The Checkup

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Adapted from The Post's daily health blog

Wikipedia cancer entries pass muster

Can Wikipedia -- written and edited by anonymous, non-expert people from all over the world -- be trusted on a subject such as cancer?

Yaacov Lawrence and his team at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson (in Philadelphia) studied Wikipedia entries for 10 forms of cancer to similar entries in the peer-reviewed patient-information section of the National Cancer Institute's online Physician Data Query (PDQ). The researchers assessed the entries for accuracy, comparing their information to that found in standard oncology textbooks, and readability.

The Wikipedia entries held up well for accuracy; less than 2 percent of the material found in the Wiki entries (or the PDQ) differed substantially from that found in the textbooks.

But the Wikipedia entries were much harder to read. The team determined that the Wikis were written using language suited to a college student, while the PDQs were suitable for a ninth-grader. That could make a big difference in a cancer patient's ability to learn about his or her disease.

-- Jennifer LaRue Huget

Bad news for short people

Short people are at greater risk for heart disease than tall people, according to a new study.

Tuula Paajanen of the University of Tampere in Finland analyzed 52 studies involving more than 3 million people and found that short adults were about 1.5 times as likely to develop heart disease and to die from it than as were tall people. This was true for both men and women, the researchers reported in the European Heart Journal. Anyone shorter than 5-foot-3 was considered short. Anyone taller than 5-foot-7 was considered tall.

The researchers hope the findings will spur more research on why short people may be at increased risk for heart disease. It could be because they have smaller arteries, which get clogged more easily. Or it could be that their shortness indicates they were malnourished or had some kind of infection early in life that retarded their growth and also put them at increased risk for heart problems.

Whatever the explanation, the researchers say the findings suggest that doctors should include shortness as another risk factor for heart disease, similar to obesity.

-- Rob Stein


© 2010 The Washington Post Company