Health Briefs

January 17, 2010

Study links second-hand smoke to serious liver disease

Second-hand tobacco smoke may cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) - a serious, potentially fatal disorder in which fat accumulates in the liver of people who consume little or no alcohol. That's the finding of a recent U.S. study published in the Journal of Hepatology.

The study tracked the effects of exposing laboratory mice to second-hand cigarette smoke for a one-year period. Researchers at the University of California's Riverside campus focused on two key regulators of lipid (fat) metabolism that are also found in many human cells - sterol regulatory element-binding protein (SREBP), which stimulates fatty acid synthesis in the liver, and adenosine monophosphate kinase (AMPK), the substance that causes SREBP production to start and stop. The results showed increases in the mice's AMPK activity that, in turn, resulted in increased SREBP activity. Higher SREBP activity increases the volume of fatty acids in the liver, a key risk factor for developing NAFLD.
So along with smoking's known links to numerous types of cancer and diseases of the heart and lungs, the study adds liver disease to the long list of reasons to stay away from tobacco and second-hand smoke.

Simple DNA test helps detect more types of GI cancers

A recent study found that a simple DNA test already used to detect colorectal cancer is also effective in screening for a number of other types of gastrointestinal (GI) cancer.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers at the renowned Mayo Clinic in the U.S., compared results from DNA stool tests conducted on two groups of participants - a group of patients diagnosed with cancers of the digestive tract and a control group of healthy adults. Results of the cancer patient group showed the test was successful in detecting 65 percent of esophageal cancers, 62 percent of pancreatic cancers, 75 percent of bile duct and gallbladder cancers, and 100 percent of stomach and colorectal cancers.
While the DNA stool test is widely used to screen for colorectal cancer, the study offers strong support for expanding the use of this non-invasive screening test to include people at higher risk for a number of other GI cancers, including cancer of the pancreas, stomach, bile ducts and esophagus.

Colorectal cancer on the rise among young adults

A recent study of U.S. adults should serve as a cautionary reminder that cancer is a threat to people of all ages. The study, published recently in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, showed that while the rate of colorectal cancer among adults 50 years and older has declined slightly since the early 1990s, the rate among younger adults has been growing.

Researchers at the American Cancer Society evaluated studies of colorectal cancer cases from 1992 through 2005. Among adults in the 20 to 49 age group, the data showed a 1.5 percent increase in colorectal cancer cases among men, and a 1.6 percent increase in women over the period.
Currently, screening for colorectal cancer is recommended beginning at age 50 for those at average risk, and earlier for people with risk factors such as a family history of cancer or those with chronic inflammatory bowel disease. Further research is planned to try to pinpoint the possible causes for the higher rates among younger adults, and may eventually lead to a recommendation for earlier screening.

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