News from the cancer side, February 27

February 27, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

Friday morning, time for your weekend cancer news round up.

News from the legislators

Medical research scores big in US stimulus bill
There have been fears that medical and scientific research will suffer setbacks due to the recession. It seems that the stimulus package set up by the new US administration has allayed some of these fears. This is partly thanks to Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvsania, a moderate Republican and cancer survivor who proposed an extra $10 billion for the National Institutes for Health (NIH) over the next two years. “The stimulus package is a singular event in the history of science funding,” says John Marburger, former presidential science adviser and head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy under George W. Bush.

News from the pharma industry

Merck Hopes To Extend Gardasil Vaccine to Men
Gardasil is the vaccine that protects women from the strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) that could eventually lead to about 70% of cervical cancers. In men, HPV can also cause genital cancers. The manufacturer of Gardasil, Merck, has been testing the vaccine also in men and reports 90% efficacy. The next challenge is to convince the health authorities and the male population that the vaccine is necessary.

News from the advocacy groups

Gwyneth Paltrow, Courteney Cox Honored At 14th Annual Saks Fifth Avenue’s Unforgettable Evening Benefiting Eif’s Women’s Cancer Research Fund
Gwyneth Paltrow and Courteney Cox were the honorees at the annual Saks Fifth Avenue’s Unforgettable Evening, an event benefiting the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s Women’s Cancer Research Fund (EIF’s WCRF). This is the 14th anniversary of the event. Cox received the Nat King Cole Award for her work with people battling cancer. Paltrow received the Courage Award for her work on cancer prevention.

News from the funding agencies

Komen/ASCO Program Aims To Swell Ranks of Minority Oncologists
The largest breast cancer advocacy group Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) joined forces on an initiative that will hopefully combat the rather clear disparities in cancer care in the US. The ethnic gap have been reported before and is based largely on two issues: some ethic minorities have higher genetic predisposition to certain cancers, yet there are very few minority oncologists around that can help understand the social and cultural needs of minority patients. The $4 million dollar Onoclogy Initiative hopes to increase the number of minorities in the US oncology workforce, thereby helping close the ethnic gap.

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CVD Newswatch, February 27

February 27, 2009 by  

Guess what? I will be going up to the mountains this weekend, just to enjoy the snow and the sun. And I will finally try out snow walking! But before I go, here are some heart(y) weekend news and events announcement for you.

Heart(y) Events

American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference News
Last week, on February 18 to 20, 2009, cardiovascular experts met in San Diego for the AHA’s International Stroke Conference 2009. Aside from webcasts and podcasts, there were also video news releases. You can for example check out a special video report on the robotic therapy for stroke rehabilitation. I’ll be posting on the research studies presented at the conference. Stay tuned!

Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public Agenda
This week, integrative medicine experts are having a meeting in Washington to discuss integrative medicine and public health (February 25 to 27, 2009). Topics to be discussed include health care reforms and the science and economic realities of integrative medicine. Integrative Medicine is defined as “a system of comprehensive care that emphasizes wellness and healing of the whole person, with special emphasis on patient participation, and attention to mental and spiritual health. The knowledge and use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is an important aspect of Integrative Medicine.”

Cleveland Institute Live WebChats
Once again, the Cleveland Clinic has schedules some interesting topics for live health web chats in March. Here are some of the upcoming web events:

Aorta and Aortic Valve Surgery
Tuesday March 3, 2009, 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. (EST)
Cleveland Clinic has one of the largest aorta surgery practices in the world and has experience with every aorta repair and replacement technique, along with medical management strategies. Dr. Lars Svensson is the Director of the Center for Aortic Surgery and Director of the Marfan Syndrome and Connective Tissue Disorder

Atrial Fibrillation – Surgical and Nonsurgical Advances
Monday, March 9, 2009 – 12 noon (EST)
Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Atrial Fibrillation houses one of the US’ busiest AF programs. Dr. Bruce D. Lindsay is the Section Head of the Cardiac Electrophysiology and Pacing as well as a member of the Cleveland Clinic Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute.

CVD guidelines news

ACC/AHA guidelines largely based on weak evidence and expert opinion
We’ve seen so many clinical practice guidelines over the years, and they’ve been regularly revised and updated. This recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that the guidelines recommended by American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology (AHA/ACC) are based on weak evidence and should therefore be “ignored altogether.” Could health experts ever get their act together and stop confusing healthcare professionals and patient alike? [Sigh].

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Air pollution and cardiovascular disease Part II

February 26, 2009 by  

In a previous post, , I tackled the cardiovascular effects of air pollution, especially the traffic generated fine particles. Aside from cardiovascular problems, air pollution also has some respiratory and neurological affects as well as effects overall life expectancy. A report in the January issue of the New England Journal of Medicine showed that a reduction in fine particle air pollution resulted in measurable increase in life expectancy.

Air pollution causes approximately 2 million premature deaths worldwide. Young children and the elderly are especially susceptible.

Developed countries

Legislations for pollution take time to implement. As early as 1997, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to set health standards on air pollution. However, it was only 10 years later that the Clean Air Fine Particle Implementation Rules were in place. Even now, the attainment of the standards is not that easy.

In January 2008, Germany set the so-called low-emission zones all over the country. Each vehicle in the country or entering the country is required to have an emissions control sticker on the windscreen. These stickers will determine whether a vehicle is allowed to enter a zone. Thus, in large cities like Berlin and Cologne, only cars low emission stickers are allowed to enter, in order to mitigate fine particle pollution in urban areas. The stickers are issued by government agencies and classification is based on the model of the car, the age, the fuel used, and the last emission check.

