Mammograms Help Younger Women

Health authorities have sent mixed signals about the need for mammograms for women under the age of 50, but a new study in today's issue of the journal Cancer reports that the benefit of detecting cancer through a mammogram is greater for a woman in her 40s than for an older woman. Cancers detected by a mammogram tend to be small and amenable to treatment. But for women in their 40s, cancers first detected as a palpable lump tend to be larger, more aggressive and more likely to have spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Dr. Ruth Heimann and her colleagues at the University of Chicago studied 869 women with early-stage cancer who had received breast-conserving treatment at the center between 1984 and 1994. They found that, for women with cancers detected through a mammogram, 90% to 92% were alive and well after five years. But among women in their 40s whose cancer had been detected manually, five-year, disease-free survival plunged to 77%.

You're Never Too Old to Start Exercising

It's never too late to begin a heart-protecting exercise program, British scientists report in the May 30 Lancet. Dr. S. Goya Wannamethee and his colleagues at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London reviewed data collected from a large study of middle-aged men who answered questions about their health and exercise habits in the late 1970s and again in the early 1990s.

The researchers found that men who had reported they were sedentary at the time of the first questionnaire, but who had begun "at least light activity" by the time of the second, had reduced their risk of death by about 45%. Even men who had preexisting cardiovascular disease seemed to benefit from the exercise.

Internet Medical Advice Not Always Sound

Much of the health and medical information obtained from the Internet may not be completely reliable, according to a new study in the June Pediatrics electronic pages (, an extension of the journal Pediatrics. Researchers from the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health and the Columbus Children's Hospital looked for information on the treatment of childhood diarrhea, then compared it to guidelines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Of 60 Internet articles, only 12 conformed to these recommendations. Some statements causing concern included: "Diarrhea is the body's method to eliminate undesirable elements," "diarrhea is a cause of Reye's syndrome," and "restrict oral intake" during diarrhea. Also of concern were recipes for rehydration solutions, unusual drug recommendations and proposed dietary restrictions.

Lights in Nurseries Don't Blind Preemies, Study Finds

Lights in hospital nurseries pose no threat to the eyesight of premature babies, contrary to a long-held suspicion, researchers said in the May 28 New England Journal of Medicine. The findings were based on a new study of hundreds of premature infants in New York and Texas.

For years there has been a concern that lights in hospital nurseries might increase the risk of blindness in premature infants, a condition known as retinopathy of prematurity. The ailment is a leading cause of blindness among children. It appears during the development of the retina, the wall of light-sensitive cells at the back of each eye.

Dr. James D. Reynolds of the State University of New York, Buffalo, led the team that gave 205 premature infants special goggles that screened out 97% of the light going into the eyes. Another 204 premature children were exposed to regular nursery lighting. When the goggles were removed--four weeks after birth or 31 weeks after conception, whichever was longer--the researchers found that 102 babies who had worn the goggles had some degree of retinopathy of prematurity, compared to 100 infants who were in the group exposed to standard lighting.

Widespread Prenatal Care Not Helping Birth Weight

The percentage of U.S. women getting prenatal care has risen markedly since 1980, which should be good news, but the overall rate of babies being born with low weight has worsened. Simply offering more prenatal care services without evaluating their effects may fail to improve overall health, federal researchers said in the May 27 Journal of the American Medical Assn.

The researchers, led by Michael D. Kogan of the National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Md., analyzed records of 54 million live births from 1981 to 1995. By one measurement, prenatal-care use rose from 32.7% of births in 1981 to 47.1% in 1995. However, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 7.3% of babies were classified as low birth weight in 1995, the latest year for which figures were available. The percentage was the same for 1994, when it was the highest reported since 1976.

Experts not involved in the study said care may be increasing most among white women and the affluent, the women who are least likely to bear premature or dangerously small babies. Some of the study's numbers suggest that higher-risk pregnant women--black women and the poor--get no more care than previously, the experts said in an editorial accompanying the study.

Toxic Proteins May Set Off Alzheimer's

Researchers from USC and Northwestern University have discovered new, highly toxic proteins that disrupt brain mechanisms for learning and memory and that may set off the progression of Alzheimer's disease. The globular proteins, called amyloid beta-derived diffusible ligands, are a surprising new form of the amyloid beta protein, which has been known for years to accumulate as enormous fibers in the brains of Alzheimer's victims.

The team reported in the May 26 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that, in mice, the newly identified proteins interfere with learning and memory well in advance of the cellular degeneration considered by many to be the cause of Alzheimer's. The discovery could lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the disease, which affects as many as 4 million Americans.

--Compiled by THOMAS H. MAUGH II

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