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Night Shifts May Pose Cancer Threat
In other news: Hormone replacement therapy studies come under fire, promise of a new tapeworm treatment, a pilot program helps families face cancer and high-fat dairy concerns for women.
By George Vernadakis
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Working nights is never easy — it can disrupt your sleep, throw off your metabolism and ruin your social life. But the night shift could also pose serious health risks. Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that women who work nights may be at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.
According to a new study, night shift work was associated with a 24 percent higher risk of advanced ovarian cancer and a 49 percent higher risk of early-stage ovarian cancer.
But why? One theory has to do with melatonin, a hormone usually produced at night that suppresses estrogen levels. Melatonin is not produced in ambient light, the kind of light that shift workers may be exposed to; and high levels of estrogen have been linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Interestingly, the study found that the risk of ovarian cancer was 7 percent lower in women who described themselves as night types. But the researchers couldn’t explain why women who were more comfortable working a night shift might be at a lower risk for cancer.
This is not the first time that shift work has been associated with health concerns — in fact, it has been linked to a variety of other diseases, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis and breast cancer.
Gloria Huang, MD., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and attending gynecologist at Montefiore Medical Center, thinks sleep deprivation is the key concern. “It’s important that when you do sleep, you do everything you can to improve the quality of it,” said Huang.
HRT Warnings Critiqued
Fears about hormone replacement therapy and its possible link to breast cancer may be depriving many women of its potential health benefits. Recent papers are critical of previously published HRT studies, saying they lacked sufficient evidence to support or refute the possibility that the therapy caused cancer.
Hormone replacement therapy refers to estrogen and progestin prescribed together or estrogen prescribed alone, to alleviate menopause symptoms and to help prevent conditions such as osteoporosis and heart disease.
New Options to Fight Tapeworms
Research out of Cambridge, England, could help pave the way for new treatments to combat tapeworm infections. Researchers’ discovery of weak spots in tapeworms’ DNA indicates that they may be responsive to cancer and antiviral drugs.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 1,000 new cases of tapeworm infection reported annually in the U.S. People usually contract tapeworms from eating undercooked meat and, depending on the type of tapeworm infection, symptoms can range from mild digestive discomfort to more severe symptoms like seizures or muscle and eye damage.
Chemotherapy and surgery are often the go-to solutions for people who develop tapeworm-related cysts, but these new findings open up the promise of faster and less invasive treatment options.
Helping Families Deal With Cancer
A new study tested a pilot program that helps families cope with — and make plans for — the possible death of a teenager with cancer. The program team found that participating families were more informed about end-of-life decisions and had a better understanding of their child’s end-of-life wishes. Cancer is the main killer among children in the U.S., taking the lives of nearly 3 out of every 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
High-Fat Dairy Linked to Cancer Recurrence
Research in recent years has found a connection between a dairy-rich diet and the effect on women's health, especially cancer. The newest study, just published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, reports that women with early-stage invasive breast cancer who consumed one or more servings of high-fat dairy foods were more likely to experience a recurrence of the disease than women who ate a low-fat dairy diet.
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