In Switzerland, an efficient and reliable public transport is the key to reducing vehicular traffic. Many small towns in the Alps are declared “car-free” and all vehicles should be left outside of the towns while the towns themselves are serviced by buses and electric cabs.

Rapidly developing countries

The major concerns of air pollution, however, are not in the US or Europe but the rapidly developing economies like China and India. According to the National Geographic, air pollution in China is the “deadliest in the world.” This conclusion is based on a WHO report which estimated that “diseases triggered by indoor and outdoor air pollution kill 656,000 Chinese citizens each year, and polluted drinking water kills another 95,600.” The same pollution caused concerns during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Among the most toxic of pollutants in the air are sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide and China accounts for about one-third of the global total for these pollutants.

India is another country that is generating a lot of air pollution. Recent studies have also shown increasing incidence of cardiovascular problems in areas in India associated with air pollution. Over half a million air pollution-related fatalities a year have been reported for India. Estimate for the US is at over 40,000 a year.

Air pollution is a global problem and it doesn’t recognize national boundaries or geographical barriers. Thus, what a country does in curbing pollution may easily be jeopardized by what its neighbor(s) are doing. Clearly, there is a need for anti air-pollution initiatives and legislations on a global scale.

Alcohol: even a little increases cancer risk

February 26, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

Alcohol is a substance of contradictions. Some cultures dismiss it as evil, some consider it as an integral part of their lifestyle. Some health experts swear to its benefits, while others are sceptical. Now, here is a study that will surely cause uproar.

The latest results from the Million Women Study suggest that “even low to moderate alcohol consumption significantly increases the risk of cancer, both overall and at specific sites.”

The study looked at 1,280,296 middle-aged women (median age is 55 years) in the UK recruited between 1996 and 2001 and followed up for an average of 7.2 years. The drinking habits and cancer incidence among the participants were analyzed, with the following results:

  • 68,775 study participants were diagnosed with cancer.
  • 25% of the participants drank alcohol regularly.
  • 98% of those who drink consumed on average, one drink per day, which is considered to be low to moderate consumption.
  • Very few drank excessively, e.g. three or more drinks a day
  • The risk for all types of cancer increased with increasing consumption of alcohol.

The study identified specific types of cancer that is especially linked to alcohol consumption and there are cancers of the breast, rectum, and liver. When combined with smoking, alcohol consumption can also lead to an increase in the risk for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, esophagus, and larynx.

Whereas several studies have previously shown that some alcoholic drinks are more benevolent than others, this study reports that the kind of drink doesn’t make much of a difference.

The study concluded:

Low to moderate alcohol consumption in women increases the risk of certain cancers. For every additional drink regularly consumed per day, the increase in incidence up to age 75 years per 1000 for women in developed countries is estimated to be about 11 for breast cancer, 1 for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, 1 for cancer of the rectum, and 0.7 each for cancers of the esophagus, larynx and liver, giving a total excess of about 15 cancers per 1000 women up to age 75.

The results of this study are really “sobering” in many ways and contradict many study results before it. Many women in developed countries, especially in Europe and North America drink occasionally. In many parts of Europe, drinking a glass of wine during meal is part of the culinary culture. I do like a glass of wine every now and then. After all, alcohol, especially red wine, when taken in moderation, is said to have some benefits for cardiovascular health.

However, sceptics cannot deny the power of this research study based on its large sample size and long follow-up period. Editors of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute wrote “from a standpoint of cancer risk, the message of this report could not be clearer. There is no level of alcohol consumption that can be considered safe.” Their advice is “Alcohol, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: Treat With Caution.”

The study was done excluively on women so it is not clear whether these risks are true for men as well. It has been well-documented that alcohol can have some gender-specific effects.

Preeclampsia may not just be a temporary pregnancy complication

February 25, 2009 by  

Preeclampsia belongs to a group of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. Other related disorders are pregnancy-induced hypertension and toxaemia. These conditions can cause life-threatening pregnancy complications that endanger both the mother and the baby.

The conditions are all characterized by elevated blood pressure during the second half of pregnancy but in addition, preeclampsia is characterized by increased concentrations of proteins in the urine.

About 10% of pregnancies are affected by pregnancy-induced hypertension while preeclampsia affects 5 to8% of pregnancies. Preeclampsia is common in low-income countries, where it occurs in about 1 out of every 100 up to 1 out of 700 pregnancies. In contrast, it estimated to occur in about 1 in 1000 pregnancies (Source: Clinical Evidence BMJ).

Aside from high blood pressure, symptoms of preeclampsia also include “swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision“.

It has always been thought that once the baby is delivered, the condition of preeclampsia is resolved. Apparently not, according to this joint research by American and Danish researchers. The effects of preeclampsia may actually track through life and brings with it increased risk for future cardiovascular problems including hypertension, diabetes and blood clots. And the risks increase with every pregnancy.

According to lead author Dr. Michael J. Paidas, director of the Program for Thrombosis and Hemostasis in Women’s Health in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Science at Yale University:

The only reliable treatment for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby. But while delivery may ‘cure’ preeclampsia in the moment, these mothers are at high risk of chronic hypertension, type 2 diabetes mellitus and blood clots for the rest of their lives.

There is therefore a great need to prevent preeclampsia not only to prevent complications that threaten both mother and baby, but also to prevent long-term health problems.

According to MayoClinic, preeclampsia may be caused by the following:

  • Insufficient blood flow to the uterus
  • Damage to the blood vessels
  • A problem with the immune system
  • Poor diet

The risk factors for the condition are

  • First pregnancy
  • Preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy
  • Maternal age above 35
  • Pregnancy with multiples
  • Obesity
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Family of history preeclampsia
  • Underlying medical conditions before pregnancy such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or kidney disorder.

