Medical roundup: Aspirin and cancer prevention; Diabetes on the rise

Aspirin as a cancer preventative

Studies have shown that aspirin is useful in the prevention of heart attacks. But some research demonstrates that it may also be useful to help prevent, or control, some forms of cancer.

Investigators have found aspirin can inhibit the spread of some types of cancer (e.g., breast cancer) and/or decrease the risk of dying from some forms of cancer. The cancer types that seem to show this type of reaction to aspirin are breast, cancers of the GI tract, and prostate.

A recent study from Ireland looked at women who took aspirin regularly and those who didn’t take aspirin on a regular basis. Women who took aspirin had a lower risk of developing breast cancer, had less metastatic cancer, and fewer of them died from breast cancer than the group that didn’t use aspirin.

Of course, as with any drug, there are risks with taking aspirin. Some people are aspirin allergic, and aspirin can cause excessive bleeding. Before starting aspirin, discuss its advisability with your doctor.

Diabetes epidemic

A study shows that diabetes (type 2 diabetes, adult-onset diabetes) is increasing rapidly in the US, especially among minorities.

The researchers estimate that, of US citizens born between 2000 and 2011, about 40% will develop diabetes. That is almost double what the incidence was for US citizens born 10 years earlier than this group. Even before that, the incidence of type 2 diabetes was steadily increasing.

In minority groups the incidence can be as high as 50%. That’s a huge number of diabetic patients. Many of those patients will also suffer from the complications of diabetes: kidney problems, cardiovascular problems, blindness and others can put a tremendous burden on those affected and the healthcare system, as well.

Obesity and other factors can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Preventing colon cancer

Sigmoidoscopy (similar to colonoscopy but only the left side of the bowel is viewed internally through a sigmoidoscope) is effective in decreasing the risk of dying from colon cancer.

A Scandanavian study showed that this test can cut people’s risk of developing and dying from colon cancer, just as colonoscopy does. Sigmoidoscopy is a little faster and the preparation may be easier. It can be done without sedation. But it is rarely done in the US. Most often a colonoscopy is preferred because the entire colon, not just the rectal area and left colon, can be seen during colonoscopy.

There are three different options recommended as screenings for colon cancer by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF):

  • an annual stool test
  • sigmoidoscopy every five years, along with stool testing every three years
  • or colonoscopy every 10 years (John wrote about his experience a few months back)

For most people, screening for colon cancer should begin at age 50. Discuss your options with your doctor.

Beware of downloadable medical apps

Downloadable medical applications can be quite useful in managing people’s medical needs.

Some help users keep track of calories, carbohydrates, fats. Others record blood sugar readings. Some store the patient’s medical history, allergies, medications, etc. and can be given t o a doctor to keep him up to date with the patient’s medical background. There are literally thousands of apps available.

However, a word of caution. Neither the FDA, nor other governing bodies, regulates medical apps.

For example, an app that someone is using may claim to list the number of calories in a serving of a particular food. That number may be accurate – or not. It’s best to randomly check your apps to make sure that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Verify how well it works by comparing it with a data set from a different source. Verify that the 80 calories that your app says are in that apple are really there.

Similarly, if you’re using an app to track your blood glucose readings, keep a check on how well the app is recording and storing those numbers. The same holds for other apps. Make sure that they work properly before you trust them.

Recently, there have been a few ape published that claim to measure blood pressure and/or pulse by using a smartphone. Yet the authors of these apps have not explained just how a smartphone is capable of measuring or recording these parameters. Until they do, you can’t be sure that the “blood pressure” and “pulse” readings are accurate.

Chikungunya virus in Florida

A while ago I did a post on Chikungunya virus (CHIKV).  This is a virus that was endemic in Africa and has spread to the Caribbean.

It starts with a fever and then joint pain begins. The joint pain can be moderately painful to severe and incapacitating. It is spread by mosquitoes. The mosquito types that spread it in the Caribbean are also found in the US. Most cases in the US have been seen in patients who got infected in the Caribbean. A few weeks ago, there were two documented cases of Chikungunya that had been contracted in Florida.

Doc via Shutterstock

Doc via Shutterstock

Public health officials are now feel that the number of cases of CHIKV will begin to increase. Theoretically, the disease can be spread in any area where these mosquitoes live. That would include most of the continental US. Officials don’t think that it will be anywhere near as much of a problem in the US as it is in Africa and the Caribbean. Mosquito populations are higher in those areas, most people are outdoors more often, few have screens on windows or doors and are not in enclosed air conditioned buildings.

To help prevent infection it is suggested that people wear long sleeves and long pants and use mosquito repellant in areas where mosquitoes are present. Stay indoors when possible, behind intact screens or with doors and windows closed and using air conditioning. Since, to date, CHIKV is little known in the US, if you develop flu-like symptoms, fever, joint pain and/or joint swelling you may want to tell your doctor about CHIKV. While health departments, the CDC, medical societies and other organizations are putting out information on CHIKV, until the medical community gets saturated, some doctors who haven’t seen a case may not consider it as a possible diagnosis.

There is no vaccine or specific medications to prevent or cure Chikungunya. Care is supportive to lower fever and control pain.

Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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