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Category Archives: Health

Brain Scans May Predict How People Learn

Researchers report that brain scans can help predict how people will perform a challenging mental task, a discovery that could lead to a better understanding of how the mind learns new things.

The researchers found that what they once thought was “noise” in the brain, like static from a television, actually plays a major role and “is very important for understanding how the brain does things,” said study author Dr. Maurizio Corbetta, a professor of neurology at Washington University at St. Louis.

This means a brain scan has the potential to act as a kind of crystal ball, he said: “One of the most exciting things we could do is look at the brain activity and do more to try to predict what the brain is going to do next.”

The study authors scanned the brains of 14 people — seven men and seven women — using functional MRI to measure bursts of activity in the brain. The researchers tracked the brains of the volunteers as they learned how to better use their peripheral vision through a computer game.

In the game, participants learned to detect the presence or absence of a tilted letter “T” in the lower left side of a screen while they were distracted by other “T”s. It took about a week for the participants to figure out how to get to the level where their responses were correct 80 percent of the time. This is in contrast to the level of about 10 percent to 20 percent, where some participants began, Corbetta said.

The game is similar to day-to-day life in the way that you have to figure out what to pay attention to as you navigate the world. “It’s always a balance as to what you see and what you pay attention to,” he said.

The researchers found that the level of connectivity in the visual-oriented part of the brain predicted which people would do better on the test and learn more quickly, Corbetta said. “If you have a visual system that is strongly connected, then you are more likely to perform the task well.”

The research is important because scientists still need to better understand how the brain learns, he said. While people can train themselves to be better at specific tasks, skills don’t always translate to other tasks, he said.

“This is a big problem when we do rehab with patients,” he said. “We can retrain them on one task, but that doesn’t always translate to real life.”

Dr. Gary Small, a brain researcher and director of the University of California at Los Angeles Center on Aging, said the finding is interesting but doesn’t have practical implications at the moment. The idea of predicting what the brain will do next — potentially a form of mind reading — is still far in the future, he said.

“That’s the next step, to measure perceptions and ideas,” he said. “I think that’s in the realm of science, but we’re not quite there yet.”

New Drug Shows Promise Against

An investigational drug called pridopidine seems an effective and safe treatment for people with the progressive movement disorder Huntington’s disease, researchers report.

Huntington’s patients have an imbalance in the signaling chemical dopamine. The new drug stabilizes dopamine signaling in areas of the brain that control movement and coordination.

According to the study authors, this is the first drug shown to improve patients’ loss of ability to move their muscles voluntarily. The only drug currently approved for Huntington’s is tetrabenazine, which treats only involuntary movements and can cause serious side effects.

The results of the phase 3 clinical trial, conducted by Spanish researchers led by Dr. Justo Garcia de Yebenes, of the department of neurology, Hospital Ramon y Cajal in Madrid, appear in the Nov. 7 online edition of The Lancet Neurology.

The study included 437 Huntington’s disease patients from eight European countries. The participants took either pridopidine (45 milligrams once daily or 45 mg twice daily) or a placebo for 26 weeks.

After six months of treatment, patients taking the higher dose of pridopidine showed improvements in motor function — specifically in eye and hand movements, involuntary muscle contractions (dystonia), and gait and balance — compared with patients taking the placebo.

More than 70 percent of the patients taking the higher dose of the drug showed a significant benefit, according to the researchers. Side effects among patients taking the drug were similar to the placebo group.

“Pridopidine has the potential to complement available treatments by improving a different range of motor deficits. Its lack of severe side-effects . . . suggests that pridopidine might be useful even for those patients who are treated at sites that are not centers of excellence for Huntington’s disease,” the researchers concluded.

One U.S. neurologist agreed that the drug seems promising against a disease with few treatment options.

“There has been a great deal of attention for this drug, as it is one of the few molecules that in preliminary studies was found to have some efficacy in Huntington’s disease,” said Dr. Alessandro Di Rocco, professor in the department of neurology and chief of the division of movement disorders at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

“However, this is the first large study to show evidence of a positive result in treating the motor symptoms of this devastating disease. And, though the compound is apparently well tolerated without significant side effects, the benefit is modest and limited to the motor symptoms of the disease and it is unknown how long the improvement observed could last,” he added.