Aside from medical management, lifestyle changes can also help prevent or manage preeclampsia. Previous studies, for example, indicate that preeclampsia can be prevented by exercise and intake of dietary fiber.

Electromagnetic field and brain tumors in the unborn child

February 25, 2009 by  
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Everyday, we are exposed to electromagnetic electromagnetic fields (EMF) also known as non-ionizing or electromagnetic radiation. There are two main types of EMF:

  • extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF) come from power lines and electrical appliances (e.g. microwave ovens, computers).
  • radiofrequency radiation (RF) comes from wireless devices e.g. mobile and cordless phones, phone base stations, antennas, and transmission towers.

The health effect of EMF is a subject of controversy mainly in connection with the use of mobile phones despite the fact that it has been extensively studied. Less attention has been given to the effects of other types of EMF on our health. However, recent reports bring some bad tidings about EMF and its effect not only on adults but on the unborn child.

In a recent study, Canadian researchers at McGill University investigated ithe teratogenic effects (effects on the unborn fetus) of EMF. They looked at 548 cases of children with brain tumors and analyzed the ELF-EMF exposure of the mothers before and during pregnancy at the workplace. Working women may not be aware of it, but they are also exposed to EMF at their working environment, whether at offices (e.g. computers) or in factories (e.g. sewing machines). The results showed that childhood tumors may be associated to maternal exposure to EMF. “Results are suggestive of a possible association between maternal occupational ELF-MF exposure and certain brain tumors in their offspring.

In another study, researchers from the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute in Oakland, California looked at pregnant women in real time. Study participants were women who are well before the 10th week of gestation. The participants had to wear EMF-measuring device for 24 hours as well as record their activities during the 24-hour period. The results showed that excessive EMF exposure during the first 10 weeks of gestation can cause an increased risk of spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. The study estimated the EMF threshold  to be approximately 16 mG.

 Egyptian researchers also reported that mobile phone use “significantly increased fetal and neonatal [heart rate] HR, and significantly decreased the [cardiac output] COP.”

EMF is something that we cannot smell, taste or smell but is considered to be “one of the most pervasive environmental exposures” according to the BioInitiative Working Group, formed by a group of scientists from all over the world for the purpose of investigating the effects of EMF. The Group issue a report in August 2007 indicating that EMF does have some serious health consequences, including cancer. In an upcoming resource post, I will be writing more about EMF, mobile phones, and cancer. Stay tuned.

Heart health strategies should be personalized

February 24, 2009 by  

It is not just enough to tell somebody to live a healthy life. It is not enough to know one’s risk profile for cardiovascular (CV) disease. Prevention strategies should be personalized, according the health experts at the University of Exeter in the UK.

Different people will respond differently upon the news of their CV risk. Some of the responses would be:

  • Fear and shpck
  • Downplaying the risk in one’s own mind by benchmarking against others of the same age
  • Behavioral and lifestyle changes

The response may depend on many factors, including age, gender, and sociocultural factors.

The goal is to produce interventions which are sensitive to the lives and social position of those who find themselves at ‘high risk’ of coronary heart disease (CHD) in later-middle age, and which inspire change rather than inhibit it,” say researchers, from Egenis, the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society at the University of Exeter.

Previous primary care strategies include scaring people and boosting their vulnerability. However, the fear factor can actually hinder the desired behavioural changes.

Currently, it is a common practice in primary health care to conduct screening for certain health risks. In particular, people with family histories of certain diseases are urged to know their risk profile.

The study by the University of Exeter researchers investigated how people responded to the bad news of high risk diagnosis following coronary heart disease screening. The study participants included 38 people interviewed right after screening.

According to lead author Dr. Hannah Farrimond:

“We found that patients struggled to maintain their sense of being ‘healthy’ in the face of their new ‘high risk’ status. The older they were, the more patients treated the risk of CHD as a normal part of getting older. They would downplay their sense of vulnerability by, for example, comparing their own weight and diet favourably with that of their friends.”

Most study participants already believe that they eat a healthy and balanced diet, or that their lifestyle is relatively “heart-healthier” than those of their peers. The standard dietary and physical activity rules may not be therefore acceptable or applicable in these cases.

The study results suggest that intervention and prevention programs should take into account the “social environment and age of the target group.” In addition, lifestyle change strategies should be customized to the patient’s needs.

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MIKE-E’s AfroFlow Tour: Hip hop takes on the hookah

February 24, 2009 by  
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Hip hop music, fun and advocacy. Now that’s what I call perfect combination to reach young people. International hip hop artist MIKE-E is having a unique tour this year. The AfroFlow Tour started last February 6 and will have its venue in about 20 college campuses all over the country. The tour will

will use spoken word and musical performances to raise awareness about and educate students on the health risks involved with tobacco use, encourage them to avoid tobacco products, and ask students to join the American Cancer Society in its efforts to combat smoking.

19% of college students smoke, according to statistics from the American Lung Association. And the younger one starts smoking, the higher is the risk for cancer and other chronic diseases.

The tobacco industry spends more than 13 billion dollar annually on adverstisements. And yes, that is inspite of the cigarette ad ban that’s been in place for years now. And these ads are targeting those who are old enough to smoke legally but young enough to be easily persuaded. A recent example is the move of Virginia Slims to become “pink” and “chic”, a new look which is appealing to young female adults.

