- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 5, 2003

NICOTINE PATCHES CAN BE JUST AS DEADLY AS SMOKING

New findings suggest nicotine might contribute to cancer as much as smoking does. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute examined nicotine and a derivative called nitrosamine NKK on normal lung epithelial cells — the cells that are exposed to inhaled smoke and where lung cancer usually starts. They found nicotine and NKK — in amounts equivalent to those seen in smokers — activated a molecular pathway called Akt in the cells that promotes growth and survival. They also found the Akt pathway active in the lungs of mice treated with NKK and in lung cancer tissue from smokers. The finding is significant, the researchers said, because programmed cell death, called apoptosis, is one of the body's most effective defense mechanisms against cancer. When cancer cells undermine this defense mechanism — and activation of the Akt survival pathway is one of them. Because of the finding, researchers said it might be necessary to re-evaluate the risk-benefit ratio of quitting-aids such as nicotine patches, chewing gum, or nasal sprays.

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DROP ONE SIDE EFFECT OF VIAGRA

A new study has ruled out one of the drug Viagra's possible side effects — possible nerve damage to the eyes. When Viagra was introduced in 1999 to help men with erectile difficulties, Pfizer, the drug's manufacturer, warned of a number of visual side effects including optic nerve damage. But researchers at the University of California, Irvine College of Medicine said their study has shown no sign of this risk, even when Viagra is taken in high doses. The team conducted the trial with 13 men at Stanford University and found that high doses of Viagra did not affect the thickness of the eye's choroids layer, which supplies the eyeball with blood. The study subjects also showed no changes in color vision, a common side effect of the drug. "Viagra can change blood vessel structure as well as general blood pressure, so we needed to answer the question whether the drug could change blood vessels in the eye," researchers said. "Our study may have had a small group of participants, but it showed very little change in blood vessels or blood flow in nearly all the patients."

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DOCTORS DON'T DISCOURAGE HEAVY DRINKING

Most of the 2 million binge drinkers who visited their doctors for routine checkups during 1996-1997 received no advice on using alcohol more responsibly, a new study reveals. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from a 10-state random telephone survey to determine whether doctors talked to their patients who were binge drinkers about their risky health behavior. Of 4,857 individuals who had routine checkups, only 23 percent of binge drinkers said their doctors discussed alcohol use with them. The results were nearly the opposite with smokers, 70 percent of whom surveyed said they were advised by their doctors to quit the habit. The researchers said they are uncertain why smokers received more attention, noting perhaps doctors worry more about the burden of disease that comes with smoking and think there are clear-cut goals they can suggest to smokers. Tobacco and alcohol are the first and third avoidable causes of death in the United States. They accounted for approximately 430,000 and 100,000 deaths, respectively, in 1990.

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INSURANCE GAPS CAUSE SKIPPING PREVENTIVE CARE

People with even short breaks in their health insurance coverage are less likely to seek crucial preventive care, according to a new study by Cleveland researchers. In a study sample of 7,300 people, ages 51 to 61, who responded to a national health survey in 1992, 1994 and 1996, the researchers found gaps in insurance coverage resulted in lower use of clinical preventive services. Particularly lacking were cholesterol tests, pap smears and mammograms among women and prostate cancer screenings for men. "Our results extend the findings of other studies showing that periods of noncoverage increase people's risk of going without needed care," researchers said.

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(Editors: For more information about NICOTINE, contact Brooke Grindlinger at 212-342-9006 or [email protected] For VIAGRA, Andrew Porterfield at 949-824-3969 or [email protected] For BINGERS, Mary Kay Sones at 770-488-5131 or [email protected] For INSURANCE, George Stamatis at 216-368-3635 or [email protected])


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