Tag Archives: cancer

NCHR Written Statement for North Salem Central School District Board of Education

May 12, 2021


Dear Dr. Freeston and the North Salem Central School District Board of Education:

As president of the National Center for Health Research, I want to share the information we have provided to Members of Congress, state and federal agencies, state and local legislators, parents, and others who want to ensure that our children are not exposed to dangerous chemicals or other substances when they play on artificial turf or playgrounds. Our nonprofit think tank is located in Washington, D.C. Our scientists, physicians, and health experts conduct studies and scrutinize research conducted by other experts in the field. Our goal is to explain scientific and medical information that can be used to improve public health.

Our organization has been testifying and writing about the dangers of synthetic turf and playground surfaces for several years.  Our scientific staff has reviewed all publicly available scientific studies pertaining to the health impact of the lead and chemicals that are in artificial turf and playground surfaces, compared to natural surfaces such as grass and engineered wood fiber.

In the last year, scientists have reported finding potentially dangerous levels of lead in artificial turf fields and playground surfaces.  In addition, plastic grass and synthetic rubber are made with different types of hormone-disrupting chemicals, some of which are known to be particularly harmful to growing children.  Scientists at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which is an institute of NIH, have concluded that these chemicals can be threats to health even at low levels.

Manufacturers and advocates for synthetic turf often state that artificial turf has been declared safe by federal authorities.  That is completely untrue.  It is essential to understand that there are no federal requirements for safety testing of these synthetic turf products before they are sold. The EPA and the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission are jointly studying the chemicals used in these products, but they have not yet released any data on studies of children exposed to these fields and playgrounds day after day and week after week.

There is a dangerous trend of replacing natural fields and playground surfaces with materials that are dangerous to our children’s health, potentially dangerous to adult fertility and health, and bad for our environment.  In the last year, we’ve learned new information about lead and PFAS in artificial turf, as well as the risks of some of the newer infill materials that turf companies are using to replace tire crumb.

The “plastic grass” itself has dangerous levels of lead, PFAS, and other toxic chemicals.  PFAS are of particular concern because they are “forever chemicals” that get into the human body and are not metabolized, accumulating over the years. As I mentioned in an NPR interview this week1, new research published in the prestigious Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that people with greater exposure to PFAS are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with kidney cancer.2  Previous research suggests that testicular cancer is also associated with PFAS.

Lead

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that no level of lead exposure is safe for children, because lead can cause cognitive damage even at low levels.  Some children are even more vulnerable than others, and that can be difficult or even impossible to predict. You may have been told that lead is only a problem for artificial turf made with tire crumb infill, but that’s not correct. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the “plastic grass” made with nylon or some other materials also contain lead.  The lead doesn’t just stay on the surface.  With wear, the turf materials turn to dust that is invisible to the eye but that children are inhaling when they play.

Why are Chemicals that are Banned from Children’s Toys Allowed in Artificial Turf and Rubber Playground Surfaces?

There are numerous studies indicating that endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in plastic cause serious health problems. As noted above, scientists at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have concluded that unlike most other chemicals, these hormone-disrupting chemicals can be dangerous at very low levels, and the exposures can also be dangerous when they combine with other exposures in our environment.

That is why the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has banned numerous endocrine-disrupting chemicals from toys and products used by children. The products involved, such as pacifiers and rubber duckies, are banned even though they would result in very short-term exposures compared to artificial turf or playground surfaces.

A report warning about possible harm to people who are exposed to hormone disrupting chemicals at work explains that these chemicals “can mimic or block hormones and disrupt the body’s normal function, resulting in the potential for numerous health effects… Similar to hormones, EDC [endocrine disrupting chemicals] can function at very low doses in a tissue-specific manner and may exert non-traditional dose–response because of the complicated dynamics of hormone receptor occupancy and saturation.”3

Studies are beginning to demonstrate the contribution of skin exposure to the development of respiratory sensitization and altered pulmonary function. Not only does skin exposure have the potential to contribute to total body burden of a chemical, but also the skin is a highly biologically active organ capable of chemical metabolism and the initiation of a cascade of immunological events, potentially leading to adverse outcomes in other organ systems.

Envirofill and Other Alternative Infills

Replacing tire waste with silica, zeolite, and other materials also has substantial risks because the dust from these materials can be inhaled.

Summers in New York can get hot.  Even when the temperature is a pleasant 80 degrees Fahrenheit, artificial turf and playground surfaces can reach 150 degrees or higher.  Obviously, turf and playground surfaces are likely to be even hotter than 150 degrees on a sunny 90 degree day.  That can cause “heat poisoning” as well as burns.

Envirofill artificial turf fields are advertised as “cooler” and “safer,” but our research indicates that these fields are still at least 30-50 degrees hotter than natural grass. Envirofill is composed of materials resembling plastic polymer pellets (similar in appearance to tic tacs) with silica inside. Silica is classified as a hazardous material according to OSHA regulations, and the American Academy of Pediatrics specifically recommends avoiding it on playgrounds. The manufacturers and vendors of these products claim that the silica stays inside the plastic coating.  However, sunlight and the grinding force from playing on the field breaks down the plastic coating. For that reason, even the product warranty admits that only 70% of the silica will remain encapsulated. The other 30% can be very harmful as children are exposed to it in the air.

In addition, the Envirofill pellets have been coated with an antibacterial called triclosan.  Triclosan is registered as a pesticide with the EPA and the FDA has banned triclosan from soaps because manufacturers were not able to prove that it is safe for long-term use.  Research shows a link to liver and inhalation toxicity and hormone disruption.  The manufacturer of Envirofill says that the company no longer uses triclosan, but they provide no scientific evidence that the antibacterial they are now using is any safer than triclosan.  Microscopic particles of this synthetic turf infill will be inhaled by children, and visible and invisible particles come off of the field, ending up in shoes, socks, pockets, and hair.

