Study Finds the Pill Is Safe

The same huge federal study that led millions of women to abandon the use of hormones after menopause has now provided reassurance the birth control pill is safe.

Women on the pill had surprisingly lower risks of heart disease and stroke, and no increased risk of breast cancer, contrary to what many previous studies have found.

Doctors say the type of hormones and the stage of life during which they are used may be what makes them helpful at one point and harmful at another.

The findings are from nearly 162,000 participants in the Women's Health Initiative. The results were presented yesterday at an American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in Philadelphia.

About 16 million American women currently take birth control pills, and hundreds of millions have used them since the first one came on the market in 1960.

Overall, "there's an 8 percent risk reduction of ever having cardiovascular disease" among women who had ever taken birth control pills, said the lead researcher, Rahi Victory of Wayne State University in Detroit. "If you use oral contraceptives early on, you're probably going to be protected later in life."

Women on the pill also had a 7 percent lower risk of developing any form of cancer -- a small benefit that increased with length of use, Victory said.

Heart Attacks, Traffic Linked

Researchers have concluded that people caught in traffic are three times more likely to suffer a heart attack within the hour than those who are not tied up on the road.

A study of hundreds of heart attacks in southern Germany, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found nearly one in 12 attacks was linked to traffic.

Heart attacks were 2.6 times more common for people stuck in cars, 3.1 times higher for people stalled while taking public transportation and 3.9 times greater for those jammed up while on a bicycle.

The researchers could not determine whether the excess heart attacks were caused by stress or vehicle pollution. Air pollution is known to increase the probability of a heart attack. The study was based on interviews with 691 volunteers who survived a heart attack from 1999 to 2001.

New Rectal Cancer Approach

Administering chemotherapy and radiation before surgery for rectal cancer may not help patients live longer, but it produces fewer side effects than when it is given afterward, doctors reported yesterday.

The finding, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, could translate into less suffering for people with rectal cancer, which affects about 42,000 people in the United States each year. Traditionally, doctors have performed surgery first.

The team led by Rolf Sauer of the University of Erlangen in Germany said giving chemotherapy and radiation first may make chemotherapy more tolerable and shrink the tumor, making it easier to remove with less damage to the rest of the body, they said. The test involved nearly 800 volunteers and doctors in 26 hospitals.

-- From News Services