Still, pridopidine does not get at the underlying cause of Huntington’s disease, Di Rocco said.

“Unfortunately, Huntington’s is a progressive disease and this drug is not a treatment of the disease itself but only improves some of its symptoms,” he explained. “Nevertheless, it is a welcome addition because there is very little else yet available to treat the symptoms. The challenge for scientists and clinicians is to discover therapies that actually slows or halts the progression of the disease.”

Another expert agreed that new treatment options for patients are sorely needed.

“A well-tolerated drug that produces even small benefits for patients with Huntington’s disease would be a very welcome addition to the currently available treatments for this debilitating disorder,” Andrew Feigin, from The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York City, wrote in an accompanying commentary.

Drug-Resistant Germs in Hospital Rooms

Nearly half of 50 hospital rooms tested by researchers were colonized or infected with a multidrug-resistant bacteria, a new study says.

University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers found Acinetobacter baumannii (MDR-AB) bacteria on multiple surfaces, including bedrails, supply carts and floors. This species of bacteria, which has caused infection outbreaks in healthcare facilities over the last decade, can survive on surfaces for long periods of time. MDR-AB infections mainly occur in patients who are very ill, wounded or have weakened immune systems.

For the study, the researchers analyzed samples collected from 10 surfaces in each of 50 hospital rooms occupied by patients with a recent (less than two months prior to sampling) or remote (more than two months) history of MDR-AB.

The surfaces selected for sampling included bedrails, bedside table, door knob, vital sign monitor touchpad, nurse call button, sink, supply cart drawer handles, infusion pump, ventilator surface touch pad, and the floor on both sides of the bed.

The researchers found that 9.8 percent of the surface samples from 48 percent of the rooms showed evidence of MDR-AB. The surfaces most commonly contaminated were supply cart handles (20 percent), floors (16 percent), infusion pumps (14 percent), ventilator touchpads (11.4 percent), and bedrails (just over 10 percent).

These findings are a cause for concern because these surfaces are routinely touched by health care workers, the researchers said.

The study, published in the November issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, also found that patients with a recent history of MDR-AB were no more likely to contaminate their hospital room than those with a remote history.

“For patients with MDR-AB, the surrounding environment is frequently contaminated, even among patients with a remote history of MDR-AB,” the researchers concluded in a journal news release. “In addition, surfaces often touched by health care workersduring routine patient care are commonly contaminated and may be a source of (hospital-based) transmission. The results of this study are consistent with studies of other important hospital pathogens such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus and Clostridium difficile.”

However, the study does not show which came first — MDR-AB or environmental contamination.

Yawning May Help the Brain Chill Out

Yawning may be a natural way of regulatingbrain temperature, a new study suggests.

U.S. researchers examined the frequency of yawns among 80 people in the winter and another 80 people in the summer and found seasonal variations.

Yawning is known to be “contagious,” the researchers pointed out. After being showed pictures of other people yawning, nearly half of the participants yawned while outdoors in winter, compared with less than one-quarter while outdoors in summer, according to the report published online Sept. 22 in the journal Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience.

The finding that people yawn less often in the summer, when outdoor temperatures often exceed body temperature, suggests that yawning could be a natural brain-cooling mechanism, said the researchers at Princeton University and the University of Arizona.

“This provides additional support for the view that the mechanisms controlling the expression of yawning are involved in thermoregulatory physiology. Despite numerous theories posited in the past few decades, very little experimental research has been done to uncover the biological function of yawning, and there is still no consensus about its purpose among the dozen or so researchers studying the topic today,” study leader Andrew Gallup, a postdoctoral research associate in Princeton’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology, said in a university news release.

“Enter the brain cooling, or thermoregulatory, hypothesis, which proposes that yawning is triggered by increases in brain temperature, and that the physiological consequences of a yawn act to promote brain cooling,” he added.

Yawning may help cool the brain through the deep inhalation of cool air and by enhanced blood flow to the brain caused by the stretching of the jaw.