In response to the concerns of educated parents and government officials, other new materials are now being used instead of tire crumb and other very controversial materials.  However, all the materials being used (such as volcanic ash, corn husks, and Corkonut) have raised concerns and none are proven to be as safe or effective as well-designed grass fields.

Despite claims to the contrary, no independent studies have demonstrated that artificial turf is safe.  Although the Trump Administration’s EPA stated that there was no conclusive evidence that the levels of chemicals in artificial turf was harmful to children, they made it clear that their research was based on assumptions about likely exposures rather than scientific research on children.

Scientific Evidence of Cancer and Other Serious Harm

It is essential to distinguish between evidence of harm and evidence of safety. Like the Trump Administration’s EPA, companies that sell and install artificial turf often claim there is “no evidence children are harmed” or “no evidence that the fields cause cancer.” This is often misunderstood as meaning the products are safe or are proven to not cause harm. Neither is true.

It is true that there is no clear evidence that an artificial turf field has caused specific children to develop cancer. However, that statement is misleading because it is virtually impossible to prove any chemical exposure causes one specific individual to develop cancer. As an epidemiologist, I can also tell you that for decades there was no evidence that smoking or Agent Orange caused cancer.  It took many years to develop that evidence, and the same will be true for artificial turf.

I have testified about the risks of these materials at hearings of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and state and local agencies.  At these hearings, I am sorry to say that I have repeatedly seen and heard scientists paid by the turf industry and other turf industry lobbyists say things that are absolutely false, most recently at a hearing in a Connecticut community. They claim that these products are proven safe (not true) and that federal agencies have stated there are no health risks (also not true).

On the contrary, we know that the materials being used in artificial turf contain carcinogens, and when children are exposed to those carcinogens day after day, week after week, and year after year, they increase the chances of our children developing cancer, either in the next few years or later as adults.  That should be adequate reason not to install them in your community.  That’s why I have spoken out about the risks of artificial turf in my community and on a national level.  The question must be asked: if they had all the facts, would families choose to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on fields that are unhealthy and unsafe rather than well-designed natural grass fields?

Dangerously Hard Fields and Injuries From Turf

Artificial turf fields get hard over time, and this can cause brain injuries and other injuries.  Turf companies recommend annual tests at 10 locations on each turf field, using something called a Gmax scores.  A Gmax score over 200 is considered extremely dangerous and is considered by industry to pose a death risk.  However, the synthetic turf industry and ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), suggest scores should be even lower — below 165 to ensure safety comparable to a grass field.  Do you want to pay to have those tests conducted annually on artificial turf fields, and replace a relatively new field that fails the test?

The hardness of natural grass fields is substantially influenced by maintenance, rain and other weather; if the field gets hard, aeration water will make it safe again.  In contrast, once an artificial turf field has a Gmax score above 165, it needs to be replaced because while the scores can vary somewhat due to weather, the scores will inevitably get higher because the turf will get harder.  Gmax testing involves testing 10 different areas of a playing fields, to make sure all are considered safe.  Some officials average those 10 scores to determine safety; however, experts explain that is not appropriate.  If a child (or adult) falls, it can be at the hardest part of the field, which is why safety is determined based on each area tested.

Any child who plays on artificial turf knows about “turf burns” that can be very painful and can get infected, but other injuries are even more serious. A study of more than 2,000 young female soccer players from 109 teams over the course of a season found that ankle sprains were almost twice as likely on turf compared to natural grass.4 Knee injuries are also much more likely on artificial turf.  A 10-year study of 5 different types of knee injuries on grass compared to artificial turf was conducted across all 3 divisions of NCAA football. They found that posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) tears occurred almost 3 times as often on turf than on grass.5 Athletes playing at lower levels experienced anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears 1.6 times more often on turf than they did on the grass.  This issue persists at the professional level as well, which is why the National Football League’s Player Association demanded artificial turf fields be replaced with natural grass, citing the league’s official report regarding increases in injuries on artificial turf surfaces. The report showed non-contact knee injuries happened 32% more often on turf.6

Environmental Issues

In addition to the health risks to school children and athletes, approximately three tons of infill materials migrate off of each synthetic turf field into the community environment each year.  About 2-5 metric tons of infill must be replaced every year for each field, meaning that tons of the infill have migrated off the field into grass, water, and our homes.  The fields also continuously shed microplastics as the plastic blades break down.7,8 These materials may contain additives such as PAHs, flame retardants, UV inhibitors, etc., which can be toxic to marine and aquatic life; and microplastics are known to migrate into the oceans, food chain, and drinking water and can absorb and concentrate other toxins from the environment.9,10,11

Synthetic surfaces also create heat islands.12,13  In contrast, organically managed natural grass saves energy by dissipating heat, cooling the air, and reducing energy to cool nearby buildings.  Natural grass and soil protect groundwater quality, biodegrade polluting chemicals and bacteria, reduce surface water runoff, and abate noise and reduce glare.14

Conclusions

There have never been any safety tests required prior to sale that prove that any artificial turf products are safe for children who play on them regularly.  In many cases, the materials used are not publicly disclosed, making independent research difficult to conduct.  None of these products are proven to be as safe as natural grass in well-constructed fields.

I have cited several relevant scientific articles on artificial turf in this letter, and there are numerous studies and growing evidence of the harm caused by these synthetic materials.  I would be happy to provide additional information upon request (dz@center4research.org).