Other recent strategies by tobacco companies are the use of water pipes also known as hookah or sishas. There is a big misconception that water pipes are much safer than cigarette smoking because the water moisture from the pipe makes the smoke less irritating. During the last years, there has been an increase in the number of hookah bar and lounges and many of them are coincidentally? located in the vicinity of college campuses. Tobacco use is a major health concern worldwide. According to the American Cancer Society:

  • In the US alone, tobacco use causes one in every five deaths.
  • It accounts for 30% of all cancer mortalities.
  • It accounts for 87% of lung cancer deaths.

About the artist:

MIKE-E is an international Hip-hop and spoken word recording artist, actor, philanthropist and youth motivator. He was born in Ethiopia, where he supports orphan outreach and health care programs and maintains nationwide recognition with one of the country’s most popular hits “Ethiopia (Everything Will Be Alright).

This is not the first anti-tobacco tour for MIKE-E. A similar engagement was undertaken in 2007.

Says MIKE-E:

As artists, it is a privilege to match our music with a cause that is much greater than us. We’re proud to continue our work with an organization that is truly demonstrating its commitment to serve the community through education and awareness, and taking new, innovative approaches to doing so.



What about cancer resistance?

February 23, 2009 by  
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Two people. One smokes, the other a lifetime non-smoker. So why is it that the non-smoker develops lung cancer and the smoker doesn’t? Is it pure luck? Is it simply one of life’s ironies? Or is there a scientific explanation behind it?

The majority of research studies in oncology investigate what makes people susceptible to cancer. Most researchers look at susceptibility genes and risk factors. This is understandable because millions of people worldwide have cancer. Cancer is a major cause of mortality and the rates are rising: cancer is predicted to be the number one killer globally in the coming decade.

But what about the millions who do not get cancer? For every cancer victim, there are two people who escape the disease. Even some of the heaviest smokers don’t get lung cancer while the most health-conscious people do fall prey to this cruel disease. What do these cancer-free people have that the others don’t? Is this a matter of chance, or are there cancer-resistant genotypes?

Swedish professor George Klein is busy with a field of research in oncology that is neglected, almost overlooked – cancer resistance. He recently published a paper called “Toward a genetics of cancer resistance” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the course of his research, Klein has hypothesized five protective mechanisms that may protect people from cancer, namely:

  • Immunological mechanisms. Individuals may differ in terms of immune system efficiency.
  • Genetic mechanisms. Some people have more effective DNA repairing system than others. Those with specific DNA repair deficiency can develop certain types of cancer.
  • Epigenetic mechanisms. Genetics involve the DNA itself while epigenetics involve gene expression. Different gene expressions can have different results.
  • Intracellular mechanisms. This involves apoptosis or cell death, a defense mechanism within the cell itself. Apoptosis is triggered in some people but not in others.
  • Intercellular mechanisms. The researchers believe there is a defense mechanism that makes cells watch their neighbors and sound the alarm when precancerous conditions are detected.

Klein is urging researchers to look into cancer resistance as well and not only into cancer susceptibility.

Evolution seems to have favored some relatively common resistance genes that protect the majority of humans against cancer development. One day, finding out how nature keeps most of us cancer-free could help identify and repair specific genetic mechanisms in the large minority of individuals who do suffer from cancer. However, …[according to the author] it’s premature to speculate exactly how understanding genetic resistance could help people who are susceptible to cancer.


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Can coffee protect you from stroke?

February 23, 2009 by  

Now you see them, now you don’t. I am referring the health benefits/adverse effects of coffee. Previous studies indicated that excessive  caffeine consumption may have some bad effects on our health. But this new study seems to bring good news to coffee lovers.

This joint study by American and Spanish researchers recently published in the journal Circulation however, says this is not the case. The study looked at the data of 83,076 women as part of the Nurses’ Health Study. The study participants were followed up for more than 24 years, their caffeine consumption recorded, as well as any cardiovascular events that occurred during the follow-up period. The results show that there is no evidence of increased stroke risk in women drinking 4 or more cups of coffee per day. On the contrary, the results actually suggest coffee consumption results in a modest but still observable decrease in risk for all types of stroke.

Compared with women who drank less than one cup of coffee a month, the stroke risk was found to be

Other caffeinated drinks such as tea and soft drinks did not show any association, positive or negative to stroke risk. However, decaf coffee also showed a trend towards lowering the risk. This suggests that whatever gives protection against stroke, it must not be caffeine but something else. The authors think coffee contains antioxidants that may reduce inflammatory processes and improve endothelial function. Previous data analyses indicate that coffee may have some beneficial affects that can be protective against coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Since coffee drinkers also tended to be cigarette smokers, the researchers also looked whether the protective effect of coffee can counteract the adverse effects of smoking. Well, smokers have to be disappointed. Coffee doesn’t help at all in lowering smokers’ stroke risk. But neither does it increase it. Thus, “the potential benefit of coffee consumption cannot counterbalance the detrimental effects smoking has on health“, according to the authors.

Thus, the researchers emphasize that this reduced stroke risk due to coffee is only true for healthy, non-smoking women.

And before you load up on coffee upon heating this good news, take note what the authors conclude:

“Anyone with health problems that can be worsened by coffee (insomnia, anxiety, hypertension or heart problems) should talk to their doctor about their specific risk.”

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Greetings and Salutations!

February 21, 2009 by  

If you are wondering what’s going on … effective March 1, 2009 we will be combining all “Battling” series of blogs (the subdomains of into this main blog for all time and existence!

