lung cancer

For smokers who don't quit, cutting back seems to help.

* THE QUESTION The advice from health experts is clear: If you smoke, quit. But not everyone stops. For those who continue, might reducing the number of cigarettes smoked reduce the chances of developing lung cancer?

* THIS STUDY analyzed health data on 19,714 adults, including people who smoked, those who didn't and those who had quit. Over an average of 18 years, 864 participants were diagnosed with lung cancer. Heavy smokers (more than 15 cigarettes daily) who reduced number of daily cigarettes by half or more during this time were 27 percent less likely to develop lung cancer than were those who did not cut back. Compared with those who continued heavy smoking, ex-smokers -- people who had stopped before the study started -- were 83 percent less likely to develop lung cancer, and those who quit during the study showed a 50 percent reduction in risk.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Adults who smoke. Although cigarette smoking has declined in the last 40 years, about 46 million U.S. adults still smoke -- roughly one-fourth of all men and one-fifth of all women. About 90 percent of lung cancer cases stem from smoking.

* CAVEATS Data on smoking habits were based on reports from the participants. The authors stated that smoking cessation, not just reduction, remains the best way to limit harm from smoking.

* FIND THIS STUDY Sept. 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association; abstract available online at www.jama.com.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT the health consequences of smoking at www.cancer.org (search for "tobacco") and www.cdc.gov/tobacco.

fractures

Statins appear to enhance bone health in men, too.

* THE QUESTION Taking statins to control cholesterol appears to have an added benefit: reducing the likelihood of a broken bone. But most studies showing this effect have involved women, who are particularly susceptible to osteoporosis, which weakens bones. Should men expect the same results?

* THIS STUDY analyzed medical data on 91,052 older people, almost all of them men. Of this group, 28,063 took statins and 2,195 took other lipid-lowering drugs. Over 3 1/2 years, 2,463 people broke a bone. Fractures occurred 32 percent less often in those taking statins than in people taking other lipid-lowering drugs and 36 percent less often than in those taking no cholesterol medications.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Older men, who also are subject to the effects of osteoporosis. Of the 10 million Americans with this disease, 2 million are men.

* CAVEATS The study did not differentiate between types of statins nor clarify how the dose or length of time someone has taken the drug might affect the results.

* FIND THIS STUDY Sept. 26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine; abstract available online at www.archinternmed.com.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT fractures at www.niams.nih.gov and www.osteo.org.

memory

Folic acid may stave off cognitive impairment.

* THE QUESTION We all want to hold on to our memory, to retain cognitive ability in old age. Might reaching this goal be aided by a diet high in folate (folic acid), a B vitamin found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruit and fortified foods?

* THIS STUDY involved 321 men who averaged 67 years old, had no major health problems and were deemed well-functioning. For three years, their cognitive abilities were tested periodically. Those who consumed the most folate, based on blood tests and diet questionnaires, showed less decline in verbal fluency (use of the language) and spatial copying (tested by their ability to copy accurately various geometric figures). Folate appeared to have little effect on short-term memory (tested by their ability to recall strings of numbers in reverse order).

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Older men. Although everyone experiences occasional memory lapses with age, more-serious memory loss is not considered a normal part of growing older.

* CAVEATS The bulk of the study was done before the U.S. government mandated in 1998 that various foods be fortified with folate. Whether the findings would apply to women remains unclear. The study does not determine a cause but rather suggests an association between folate and cognitive impairment.

* FIND THIS STUDY September issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; abstract available online at www.ajcn.org (search for "Tucker").

* LEARN MORE ABOUT memory loss with aging at http://familydoctor.org and www.niapublications.org (search for "forgetfulness").

-- Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.