I am not paid to write this statement.  I am one of the many parents and scientists who are very concerned about the impact of artificial fields on our children.  I’m sure you agree that it is important that decisions are based on scientific evidence, not on sales pitches by individuals with conflicts of interest.

Officials in communities all over the country have been misled by artificial turf salespeople. They were erroneously told that these products are safe.  But on the contrary, there is clear scientific evidence that these materials are harmful.  The only question is how much exposure is likely to be harmful to which children?  We should not be willing to take such a risk.  Our children deserve better.

 

Sincerely,

Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D.

President

 

References

  1. Vega, T., & Zuckerman, D. (May 10, 2021). The Role of Environmental Regulations in the Fight Against Cancer. The Takeaway. New York City, New York; WNYC.
  2. Shearer, JJ et al, Serum Concentrations of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances and Risk of Renal Cell Carcinoma. 2021; JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 113, Issue 5, , Pages 580-587, https://doi.org/10.1093/jnci/djaa143
  3. Anderson SE and Meade BJ. Potential Health Effects Associated with Dermal Exposure to Occupational Chemicals. Environmental Health Insights. 2014; 8(Suppl 1):51–62. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4270264/
  4. Steffen, K., Andersen, T. E., & Bahr, R. Risk of injury on artificial turf and natural grass in young female football players. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2007; 41 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), i33–i37. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.2007.036665
  5. Loughran, G. J., Vulpis, C. T., Murphy, J. P., Weiner, D. A., Svoboda, S. J., Hinton, R. Y., & Milzman, D. P. Incidence of Knee Injuries on Artificial Turf Versus Natural Grass in National Collegiate Athletic Association American Football: 2004-2005 Through 2013-2014 Seasons. The American journal of sports medicine.2019;47(6), 1294–1301. https://doi.org/10.1177/0363546519833925
  6. Dulik, Brian. NFLPA asking teams to change all fields to natural grass. AP News. September 20, 2020. https://apnews.com/article/nfl-football-archive-9b34d4402f2f82ae60708605f65aa560
  7. Magnusson K, Eliasson K, Fråne A, et al. Swedish sources and pathways for microplastics to the marine environment, a review of existing data. Stockholm: IVL- Swedish Environmental Research Institute. 2016. https://www.naturvardsverket.se/upload/miljoarbete-i-samhallet/miljoarbete-i-sverige/regeringsuppdrag/utslapp-mikroplaster-havet/RU-mikroplaster-english-5-april-2017.pdf
  8. Kole PJ, Löhr AJ, Van Belleghem FGAJ, Ragas AMJ. Wear and tear of tyres: A stealthy source of microplastics in the environment. International Journal of Environmental Research Public Health. 2017;14(10):pii: E1265. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29053641/
  9. Kosuth M, Mason SA, Wattenberg EV. Anthropogenic contamination of tap water, beer, and sea salt. PLoS One. 2018,13(4): e0194970. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5895013/
  10. Oehlmann J, Schulte-Oehlmann U, Kloas W et al. A critical analysis of the biological impacts of plasticizers on wildlife. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 2009;364:2047–2062. http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1526/2047
  11. Thompson RC, Moore CJ, vom Saal FS, Swan SH. Plastics, the environment and human health: Current consensus and future trends. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 2009;364:2153–2166. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.2009.0053
  12. Thoms AW, Brosnana JT, Zidekb JM, Sorochana JC. Models for predicting surface temperatures on synthetic turf playing surfaces. Procedia Engineering. 2014;72:895-900. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877705814006699
  13. Penn State’s Center for Sports Surface Research. Synthetic turf heat evaluation- progress report. 012. http://plantscience.psu.edu/research/centers/ssrc/documents/heat-progress-report.pdf
  14. Stier JC, Steinke K, Ervin EH, Higginson FR, McMaugh PE. Turfgrass benefits and issues. Turfgrass: Biology, Use, and Management, Agronomy Monograph 56. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America. 2013;105–145. https://dl.sciencesocieties.org/publications/books/tocs/agronomymonogra/turfgrassbiolog

The Role of Environmental Regulations in the Fight Against Cancer

NYC NPR, May 10, 2021


Last month, President Biden announced he wanted to boost funding for research on cancer and other diseases. But experts say that the fight against cancer will be tough to win if there isn’t also a focus on preventing the disease by regulating carcinogens. The Environmental Protection Agency has historically been slow to act on known carcinogens and much more research is needed to find out exactly which toxins are making us sick.

Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, joined The Takeaway to discuss what it would take to win the war on cancer.

To listen, click on the play button on https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/takeaway/segments/role-environmental-regulations-fight-against-cancer

FDA Scrutinizes Pricey Cancer Drugs

Politico Pulse: April 28, 2021


What should be done about expensive cancer drugs on the market that might not work? That could be the first thorny question to confront Woodcock, who is acting FDA commissioner while Biden weighs whether to nominate her for the full-time role.

The FDA is convening an expert panel this week to discuss whether the agency should revoke approved uses of three therapies that, despite positive signs from early research, failed to help patients with certain cancers live longer. All three medicines were approved under Woodcock’s tenure as drug chief and after increasingly speedy reviews.

Drug regulators “wanted to get these drugs to market as quickly as possible,” said Diana Zuckerman, a drug safety expert and president of the National Center for Health Research, who is presenting several times at this week’s meeting. “That was clearly their goal and they succeeded in doing it. But now there is a reckoning.”

What the companies say: Genentech, Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb, the companies at the center of the debate, say their drugs still have value against the cancers in question, they just need to do more research. And Genentech on Tuesday applauded the advisory panel’s vote to keep its drug on the market for triple-negative breast cancer, one of the approvals in question.

