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Health Capsules
April 2009
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Study Questions Prostate Cancer Test

The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test can spot prostate cancer early. But surprisingly, annual PSA tests may not lead to fewer prostate cancer deaths, a new study suggests.

Some doctors advise men 50 and older to take the PSA test each year, but others are concerned about the downside. PSA tests may give false-positive results or find slow-growing tumors that will never cause serious problems. Follow-up tests and procedures can have serious side effects.

To see how annual PSA screening affects death rates, NIH-funded scientists studied more than 76,000 men. Half the men received PSA tests for 6 years and then digital rectal exams for 4 years. The other men were given no recommendations about prostate cancer screening.

After 10 years, 17% more prostate cancers were diagnosed in the screening group. However, there was no significant difference in the death rates between the 2 groups.

“What this report tells us is that there may be some men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer and have the side effects of treatment, such as impotence and incontinence, with little chance of benefit,” said Dr. John E. Niederhuber, director of NIH’s National Cancer Institute.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to make a recommendation about prostate cancer screening for men younger than 75. For men 75 and older, they recommend against screening. Their assessment, however, was released before the new reports came out. Because of the uncertainties, NIH will continue to study different ways to screen for prostate cancer.

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Digital rectal exams
A doctor uses a gloved finger to feel for abnormal areas in the rectum.

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Q&A on prostate screening results

Prostate Cancer

Cutting-edge prostate cancer treatment

  Vitamin C May Ward Off Gout

High levels of vitamin C may reduce your risk of gout, according to a new study. Still, experts say you should talk to your doctor before making big changes to your vitamin intake.

Gout affects about 3 million adults—mostly men—nationwide. It develops when your blood has too much uric acid, which can form tiny crystals in the bloodstream. The crystals can lodge in your joints and cause swelling and pain. Left untreated over time, gout can permanently damage your joints.

Earlier research suggested that high doses of vitamin C could reduce the blood’s uric acid levels. But it wasn’t clear if the vitamin would also reduce the risk of gout. To find out, NIH-funded scientists studied about 47,000 men for 20 years. None had gout when the study began, but it developed later in 1,317 of the men.

By the end of the study, men who had the highest vitamin C intake—at least 1,500 milligrams per day—had a 45% lower risk of gout than those with the smallest intake—less than 250 milligrams per day. However, the lowest-risk group took significantly more vitamin C than the recommended daily intake of 90 milligrams. These high daily doses can cause side effects.

It’s possible that other factors might account for the low risk of gout among men who take high doses of vitamin C. More research is needed to be certain that the vitamin can help reduce the risk of gout.

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Vitamin C



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Rethinking Drinking

This web site offers research-based information about how your drinking habits may affect your health. Learn to recognize the signs of alcohol problems and ways to cut back or quit drinking. Interactive tools can help you calculate the calories and alcohol content of drinks.

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