Women's Health Watch

FEBRUARY 01, 2009

Breast Cancer Patients: Hot Flushes, Joint Problems a Positive Sign

Hot flushes, night sweats, and joint symptoms may be good news for breast cancer patients getting endocrine treatment. These are signs of estrogen depletion or blockage and may indicate successful treatment.

The study results indicated that 37.5% of women who reported hot flushes and night sweats at the 3-month follow-up visit had a lower rate of breast cancer recurrence after 9 years (18%), compared with women who did not report vasomotor symptoms (23%). Furthermore, the 31.4% of women who reported new joint symptoms at the follow-up visit had a 14% rate of the cancer returning, compared with 23% who did not report new joint symptoms.

The researchers said that the differences in cancer recurrence rates were observed with both tamoxifen and anastrozole. The patients with and without these symptoms who received anastrozole had lower recurrence rates than those who received tamoxifen. The study was published online October 30, 2008, in The Lancet Oncology.

Migraines a Good Thing?

A new study indicates that women who experience migraines may have a 30% lower risk of developing breast cancer. The study involved data on 3412 postmenopausal women. Of these women, 1938 had been diagnosed with breast cancer and 1474 had no history of the disease. The researchers explained that estrogen levels may be the key to this correlation. High levels of the hormone are linked with an increased risk of breast cancer. Women who experience migraines seem to have low levels of the hormone, which may account for the lower risk of breast cancer.

Ellen Drexler, MD, associate director of the Division of Neurology at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, questions the theory. She said that it is unclear that the lower incidence of breast cancer in women with migraines proves the reason is lower hormone levels. The findings were published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (November 2008).

Women's Hands Carry More Germs

Men and women have more bacteria on their hands than previously thought. Women, however, win the contest for the number of germs detected, according to a study recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The skin on the palms of hands contains many bacterial communities. The researchers looked at the palms of 51 undergraduate students. A sampling of the entire DNA of microbes showed some 322,000 gene sequences, or about 100 times more than was found in earlier studies of skin bacteria. On average, each hand had about 150 different species of bacteria. Overall, >4700 bacterial species were identified on all hands. As for women, the researchers detected more germ diversity, compared with men. The investigators attributed it to different acidities on the hands, different production of sweat, variable hormones, and how many times moisturizers or cosmetics are applied.

PID Ups Girls' Risk for Repeat STIs

A new study found that teenage girls treated for pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) are more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) not long after treatment. Although the study focused on inner-city girls in Baltimore, Maryland, teenage girls across the United States probably face similar problems associated with inner-city life and have behaviors that put them at high risk for repeat STIs, said the researchers. The 4-year study followed 80 girls who were diagnosed with PID and returned for a follow-up. Of those girls, 27 (34%) were diagnosed with at least 1 STI over a 6-month period. Of the 27, 8 (30%) had at least 2 STIs in the follow-up period. The researchers suggested that treating PID "with a prescription and a brochure" is not enough to change behavior and prevent future repeat infections.

"What we think we need is individually tailored counseling by a clinical provider...with each patient to determine what aspects of her behavior put her at risk and must change," said lead investigator Maria Trent, MD.

Young Women Need Calcium, Vitamin D, Too

Older women are not the only ones to benefit from calcium and vitamin D supplements. A new study of US female Navy recruits found that these nutrients also help younger, active women lower their odds of stress fractures.

In the study, the women were undergoing 8 weeks of basic training. The women were randomly divided into 2 groups. One group was given daily supplements containing 2000 mg of calcium and 800 international units of vitamin D. The second group took a placebo. Reporting the findings at the recent Orthopaedic Research Society, the researchers said that women who did not take additional calcium and vitamin D were almost 25% more prone to experience a stress fracture, compared with women who took the supplements.

F A S T   F A C T: Approximately 75% of autoimmune diseases occur in women, most frequently in women of childbearing age.