To see the entire Politico Pulse, read https://www.politico.com/politicopulse/.

What Genentech is doing to fix biotech’s diversity problem

Fortune Editors, Fortune: April 7, 2021


There’s a big problem with clinical trials: a lack of diversity. And that issue is ultimately detrimental to countless people’s lives and health.

Take, for example, breast cancer research. For a long time, the thinking in the health care world was that Black women didn’t develop breast cancer as often as white women, but when they did, they were more likely to die because of it.

“There was this assumption that it was an issue of access to care, the quality of care,” says Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, a nonprofit think tank that analyzes the latest research and helps consumers and organizations put that information to work. But “if you looked at the research, you saw that the original major studies of breast cancer treatment were done on white women.”

That meant the research featured fewer women with triple-negative breast cancer, which Black women develop more often than white women. “Because [women with triple-negative breast cancer] weren’t studied,” Zuckerman continues, “[the researchers] didn’t realize that the treatments that they were studying would not work on those types of cancer.”

Zuckerman talks with Fortune’s Ellen McGirt on this week’s episode of Leadership Next, a podcast about the changing rules of business leadership. Also on the episode with McGirt and cohost Alan Murray is Alexander Hardy, who became CEO of biotech company Genentech two years ago.

Hardy has made it clear that he’s committed to boosting diversity within the biotech world and in clinical trials, and he was already doing so before the pandemic. But COVID-19 crystallized some of the issues in the U.S.

[….]

During the show, Hardy also discusses the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the biotech industry, and how those changes could spill over into research on diseases such as Alzheimer’s, ALS, and cancer.

To read the entire article and listen to the podcast, click here.

Janet Woodcock revolutionized the way the FDA reviews cancer drugs, inspiring her supporters and raising concerns for detractors

Nicholas Florko, STAT News: March 1, 2021


In 2000, the Food and Drug Administration approved just three cancer drugs. Last year, even with the agency laser-focused on the coronavirus pandemic, much of its staff teleworking, the agency still approved a record-breaking 17 different cancer therapies — more than in any other category. That’s the legacy of FDA drug center chief Janet Woodcock. Woodcock, a 36-year veteran of the agency, is infamous for pushing the FDA to loosen its standards for drugs for rare conditions like Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But Woodcock’s most lasting impact at the FDA is her transformation of the way the agency approaches cancer drug approvals….. Now the nation’s top cancer doctors are emerging as Woodcock’s most vocal backers in her campaign to become President Biden’s FDA commissioner.

Critics say Woodcock’s cancer crusade has come at a cost. With the speed has come an erosion of the agency’s high standards and an increasing willingness to greenlight drugs that haven’t actually been proven to extend a patient’s life. … Their complaint mostly revolves around Woodcock’s willingness to accept studies testing drugs based on so-called surrogate endpoints, measures like the shrinkage of a tumor, rather testing a drug based on how long it keeps a patient alive. ….It’s a view that even some former FDA officials hold; one described Woodcock as pushing “flexibility even at the expense of science.”

[.…]

“For many cancers there is an improvement in survival, the question is which drugs are responsible for that and which ones aren’t, that’s the big unknown and that’s what’s so frustrating,” said Diana Zuckerman, the president of the National Center for Health Research. The end result of this confusion, critics argue, is that doctors and patients are left guessing whether a drug is truly effective, or worth the money.

 [….]

Read the full article here.

We can’t ever go to the doctor with our guard down’: Why Black women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer

Maria Aspan: Fortune Magazine June 30, 2020


Racism kills Black Americans, and has long before COVID-19. But its toxic combination with sexism has particularly vast and disastrous consequences for the health of Black women.

While Black people in the U.S. are dying from the COVID-19 pandemic at a disproportionately high rate, this national health crisis underlines an even grimmer status quo: Black Americans are also much more likely to die from far more common and longstanding health problems every day. Black women are at particularly high risk of heart disease and strokes, and are at least three times as likely to die as a result of childbirth as white women, contributing to the overall alarmingly high maternal mortality rate in the United States.

Then there are the shocking statistics around breast cancer, which affects one in every eight women and is the most common non-skin cancer affecting women. Black women are less likely to develop it—but 40% more likely to die from it than white women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The reasons behind this awful disparity are wide-ranging, and include systemic problems both within healthcare and far beyond it. Now the disproportionately high toll of COVID-19 on the Black population in the U.S. and the simultaneous national reckoning over racism are drawing new attention to the racial inequities hurting Black women—and amplifying the voices of doctors, scientists, and public health experts who have long sounded the alarm.

[…]

Women of all races could be legally omitted from government-funded clinical trials before 1993, and are still often under-represented in most research studies of conditions that affect them. Pregnancy and menstrual cycles are thought to “complicate” the results of trials that are mostly conducted on white men, who are seen as the “norm.”

This can obviously backfire. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sharply cut its recommended dosages of Ambien for women, after years of complaints about grogginess and falling asleep while driving, when followup tests showed that women metabolized the active ingredient in sleeping aids much more slowly than men.

When it comes to clinical trials funded by pharmaceutical companies, “the FDA encourages but does not require diversity in clinical trials,” says Diana Zuckerman, a scientist and president of the National Center for Health Research. “Worse, the agency frequently approves drugs and devices for all adults, even if they were primarily studied on white adults.”

One treatment that the FDA approved in April, for the “triple-negative” type of breast cancer that disproportionately affects Black women, was approved after being tested on 108 patients. Eight of them, or 7%, were Black. Another breast-cancer treatment was approved last year after being tested on 234 patients; seven of them, or 3%, were Black.