Feel free to watch our progress and offer any of your opinions in the comments .. (we also need to test this new template)

Thank-You for your patience.
HART-Empire Network

CVD newswatch, February 20

February 20, 2009 by  

A cold but sunny Friday in my neck of the woods. A perfect day to go for a walk and enjoy the sun and the fresh air. Don’t forget to dress up warmly. And here’s your heart news for this weekend…

CVD drug news

Estimation of the Warfarin Dose with Clinical and Pharmacogenetic Data
Warfarin is the most commonly prescribed anticoagulant. It is not only used to treat people with blood clotting disorders but in preventing thrombosis and embolism that can lead to heart attacks and stroke. It has been observed that warfarin dosing is influenced by genetic variations among patients. The International Warfarin Pharmacogenetics Consortium has developed a method “for estimating the appropriate warfarin dose that is based on both clinical and genetic data from a broad population base.” The results are now published in the February 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

CVD regulators news

Meeting of the Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee
The US FDA Advisory Committee on Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs will meet on March 28, 2009 to discuss the new drug application of dronedarone 400 milligrams oral tablets “for the proposed indication in patients with a history of, or current atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter, for the reduction of the risk of cardiovascular hospitalization or death.” The application has been submitted by Sanofi-Aventis.

CVD fundraising drive news

9th Annual Radiothon February 19 to 21 2009
The Children’s Miracle Network and radio stations all over the US team up to bring stories of pediatric patients and to raise funds for children’s hospitals affiliated with CMN.

Sacramento Radiothon is the most moving and compelling radio you will ever hear. For 36 hours – three days and nights, local radio stations break from their usual format so that families of patients at UC Davis Children’s Hospital can tell their stories of inspiration, hope and healing.”

CVD healthcare news

Health Habits of Adults Aged 18-29 Highlighted in Report on Nation′s Health
The 32nd annual report of the CDC’s National Center for Statistics is now out. The report is entitled Health, United States: 2008 and includes data from many sources including government agencies and the private sector.

This year’s report specially feature adults aged 18 to 29 years old because this is “a group making many life choices including decisions about education, marriage, childbearing, and health behaviors such as tobacco and alcohol use, which will affect both their future economic and health status.” The report cites the health challenges faced by this group to nclude obesity, high injury rates, and lack of insurance coverage.


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News from the cancer side, February 20

February 20, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

Here’s your cancer news round up this weekend. Happy reading.

News from the survivors

Armstrong’s stolen bike recovered
Testicular cancer survivor Lance Armstrong is back on his bike pedaling at the Amgen Tour of California. Earlier this week, someone stole his one-of-a-kind legendary bike but he’s got it back now, according to major news channels. Armstrong is currently in 4th place. He is a strong advocate of cancer research and is the founder of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Check out (see video) one of his Nike commercials that also feature children cancer patients.

News from the drug regulators

Cytokine Therapies: Novel Approaches for Clinical Indications
This two-day public forum presented by the US FDA and the New York Academy of Sciences “will focus on the clinical use of cytokines and cytokines antagonists as therapeutic agents for the treatment of human diseases, including cancer and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease.” Mar 26, 2009 – Mar 27, 2009 at 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM, The New York Academy of Sciences, 7 World Trade Center.

News from the patients

What’s in a name? For patients, a piece of history
If you stand on the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge Bridge and look at the metal beams forming the shell of the currently constructed Yawkey Center for Cancer Care (YCCC), you’d see names spray painted on them. But they are not the works of vandals. The ironworkers sprayed them themselves in honor of the pediatric cnacer patients at the Center. “The state-of-the-art outpatient care and clinical research facility currently being built on Dana-Farber’s Longwood campus.”


Web portal project for drug research information gets data boost
Now, this is a useful tool for researchers and health professionals. The public gets to know about drugs which have been approved. But what about those which haven’t been approved but could still have the potential to cure? It may be that what doesn’t work for one disease may work for another. And all that money and time spent on the development of these drugs would be such a waste. In this new web portal Pharmaceutical Assets Portal developed by an academic consortium led by the University of California at Davis, researchers can get access to data on unapproved but potentially useful drugs. The portal “will allow scientists to learn about existing drugs that could be used as cures for diseases and conditions other than the one they were originally intended to target. It is a process known as drug repositioning or repurposing.”


Cancer research updates from UC Davis

February 19, 2009 by  
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Two groundbreaking studies at the University of California Davis give hope to cancer patients

UC Davis discovery offers hope for treating kidney cancer

Current cancer treatments block the ability of cancer cells to rapidly copy themselves. This slows down the process on oncogenesis but it doesn’t cure cancer and it comes with a lot of side effects.

This ground breaking research by UC Davis researchers blocks a cancer gene’s repair mechanism, thus attacking cancer cells at the DNA level. This is the direction of newer cancer medications – “destabilizing cancer cells at the DNA level, which reduces their ability to replicate.” The p21 gene is involved in the repair mechanism of cancer cells. The researchers tested thousands of compounds in the p21 gene and found 12 which bound to p21. Additional tests showed that three of those compounds decreased p21 expression, blocking kidney cancer cells’ ability to mend and making them more responsive to DNA-damaging treatments.” The researchers will now focus on these three compounds as potential anti-cancer candidates.

Kidney cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat. The researchers hope that their research results can produce “novel cancer treatments to increase the comfort and life spans of patients with kidney cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, 54,390 new cases of kidney cancer and 13,010 cases of death due to the cancer have been reported in 2008.

UC Davis researchers find molecule that targets brain tumors

Glioblastoma is the most common form of brain cancer in adults. It accounts for 12-15% of intracranial tumors and 50-60% of primary brain tumors.  It is very aggressive and deadly, characterized by brain tumors which are “irregular shapes and poorly defined borders” and are therefore difficult to remove by surgery. Current treatment requires surgical removal of the tumors followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy. However, the prognosis for glioblastoma is very low and the rate of cancer spread is rather high. Survival is usually less than a year.

