TAKE TWO Just a couple of weeks ago, scientists reported that women using estrogen-replacement therapy for 10 years or more could double their risk of ovarian cancer. Now comes some reassuring news. A preliminary study suggests that combining estrogen with progestin wipes out any increased risk from the estrogen. An estimated 10.5 million American women take estrogen alone--most after they have had a hysterectomy. About 6.5 million are on the combo.
TRAFFIC Remember crack babies? For years the offspring of cocaine-abusing moms were portrayed as hopelessly damaged. Now a report that analyzes 36 of the best studies concludes that by age six, the developmental problems of cocaine babies are no more severe than those of any other children of similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Researchers suspect that the crack-baby phenomenon had less to do with cocaine than with the usual suspects: alcohol, cigarettes and drugs like heroin.
POX MARK Though a chickenpox vaccine has been on the market since 1995, only now do researchers know for sure how well it works. To gain FDA approval, the vaccine was given to healthy children for about two years in a highly controlled clinical trial. But now a rigorous study of kids with all kinds of health conditions in the real world shows that the vaccine is a respectable 85% effective. And even when an inoculated child does come down with chickenpox, chances are the case will be a mild one.
GENETIC PRESCRIPTION Ever feel like you get every side effect in the book? You may be right. According to geneticists, up to 70% of the population may have a genetic abnormality that causes them to metabolize many of the drugs on the market particularly slowly--meaning that chemicals hang around in the body longer and have more time to trigger toxic effects. Doctors hope that within a few years, patients with the flaw can be identified, and their doses can be appropriately adjusted.
--By Janice M. Horowitz
Sources: Good News--American Association for Cancer Research meeting; Journal of the American Medical Association (3/28/01); New England Journal of Medicine (3/29/01). Bad News--Nature Genetics (4/01)