[…]

Read the full article here

Dietary Supplements Before and During Chemotherapy

Meg Seymour, PhD, National Center for Health Research


Many Americans, including those with cancer, take dietary supplements. People take supplements because they believe it will help them stay healthy and give them vitamins and minerals they may not get from their diet. Chemotherapy patients often take supplements because their nausea makes it difficult to eat, and they want to be sure to get enough nutrients. 

People think of dietary supplements as a no-risk insurance policy to improve nutrition, but a study published in 2020 shows that supplements can have risks if you are undergoing chemotherapy. More than 1,000 breast cancer patients were asked whether or not they took any supplements either before or during their chemotherapy.[1] The researchers then continued to evaluate any subsequent cancer or death for up to 15 years (almost all of the women were followed for at least 5 years).

Results showed that patients who took vitamin B12 both before and during their chemotherapy were more likely to develop cancer again in the 5-15 years after treatment and were more likely to die as a result. They were also more likely to die from any cause, not just from cancer. This increase in subsequent cancer or death was only for people who took the supplements both before and during their chemotherapy. Patients who only took the supplements before chemotherapy or only took supplements during chemotherapy were not more likely to develop cancer again or to die from cancer or other causes in the years after treatment. Patients who took iron supplements both before and during chemotherapy were also more likely to develop cancer again after treatment or to die of cancer or any cause. However, the same was also true for people who only took iron supplements during their chemotherapy.  

Results showed that patients who took vitamin B12 before and during their chemotherapy were more likely to die or have their cancer return. They were also more likely to die from any cause, not just from cancer. This increase in cancer recurrence or death was only for people who took the B12 supplements both before and during their chemotherapy. Patients who only took the B12 supplements before chemotherapy or only took supplements during chemotherapy were not more likely to have a recurrence of their cancer or die. Patients who took Iron supplements both before and during chemotherapy were also more likely to have their cancer return or to die of any cause. However, the same was also true for people who only took Iron supplements during their chemotherapy.

The researchers also looked at antioxidant supplements, which include vitamins A, C, and E. They found that patients taking these supplements both before and during chemotherapy had a 41% higher chance of cancer returning after treatment. However, this finding was not “statistically significant,” which means that more research is needed to determine whether these worse outcomes occurred by chance. The 44% of the patients in the study who were taking multivitamins did not have better or worse outcomes than people who were not taking them. 

This is what scientists call an observational study rather than a clinical trial. In a clinical trial, some patients would be randomly assigned to take supplements and others would be assigned to take a placebo (with no active ingredients). In an observational study, people make their own decisions about what treatment (in this case supplements) to take. Those who chose to take supplements might have different health issues or health habits than those who did not. For example, it is possible that the people who were more likely to take supplements both before and during their chemotherapy were less healthy to begin with. For example, they could have been taking B12 or Iron supplements because they had anemia, and anemia may have increased the possibility of cancer recurrence or death. Also, because patients were asked whether or not they took supplements (instead of being given the supplements by researchers), it is impossible to know whether what patients said about supplements was completely accurate. For example, some patients could have said that they were regularly taking a supplement, but really they only took it occasionally.   

Dr. Christine Ambrosone, the lead researcher of the study, said in an interview that this is only one observational study, and doctors should not necessarily base their recommendations on this single study. Doctors need to consider the specific needs of each patient. For example, someone with anemia might need a dietary supplement, and the benefits of those supplements might outweigh the potential risks. 

If you are considering taking a dietary supplement, it is important to keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplements for purity and quality. There is no guarantee that a supplement will work or even that it contains exactly what the bottle says it contains.[2] It is always important to talk with your doctor to help you decide if the benefits of any dietary supplement you are considering outweigh the potential risks. 

 

  1. Ambrosone, C. B., Zirpoli, G. R., Hutson, A. D., McCann, W. E., McCann, S. E., Barlow, W. E., … & Unger, J. M. (2019). Dietary Supplement Use During Chemotherapy and Survival Outcomes of Patients With Breast Cancer Enrolled in a Cooperative Group Clinical Trial (SWOG S0221). Journal of Clinical Oncology, JCO-19.
  2. Brooks, J, Mitchell, J., Nagelin-Anderson, E. , & Zuckerman, D. National Center for Health Research. How Safe are Natural Supplements? Center4research.org. http://www.center4research.org/examining-safety-natural-supplements/. 2019.

Can Belly Fat Cause Cancer?

Ammu Dinesh and Claire Viscione, National Center for Health Research


Belly fat is common among men and women. However, when a person’s body shape looks more like an apple than a pear, that could increase their likelihood of developing cancer. 

More than two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight or obese.1 Most people know that obesity increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. But did you know that being overweight increases your chances of developing cancer, and that having an “apple” body shape due to belly fat can increase your chances of developing cancer even if you are not overweight?

Why is belly fat dangerous?

Whether your body fat is located at your waist (giving you an apple shape) or hips (giving you a pear shape) makes a difference to your health. Women tend to gain more belly fat as they get older. Regardless of their weight, white, black, and Latina women with a waistline measurement of 35 inches or more have higher health risks. This is also true for Asian women with a waistline of 31 inches or more. Although it is important to get rid of excess fat in general, belly fat is the most threatening to your health.

Physicians use often use body mass index (BMI) to estimate whether you are overweight or obese. However, determining your waist circumference is just as important. Even if you are not overweight or obese, if you have a lot of belly fat, you are more likely to develop cancer.