To find new options for treating the disease, UC Davis researchers led by Dr. Kit Lam began searching for a molecule that could be injected into a patient’s bloodstream and deliver high concentrations of medication or radionuclides directly to brain tumor cells while sparing normal tissues.” The researchers identified a molecule called LXY1 that “binds with high specificity to a particular cell-surface protein called alpha-3 integrin, which is overexpressed on cancer cells.”

The molecule was then tested in laboratory mice and was observed to preferentially bind to human glioblastoma cells implanted the animal’s brain and skin. More experiments are being conducted.


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How to keep your heart healthy in a recession

February 19, 2009 by  

Recession then depression. It can really break your heart. It has happened before and it’s happening again. People are down and depressed and some are even committing suicide. But recession and depression can also have some long-term effects on our health that may persist long after the financial markets have recovered. Our cardiovascular health is especially at stake as we encounter stress, mental as well as physical everyday. But in tough times like this, we should really take care of ourselves and keep in mind that real wealth is good health. Here are some tips on how to take care of your heart and health in times of recession.

Eat properly. Make your health and nutrition your number one priority. Cut down on expenses, if you must, but don’t cut down on the right food. You can make some adjustments though. You might go for the cheaper run-of-the-mill vegetables rather than the more expensive organic ones. You might opt for the locally produced fruit over the exotic imported types you used to prefer.

Take your medications. Medication is another of the things that we cannot do without even during recessions. I am not referring to vitamins and dietary supplements but the medications needed to manage chronic conditions such as insulin, statins, or beta-blockers.

Keep the stress low. With bad news coming from all sides, it is difficult not to get stressed. And stressors play a major role in cardiovascular health. Don’t take is personally. It’s only money. There are many stress management strategies that you can do and some are on this list (exercise, going out). Ask your health care provider for stress management advice.

Do exercise. The economy maybe standing still but doesn’t mean that you should. You can cut down on fitness center and golf club membership fees but not on exercise. And don’t say that they all go together in one package because they don’t. There are cheap forms of exercise such as cycling, running, or simply walking to work, to shop, etc. And hey, in the process, you reduce stress, improve your cardiovascular health, lower your CO2 emission and help curb air pollution that is bad for your heart.

Avoid alcohol. Burying your sorrows in alcoholic drinks is not the best strategy in these hard times. Alcohol is high in calories and if taken in large quantities, can damage the heart and the liver. Drinking should only be done in moderation with meals and only when you are feeling relaxed. Drinking when feeling depressed is simply asking for trouble.

Go out. Don’t mope inside the house. Go out for a walk, if only around the block and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. The combination of recession plus cold winter weather can result in a disaster that can drive us crazy. Go out with your friends and family once in awhile. You might have to downgrade to a cheaper restaurant but who cares? Good company counts.

Smell the flowers. Maybe this is your chance to slow down and check your priorities in life. Maybe this is your chance to pause and smell the flowers.

Here are some other survival tips you might want to check out:


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Cannabis use linked to testicular cancer

February 18, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

The regular use of marijuana or cannabis seems to increase a man’s risk for prostate cancer. This is according to study by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington and whose results were recently published in the journal Cancer.

The study looked at 369 men who had testicular cancer and 979 cancer-free men and interviewed them on marijuana use. Data analysis showed that marijuana use is a strong risk factor in the development of testicular cancer. This is the very first study to find the association between cannabinoid use and this type of cancer.

Previous studies have identified the following risk factors:

  • Genetics/family history
  • Injuries to the testicles
  • A childhood condition of undescended testicles

In recent years, the incidence of testicular cancer has been increasing especiallyin the US and Europe and no one knows the reason why.

According to Cancer Research UK, testicular cancer accounts for 1 to 2% of all cancers in males and occurs between the ages of 20 and 39. In the UK, 2000 cases are being reported each year. In the US, more than 8000 news cases have been reported in 2008, as well as 380 cases of death, according to the US National Cancer Institute (NIC).

There are two main types of testicular cancer (Source: NIC), namely:

Seminomas are cancer cellss that grow slowly and are sensitive to radiation therapy

Nonseminomas are different cell types that grow more quickly than seminomas and are more aggressive.

The current study showed that marijuana use is more associated with nonseminoma which is the more aggressive form of testicular cancer. Furthermore, the risk seems to be higher when cannabis used started at a very young age, e.g. younger than 18 years old.

This is rather disturbing because this is the stage when young men are wont to experiment when substances, including cannabis.

Marijuana is formally known as cannabis and comes from the leaves and flowers of the plant Cannabis sativa. Consumption of cannabis is usually through smoking. It is considered an illegal drug in many countries. The US FDA classifies cannabis under Schedule I substances because it has a very high potential for abuse and addiction.

The consumption of marijuana became popular in the 60s and 70s and this timeframe coincided with the increase in the incidence of testicular cancer. Larger studies are needed to confirm the link between cannabis use and testicular cancer.


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Dangerous combination: salt and metabolic syndrome

February 18, 2009 by  

Metabolic syndrome makes you sensitive to sodium, hence salt. This is the result of a Chinese population-based dietary intervention study published in the latest issue of The Lancet. Our common table salt, that white powder that we eat everyday is mainly sodium chloride.

Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of medical conditions that put a person at risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. These conditions are:

High blood pressure

High blood sugar levels

High levels of triglycerides, a type of fat, in your blood

Low levels of HDL, the good cholesterol, in your blood

Too much fat around your waist

Researchers from Tulane University in New Orleans report that having a metabolic syndrome increases people’s sensistivity to salt causing their blood pressure to shoot up. This salt sensitivity was described as

as a decrease in mean arterial BP of more than 5 mm Hg during low-sodium intervention or an increase of more than 5 mm Hg during high-sodium intervention.