“According to the brain cooling hypothesis, it is the temperature of the ambient air that gives a yawn its utility. Thus yawning should be counterproductive — and therefore suppressed — in ambient temperatures at or exceeding body temperature because taking a deep inhalation of air would not promote cooling. In other words, there should be a ‘thermal window’ or a relatively narrow range of ambient temperatures in which to expect highest rates of yawning,” Gallup explained.

TV May Take Years Off Your Life if it Too Much

Spending your days in front of the television may contribute to a shortened lifespan, a new study suggests.

Researchers in Australia found that people who averaged six hours a day of TV lived, on average, nearly five years less than people who watched no TV.

For every hour of television watched after age 25, lifespan fell by 22 minutes, according to the research led by Dr. J. Lennert Veerman of the University of Queensland.

But other experts cautioned that the study did not show that TV watching caused people to die sooner, only that there was an association between watching lots of TV and a shorter lifespan.

Though a direct link between watching TV and a shortened lifespan is highly provocative, the harms of TV are almost certainly indirect, said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine.

“As a rule, the more time we spend watching TV, the more time we spend eatingmindlessly in front of the TV, and the less time we spend being physically active,” Katz said. “More eating and less physical activity, in turn, mean greater risk for obesity, and the chronic diseases it tends to anticipate, notably diabetes, heart disease and cancer.”

Another explanation for the possible link may be that people who watch excessive amounts of TV “are lonely, or isolated, or depressed, and these conditions, in turn, may be the real causes of premature mortality,” he added.

The report was published in the Aug 15 online edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

In the study, researchers used data on 11,000 people aged 25 and older from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study, which included survey information about how much TV people watched in a week. Researchers also used national population and mortality figures.

In 2008, Australian adults watched a total of 9.8 billion hours of TV. People who watched more than six hours of TV were in the top 1 percent for TV viewing.

The statistics suggest that too much TV may be as dangerous as smoking and lack of exercise in reducing life expectancy, the researchers said.

For example, smoking can shorten of life expectancy by more than four years after the age of 50. That represents 11 minutes of life lost for every cigarette and that’s the same as half an hour of TV watching, the researchers said.

Without TV, researchers estimated life expectancy for men would be 1.8 years longer and for women, 1.5 years longer.

“While we used Australian data, the effects in other industrialized and developing countries are likely to be comparable, given the typically large amounts of time spent watching TV and similarities in disease patterns,” the researchers noted.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, associate chief of cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles, said that “there is increasing evidence that the amount of time spent in sedentary activity such at TV watching, distinct from the amount of time spent in purposeful exercise, may adversely impact health.”

And although participating in a regular exercise program can help, it may not be enough to offset the risks of spending too much of the rest of the day — while at work or at home — getting no exercise whatsoever.

“Staying active and reducing time spent sedentary may be of benefit in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and may be considered as part of a comprehensive approach to improve cardiovascular health,” Fonarow added.

Dr. Robert J. Myerburg, a professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, added that “a sedentary lifestyle can reduce life expectancy.”

Myerburg isn’t sure why sitting around is not good for your health. “It’s better to look at it from a positive prospective,” he said. “That is: a physically active lifestyle is protective.”

Cell Phones May Cause Brain Cancer

Cell phones may cause brain cancer, a panel of experts reporting to the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Tuesday.

After reviewing dozens of studies that explored a possible link between cancer and the ubiquitous hand-held phones, the experts classified cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” and placed them in the same category as the pesticide DDT and gasoline engine exhaust.

The panel determined that an increased risk for glioma, a malignant form of brain cancer, appears associated with wireless phone use.

Globally, it’s estimated that 5 billion cell phones are in use. “The number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children,” the International Agency for Research on Cancer said in a news release issued Tuesday.

The IARC made the announcement in Lyons, France, based on the work of 31 scientists from 14 countries. It will present its findings to the WHO, which may then issue its recommendations on safe cell phone use.

Experts said children are especially vulnerable.

“Children’s skulls and scalps are thinner. So the radiation can penetrate deeper into the brain of children and young adults. Their cells are dividing at a faster rate, so the impact of radiation can be much larger,” Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told CNN.