Unlike the fat that sits just beneath the skin, the fat that sits around internal organs is called visceral fat.2 This fat is the most dangerous, and it is typically what shows up as belly fat. If you measure your waistline, you can get a good idea of whether you have a dangerous amount of belly fat. 

Women Men
Low health risk 31.5 inches or less 37 inches or less
Intermediate health risk 31.6 – 34.9 inches 37.1 – 39.9 inches
High health risk 35 inches or more 40 inches or more

Table 1. What does your waistline measurement mean? 2

Several studies have looked at the relationship between belly fat and cancer. One study followed over 150,000 post-menopausal women ages 50-79 for about 20 years.3 This study found that women who have extra belly fat are at higher risk of death regardless of their weight. Causes of death in the study included cardiovascular disease and cancer. The women of normal weight who had extra belly fat tended to be older, nonwhite, and with less education and income. They were also less likely to use menopausal hormones and to exercise. 

To figure out your BMI for the chart below, enter your height and weight into this calculator.

Apple Shape (Extra Belly Fat) Not “Apple Shape”
Not Overweight (BMI below 25) 20% more likely to die from cancer within 20 years
Overweight (BMI of 25-29.9) 19% more likely to die from cancer within 20 years 4% less likely to die from cancer within 20 years
Obese (BMI of 30 or higher) 26% more likely to die from cancer within 20 years 4% less likely to die from cancer within 20 years

Table 2. Likelihood of death due to cancer in women based on BMI.3

Women who were not overweight or obese but had extra belly fat were just as likely to die from cancer as overweight women with extra belly fat.

A different study followed over 3,000 men and women for 7 years.4 They used CT scans and physical exams to look at the fat throughout the body. Over the course of the study, the men and women developed 141 cases of cancer, 90 heart-related incidents, and 71 deaths from various causes. The study found that people with more belly fat, specifically visceral fat, were about 44% more likely to develop cancer and heart disease, even when adjusting for waist circumference. 

What can you do?

As you can see, belly fat can be very dangerous, especially for women, even if they are not overweight. Losing weight or preventing weight gain can lower health risks. By exercising regularly, you can get rid of unhealthy belly fat. It is also important to change your diet to eat foods that are high in nutrients and essential vitamins. You can do this by eating more fresh vegetables, nuts, and whole-grain breads instead of processed meat, red meat, candy, pasta, and white bread. These few changes can help you lose belly fat and improve the quality and length of your life.

Local bans on unhealthy food and drinks may also be effective in reducing belly fat. A 2019 study shows that a ban on the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages at a large college campus substantially decreased consumption and led to significantly less belly fat.5 Students who stopped drinking the beverages had improved insulin resistance and lower cholesterol. The combination of the ban and a brief motivational talk was even more effective than the ban by itself.

Learn more about how extra body fat can increase your risk for developing cancer, and how you can make a commitment to your health and reduce risky belly fat:

 

All articles on our website have been approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.

 

References:

  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. FastStats- Overweight Prevalence. CDC.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm. Updated June 13, 2016.
  2. Harvard Health Publishing. Abdominal obesity and your health. Health.Harvard.edu. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/abdominal-obesity-and-your-health. September 2005. Updated January 20, 2017.
  3. Sun Y, Liu B, Snetselaar LG, Wallace RB, Caan BJ, Rohan TE, et al. Association of Normal-Weight Central Obesity With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality Among Postmenopausal Women. JAMA Network Open. 2019;2(7):e197337. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31339542.
  4. Britton KA, Massaro JM, Murabito JM, Kreger BE, Hoffmann U, Fox CS. Body Fat Distribution, Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, and All-Cause Mortality. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2013; 62(10): 921-925. http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/62/10/921.
  5. Epel ES, Hartman A, Jacobs LM, Leung C, Cohn MA, Jensen L, et al. Association of a Workplace Sales Ban on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages With Employee Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Health. JAMA Network Open. 2019. doi:https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.4434

Good news for coffee drinkers: the health benefits outweigh the risks for most people

By Morgan Wharton and Jessica Cote

latte-249102_640Most Americans drink coffee every day.1 The caffeine in coffee helps us stay alert but also may cause jitteriness and interfere with sleeping. A few studies suggest that decaffeinated coffee also has health benefits, perhaps because of antioxidants or acids in the coffee bean.2

What Are The Health Benefits Of Drinking Coffee?

For years medical experts advised people to drink less coffee, mostly because of research suggesting coffee might increase the risk of heart disease. However, numerous studies conducted recently have discovered coffee’s unexpected health benefits. Like all well-designed research, most of these studies considered the impact of age, sex, body mass index (BMI), physical activity, tobacco use, and whether family members had developed cancer. By controlling for those factors, researchers made sure they could separate coffee’s impact on health from the effects of people’s lifestyle, family history, and previous health problems.

Colorectal Cancer

Meta-analyses are a kind of statistics that combine data from several comparable studies to make one very large study. These results are usually more accurate than any one study can be. Taken together, three meta-analyses suggest that drinking about four or more cups of coffee per day may reduce the chances of getting colorectal cancer by 11-24%.345

Endometrial (uterine) Cancer

Using data from 67,470 women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study, researchers found that women who drank four or more cups of coffee per day were 25% less likely to develop endometrial cancer than women who drank only one cup of coffee per day. Compared to women who did not drink any coffee, those who drank four cups or more per day were 30% less likely to develop endometrial cancer. Decaffeinated coffee was just as effective as caffeinated coffee, but caffeinated tea did not lower the risk of endometrial cancer.6

Liver Cancer And Cirrhosis (Scarring of the Liver/Chronic Liver Disease)

