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Science briefs: Later pregnancy, lower cancer risk

  • August 4, 2012 - 4:34 PM

LATER PREGNANCY, LOWER CANCER RISK

The older a woman is when she gives birth, the lower her risk for endometrial cancer, a new study reports.

A team of researchers, led by V. Wendy Setiawan, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, pooled data from 17 studies that included 8,671 cases of endometrial cancer and 16,562 controls. They found that women who had their last babies after age 40 had a 44 percent reduced risk of endometrial cancer, compared with women who had their babies before age 25.

By age 70, the women who gave birth after 40 were still 33 percent less likely to have endometrial cancer than those who gave birth before 25.

The reasons for the finding, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, are unclear. It may be that women who can get pregnant at a later age have a healthier endometrium to begin with, or that pregnancy allows women to shed precancerous cells likelier to be present with increasing age. "There is some protective mechanism here, at least for this type of cancer," Setiawan said.

ASPIRIN MAY CUT ESOPHAGUS RISK

Taking aspirin may reduce the chances of developing Barrett's esophagus, the leading risk factor for esophageal cancer, researchers say.

In Barrett's esophagus, tissue that lines the esophagus is replaced with tissue similar to the lining of the intestines. The condition, commonly found in people with acid reflux, affects about 1 percent of U.S. adults.

Harvard researchers compared 434 patients with Barrett's esophagus with 434 similar people without the problem. After controlling for age, sex, alcohol use and other factors, they found that those who took aspirin had a little less than half the risk for Barrett's esophagus, compared with those who did not. Subjects who took more than 325 milligrams a day -- one regular-size aspirin pill -- were at lower risk than those who took less.

Aspirin inhibits the production of COX-2, an enzyme that produces inflammation and pain, and the authors believe this explains the effect. They acknowledged that the study, in July's Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, may have been biased by unknown differences between the groups.

HEPATITIS C PILL STUDY IS HALTED

Bristol-Myers Squibb lost ground in the race to develop a stand-alone hepatitis C pill after the company suspended testing of an experimental drug that cost it $2.5 billion to acquire earlier this year.

The company said it wouldn't continue to administer the therapy, known as BMS-986094, after a patient developed heart failure, what the drugmaker called a "serious safety issue."

The treatment was thought by researchers and analysts to be a key player in a push by companies, including Gilead Sciences, to replace the standard treatment, a yearlong regimen of interferon injections that carry flu-like side effects. Two analysts called the news a major setback blunting Bristol's reputation as having the industry's best pipeline.

"We recommend that investors assume BMY's nuc is dead," said Mark Schoenebaum, an analyst with ISI Group in New York, using industry slang for nucleotide polymerase inhibitor, a family of compounds designed to stop the virus from replicating.

The hepatitis C market is estimated at $20 billion for the new pills designed to work more quickly with fewer side effects for those with the liver infection.

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