New Clues for Detecting Colorectal Cancers Earlier

by Ann Lukits

A study of how often people visit their doctor may offer a way to help detect colorectal cancers earlier. The study, in the International Journal of Cancer, found patients with colorectal cancers saw their family doctor significantly more often in the year before their diagnosis than did people without cancer. Before they were diagnosed, the cancer patients, also had more blood tests for anemia and prescriptions for hemorrhoids, which are associated with colorectal cancer, the researchers said.

Researchers in Denmark used a national health database to identify 19,209 people diagnosed with first-time colorectal cancers and 192,090 cancer-free controls from 2004 to 2010. Controls were matched with the cancer patients by age, sex and physician practice. The subjects were 67 years old, on average, and just over half of them were men. Of the group with cancer, roughly one-third had rectal cancers and the rest had colon cancers.

Family doctor visits, hemoglobin tests to check for anemia and hemorrhoid prescriptions were compared between men and women in both groups for periods of up to 24 months preceding the cancer diagnosis, excluding the last month before they were diagnosed.

among cancer patients, 22% of women and 18.5% of men made at least nine visits to their family doctor in the 12 months before their diagnosis, compared with 16.1% and 13.8% of control women and men, respectively. Hemoglobin testing also increased in that year: 12.3% of women and 9.6% of men diagnosed with cancer had at least two or more tests, while 5.6% and 4.7% of control women and men had similar rates of testing. A similar pattern was found with hemorrhoid prescriptions.

Patients with rectal cancers had more hemorrhoid prescriptions, while colon-cancer patients had more physician visits and blood tests.

Caveat: Blood test results and reasons for physician consultations weren’t known.

Title: Increased diagnostic activity in general practice during the year preceding colorectal cancer diagnosis

Synced species: The bond between dogs and humans may be reflected in their hormones, suggests a study in Physiology & Behavior.

Researchers found that participating in competitive dog trials, increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the saliva of dog handlers and their dogs. Interestingly, elevated cortisol levels were most pronounced in teams of dogs paired with men.

TPrevious studies have shown dog owners’ emotional state can affect hormone levels in dogs. For instance, increased levels of oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone,” in puppy owners is often mirrored in their pets.

In the latest study, researchers at the University of Nebraska in Omaha followed 58 people and 58 dogs participating in dog agility competitions, which are stressful events that require dogs to complete an obstacle course as quickly as possible without errors, guided by cues from their handlers. The handlers included 44 women and 14 men, 52 years old on average.

Saliva samples were collected from handlers and dogs before and after the trials and analyzed for cortisol in dogs and cortisol and testosterone in handlers. Handlers also assessed their dog’s personality and rated their performances during the trials. Handlers’ behavior toward their dogs following the competition was recorded.

Cortisol levels in men and their dogs were significantly higher post-competition compared with before the event. Cortisol levels in women handlers increased only slightly and didn’t change in dogs. Women may interact differently with dogs, which could affect their own and their dog’s physiological state, researchers said.

Testosterone levels, although higher in men than women before the competition, were unrelated to cortisol changes. Cortisol levels in dogs were also unrelated to the sex of the dog and the handlers’ tone of voice or behavior toward their dogs.

Dogs may have picked up odors or behavioral cues from handlers, such as body language, facial expressions or different types of touch, which served to transmit physiological states between humans and dogs, the researchers said.

Caveat: The number of men was small and the time between saliva samples varied.

Title: Evidence for a synchronization of hormonal states between humans and dogs during competition

Perks of older parents: Having older parents has been linked with various health risks. But a small study in the American Journal of Human Biology found there may also be some long-term benefits, including reduced chances of developing Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adulthood, especially for overweight men.

Men born to older parents had greater insulin sensitivity, a marker of healthy pancreatic function, and reduced blood pressure, the study found.

The latest study, in New Zealand, involved 73 men in their mid-40s with BMIs in the overweight range. Their mothers’ ages at childbirth ranged from 18 to 45 years old and their fathers’ from 19 to 45 years old. Average parental age was determined by combining the mothers’ and fathers’ ages. For the majority of participants, the father was older than the mother by an average of 3.2 years.

The men underwent cholesterol and glucose-tolerance testing, 24-hour blood-pressure monitoring and other clinical assessments.

As parental age rose, there was a steady increase in the men in insulin sensitivity and lower fasting insulin and glucose concentrations. An age difference in parents of 10 years was roughly equivalent to a 28% improvement in insulin sensitivity and five-point reduction in blood pressure, the researchers said.

Older parental age was also associated with a subtle reduction in carotid-artery thickness, indicating a potentially slower rate of atherosclerosis throughout the body.

Researchers said it wasn’t possible to tease out the individual effects of maternal and paternal ages, though the fathers’ age appeared to have the greater effect, said the study’s principal researcher, Wayne Cutfield, professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Auckland.

The apparent benefits of older parental age may be due to differences in socio-economic status, as parents who delay having children tend to be wealthier, researchers said. Alternatively, older parents may be more knowledgeable about healthy child rearing than younger parents, they said.

The number of babies born to mothers age 35 or older was approximately nine times as high in 2014 as in the early 1970s, according to a report released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Previous research has shown that advanced age at childbirth, particularly in mothers, was associated with genetic abnormalities and other adverse conditions in the children.

Caveat: The study was relatively small and didn’t include women.

Title: Increasing parental age at childbirth is associated with greater insulin sensitivity and more favorable metabolic profile in overweight adult male offspring

Cooling off: Applying chemical cold packs to smooth areas of skin without hair may reduce the risk of heat stroke faster than regions of the body typically targeted for cooling that have more hair, suggests a pilot study in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine.