One study found people who drank one or two cups of coffee per day had a slightly lower risk of getting the most common type of liver cancer compared to non-drinkers, but people who drank three or four cups of coffee were about half as likely as non-drinkers to get this kind of liver cancer. Meanwhile, people who drank five or more cups per day had an even lower risk than that (about one-third the risk of non-drinkers).7

Similarly, a study in Japan found a 76% decrease in the risk of that type of liver cancer in people who drank at least five cups of coffee per day compared to those who did not drink coffee. The strongest benefit was seen in individuals with hepatitis C, a disease which increases a person’s risk of developing liver cancer, although the researchers were not sure why.8

A study of 120,000 Americans over an 8-year period found a 22% decrease in the chances of developing cirrhosis for each daily cup of coffee. In Norway, a 17-year study of 51,000 citizens found that those who drank two or more cups of coffee per day were 40% less likely to develop cirrhosis compared to those who did not consume coffee.9

Skin Cancer

Using data from two enormous studies, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, researchers found that men and women who drank more than three cups of caffeinated coffee per month were 17% less likely to develop basal cell carcinoma compared to people who drank less than one cup per month. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common and least dangerous type of skin cancer. Drinking decaffeinated coffee did not affect basal cell carcinoma.10

A 2014 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that the more coffee participants drank, the less likely they were to develop malignant melanoma over a 10 year period. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Almost 450,000 whites, aged 50-71, participated in the study. Researchers found that drinking four or more cups of coffee per day was linked to a 20% lower risk of getting malignant melanoma. Once again, drinkers of decaffeinated coffee lost out. Their risk of getting melanoma was no different from that of non-coffee drinkers. Coffee drinking, however, did not affect the least dangerous form of melanoma, called melanoma in situ.

Remember that no matter how much coffee with caffeine you drink, the best way to prevent skin cancer is still to limit your time exposed to the sun and ultraviolet light! 11

Type 2 Diabetes

People in Finland consume more coffee than almost any other nation, and a study of 14,000 people over 12 years  found that men who drank 10 or more cups of coffee daily had a 55% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than men who drank 2 cups of coffee a day or fewer.  Even more dramatic, women who drank 10 or more cups per day had a 79% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who drank fewer than 2 cups daily.12

A different Finnish study of 5,000 sets of identical twins found that individuals who drank more than seven cups of coffee per day had a 35% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than their twins who drank two cups or fewer per day.13 Because identical twins are so biologically similar, the difference in disease risk is very likely caused by coffee consumption levels. Studies of fewer people in other countries have found less dramatic but similarly positive results.

Parkinson’s Disease

A study of more than 8,000 Japanese-American men found that men who did not drink coffee at all were three to five times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease within 30 years than men who drank four and a half cups or more of coffee per day.14

Suicide

Because suicide may be related to alcohol intake, medications, and stress levels, suicide studies took those factors into account.  A 10-year study of 128,000 people in California found that the risk of suicide decreased by 13% for every additional cup of coffee consumed per day. Even one cup of coffee per day seemed to reduce the risk of suicide. A different 10-year study of 86,000 women found a 50% lower risk of suicide for those who drank two or more cups of coffee per day compared to women who did not drink coffee.15

Brain Power and Aging

A study of 676 healthy men born between 1900 and 1920 suggested that coffee helped with information processing and slowed the cognitive decline typical of aging. Cognitive functioning was measured by the Mini-Mental State Examination, a 30 point scale. Men who regularly consumed coffee experienced an average decline of 1.2 points over 10 years, while men who did not drink coffee saw a decline of 2.6 points over 10 years. Men who drank three cups of coffee per day declined only 0.6 points over 10 years.16

Even old mice are sharper with caffeine: a study using a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease showed that coffee actually reversed the cognitive decline and slow-down in processing that occurred with age. Mice given caffeine in their water showed signs of recovering their memory during testing.17

What about the risks?

Childbearing

Two separate studies found that 300 mg of caffeine (two to three cups of coffee) decreased a woman’s chances of getting pregnant by more than a third. This same amount of coffee also increased the chances of women having low birth-weight babies by 50%. These studies took into account potentially influential  factors such as contraception used in the past and infertility history.18

Hip Fracture

According to data from the Nurses’ Health Study, women aged 65 and over who drank more than four cups of coffee per day had almost 3 times as many hip fractures over the next six years as women who did not drink coffee. Researchers took important factors into consideration such as how much calcium the women consumed each day.19

Parkinson’s Disease among post-menopausal women taking estrogen-only hormone therapy

Other researchers used data from the Nurses’ Health Study to evaluate the risk of Parkinson’s disease among women who drank coffee while using estrogen medication after menopause. For women who were NOT using estrogen therapy, those who drank four or more cups of coffee per day were about half as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as women who did not drink coffee. For women who did use post-menopausal estrogen, however, those who drank four or more cups of coffee were about twice as likely as those who didn’t drink coffee to develop Parkinson’s.20

Heart Disease

Two different meta-analyses found that people who drank five or more cups of coffee per day were 40-60% more likely to develop heart disease compared to those who did not drink coffee at all. Other studies have also shown that high coffee use (five to ten cups per day) increases the risk of heart disease, while moderate consumption (three to four cups daily) was not associated with a higher risk. Only coffee drinkers who consumed more than nine cups a day had a greater risk of dying from heart disease.21 It is important to consider that people drinking close to 10 cups of coffee a day are likely to have other health problems, such as stress or sleep deprivation, and this could contribute to higher risk of heart disease and death regardless of coffee use.