The dietary intervention study looked at1906 adult participants who received a low-sodium diet for seven days followed by a 6-fold higher sodium diet for another seven days. The results show that those with metabolic syndrome (283 participants) has an almost two-fold higher risk of having salt sensitivity. The more conditions indicating metabolic syndrome a person has, the higher is the salt sensitivity.

The study was conducted in Northern China where salt has been used for centuries as food preservative in rural areas, translating into high salt intake. However, despite the alternatives that technology has brought about (e.g. refrigeration, freezing, canning, and fresh food supply), people still eat high quantities of salt because it has become a dietary habit. There is an urgent need to break this habit as the prevalence of hypertension and other cardiovascular disorders are skyrocketing in China.

Salt reduction strategies have been implemented in many countries with quite some success. These strategies are usually simple, e.g. providing a measuring scoop for cooking, etc.

The authors conclude that “if salt-sensitive hypertension is recorded in Chinese people more frequently than in other countries, then reduction of salt intake should become a national campaign.”

In my upcoming posts, I will be writing more about salt in our diet, the current requirements and some yummy low salt recipes. Stay tuned!

Heart over head: cognitive problems in patients with chronic heart failure

February 17, 2009 by  

Heart failure and cognitive decline – is there a link? This is the question that researchers from the University of California Davis Medical Center wanted to answer.

It may not be evident but heart health and brain health are closely linked. The UC Davis  study was conducted by comparing 50 heart failure patients with 50 controls (participants without heart failure). The demographics of the two groups (age, gender and estimated intelligence quotient) were very similar. The total of 100 participants were then assessed using 19 neurophysiological tests that asses the following:

  • orientation
  • attention
  • memory
  • executive function
  • motor speed
  • reaction times

The tests have been showed to be effective in measuring specific cognitive functions. The results of the assessments show that heart failure patients performed poorly compared to the control group in the majority of the tests. Other key results are:

The severity of these cognitive deficits in this sample of HF patients was associated with several factors, namely depressed learning and previous heart attacks but not to the left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF), depression, anxiety, or physical functioning, duration or the classification heart failure according to the New York Heart Association( NYHA) classification system.

Data on the link between heart functioning and brain function are very limited and the effects of chronic heart failure on cognitive functions are not fully understood. This study adds valuable data to this rather “underrecognized and underappreciated” issue. The results have some wide-encompassing clinical implications. According to lead author Dr Mary Jane Sauvé

What it means in clinical practice is that when you give these patients verbal instructions, you also need to provide written materials because of patient difficulties with information requiring attention, learning, and memory functions; that you include the family in the discussion whenever possible; and that patients and families need to have a direct line to call if they are getting into trouble or become confused about the instructions. There is nothing more frustrating than a phone tree, even for people without [cognitive impairment].”

It is a fact that although screening for depression in cardiac patients is highly recommended, screening for cognitive deficits is not routine performed. However, cognitive problems can lead to non-compliance with therapy and medication regimen. Thus, this review paper recommends that

“…future research needs to focus on identifying a simple screening tool that nurses can use to screen for subtle changes in cognition including forgetfulness and delayed recall. Early identification of subtle cognitive changes has the potential to guide healthcare providers to formulate feasible strategies to understand and/or prevent a low cardiac output state before major cognitive impairment becomes evident.”


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Is there a role for statins in oncology?

February 17, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

Resource post for February

Statins or HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors are pharmacological agents used in the control and management of hyperlipidemia or high cholesterol levels. The most popular statins are Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Zocor (simvastatin).

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), statins work in the liver to prevent formation of cholesterol

Currently available statin drugs are:

  • Lovastatin (Mevacor, Altoprev)
  • Pravastatin (Pravachol)
  • Simvastatin (Zocor)
  • Fluvastatin (Lescol)
  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Rosuvastatin (Crestor)

Several studies in recent years indicate that the use of statins can go beyond the therapeutic area of cardiovascular medicine. One of the therapeutic areas is oncology and here are some of the studies:

Statins lower blood marker for prostate cancer

The study tracked 1214 men who were taking statins between 1990 and 2006 and monitored the levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a known biomarker for cancer risk. Those who were on statins had lower PSA levels and effect of statins on PSA was dose-dependent. Whether the effect of statins on the PSA levels translates into anticancer properties is not yet clear. It is also not clear statins interact with prostate biology. However, the anti-inflammatory properties of statins may play a role.

Statins lower risk of clots in cancer patients

Researchers at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia reported statins lower the incidence of blood clots in cancer patients. It is possible that statins “may have a future in preventing blood clots in patients with breast, lung, colon and other solid-organ cancers…Statins could improve endothelial function, and this could reduce the chance of venous thrombosis. Conceivably, statins could have some benefits on clotting factors. It is known that statins can have platelet effects, but this should help arterial thrombosis and would not be expected to help venous thrombosis.” Blood clots in the form of venous thromboembolism (VTE) are conditions that results when patients stay immobile for long periods of time (e.g. after surgery).However, the results are very preliminary and need to be confirmed in bigger studies.

Breast cancer and statins

A more recent research, however, demonstrated that statins do not prevent cancer. This was published in an article in the February issue of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) journal Cancer Prevention Research.

The results of previous studies on breast cancer and statin were a bit controversial, even inconclusive because they were mostly restrospective studies, e.g. studies that look at data in retrospect. In clinical research however, prospective studies carry more weight when it comes to providing evidence.

The current study compared the effectiveness of statins atorvastatin and lovastatin in laboratory animals with proven anti-tumor drugs on preventing breast tumors.

