DECEMBER 01, 2007

Annual Breast MRIs Touted for ?Very High Risk? Women

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has released new recommendations for testing women for breast cancer. One recommendation is that women at ?very high risk? receive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) along with their annual mammograms.

A recent study compared MRI, mammography, and ultrasound in 171 women whose lifetime breast cancer risk was considered ?very high? (20% or more). Of the 6 cancers diagnosed, MRI detected all 6; the mammograms found only 2, and the ultrasound 1. Only the MRI detected 4 cancers in women with dense breast tissue. The findings were published in the October 2007 issue of Harvard Women?s Health Watch.

The ACS cautioned, however, that women at average risk of breast cancer do not need the additional MRI screenings, because these screenings could lead to unnecessary biopsies in healthy women. The procedure also is costly, and many insurance companies will not pay for an MRI for an average-risk woman. For most women over age 40, a yearly mammogram and clinical breast examination are sufficient, the ACS said.

Low Vitamin D = Greater Risk of Hip Fracture

According to a study led by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, women with low levels of vitamin D have a greater risk of experiencing a hip fracture. The researchers evaluated the data on 400 patients enrolled in the Women?s Health Initiative Observational Study Cohort who had a hip fracture over a period of 7.1 years. The patients were tested for levels of 25- hydroxyvitamin D, an indicator of vitamin D status in the blood, and compared them with the levels for a group of controls. The investigators noted that, as the levels of vitamin D decreased, the risk of hip fractures increased.

?The risk of hip fractures was 77% higher among women whose [vitamin D] levels were at the lowest concentrations,? the researchers said. ?This effect persisted even when we adjusted for other risk factors such as body mass index, family history of hip fracture, smoking, alcohol use, and calcium and vitamin D intake.? Their findings were presented in September 2007 at the 29th annual meeting of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research in Hawaii.

That Third Drink Linked to Cancers in Women

Several studies have shown more reasons why women should consider cutting back on their alcoholic intake if they are heavy drinkers. Investigators studied a group of 41,574 postmenopausal women and followed their drinking habits for an average of 8 years. The researchers found that women who drank more than 2 drinks a day had more than twice the risk of endometrial cancer. This finding was published online August 31, 2007, and was to appear in a print issue of the International Journal of Cancer.

Another study, from the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, found that all types of alcohol add equally to a woman?s risk. There had been debate as to whether 1 form of alcohol poses a greater risk. The researchers studied the drinking habits of 70,033 women between 1978 and 1985. By 2004, 2829 of these women were diagnosed with breast cancer. Those who drank 3 or more alcoholic drinks daily raised their risk by 30%. No difference was found in what types of alcohol the women drank in relation to their cancer risk.

Don?t Panic! It Could Raise Heart Disease Risk

Postmenopausal women who have experienced at least 1 panic attack could be at a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, and even death. A study conducted by Harvard Medical School showed that older women (aged 51 to 83 years) with a history of panic attacks were 4 times more likely to have heart disease than similarly aged women who never had an attack. Even after risk factors were controlled for, women who had a panic attack had a greater risk of having cardiovascular (CV) illness or dying after an average of 5 years.

The researchers looked at data gathered from 3369 postmenopausal women who completed questionnaires about the occurrence of panic attacks in the past 6 months. After an average of 5.3 years of follow-up, the investigators gathered information on heart disease, stroke, and death from any cause. After adjusting for other risk factors for CV disease, they found that full-blown panic attacks were associated with a 4- fold higher risk of heart disease, almost twice the risk of stroke, and a 75% increase in risk of death from any cause, compared with women who had not experienced an attack. The findings were published in the October 2007 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

F A S T   F A C T : One in 3 asthma patients uses a rescue inhaler at least daily, and 73% use one at least once a month.