Health & Fitness

Health Bites: Breast cancer, smoking don’t mix

FILE - In this Saturday, March 2, 2013, photo, a cigarette burns in an ashtray at a home in Hayneville, Ala.
FILE - In this Saturday, March 2, 2013, photo, a cigarette burns in an ashtray at a home in Hayneville, Ala. AP

Every two weeks, we gather some of the most interesting and intriguing studies from health researchers around the world. Here are the latest:

Breast cancer patients who quit smoking – before or after diagnosis – have significantly better survival rates than those who keep puffing away.

That’s the conclusion from a recent study that looked at more than 20,600 women with breast cancer. Those who gave up cigarettes after their diagnosis had a 33 percent lower risk of dying than those who continued smoking, according to the study.

Roughly one in 10 breast cancer survivors smoked after their diagnosis. “For them, these results should provide additional motivation to quit,” said Michael Passarelli, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, in a statement. “Smoking cessation programs should be considered part of cancer therapy.”

The study was produced by universities including UC San Francisco, the University of Wisconsin, Dartmouth College and Harvard University. It followed participants an average of 12 years after diagnosis, comparing causes of death among women who never smoked, continued smoking after diagnosis or quit before or after diagnosis.

The highest risk of death due to breast cancer was found among long-term smokers, those who smoked heavily or former smokers who quit fewer than five years before diagnosis.

The findings, published last month in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, looked at women ages 20 to 79 who had localized or invasive breast cancer between 1988 and 2008. According to UC San Francisco, it’s one of the largest studies to look into breast cancer survival outcomes based on smoking habits and the first to assess smoking habits before and after a diagnosis.

Should ‘Paris-thin’ models be banned?

As sleek models strut the runways during New York Fashion Week, which begins Wednesday, Feb. 10, and runs through Feb. 18, there’s renewed attention on how their ultrathin looks affect women’s body health.

In a recent editorial, two Harvard University professors who specialize in eating disorders called on the U.S. fashion industry to stop using “Paris-thin” models, those with a body mass index of less than 16.

“Given the prevalence of starvation in the modeling industry … and the health harms that models suffer as a consequence, BMI is a necessary indicator of being dangerously underweight,” wrote S. Bryn Austin, director of Harvard’s Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders, and her colleague Katherine L. Record.

They called on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Healthy Administration to enact regulations that would ban hiring of models who have a BMI below 16, which is considered unhealthy.

The issue has gained traction in other countries, including Spain, Italy and France. In 2010, an anorexic 28-year-old former French model who appeared in photos campaigning against the illness died. Late last year, French politicians passed a bill banning the hiring of excessively thin models. French models must have a doctor’s note asserting that they have a healthy body weight. Penalties for modeling agencies and fashion houses that violate the regulations are severe: six months in prison or $81,000 in fines.

For a typical man or woman, a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Anything below or above that range is considered underweight or overweight. (To calculate your own BMI, take your weight (in pounds) divided by height (in inches) squared, multipled by 703. Or use the online calculator on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.)

When are painkiller doses too high?

With prescription painkillers, the difference between easing pain and dying from an overdose could depend on how strong a dose the doctor recommends, according to a new study of U.S. veterans.

On average, overdose victims had prescriptions that were 71 percent stronger than those given to comparison patients, according to an opioid overdose expert from the University of Michigan Medical School and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

The study, published online in the journal Medical Care, looked at medical records of 221 veterans who died from accidental opioid painkiller overdoses, as well as 221 who took opioids for chronic pain but did not overdose. The study included veterans who were prescribed codeine, morphine, oxycodone, methadone or other drugs.

The study did not state what were safe levels but said the risk of overdosing increased as the per-pill prescription dosage increased. The average daily prescribed dose in the overdose group was 98 morphine-equivalent milligrams, compared with about 48 milligrams among those who did not overdose.

As dosages go up, the danger increases of accidentally taking too much for the body and brain to handle, shutting off signals that keep a person breathing. Accidental overdoses can occur if patients drink alcohol while taking medications, lose track of their last dose or take more than a prescribed dose to handle a pain flare-up.

Avoiding large-dose prescriptions has the added benefit of reducing the amount of household medications that have “the potential to be taken by others who live with the patient, like children and teenagers,” said Veterans Affairs epidemiologist Amy Bohnert in a statement.

Claudia Buck: 916-321-1968, @Claudia_Buck