BREAST CANCER

An aspirin a day seems helpful in keeping breast cancer away.

* THE QUESTION Past studies have linked the use of aspirin and similar drugs to a reduced risk of several cancers. Are these drugs effective at preventing breast cancer?

* THIS STUDY assessed the reported use of aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen by 1,442 women with breast cancer and by an equal number of women who did not have cancer. Those who took aspirin daily had a 28 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those who did not take aspirin. Taking aspirin once a week lowered the risk by 20 percent. Ibuprofen taken three or more times a week lowered the risk by 8 percent, and acetaminophen use showed no relation to the occurrence of breast cancer. Aspirin was shown to work best against hormone-receptor-positive tumors -- in which estrogen and progesterone stimulate the cancer's growth.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Women. Those at higher risk for breast cancer include post-menopausal women, especially those 60 and older, and women with a family history of the disease.

* CAVEATS This was not a randomized, controlled study. Also, the researchers did not ask participants about doses; the aspirin dose needed to achieve the maximum protection remains unknown. The study did not investigate side effects of aspirin use, and it relied on participants' memories of medication use, which can be imprecise.

* BOTTOM LINE Women may want to talk with their doctor about routine use of aspirin.

* FIND THIS STUDY May 26 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association; abstract available online at http://jama.ama-assn.org.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT breast cancer at www.nci.nih.gov and at www.cancer.org.

MENOPAUSE

For women, vigorous exercise may ease some effects of aging.

* THE QUESTION Menopause brings an increasing risk for heart disease and loss of bone mass. Could intense, long-term exercise alleviate these effects of aging?

* THIS STUDY compared the physical fitness and bone density of 50 women who exercised regularly with 33 women who did not. The women, who averaged 55 years old, chose whether to exercise or follow their normal routine. All women were early post-menopausal and had osteoporosis. Four times a week, the exercisers walked and ran to warm up and then did strength training, jumping and stretching. All women took calcium and vitamin D supplements. After two years, the exercisers were 36 percent more physically fit (based on strength, flexibility and oxygen consumption) than when they started, while the non-exercisers had improved 2 percent. Bone density remained relatively stable for the exercisers but declined for the others. Total cholesterol levels dropped 5 percent for the exercisers and increased 4 percent for the others.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Post-menopausal women.

* CAVEATS Exercise at different intensity levels could produce different results.

* BOTTOM LINE Post-menopausal women might want to discuss exercise options with their doctor.

* FIND THIS STUDY May 24 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine; abstract available online at www.archinternmed.com.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT menopause at www.4woman.gov/menopause and at www.mayoclinic.com.

HYPERACTIVITY

Additives in children's food and drink may affect their behavior.

* THE QUESTION Hyperactive children are believed to have trouble organizing thoughts and actions because they lack key chemicals in the brain. Might food additives somehow contribute to hyperactivity?

* THIS STUDY involved 300 3-year-olds whose food and drink consumption was carefully regulated for four weeks. Some of the children were given only items that were free of food coloring and the preservative sodium benzoate for the entire period. In the second and fourth weeks of the study, a randomly selected subgroup was given juice every day that included the additives, while the others drank additive-free juices. Assessments recorded by parents indicated less hyperactive behavior for all children during the weeks when all drinks were additive-free. In the other weeks, hyperactivity increased more among children drinking the juice with the additives than among the others. However, psychologists' assessments of the children, which were made only once a week, showed no changes in behavior.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Young children. Between 4 percent and 12 percent of all school-age children are thought to be hyperactive.

* CAVEATS Parents knew that the additives were being given, but they did not know when the additives were being offered or which children were receiving them. Also, psychological testing of 3-year-olds may not be reliable.

* BOTTOM LINE Parents of hyperactive children may want to talk with a pediatrician about their child's diet.

* FIND THIS STUDY June issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood; abstract available online at www.archdischild.com.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT hyperactivity in children at www.kidshealth.org and at www.familydoctor.org.

-- Linda Searing