Until Tuesday’s announcement, the WHO had said that cell phones were safe to use.

The international experts behind Tuesday’s announcement met for eight days to review exposure data, studies of cancer in humans and in experimental animals, and other relevant data, looking for associations between cancer and the type of electromagnetic radiation found in cell phones, televisions and microwaves.

Dr. Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said this new paper is important “first and foremost just because of the large number of users worldwide that have access now to this technology.”

Also, the scientists found notable gaps in the existing research, he said, which “suggest interesting areas of future research that will improve the evidence base which we have in order to make decisions about the usage of mobile phones in the future.”

Responding to Tuesday’s announcement, John Walls, vice president of public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group representing the wireless industry said: “Today, an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) working group in Lyon, France categorized radiofrequency fields from cellphones as possibly carcinogenic based on ‘limited evidence.’ IARC conducts numerous reviews and in the past has given the same score to, for example, pickled vegetables and coffee. This IARC classification does not mean cell phones cause cancer. Under IARC rules, limited evidence from statistical studies can be found even though bias and other data flaws may be the basis for the results.

“The IARC working group did not conduct any new research, but rather reviewed published studies,” Walls added in a news release. “Based on previous assessments of the scientific evidence, the Federal Communications Commission has concluded that ‘[t]heres no scientific evidence that proves that wireless phone usage can lead to cancer.’ The Food and Drug Administration has also stated that ‘[t]he weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems.'”

There has been conflicting research in recent years on the health hazards posed by cell phones. As recently as February, British researchers reported that cell phones do not increase the risk of brain cancer.

Their analysis of data on newly diagnosed cases of brain cancer in England between 1998 and 2007 — when cell phone use was climbing — revealed no statistically significant change in the incidence of brain cancers in men or women, said the University of Manchester researchers.

There was a very small increase (0.6 more cases per 100,000 people) in the incidence of cancers of the brain’s temporal lobe. That works out to 31 extra cases per year in England’s population of nearly 52 million people, the researchers said.

But the study authors also noted that cancers of the brain’s parietal lobe, cerebrum and cerebellum in English men fell slightly during the study period.

The Truth About Radiation Exposure

Japan’s ongoing nuclear crisis understandably has people around the world worried about radiation exposure and the potential health risks it may pose. According to the latest reports, radiation from Japan was detected in Southern California late this week, but experts are quick to point out that the levels are far from dangerous. The readings were “about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening,” a diplomat with access to United Nations’ radiation tracking told the Associated Press.

Nor is it unexpected. “Whenever radioactive particles get in the atmosphere, they have the potential to spread around the world,” says James Thrall, MD, president of the American College of Radiology. “But they get diluted as they travel, so they’re unlikely to pose any real health problem.”

In fact, we’re probably exposed to significantly more radiation every day than the miniscule fallout arriving from Japan. Here’s a quick tutorial on radiation to put our collective anxiety in perspective:

What Is Radiation?

Radiation is a form of energy in waves. It exists on a spectrum, with low-frequency radiation (from radio waves and microwaves) on the low end and high-frequency radiation (from gamma rays and x-rays) on the high end. All radiation affects the cells in our bodies to some extent, but the lower the frequency of the waves and the lower the exposure, the less dangerous it is.

To understand the risks of high-frequency radiation — the kind we’re talking about in this article — think back to high school physics: These waves have enough energy to knock electrons off molecules, which can cause damage to cell DNA that can ultimately lead to cancer.

How Are We Exposed to Radiation?

We encounter radiation each day from a variety of sources. The average American is exposed to about 6 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation annually, according to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC). Half of this typically comes from background radiation that occurs naturally in the environment, and half comes from medical tests, such as X-rays, mammograms, and CT scans.

According to Kelly Classic, MS, spokesperson for the Health Physics Society, sources of environmental radiation include:

  • Radioactive compounds in soil and building materials like concrete, brick, and stone
  • Radiation from outer space that your encounter when you fly on airplanes or visit high-altitude places
  • The mineral potassium in your own body (a small fraction of potassium, which our bodies need to function, is radioactive)
  • Radon gas in the home, which accounts for about 2 mSv of exposure each year, and is the largest contributor of background radiation

Finally, there’s the kind of radiation released during nuclear reactions, such as what’s disseminating from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Here’s a look at various sources of radiation exposure (dose of radiation in millisieverts (mSv)), according to data from the Health Physics Society and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By way of comparison, a single dose of radiation below 0.01 mSv is considered negligible by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements.

