Health Scan: Statin drugs can protect against colon cancer

This according to a new study at the Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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May 8, 2010 18:52
Health Scan: Statin drugs can protect against colon cancer

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Statin drugs are routinely taken to lower blood cholesterol levels, but an American-Israeli study has now identified, through a genetic test, which individuals can also reduce their risk of colorectal cancer by 50% with these pills. Prof. Gad Rennert of Haifa’s Carmel Medical Center and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology – a leading cancer epidemiologist – was a member of the team at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center whose study appeared in the May 1 issue of Cancer Prevention Research.

The researchers had previously shown that statins – which 25 million people worldwide take each day to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease – can cut the risk of colorectal cancer by 50 percent. But statins do not appear to work equally well for everyone in reducing either colorectal cancer or cardiovascular disease risk. The new study found a genetic variant affects how effective statins are.

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“Our research is the first step toward personalized prevention. Some people benefit substantially more from statins than others – for both cholesterol lowering and colorectal cancer prevention. Now we have identified a genetic test that can show who’s likely to benefit most from this drug,” says senior study author Prof. Stephen Gruber from the Michigan center.

The team looked at 2,138 people in northern Israel who were diagnosed with colon cancer, and a control group of 2,049 similar people without colon cancer. All participants were asked about statin use for controlling cholesterol. Statins are not currently used to prevent colorectal cancer. In addition, the researchers took blood samples from all participants and analyzed the genes. They found that the gene targeted by statins, HMGCR, is the same one that predicts the drug’s benefit for preventing colorectal cancer. Further, there are two versions of HMGCR – a long version and a short version. The researchers found that statins have more benefit in individuals with the gene’s long version.

“It’s the exact same mechanism for lowering cholesterol as it is for lowering colon cancer risk. This is true only for those people who are actually taking statins. The gene test by itself doesn’t predict whether you’re at an increased risk of colon cancer; it predicts only how well statins lower the risk,” Gruber says. The researchers point out that it’s easy to know if statins are successfully lowering cholesterol, but their effect on colorectal cancer prevention is not as apparent. That’s where a gene test would come in.

“We think we understand the reasons why statins lower the risk of colorectal cancer. It’s probably related to the fact that in addition to lowering cholesterol, they also decrease inflammation – and we know inflammation is a very important part of the way in which colon cancers develop. But regardless of whether it’s related to cholesterol levels or inflammation, it’s more important to know who are the right people to use these drugs for,” says Gruber.

The authors note that the US Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved the use of statins for preventing colon cancer, and there is still no genetic test to determine whether statins provide protection against such a tumor.

RIPE FOR A SPORT

Some sports coaches claim that when youngsters are found to have great potential for becoming a professional in a certain sport such as tennis, swimming, basketball or soccer, it is best for him or her to concentrate only on that single type of physical activity. But some sports medicine experts recommend that such children pursue a variety of sports until they reach adolescence.

Two Israeli sports medicine experts, Dr. Gal Dubnov-Raz of Sheba Medical Center and Dr. Naama Constantini of Hadassah Optimal, recently commented in the Israeli Journal of Pediatrics   on an article published on this subject in the International Journal of Sport Exercise Psychology .

The Israelis note that success in sports requires all-round skills in running, throwing, kicking and catching as well as social sensitivity and cognitive abilities. These challenges help motivate young sportsman to excel in competition. The two noted that the International Society for Sport Psychology has issued a position paper favoring wider sports experimentation for youngsters, as specializing early can result in “burnout” and minimize their enjoyment from a single sport. If a skilled young swimmer around six or 10 concentrates only in the water sport, he will not be exposed to development skills resulting from group efforts and interaction with youngsters of various ages.

By the time children complete elementary school, they are more ready to choose a single sport and train intensively. By the time they reach 16, they are better prepared physically and mentally to devote themselves to one sport and to choose it as a career, note the Israeli experts.

PROTECT HEARING FROM MP3 DAMAGE

Decades ago, playing musical instruments loudly for hours at a time was a major risk to hearing; think of former US president Bill Clinton, whose hearing was harmed by playing saxophone as a young man. Now, it has been shown that listening to tiny personal music players (such as MP3s) several hours a day at high volume also can cause permanent hearing loss. In an editorial, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) warns that such devices can generate levels of sound at the ear in excess of 120 decibels, similar in intensity to a jet engine – especially when used with earphones in the ear canal.

Prof. Peter Rabinowitz at Yale University School of Medicine wrote that the use of these devices “has grown faster than our ability to assess their potential health consequences.” However, evidence that music players are causing hearing loss in young people is mixed, suggesting that the true effects may only now be starting to be detectable, says the author. In addition, some studies have shown that personal music players can interfere with concentration and performance when driving.

He believes it is reasonable to encourage patients of all ages to promote “hearing health” through avoidance of excessive noise. One should certainly remove earphones while driving and performing other safety-sensitive tasks, he advised, and called for more comprehensive ongoing surveys of the hearing health of young people.


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