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Study Questions Lung Cancer Radiation

July 27, 1998

Radiation therapy after surgery for non-small-cell lung cancer may do more harm than good, British physicians reported in Saturday's Lancet. Non-small-cell is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for 80% of cases. For patients with operable tumors--about one in five--surgery offers the best hope of cure. But even in those cases, however, survival is not good, and only 40% of patients will be alive after five years.

In an attempt to improve those odds, some oncologists prescribe postoperative radiotherapy (PORT) in the hope of killing any remaining cancer cells. Small studies of the efficacy of PORT have given inconsistent results, however.

An international research team, headed by Dr. Lesley A. Stewart of the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England, combined results from nine small studies, using a technique called meta-analysis. They identified 2,128 lung cancer patients, half of whom had PORT and half of whom had surgery only. They found a 21% increase in deaths among those who had radiation treatment in addition to surgery. The effect was most pronounced in those with early-stage disease. In those with more advanced, but still operable tumors, PORT did not seem to cause harm but did not provide any benefit either.

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Team Says Olive Oil Acid Fails at Breast Cancer Protection

Contrary to previous reports, oleic acid--the chief fat in olive oil--does not protect women against breast cancer, according to a study in the current American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. A team led by Dr. Lenore Kohlmeier of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyzed fat samples from 642 European women, measuring the oleic acid content and correlating that to whether or not the women developed breast cancer.

At one center, in Malaga, Spain, the results showed slight protection, but "it likely came from some other component of the oil or because of the traditional Mediterranean diet," Kohlmeier said. At the other five sites studied, however, no protective effect was observed.

"Our conclusion is that if olive oil has some benefit against breast cancer, that effect is not due to oleic acid but, rather, to something else we don't know about yet," she added.

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Cow's Milk Formula Unlikely to Bring On Babies' Allergies

Babies fed formulas containing cow's milk in the first few days of life are not more likely to develop allergies than those who are breast-fed, Dutch scientists have found. The use of cow's milk formulas has been controversial for some time, and current practice favors a strict diet of breast-feeding to prevent the development of eczema and rhinitis.

Dr. Markje de Jong and colleagues at the University of Amsterdam studied 1,500 newborns who were fed either a formula containing cow's milk or a drink containing no protein for the first three days of life. They were assessed for allergies at the ages of 1 and 2.

The researchers report in the current Archives of Disease in Childhood that the babies fed cow's milk were 7% more likely to have allergies at the age of 1 but were 6% less likely to have them at the age of 2. Babies whose parents had allergies were twice as likely to have allergies themselves, but these allergies were not affected by the formula they were given.

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Generic Drugs Taking Bigger Bite out of Brand-Name Market

The U.S. generic drug industry has grown and become more competitive in recent years, saving purchasers of drugs as much as $10 billion in 1994 alone, according to a new government report issued last week. In 1996, cheaper, generic drugs accounted for 43% of prescription drugs sold in the U.S.--up from 19% in 1984, according to the report by the Congressional Budget Office.

Brand-name drug makers, meanwhile, have seen some loss of sales potential for individual drugs even as their overall sales have increased as a result of increased investments in research and a stream of innovative new therapies, the agency said. The decrease in sales potential for individual drugs has resulted largely from a 1984 law, the Hatch-Waxman Act, the CBO said. The measure was designed to encourage innovation by extending patents for brand-name drugs while at the same time allowing generic copies of the drugs to hit the market sooner after a patent expired. But "the cost to producers of brand-name drugs from faster generic entry has roughly offset the benefit they receive from extended patent terms," the congressional agency said.

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Healthy Diabetics Face Risk of Heart Attacks, Study Finds

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