  • Banana: 0.0001
  • Dental X-ray: 0.005
  • Living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant: 0.01 (per year)
  • A flight from New York to Los Angeles: 0.04
  • Smoking 1 ½ packs of cigarettes: 0.08
  • Chest X-ray: 0.1
  • Living at sea level: 0.25 (per year)
  • Mammogram: 0.3
  • Living in Denver: 0.5 (per year)
  • Abdominal CT scan: 14
  • Measures between reactors No. 3 and No. 4 during the March 15 explosion at the Fukushima plant: As high as 400 per hour

What Level of Radiation Exposure Is Safe?

It’s well-established that exposure to large amounts of radiation at once can cause acute sickness and even cancer. (A 1,000 mSv-dose can trigger acute radiation sickness, causing symptoms such as nausea and vomiting; 3,000 mSV can be lethal, according to Thrall.)

But there’s no good data on the long-term risks of the low levels of radiation to which we’re continually exposed.

According to the World Nuclear Association, annual exposure to 100 mSv or greater carries a measurable, though small, increase in cancer risk. Below that level, it’s believed that your body’s cells are able to heal themselves from radiation. “There are enzyme systems in the body that repair damage from these low levels of background radiation,” says Thrall.

But even small levels of radiation exposure may impact cancer risks later in life.

This has been of particular concern in the medical community, where some experts worry that increasing use of diagnostic CT scans (which has skyrocketed from 3 million annual scans nationwide in 1980 to 70 million in 2007, according to MedPage Today) will impact future cancer rates. For example, in one 2009 study, National Cancer Institute researchers estimated that one in 270 women and one in 595 men who had a heart CT at age 40 would eventually develop cancer related to the test.

While the health benefits of necessary diagnostic imaging usually outweigh the small risks of secondary cancers, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before any procedure involving radiation to understand exactly what you’re getting, why you need it, and what the potential health risks may be.

Bottom line: Americans are exposed to far more radiation in their daily lives — and especially from certain medical tests — than from dispersed particles traveling across the Pacific. “With what we know now about the situation in Japan, there are no personal or public health risks apparent for people in the United States,” Thrall says.

8 One-Minute Tricks That’ll Boost Your Health

 1. Drink Before You Eat

One-minute trick: Guzzle two glasses of water a half-hour before mealtime. Aside from keeping you hydrated, keeping you “regular,” and keeping other bodily functions running smoothly, simply downing 16 ounces of water 30 minutes before each meal may prevent overeating and help with weight loss. Too easy to be true? Nope — not according to a study published in August 2015 in the journal Obesity. Researchers found that participants who “preloaded” with two glasses of water half an hour before meals lost more weight (nearly 3 pounds in 12 weeks, on average) than participants who didn’t preload with water. Bottoms up!

2. Power Up With Protein

One-minute trick:  Scramble an egg. Not only are eggs a classic on the breakfast menu, they’re a source of high-quality protein and nutrients. “Having protein with breakfast helps fill you up and keeps you feeling satisfied for longer,” says Everyday Health nutritionist Kelly Kennedy, RD. She recommends an egg on toast with avocado or another quick, protein-packed breakfast option like a yogurt-based smoothie. Just remember, not all protein is created equal. Skip the fatty bacon, pork sausages, and whole milk, and go for leaner proteins like turkey-based or vegetarian breakfast “meats,” smoked salmon, and low- or fat-free dairy.

3. Get Ready, Set, Stretch!

One-minute trick:  Start with a morning stretch, and take stretch breaks. Starting the day off with at least one minute of stretching can help get your blood flowing, ease morning muscle and joint stiffness, and invigorate you before you pour that first cup of coffee. Doing it on a regular basis throughout the day can also help increase your flexibility; improve balance, posture, and range of motion; lower your risk for muscle and joint injuries; and reduce joint and back pain. Warm up with static stretches: Stretch your arms out to the sides and up toward the ceiling, roll your shoulders, or lift up your knees. Then try dynamic stretching in which you hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds and repeat 2 to 4 times. Dynamic stretches include seated rotation and standing hamstring stretches as well as yoga poses like downward dog and child’s pose.