An estimated 700 people a year die from heat stroke in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The standard treatment for hyperthermia, or dangerously high body temperature, is to apply chemical cold packs to the neck, armpits and groin, according to the study.

Areas of the body that are naturally hairless, such as the soles of the feet, contain densely packed clusters of specialized veins called retia venosa that allow heat to escape directly from the body’s core, the researchers said.

From August to November 2012, researchers at California’s Stanford University recruited 10 men, ages 19 to 45 years old. The men performed three workouts, about 24 hours apart, in a chamber heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. They walked on a treadmill with a raised incline at 3.5 miles an hour until their core temperature reached 102.6-degrees Fahrenheit, about 4 degrees above normal. Water consumption wasn’t permitted.

During workouts, the men wore insulated, waterproof outerwear over shirts and shorts. Afterward, they added balaclavas over their heads, gloves and waterproof boot covers and sat in the hot room for 30 minutes. After one session, cold packs were applied to the neck, armpits and groin. After another session, they were given cold packs to hairless, or glabrous, regions, including both facial cheeks under the balaclava, palms inside the gloves and soles of the feet inside the boot covers. Participants in a control session received no cold packs.

Average core temperature of subjects cooled over traditional areas decreased about three-quarters of a degree in the first five minutes before slowing to about one-third of a degree every 10 minutes. The decline was steeper with cooling hairless areas: Average core temperatures dropped just over one degree in five minutes and then half a degree every 10 minutes. Core temperatures in the control workout dropped half a degree in five minutes and then remained stable for the remainder of the trial.

Cooling hairless areas may be more effective than standard methods to treat people with heat-related illnesses before they reach hospital, or during natural disasters and other environments with limited access to medical care, the study suggests.

However, the researchers said that cooling with ice packs, instead of chemical cold packs, isn’t recommended as colder temperatures induced with ice packs may cause blood vessels to constrict, especially in skin without hair. Although cold packs are unlikely to cause people harm, caution should be used in applying them to older heatstroke victims with chronic health conditions that may interfere with blood-vessel response, they said.

Caveat: The study was small and didn’t include women. Hyperthermia was induced with exercise in a laboratory setting.

Title: Novel Application of Chemical Cold Packs for Treatment of Exercise-Induced Hyperthermia: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Weight perception: Is obesity starting to look normal?

Researchers found men and women from the U.S., Sweden and the U.K. consistently underestimated the weight of heavy men in a series of photographs. But U.S. participants were slightly less likely to believe the obese men needed to lose weight, possibly because of the high prevalence of overweight and obesity in the U.S., suggests the study, published in BMC Public Health.

Previous studies have found parents frequently underestimate the weight of overweight children.

A research team led by the University of Liverpool in the U.K. recruited 553 university students, including 182 from New York City, 205 from the U.K., and 166 from Sweden. The prevalence of male obesity in the three countries is approximately 33%, 25%, and 20%, respectively, according to the study.

The students were shown two photographs—a side and front view—of 15 men. None had a muscular build. One-third each had normal body-mass index, were in the overweight range, or were obese.

Participants judged 69% of the normal-weight men correctly but underestimated the weight of 70% of the overweight men and 89% of the obese men. U.K. students were slightly more accurate at identifying obesity than U.S. participants, but there was no significant difference between the judgments of U.S. and Swedish students. Men were better at estimating weight than women.

Participants also rated, from 1 to 5, the photographed men’s need to consider losing weight—a rating of 5 indicated the greatest need. There were no country differences in the ratings of normal weight and overweight men. For obese men, participants from the U.K. and Sweden rated their need to lose weight at approximately 3.8 and 3.7, respectively, while U.S. participants rated the need at about 3.5, a statistically significant difference, according to the study.

Frequent exposure to heavy people in daily life may affect how others perceive a normal or appropriate body weight, the study suggests. A tendency to visually underestimate weight in others could make overweight people less inclined to consider losing weight themselves, the researchers said.

Caveat: Body weight was only assessed in Caucasian men depicted in photographs. There may be ethnic differences in attitudes toward body size, researchers said.

Title: Visual perceptions of male obesity: a cross-cultural study examining male and female lay perceptions of obesity in Caucasian males

Joint forces: Wearing a lightweight knee brace during the day significantly reduced knee pain in people with knee osteoarthritis compared with controls not wearing a brace, according to a study in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. Unexpectedly, the study found microscopic fractures just below the bone surface, called bone-marrow lesions, were significantly reduced after bracing.

Braces may reduce contact stress between bone and cartilage, which contributes to the growth of bone-marrow lesions, researchers said. Bone-marrow lesions are linked to cartilage loss and greater knee pain and may be targets for future treatment, the study suggests.

From 2009 to 2012, researchers in the U.K. recruited 126 patients, 72 women and 54 men in their mid-50s, with patellofemoral osteoarthritis, which affects the kneecap. About 75% had bone-marrow lesions. Half of the subjects wore a flexible Lycra knee brace for six weeks and the other half weren’t braced. Knee pain was assessed before and after the study on a scale from 0 (none) to 10 (worst). Changes in bone-marrow lesions and other internal knee structures were assessed with MRI scans.

Average pain scores in the braced group decreased to 5 from 6.8 over the study, while average scores in the control group remained unchanged at 6.3. The difference between the two groups at six weeks was statistically significant, researchers said.

The volume of bone-marrow lesions decreased in the braced group by 18% compared with controls. On average, subjects wore the brace 7.4 hours a day.

An estimated 27 million Americans suffer from some form of osteoarthritis, a progressive joint disease associated with aging and obesity, according to the American College of Rheumatology. Patellofemoral osteoarthritis can cause significant pain during stair climbing and rising from a chair, but few nonsurgical treatments are available, the study said.

Caveat: The effects of long-term bracing on knee pain and structural deterioration aren’t known, researchers said.

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