Atorvastatin orally administered at a dose of 125 and 500 mg/kg body weight did not influence the incidence of estrogen receptor-positive or estrogen-receptor negative breast cancers in mice. Similarly, lovastatin orally administered at 100 and 500 mg/kg body weight also did not show any significant effects. In contrast, 0.4 mg of tamoxifen or 80 mg of bexarotene induced a significant reduction in the multiplicity of mammary tumors. Combining statins with the anti-tumor drugs did not show any augmentation effect.

According to researcher Dr. Ronald Lubet

“We saw no real efficacy from either statin…Prior studies have shown some but limited efficacy in breast cancer models when these drugs were given through a method that would be the equivalent of intravenously in humans. However, that is not the way people take statins… There is always the question of whether there will be a subset of breast cancer where this class of agents will be effective, but the answer at this point is that the present preclinical studies do not support the use of statins as general breast cancer preventive agents.”

Statins are the blockbusters of the pharmaceutical industry, earning billions of dollars in revenues. One the most successful statins is Lipitor (atorvastatin) of Pfizer, supposedly the bestselling drug globally. However, many popular drugs have gone or are about to go off patent, thus exposing big pharma companies to competition from generic companies. Lipitor goes off patent in 2011. Finding new therapeutic applications for statins could be a way for many big companies to keep their hold on their bestsellers.

Some people might think that pharmaceutical companies are simply clutching straws when testing statins in other therapeutic areas. I believe this is not so. The wonder drug aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), for example, was initially developed to treat fever and headaches. Nowadays, it occupies a major role in cardiovascular medicine as an anticoagulant agent and is also being tested in treating different kinds of cancer. Another blockbuster drug, Viagra, was initially developed as a cardiovascular drug before its rather “profitable and beneficial” side effect” was discovered.

Dust in the wind: air pollution and cardiovascular health Part I

February 16, 2009 by  

Resource post for February

The level of air pollution is increasing globally. While developed countries are trying to curb air pollution through laws and regulations, many low- and middle income countries do not have the infrastructure in place to control this problem which is actually a consequence of urbanization and economic development.

Air pollution comes with serious health consequences that may lead to chronic diseases such as respiratory, cardiovascular, and even neurological disorders. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, it can cause about 2 million premature deaths worldwide.

Fine particles in the air we breathe are especially dangerous. In this post, I review the recent research studies on the cardiovascular effects of air pollution.

What is fine particulate matter?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Particulate matter, or PM, is the term for particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Particles can be suspended in the air for long periods of time. Some particles are large or dark enough to be seen as soot or smoke. Others are so small that individually they can only be detected with an electron microscope. Many manmade and natural sources emit PM directly or emit other pollutants that react in the atmosphere to form PM. These solid and liquid particles come in a wide range of sizes. Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) pose a health concern because they can be inhaled into and accumulate in the respiratory system. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are referred to as “fine” particles and are believed to pose the greatest health risks. Because of their small size (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair), fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs.

The fine particles come from motor vehicles running on fossil fuels, from power plants, from industries, and even from burning wood for heating.

What are the cardiovascular effects of particulate matter in the air?

In the US alone, one of three people is at risk of health risks of air pollution, especially PM2.5, particles which are mostly generated by vehicular traffic.

This 2007 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine followed up 1,816 women of postmenopausal age. The participants were monitored for cardiovascular events (e.g. heart attacks, stroke) for a medial follow-up time of 6 years. Data on air pollution on their areas of residence were also collected. The results of the study showed that the risk for cardiovascular event is highly correlated o the concentrations of PM2.5. Furthermore, the risk increases with women who are overweight or obese.

The study concluded that “long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution is associated with the incidence of cardiovascular disease and death among postmenopausal women.”

Other studies show that the closer your place of residence is to major roads with high volume traffic, the higher is your risk for cardiovascular problems.

In one study published in the journal Circulation in 2007, German scientists monitored 4494 adults aged 45 to 74 years old for at least five years. The study participants were checked for coronary artery calcification (CAC) as well as the distance of their residences to major. The results show that people who live close to the road (100 m or less) have a much higher risk for CAC that those who live further away (more than 100 m). CAC is an indication of atherosclerosis. The study concludes that “long-term residential exposure to high traffic is associated with the degree of coronary atherosclerosis.” Again, the pollution culprits in the air are the traffic-related PM2.5.

More recent studies (Epidemiology, 2009) show residential exposure to pollution in urban areas is associated with peripheral arterial disease especially among women. This trend was observed in urban areas in Germany as well as in the US.

So how do particles in the air affect our cardiovascular health?

This study on 48 Boston residents hospitalized for heart attacks, unstable angina or coronary artery disease suggests that particles in air interferes with the heart’s ability to conduct electrical signals. This was observed even if the particulate matter concentration is below National Air Quality Standard thresholds.

The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommend that some heart patients, particularly those who have had a heart attack, delay driving for two to three weeks after leaving the hospital and avoid driving in heavy traffic because of the stress it creates. This recent study that it’s not only stress but also traffic pollution that presents danger to the patients while driving.

Long-term exposure to air pollution has also been observed to alter blood coagulation function and thereby increasing the risk for deep vein thrombosis. The culprits in this case are even finer particles PM10 which seem to shorten prothrombin time. Each increase of 10 µg/m3 in PM10 was associated with a 70% increase in DVT risk. The DVT risk increase associated with air-pollution levels was smaller in women and limited to those who were not using oral contraceptives or hormone therapy at the time of diagnosis.

Coming next in this CVD-pollution series:

  • Pollution and health problems in different countries.
  • How to avoid pollution exposure.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.