4. Practice Good Hand Hygiene

One-minute trick:  Wash your hands. An apple a day isn’t the only trick for keeping the doctor away. Frequently washing your hands can help, too. Handwashing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep from catching — and spreading — colds, the flu, and other illnesses and infections, say experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If soap and water aren’t readily available, the CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

5. Take Your Grains To-Go

One-minute trick:  Get your fiber fix from portable whole grains in cups. Similar to the instant soup concept, whole grain cups, like Q Cups, can be transformed into a snack or side dish in a matter of minutes with a little boiling water. These organic cups of quinoa are high in fiber, protein, and other nutrients. “Q Cups can also be the base of a meal,” says culinary nutrition expert, Jessica Fishman Levinson, RDN. “Add some protein and lunch is done.” She points out that you can do the same in the morning with a cup of instant rolled oats in a to-go cup. “Add berries and nuts and it makes a quick, easy, healthy breakfast to help get you out the door,” she says.

6. Kick Croutons to the Carb Curb

One-minute trick:  Add nuts or seeds to salad instead of croutons. Since most croutons are not made with whole grains, swapping out croutons for nuts or seeds is an easy way to cut down on your consumption of simple carbs and boost your nutrient intake. “Healthy fat and a little protein add that crunch you’re looking for without the refined carbs,” says Levinson.

7. Go All Out With Exercise (for Just 60 Seconds!)

One-minute trick:  Do a really short high-intensity workout. “People are so concerned about making the time to get to the gym for an hour and a half, but if you compare someone who goes to the gym and works out in a steady state for a long time to someone who works out super hard for a short time, intensity will always trump duration,” says Los Angeles-based celebrity fitness coach, Andrea Orbeck. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts are known to yield big results in short periods of time, she says. Additionally, a recent study published in PLOS One in April 2016 found that the same is true for Sprint Interval Training (SIT) — which yields results in even shorter bursts. The study showed that just one minute of intense exercise offered similar benefits as a 45-minute moderate-intensity workout. We’re not saying to ditch your regular exercise routine, but when you have a spare minute here and there (and if your doctor approves high-intensity activity), take 60 seconds and alternate walking or jogging in place with doing short, fast bursts of jumping jacks, squats, lunges, or sit-ups.

8. Pull Your Own Weight — Literally!

One-minute trick:  Use your body weight to get in some quick strength training. Goodbye, dumbbells. Hello, extra pounds left over from the holidays! Believe it or not, your own body weight can be an ideal tool for resistance. “Body weight exercise is cheap, adaptable, simple, and doesn’t require much space,” says Avigdor Dori Arad, RD, a certified exercise physiologist at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s hospital in New York City. “Body weight workouts can help you become lean, active, and strong.” In one minute, you can do push-ups, sit-ups, or squats, or combine them into a circuit.

You Need to Know about Surgery

 Understand Your Options

With everything that’s going through your mind after you’ve been told that you may need a surgical procedure, it’s important to focus and think through your options. Is surgery your only choice or are there alternatives? If you do need surgery, do you need it now or can you — and should you — wait? Are there different surgical procedures to choose from? Discuss details of your treatment options with your doctor, scheduling more than one consultation if necessary.

Select an Experienced Surgical Team

With your primary care doctor’s help, choose an experienced surgeon and a facility that specializes in performing operations for your particular condition. In addition to working with a qualified surgeon, scheduling your procedure in a hospital that does a high volume of the surgical procedures you’re having is also important to ensure a successful surgery. A recent study showed that hospitals where many cancer surgeries were performed had better survival rates than hospitals where fewer surgeries were done.

Follow Pre-Surgery Prep Instructions

In the time leading up to your surgical procedure, be sure to take good care of yourself and follow your doctor’s advice. Surgery puts stress on the body, so the stronger you are physically, the better you’ll handle it. Even the most qualified surgeon would prefer to operate on a healthy patient, so get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and if you smoke, stop for at least two weeks prior to your surgery. Also follow your doctor’s directions when it comes to taking or stopping medications before your operation.

