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December 2006

Osteoporosis Drug Reduces Breast Cancer Risk

Therapy with raloxifene (Evista®), a drug used to both prevent and treat osteoporosis, reduced the risk of invasive breast cancer in postmenopausal women, according to researchers at the University of Michigan.10

The scientists analyzed data from a four-year trial involving 7,705 women and another four-year follow-up study involving 4,011 women. To assess breast cancer risk, pre-specified subgroups were defined by age, age at menopause, body mass index, family history of breast cancer, serum estradiol level, prior estrogen therapy, and bone mass at baseline in both the original trial and follow-up study. In the placebo group, older age, higher estradiol level, and a family history of breast cancer were associated with an increased breast cancer risk. Raloxifene therapy, however, led to reduced breast cancer incidence in women at both lower and higher breast cancer risk as determined by the pre-specified risk factors. Compared to placebo, raloxifene treatment was associated with reductions in risk ranging from 33% to 89%.

The researchers concluded that raloxifene therapy was associated with a reduced risk of invasive breast cancer in postmenopausal women, irrespective of the presence or absence of other risk factors. The drug’s effect was especially pronounced in women with a family history of breast cancer.

—Matt Sizing

Ginseng Improves Breast Cancer Survival, Outcomes

Ginseng may improve survival rates and quality of life for breast cancer patients, report Chinese researchers.13 Over 1 million women worldwide are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. The highest incidence rates are in the Netherlands and US, while China has the lowest incidence and mortality rate of the disease.

In a population-based study of 1,455 breast cancer patients in Shanghai, women who used ginseng before breast cancer diagnosis tended to have higher survival rates, while those who started taking the herb after diagnosis experienced improved quality of life. During follow-up surveys conducted over an average of 4.8 years, the researchers found that women who had taken ginseng regularly pre-diagnosis had a higher overall survival rate than pre-diagnosis non-takers (88.6% vs. 80%), as well as a higher disease-free survival rate (83.8% vs. 77.4%). Quality of life (physical, social, psychological, and material well-being, measured using a standardized questionnaire) improved among the women who started taking the herb after diagnosis.

While ginseng is typically taken to enhance stamina and reduce feelings of fatigue and physical stress, it is also believed to have anti-cancer properties and has been reported to normalize blood glucose levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce the risk of obesity. The researchers proposed that compounds contained in ginseng called ginsenosides may account for the apparent benefits of supplementation in breast cancer patients. Previous in-vitro and animal studies have supported the proposal that these compounds have anti-cancer activity.

—Matt Sizing

Drug Helps Prostate Patients Avoid Castration

Medical scientists in Wisconsin report that the oral drug bicalutamide (Casodex®) appears to be an acceptable alternative to chemical castration in the treatment of patients with prostate cancer.12

A double-blind, randomized study followed 1,370 early prostate cancer patients who received radiotherapy with curative intent. After a median follow-up of 7.2 years, subjects who received daily Casodex® treatment reduced their risk of disease progression by 44% and cut their overall risk of death by 35% compared to patients who received a placebo.

“In patients with locally advanced disease, a daily 150-mg dose of bicalutamide (Casodex®) following initial radiotherapy has shown significant clinical benefits in terms of overall survival and progression-free survival, compared with radiotherapy alone,” noted study author Dr. William See. “Although many of the adverse effects of castration therapy are manageable, they can have a detrimental effect on quality of life. Here we have evaluated the efficacy and tolerability of a non-castration-based therapy, and found the survival rates to be similar.”

—Matt Sizing

AHRQ Website Offers Wealth of Health Information

Clinicians and consumers alike can access a treasure trove of health care information by visiting the website of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the lead federal agency charged with improving the quality, safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of health care for all Americans.

As one of 12 agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, AHRQ supports health services research that will improve the quality of health care and promote evidence-based decision making. Approximately 80% of the agency’s annual budget of more than $300 million is invested in grants and contracts focused on improving health care.

AHRQ’s strategic goals include reducing the risk of harm by promoting delivery of the best possible health care, improving outcomes by encouraging the use of evidence to make informed decisions, and transforming research into practice to facilitate wider access to effective health care services and reduce unnecessary costs. Its broad audience includes clinicians and other health care providers, consumers and patients, policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels, employers and public and private insurers, and hospital systems and medical school faculty.

For more information, please visit

—Matt Sizing

Vitamin C Improves Blood Pressure in the Elderly

Supplementing with vitamin C helps to control blood pressure in elderly adults with high blood pressure that fails to respond to ordinary treatment (refractory hypertension), according to a new report.14

Noting that oxidative stress plays a role in hypertension, Japanese scientists sought to determine whether antioxidants might benefit people with uncontrolled blood pressure. For six months, two groups of patients received 600 mg of ascorbic acid per day. Patients in the elderly group (average age of 78) saw marked decreases in systolic blood pressure, while patients in the adult group (average age of 55) saw no effect from supplementation. Markers of oxidative stress, such as C-reactive protein, were also reduced in the elderly group.

Ascorbic acid is thus emerging as a useful tool in controlling blood pressure in elderly patients with refractory hypertension. The study authors noted that vitamin C may benefit cardiovascular health, as vascular aging is also closely related to oxidative stress.

—Dale Kiefer

Creatine, Whey Before Exercise Boost Muscle Growth

Numerous studies have demonstrated that supplementation with whey protein and/or creatine monohydrate, combined with exercise, contributes to increases in lean muscle mass and strength.16,17

Australian researchers now report that when these supplements are consumed may have a significant impact on muscle-building efforts. According to as-yet-unpublished research, men who took the supplements before or immediately after supervised resistance training built more lean muscle mass than men who took the supplements at other times of the day. While both groups took the supplements and engaged in strength training for 10 weeks, those who took the supplements immediately before exercising showed significantly better improvements in strength and lean muscle mass than control subjects. Results were confirmed by sophisticated muscle tissue analysis.18

These findings have important implications not only for bodybuilders, but for all adults seeking to maintain healthy muscle mass with aging. According to a new report by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, creatine is safe for long-term consumption at doses of up to 5 grams per day.19

—Dale Kiefer