colorectal cancer

Drugs to prevent heart disease may also reduce risk of cancer.

* THE QUESTION Statins -- cholesterol-lowering drugs that help prevent heart disease -- are being investigated for possible benefits in curbing cancer of the prostate, pancreas, breast, lung and esophagus. Might they also affect colorectal cancer, which is diagnosed an estimated 150,000 times each year in the United States, almost always in people older than 50?

* THIS STUDY analyzed medical data on 3,968 people, about half of whom had colorectal cancer. About 6 percent of those who had colorectal cancer, compared with 12 percent of those who did not have the disease, had used statins for at least five years. After adjusting for various risk factors, the researchers calculated that long-term use of statins was associated with a 47 percent decrease in the risk for colorectal cancer. Results were similar for the specific drugs used most often by participants: simvastatin (Zocor) and pravastatin (Pravachol).

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? People -- an estimated 11 million worldwide -- who take statins.

* CAVEATS Variations in dose were not considered in the study. What effect statins might have on people who do not have high cholesterol remains unknown.

* BOTTOM LINE People considering statins to treat high cholesterol, especially those over 50, may want to talk with a doctor about the drugs' possible benefits against colorectal cancer.

* FIND THIS STUDY May 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine; abstract available online at www.nejm.org.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT colorectal cancer at www.cancer.org and www.cancer.gov.

death anxiety

Group support seems to ease the burden of the end of life.

* THE QUESTION As death nears, many people vow to be strong and continue living well to the end, but distress often creeps in nonetheless. Might participating in a support group that focuses on spiritual and emotional issues ameliorate those feelings?

* THIS STUDY randomly assigned 69 people with life-threatening conditions to meet monthly with a small group of people with similar ailments or to receive quarterly mailings of self-help materials, similar to information available in doctors' offices. Support group members shared feelings and experiences, with discussions on such topics as intimate relationships, controlling symptoms, end-of-life planning, legacies and spiritual needs. After a year, based on scores on standardized rating scales, support group participants had fewer symptoms of depression and feelings of meaninglessness and felt better spiritually than the others.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Anyone who has a life-threatening illness or is approaching the end of life with trepidation.

* CAVEATS Effects of a support group may vary, depending on the members, the facilitator and the topics discussed. The study involved a small number of participants, and 26 percent of them did not complete the study, mostly for health reasons. The authors suggest that more-frequent group sessions might produce more-positive results.

* BOTTOM LINE People facing a life-threatening illness or caring for such a person may want to investigate support groups that focus on spiritual and emotional issues.

* FIND THIS STUDY April issue of the Journal of Palliative Medicine; article available online at www.liebertpub.com/jpm.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT end-of-life issues at www.acponline.org (search for "dying") and www.doctorsforadults.com (click "Health Care Topics," then "End of Life Care").

anesthesia

Music during surgery appears to lessen the need for sedation.

* THE QUESTION Joggers and Metro riders frequently are plugged in to their favorite tunes via headphones. Kids doing homework seek distraction and relaxation the same way. If people having surgery listened to music, might it affect their ability to withstand pain?

* THIS STUDY involved 80 adults who agreed to wear headphones while undergoing urological surgery. They were randomly assigned to listen to music they had brought with them, to white noise or to the normal sounds of the operating room. They all received a local anesthetic and were instructed to give themselves additional sedation as needed via a hand-held pump. People who listened to music required less anesthesia overall than either of the other two groups. Of those who listened to music, 72 percent did not use the pump, compared with 28 percent of people who heard white noise and 36 percent of those listening to operating room sounds.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Anyone facing surgery involving local anesthesia.

* CAVEATS The study was not large. Also, operating room noise levels were not measured.

* BOTTOM LINE People scheduled for surgery with local anesthesia may want to ask whether listening to music would be possible.

* FIND THIS STUDY June issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia; abstract available online at www.anesthesia-analgesia.org (search for "music" and "2005").

* LEARN MORE ABOUT anesthesia options at www.mayoclinic.com and www.asahq.org/patienteducation.

-- Linda Searing