Research Highlights

2009 Key Findings

Multivitamins don't influence risk of cancer, heart disease in older women
The largest study of its kind, led by Dr. Marian Neuhouser and colleagues in the Women's Health Initiative, concludes that long-term multivitamin use has no impact on the risk of common cancers, cardiovascular disease or overall mortality in postmenopausal women.


Marijuana use linked to increased risk of testicular cancer
Frequent and/or long-term marijuana use may significantly increase a man's risk of developing the most aggressive type of testicular cancer, according to a study by Drs. Janet Daling, Stephen Schwartz and colleagues. The researchers found that being a marijuana smoker at the time of testicular cancer diagnosis was associated with a 70 percent increased risk of the disease. The risk was particularly elevated for those who used marijuana at least weekly and/or who had long-term exposure to the substance beginning in adolescence.


Red wine or white? Both are equal offenders in increasing breast-cancer risk
Although red wine might have some health benefits, based on previous studies of heart disease and prostate cancer, a study led by Dr. Polly Newcomb and colleagues concluded that both red and white wine are equal offenders when it comes to increasing breast-cancer risk. The researchers found that women who consumed 14 or more drinks per week, regardless of the type (wine, liquor or beer), faced a 24 percent increase in breast cancer compared with non-drinkers.


Markers in the blood may forecast survival for breast-cancer patients
Two proteins in the blood, identified in a study led by Cornelia Ulrich, Ph.D., and colleagues, could become important predictors of long-term survival in breast cancer patients. The proteins—C-reactive protein (CRP) and serum amyloid A (SAA)—are associated with chronic inflammation, which is known to contribute to cancer development and progression. The researchers found that elevated levels of CRP and SAA are associated with reduced overall survival, regardless of the patient’s age, tumor stage, race and body mass index.


Migraines associated with reduced breast-cancer risk
The relationship between migraine headaches in women and a significant reduction in breast cancer risk has been confirmed in a follow-on study to landmark research published in 2008. The new study, led by Dr. Christopher Li and colleagues, found a 26 percent reduced risk of breast cancer among both premenopausal and postmenopausal women with a clinical diagnosis of migraines. What remains unknown is how a migraine confers its apparent protection against breast cancer.


Regular yoga practice encourages mindful eating, weight maintenance
Regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating, and people who eat mindfully are less likely to be obese, according to a study led by Alan Kristal, Dr.P.H., and colleagues. The study was prompted by findings four years ago by Kristal and colleagues that regular yoga practice may help prevent middle-age spread in normal-weight people and may promote weight loss in those who are overweight. This follow-up study confirmed the researchers’ initial hunch: that the weight-loss effect had more to do with increased body awareness, specifically sensitivity to hunger and satiety, than the physical activity of yoga practice itself.


Future tuberculosis vaccines, drugs and diagnostics expected to slow disease's spread
The latest drug regimens, vaccines and diagnostic tools under development to combat tuberculosis could have a potentially large impact on the disease once they become available, according to research findings led by M. Elizabeth "Betz" Halloran, M.D., D.Sc. and colleagues. Using a mathematical model that examined TB in Southeast Asia, a region with a large proportion of TB cases worldwide, the researchers found that the incidence of the disease could be reduced between 13 percent and 71 percent by 2050, depending upon the type of interventions used and whether they are implemented singly or in combination.


Beneficial breast cancer drug poses risk for second cancer
Long-term tamoxifen use among breast cancer survivors has been found to decrease their risk of developing the most common, less aggressive type of second breast cancer. But the drug is associated with a more than four-fold increased risk of a more aggressive, difficult-to-treat type of cancer in the breast opposite, or contralateral, to the initial tumor, according to findings by Dr. Christopher Li and colleagues. The latest study confirms preliminary research, published in 2001, which was the first to suggest a link between long-term tamoxifen use and an increased risk of this second breast cancer subtype.


Turning back the clock: Fasting prolongs reproductive life span
Scientific dogma has long asserted that females are born with their entire lifetime's supply of eggs, and once they're gone, they're gone. But research led by Marc Van Gilst, Ph.D., suggests that in nematode worms, at least, this does not hold true. One question their research may ultimately help address is how in some cases women recovering from radiation and bone marrow transplantation—which damages or destroys much of the germline, including mature and immature eggs—can regain their fertility.


Obesity, alcohol and smoking increase risk of second breast cancer
It is well known that survivors of breast cancer have a much higher risk of developing a second breast cancer than women in the general population have of developing a first breast cancer. However, little is known about what lifestyle factors may make survivors more vulnerable to a second cancer. A study led by Dr. Christopher Li found that obesity, alcohol consumption and smoking all increase a woman's risk of developing a second breast cancer.


Targeted vaccinations could control swine flu pandemic in United States
An aggressive vaccination program that first targets children and ultimately reaches 70 percent of the U.S. population would mitigate pandemic influenza H1N1 that is expected this fall, according to computer modeling and analysis of observational studies conducted by Ira Longini, Ph.D., M. Elizabeth Halloran, D.Sc., M.D., Yang Yang, Ph.D., and colleagues.


Newborn offspring of childhood cancer survivors face few risks
Whether they can have children is one of the major concerns for adult survivors of childhood and adolescent cancer because fertility can be compromised by cancer treatment. For cancer survivors who can have children, two studies led by Eric Chow, M.D., Ph.D., Beth Mueller, Ph.D., and colleagues observed few risks to babies born to parents who underwent cancer treatment in childhood or adolescence.


Teen smoking trial achieves significant increase in prolonged quit rates
For the first time, researchers have demonstrated that it is possible to successfully recruit and retain a large number of adolescent smokers from the general population into a smoking intervention study and, through personalized, proactive telephone counseling, significantly impact rates of six-month continuous quitting. The trial, led by Arthur V. Peterson Jr., Ph.D., Kathleen A. Kealey and colleagues, involved 2,151 teenage smokers from 50 high schools in Washington.


Targeted treatment method shows success in leukemia patients
For the first time, researchers led by Dr. John Pagel reported the use of a radiolabeled antibody to deliver targeted doses of radiation, followed by a stem cell transplant, to successfully treat a group of leukemia and pre-leukemia patients for whom there previously had been no other curative treatment options. All 58 patients saw their blood cancers go into remission using a novel combination of low-intensity chemotherapy, targeted radiation delivery by an antibody and a stem-cell transplant. Forty percent of the patients were alive a year after treatment, and approximately 35 percent survived three years.


Cholesterol-lowering drugs may offer protection to transplant patients
Frequently prescribed drugs known as statins, which are designed to lower cholesterol, may protect stem cell transplant patients from one of the most serious complications of the life-saving cancer therapy: graft-versus-host disease, or GVHD. In a study led by Marco Mielcarek, M.D., patients whose donors had been taking statins at the time of stem cell donation experienced no severe acute GVHD.