Personal Health: News and Notes

A low dose of corticosteroids offers relief for shoulder pain

A low dose of corticosteroids worked just as well as a higher one in relieving shoulder pain, according to a study to be published in the December issue of Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Researchers at Ajou University School of Medicine in Korea divided 79 patients into three groups for a randomized trial. Twenty-seven patients were given a 40 mg injection of triamcinolone acetonide. Twenty-five got a 20 mg dose, and 27 were given a placebo.

The two groups treated with the drug showed equal improvements in pain, disability, and range of motion. The placebo group did not get better.

Because of potential complications, the researchers recommended starting with the lower dose.
- Stacey Burling

Tanning beds are connected to a third kind of skin cancer

Use of tanning beds has been linked to two common kinds of skin cancer, but evidence for a third, basal cell carcinoma, was inconclusive - until now.

This month at an American Association for Cancer Research conference, Harvard researchers presented data on more than 73,000 women from the national Nurses' Health Study II. They counted the number of basal cell carcinomas, melanomas, and squamous cell carcinomas in a 20-year period, as well as the amount of tanning-bed use in high school and college, and from ages 25 to 35.

The researchers found a dose-response relationship between tanning-bed use and all three cancers, meaning that the more people used the beds, the more likely they were to get one of the cancers.

The data also suggested that tanning-bed use in high school and college may be more problematic than use later in life. For those who used the beds more than six times a year from ages 25 to 35, the risk of basal cell carcinoma was 35 percent higher than in nonusers. For those who used them more than six times a year in high school and college, the risk was 82 percent higher.
- Tom Avril

Yoga and stretching classes may ease chronic back pain

If you have chronic, moderately severe back pain, you may get relief from yoga or stretching classes tailored for sufferers like you, according to research in last week's Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study, led by the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, randomly assigned 228 patients to yoga classes, stretching classes led by a physical therapist, or a back-pain self-help book.

After 12 weeks, the yoga group reported that pain had decreased from an average of about 5 to 3.2 on a 10-point scale. The stretching group went from about 5 to 3.7. The self-helpers got better, but not much, going from about 5 to 4.3.

Two caveats come with the results. The study excluded patients with specific, diagnosed problems, such as vertebral fractures, sciatica, or previous back surgery. And more than 10 percent of the yoga and stretching groups suffered increased back pain, even though the classes were designed to avoid aggravating back problems. - Marie McCullough

Obesity is found to increase the risks posed by influenza

To the well-known risks of obesity, such as heart disease and diabetes, add a new one: the flu. And don't expect full protection from a vaccine, either, researchers reported last week.

Obesity, which has become far more common in recent years, was first observed to increase the risk from influenza during the 2009 swine-flu pandemic. Obesity may itself be an immune-suppressive condition, the authors wrote in the International Journal of Obesity.

To test that hypothesis, a research team led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tracked the responses to seasonal flu shots of 461 people of various weights; 74 of them continued for a second year.

Although obese participants actually produced more antibodies in the first month, about half the group experienced more than a fourfold drop in antibody levels after one year - twice the decrease of the healthy-weight people. Overweight participants were in between.

In addition, influenza-activated T cells - white blood cells that fight an infection - were far less effective in the obese group. Although flu shots are recommended every year as the virus changes, some immunity normally is retained. Another study will test responses at shorter intervals.
- Don Sapatkin