Timing Is Everything With Surgery

A study conducted at Duke University found that the lowest incidence of complications and errors related to anesthesia and pain management occurred with procedures conducted on weekdays at 9 a.m. That said, the complications that occurred at other times were relatively minor. Perhaps the most important aspect of timing is not putting it off — don’t wait too long to get needed surgery. Delaying surgery after you and your doctor have agreed that you’re ready for the procedure may allow your condition to worsen, which can increase your risk of surgical complications.

Be Aware of Possible Surgical Complications

Of course, you’ll hope for the best — having a positive outlook can help speed your recovery. But it’s important to realize that post-surgical and anesthesia complications are possible. Being a good patient means being well-informed. A qualified surgeon and surgical care team will tell you about the most common complications, how to recognize them, what to do about them, and when you should call or return to the hospital if necessary.

Exercise linked to better breast cancer

 Several lifestyle changes can improve outcomes after a breast cancer diagnosis, but exercise is far and away the best habit to establish, researchers say.

Women with breast cancer, whether newly diagnosed or at any time in their “survivorship” phase, need to exercise regularly and avoid weight gain, said Dr. Ellen Warner from Odette Cancer Center at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, who coauthored the research review.

Warner and her colleague Julie Hamer joined forces to review nearly 70 articles that addressed lifestyle modifications that might have an impact on the risk of breast cancer recurrence and survival after breast cancer.

They found that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer by 40 percent compared to women who didn’t exercise. Unfortunately, less than 13 percent of women with breast cancer achieve the recommended 150 minutes per week of physical activity.

“Exercise has the greatest benefit on lowering risk of recurrence and has many other secondary benefits like helping with weight management (which itself lowers the risk of recurrence) and fewer side effects from chemo, radiation, and hormone therapy,” Warner told Reuters Health by email.

Gaining weight during or after breast cancer treatment is risky – it increases the chance of recurrence and decreases survival rates, the review concludes.

Women who are already overweight or obese also have a higher risk of recurrence and death, but it’s not clear whether weight loss actually improves those outcomes. Studies are underway to examine this further, the researchers write in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Does diet matter? Yes and no. Breast cancer recurrence rates are similar whether women eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and chicken or a diet high in processed grains, processed meats and red meat. But high dietary saturated fat can increase the risk of death from breast cancer. Soy products, however, do not increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence and might even reduce it.

“Women with breast cancer don’t need to make extreme diet changes (like cutting out meat, dairy, sugar, soy, etc.),” Warner said. “There is no evidence any of these are effective. They can eat anything in moderation and following Canada’s food guide would be helpful if they don’t know much about nutrition.”

Women with breast cancer – well, everyone, really – should stop smoking. It’s strongly associated with the risk of death from breast cancer, and stopping improves overall survival.

What about alcohol intake and vitamin supplementation? The evidence is limited and inconsistent, so further study is needed before making specific recommendations, the team notes.

“There’s a large ongoing Canadian study of women age 40 and under newly diagnosed with breast cancer called RUBY, and one of the projects in this study is to look at how various lifestyle factors (diet, exercises, supplements, etc.) affect prognosis for that specific age group,” Warner said.

“Adopting a healthy lifestyle is great but should never be seen as a substitute for conventional therapy,” she concluded.

In their review, the authors note that very few of the included studies met the highest standards of clinical trials.

Dr. Livia Augustin from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and the Fondazione Giovanni Pascale National Cancer Institute in Naples, Italy, has, along with others, designed a clinical trial (DEDiCa) to investigate whether low glycemic index diet, exercise and vitamin D reduces breast cancer recurrence.

“People with breast cancer suffer from several comorbidities, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis, and therefore many health complications; therefore, quitting smoking, increasing vitamin D when necessary, increasing physical activity, and improving dietary aspects are crucial therapeutic targets to reduce complications and health care costs as well as help to live longer with a better quality of life,” Augustin told Reuters Health by email.