Health briefs: After childhood cancer, a lifetime of health worries

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Most of the growing number of survivors of childhood cancer end up facing a lifetime of chronic health problems as a result of their treatment, a study has found.

Improved treatment means more kids diagnosed with cancer are surviving five years or longer, according to the study by researchers at Northwestern University, the National Cancer Institute and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — with nearly 400,000 childhood-cancer survivors nationwide as of 2011, up 60,000 from 2005.

But an estimated 70 percent of them have a “mild or moderate” chronic condition related to their treatment, according to the research, reported in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. And nearly a third are estimated to have a “severe, disabling or life-threatening” condition. The problems include cognitive impairment, physical limitations, pain and anxiety.

“We’ve been able to increase the number of survivors of pediatric cancer, but simply curing their disease isn’t enough,” said Siobhan Phillips, a Northwestern assistant professor of preventive care who led the study, the first to look at how widespread treatment-related chronic disease is among children who survive five years or longer after a cancer diagnosis. “We need a more coordinated approach to their care to help prevent or delay some of these chronic health problems that affect the quality of their lives.”

Siobhan Phillips

Siobhan Phillips

Study hints at heart help from ancient herbal remedy

University of Chicago researchers have found that injecting a compound made from magnolia tree bark into the hearts of mice helped protect against a condition that can lead to heart failure.

The compound — honokiol — activated a protective protein called SIRT3, which “effectively blocked both the induction and progression of cardiac hypertrophy in mice,” said Mahesh Gupta, director of U. of C.’s Cardiac Cell Biology Research and lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature Communications. “This has the potential to play a significant role in the prevention and treatment of heart failure.

Mahesh Gupta

Mahesh Gupta

“Until now, caloric restriction combined with endurance exercise has been the only way to boost SIRT3 levels. Very few people have been able to follow such a rigorous regimen.”

Honokiol — used in Asia for centuries — is available as an herbal remedy, though of uncertain purity, according to the researchers.

Cardiac hypertrophy involves the thickening of cardiac muscle. Chronic high blood pressure can cause the condition, which can lead to heart failure.

Gupta said the next step is a human clinical trial but warned, “Although we feel this is extremely promising, there is still much work to be done.”

Letting paramedics give antibiotics could help with worst fractures

Allowing paramedics to give antibiotics could help cut the high rate of infection among patients with severe fractures, research by a Loyola University Medical Center trauma surgeon suggests.

The study of 137 patients with shinbone fractures so severe that bone poked through the skin or an open wound reached to the broken bone found infection rates can be reduced dramatically by administering antibiotics within an hour of injury.

That suggests having paramedics do so “may substantially improve outcomes,” lead study author Dr. William Lack reported in the Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma.

Lack noted that paramedics already are allowed to give some other medications.

Dr. William Lack

Dr. William Lack

Pollution in India cuts lives by 3 years, research finds

India’s heavy air pollution has cut life expectancy by more than three years for more than half the population, a study by University of Chicago, Harvard and Yale researchers found.

More than 660 million people in India live in places where the level of fine particulates in the atmosphere is unsafe, the researchers wrote in the journal Economics & Political Weekly.

“India’s focus is necessarily on growth,” said Michael Greenstone, director of U. of C.’s Energy Policy Institute and one of the study’s authors. “However for too long, the conventional definition of growth has ignored the health consequences of air pollution. This study demonstrates that air pollution retards growth by causing people to die prematurely.”

Thirteen of the world’s most-polluted cities are in India, including the most-polluted one, Delhi, according to World Health Organization estimates. India has the world’s highest death rate from chronic respiratory disease.

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