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Personal Health: News and Notes

Drug now gets a thumbs-up

to cut risk of prostate cancer

The latest analyses from a federal study of the drug finasteride is good news for men interested in using it to reduce prostate cancer risk.

The pill reduced the development of prostate cancer by 25 percent. And contrary to initial results from 2003, it did not slightly increase the risk of an aggressive form of the disease.

More than 18,800 men age 55 and older took a placebo or finasteride, which suppresses a male hormone involved in prostate growth, from 1993 until the National Cancer Institute-sponsored study was ended in 2003.

Even though 18 percent of men in the finasteride group developed prostate cancer compared with 24 percent of men in the placebo group, the drug has not caught on for prevention because of a slight increase in aggressive disease among men on finasteride - 6.4 percent versus 5.1 percent on placebo.

The latest results, presented Sunday at the American Urological Association meeting in Orlando, Fla., adjusted for the fact that finasteride improves cancer detection by shrinking the prostate, reducing its size and volume. The new analysis found that aggressive cancers were no more likely in one group than the other.

- Marie McCullough

Family history of shingles raised risk of developing the disease

Patients with herpes zoster, commonly called shingles, are more likely to have an immediate relative with a history of the condition, suggesting there may be a strong genetic susceptibility to the virus, according to a new study from the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

The risk was even greater for those with more than one blood relative with the disease, which is marked by painful rashes and blisters.

The goal of the study, published in Archives of Dermatology, was to see if family history would lead to the discovery of genetic markers that could then be used to identify patients who are good candidates for one of two vaccines for the virus.

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. Anyone who has had chicken pox can develop shingles, because the virus remains in the nerve cells of the body and can reappear years later as shingles.

It usually shows up in people over 50 and those who have compromised immune systems. The most recent studies excluded immunocompromised patients.

After selecting 1,114 patients, with about half serving as controls, the study found that in cases where patients had a positive diagnosis for shingles, 39 percent reported a family member also had the disease. Just 11 percent of patients who did not have the disease reported a family member infected by shingles.

- John Sullivan

Forget hydrocortisone cream for relieving pain of sunburn

When you're searching the pharmacy shelves for something to soothe and heal summer sunburns, skip the hydrocortisone cream or other corticosteroid ointments.

A study in the current issue of the Archives of Dermatology found that moderate strength or even high-potency corticosteroid ointments failed to decrease acute sunburn reactions.

Researchers in Copenhagen recruited 20 healthy volunteers and tested the effects of ointments on different parts of their sunburned backs.

Sunburn season can start with the Memorial Day weekend. So instead of seeking something to relieve sunburn pain this summer, grab some sunscreen instead.

- Josh Goldstein