Bottom line

For most people, drinking coffee seems to improve health more than harm it. Many of coffee’s health benefits increase with the number of cups per day, but even one cup a day lowers the risk of several diseases. However, women who want to get pregnant or already are pregnant and women over 65 should probably limit their coffee intake because, in their case, the risks may outweigh the health benefits.

Even though many studies show coffee has benefits, it’s still not clear why. How can one popular beverage help metabolism (for example, lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes) and also protect against a range of cancers? Until further research can solve that puzzle, most adults should continue to enjoy their cup (or two, or three) of Joe. Finally, remember that nearly all studies on coffee and health have been done on adults. Coffee may affect children and teens differently.

The worst new drug of 2014

DIANA ZUCKERMAN, PHD, PRESIDENT OF The Cancer Prevention & Treatment Fund 

It’s only February, so it may seem early to be talking about one of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) worst decisions of 2014. Yes, the year just started, but the FDA has already made a decision that could potentially harm thousands of patients.

The agency just approved a new diabetes medication that doesn’t noticeably improve health but may in fact cause cancer.

It’s called Farxiga (Dapagliflozin) and it will be available—and probably widely advertised—very soon. The good news is that the drug lowers blood sugar, which is a major symptom of type 2 diabetes. However, lowering blood sugar is not necessarily a way to improve health. The new drug is meant to reduce medical problems such as heart disease or kidney damage. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that it actually improves health—in fact, quite the opposite.

The FDA reports that the most common side effects of Farxiga are genital fungal infections and urinary tract infections. Not fun, but those aren’t its most serious side effects. If a patient has moderate or severe kidney damage (as many diabetics do), the drug is not beneficial and could cause further damage, possibly even renal failure.

But the more frightening news is that patients taking Farxiga in studies done for the FDA were more than five times more likely to contract bladder cancer than the patients who took an older diabetes drug. Based on the findings of the companies making and selling Farxiga, FDA scientists concluded that the drug might stimulate bladder cancer in patients already at risk. The fear is that patients take diabetes drugs for years, and the longer someone takes this drug, the greater their risk of cancer.

Bladder cancer can be fatal, and is especially dangerous in people who have diabetes.

The companies’ studies also found that patients taking the drug were more than twice as likely to get breast cancer as diabetics not taking the drug, but they say this could have happened by chance.

It’s important to mention that only a small number of African Americans were studied. Because African Americans are more likely to have diabetes than Caucasians, these studies should have included greater numbers of them to find out if the drug is safe or effective for them.

With so many other diabetes drugs already on the market, why would anyone want to take this drug, and why would FDA approve it?  Here’s the scorecard, based on information provided by FDA scientists and available on the FDA website:

  1. Is the drug new? Yes.
  2. Does it reduce the medical problems caused by type 2 diabetes, such as blindness, heart disease, kidney damage, or amputations? No.
  3. Can it cause kidney damage or make it worse? Yes.
  4. Does research show that patients taking it are more likely to get bladder cancer. Probably.
  5. Does research show that patients taking it are more likely to develop breast cancer? Maybe.
  6. Does research show it is more effective than most diabetes drugs on the market? No.
  7. Will it cost more than most other diabetes drugs on the market? No information on cost yet, but new drugs usually do cost more.

The FDA is requiring that the label for the drug warn patients with bladder cancer that they shouldn’t take Farxiga because it might make their cancer worse. Ya think? And, the agency is requiring the companies to study 17,000 diabetes patients for at least four years to determine whether and how often patients taking Farxiga are diagnosed with cancer, liver problems, or heart disease when the drug is taken for a longer period of time.

The FDA rejected this drug two years ago because of these cancer concerns and questions about how well the drug prevents the major risks of diabetes. But the FDA has been beaten up by many complaining congressmen since then, and by some patient groups, pushing it to approve more new drugs quickly rather than waiting for safety studies to be completed. Also, the pharmaceutical companies don’t like to take no for an answer, they spend lots of money on lobbying, and they are very effective at pushing FDA to reconsider rejections. Because of that, the FDA selected an advisory committee to review the data in December, and those doctors and scientists also expressed concerns about risks and benefits. I was at the meeting and pointed out that there were too many serious unanswered questions.

Despite my concerns, the concerns of FDA scientists and other experts, and the concerns of the advisory committee members themselves, the committee recommended that if the companies continued to study the drug after it was approved, in order to figure out what the actual risks are, the company could sell it now.

It’s too early to say whether this will be the worst decision the FDA makes in 2014. Maybe the diabetes patients who take it will be lucky and not be harmed by the drug. Or maybe only a few patients will develop cancer or kidney failure as a result of taking it. Or the FDA scientists who expressed their concerns could be wrong, and I could have made a mistake when I agreed with them. But regardless of what happens with this drug, it still would be a bad decision to allow the sale of a drug with such serious (potentially fatal) unanswered questions.

Given the epidemic of diabetes in this country, the risks are huge. For that reason, this drug worries me even more than some of FDA’s similarly mind-boggling decisions of 2013, such as:

  • drug for hot flashes that has no meaningful benefits but can increase the risk of suicide among women who weren’t depressed
  • An antibiotic for pneumonia that seems to kill more patients than other antibiotics

I’ve always respected the scientists at the FDA for working so hard to try to keep all of us safe. I still do. But decisions are being made at the agency that seem to ignore scientists and science, and that is dangerous for all of us. Whether we have diabetes, hot flashes, pneumonia, cancer, or any other disease, we deserve better.

 

A version of this post appeared in The Huffington Post, Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen

 In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new warning on Farxiga and other SGLT2 inhibitors because they can cause a rare but life-threatening infection of the genitals and area around the genitals. The infection is called necrotizing fasciitis of the perineum or Fournier’s gangrene.