRCA screening is recommended for anyone suffering from any of these cancers along with their first-degree relatives. In this particular case, a positive result would heighten the suspicion and should lead to more vigilant screening.
The practical impact of this study is noted by one of the authors, Dr. Noah Kauff, when he states, “Our findings suggest that it may be important for women with BRCA1 mutations to consider removing their uterus at the time they are considering removing their ovaries and fallopian tubes, unless they are hoping to still have children using assisted reproductive methods or have other medical reasons.” In other words, if you’re having it out…have it all out!
Are Medical Studies Accurate?
Another study published in the British Medical Journal highlights one of the problems associated with medical studies. It made headlines by claiming that an adolescent’s intake of fruit can reduce their later incidence of breast cancer. The authors concluded that high fruit consumption during adolescence (2.9 servings per day) was associated with a roughly 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer diagnosed in middle age.
On the surface this sounds like a wonderful tool for prevention, but all that glitters is not gold. The results were based on the memory of 90,000 nurses in midlife of their diets in childhood. Unfortunately studies based on nutritional recall have been shown to be notoriously inaccurate, and recall that covers more than 20 years ago…well, you can see the problem.
This is one of a vast number of papers that have been birthed from mining data from the massive Nurses Health Study that followed the aforementioned 90,000 nurses over 20 years. Some of the information has been extremely valuable, like the benefits and risks of hormone replacement therapy, but other information, like that of the fruit study is questionable. This is not to say that eating fruits are not beneficial, and they indeed may reduce cancer risk, but a study like this can’t accurately make that claim.
Women, Alcohol and Breast Cancer
In contrast to the previous study, a recent work by Danish researchers indicates an association between increased alcohol intake and breast cancer. In this study, women were followed over five years and found that women who increased their alcohol intake by two drinks per day over five years had around a 30 percent increased risk of breast cancer but around a 20 percent decreased risk of coronary heart disease, compared with women with a stable alcohol intake.
There are two interesting takeaways from this study. First, the increase in breast cancer was observed in women who increased their intake, not women who drank or didn’t drink. Previous studies showed an increase in breast cancer in drinkers versus non-drinkers, but this was the first to show simply increasing the number of drinks could increase risk. Secondly, the takeaway was that increasing alcohol reduced the incidence of heart disease. The authors didn’t specify whether there was a connection between wine, beer or liquor, as moderate consumption of red wine has long been correlated to decreased cardiac risk.
Finally, a new study from the University of Pennsylvania indicates that quitting smoking may be easier for a woman in the second half of her menstrual cycle. This research concluded that during the pre-menstrual (luteal) phase, when the progesterone-to-estrogen ratio is highest, addictive behaviors are suppressed.
Who would have thought?
This article appears in the October 2016 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
Did you like what you read here?