WOMEN'S HEALTH WATCH
Sunlight Might Lower Breast Cancer Risk
Although women with light skin pigmentationtend to avoid the sun for fearof burns and potential skin cancer, arecent study has found that exposure tosunlight may actually reduce the risk ofadvanced breast cancer in thesewomen.
Researchers at the Northern CaliforniaCancer Center in Fremont studied1788 women with breast cancer and2129 women without the disease whoall lived in the San Francisco Bay Areafrom 1995 to 2003. High levels of sunexposure were associated with a 47%reduction in the risk of advanced breastcancer in light-skinned women. Thisreduction was not seen in medium- ordark-skinned women, however, and wasonly seen in the advanced version ofbreast cancer, not in localized cancers.
"While the public needs to be advisedto avoid excessive sun exposure, andsunburns in particular, because of theknown risk of skin cancer and melanoma,never getting any sun exposureleads to vitamin D deficiency," said leadauthor Esther M. John, MD. Evidencepoints to the ability of vitamin D to helpdecrease the risk of certain cancers,such as breast, prostate, and colon. Thefindings were published in the October18, 2007, issue of the American Journalof Epidemiology.
African American Women Get Suboptimal Cancer Treatment
Black women with breast cancer that has spread to thelymph nodes are less likely to undergo supplemental butpotentially life-saving therapies, such as tamoxifen andchemotherapy, than white women with the same level ofdisease state.
Researchers at the University of Michigan School ofPublic Health in Ann Arbor reviewed data on 630 womendiagnosed with breast cancer at the Karmanos CancerInstitute in Detroit between 1990 and 1996. They accountedfor such variables as concurrent illnesses and socioeconomicand health insurance status. In the 242 white womenstudied, 88 had cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes,compared with 158 of the 388 black women.
The investigators found that black women were less likelyto have supplemental therapy for their advanced cancersand white women were 5 times more likely to take tamoxifenand >3 times as likely to take chemotherapy, comparedwith their black counterparts. Among women with localstagedisease not reaching the lymph nodes, rates of supplementaltherapy were similar between races. The findingswere published in the November 15, 2007, issue of Cancer.
?Smoking Boom? Catching up with Women
A report from the National Jewish Medical and ResearchCenter in Denver states that women who took part in the"smoking boom" of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s are beginning tofeel the devastating effects of years of smoking, even after theyhave quit for many years. The death rate in women from chronicobstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has nearly tripled from1980 to 2000, and since 2000, more women than men havedied or been admitted to the hospital per year because ofCOPD. Barry J. Make, MD, a lung specialist at the center, notedthat "women started smoking in what I call the ?Virginia Slimsera,' when [the cigarette company] started sponsoring sportingevents. It's now just catching up to them."
About 85% of all cases of COPD are caused by smoking, andthe symptoms usually appear after age 40 in people who havesmoked at least a pack a day for 10 years or more. Some studiessuggest that women's lungs might be more sensitive tosmoke than men's. Experts at the center warn that part of theproblem is the common misdiagnosis, mistreatment, or undertreatmentof COPD in women, which is often mistaken forasthma.
Iron Could Help Women?s Coughs
A study from the University of Turin in Italy showed that otherwisehealthy, nonsmoking women who experience persistentcough may have an iron deficiency. Testing also showed thatwomen are more likely than men to have unexplained chroniccough.
The researchers studied 16 women with chronic cough whowere found to have normal lung function, with no signs of asthmaor other respiratory disease and no evidence of acid stomachreflux that could explain their coughing, and found that allhad iron deficiencies. The women had signs of swelling in theback of the mouth and red, inflamed mucous membranes. Theirvocal cords were also very sensitive, making them cough andchoke easily, such as after vigorous laughing.
The scientists observed that cough and signs of pharyngolaryngitiswere improved or resolved after iron supplementationin 16 healthy nonsmoking women who had idiopathic cough andiron deficiency or mild anemia. Researchers speculate thatbecause iron helps regulate the production of proteins in theimmune system that control inflammation, an iron deficiencymight make the upper airway more prone to inflammation, leadingto chronic cough. The study was presented at the Novemberscientific meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians.
F A S T F A C T : By the time a woman reaches the age of 85, her risk of developing breast cancer is 1 in 7.