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Health Lines

A young woman talking on a cell phone

Breast Cancer & Lymph Node Removal

A new study suggests that some women with early stage breast cancer may not need to have radical surgery to remove a large number of lymph nodes from under the arm. 

Typically, doctors remove one or two “sentinel” nodes, the first ones where cancer is likely to spread from the tumor. If cancer appears to have spread beyond these nodes, doctors usually recommend removing a large number of nodes. This can leave lasting pain and swelling in the arm, called lymphedema. 

The study found that women who had only the sentinel nodes removed—and whose nodes were positive for cancer—  lived just as long as women who had more nodes removed. 

The findings apply to women who were eligible for the trial. 

They had relatively small tumors, five centimeters or less (about two inches), with only one or two nodes involved. Today, almost all women receive hormone therapy and/or chemotherapy, as well as radiation therapy to the whole breast after surgery. 

These treatments kill the cancer cells, which is why extensive surgery is not needed. NIH’s National Cancer Institute supported the research.

Getting Stroke Patients Back on Their Feet

An estimated 4 million people who survive a stroke have trouble walking. What’s the best way to get them back on their feet? The largest stroke rehabilitation study ever conducted in the U.S. finds that intensive physical therapy done at home works just as well as more expensive, high-tech rehab in which patients practiced walking on treadmills while strapped in harnesses to support some of their weight. The study results show that rigorous physical therapy regimens like those used in the study are better than usual care physical therapy, which is less frequent and lower intensity.

Researchers also conclude that people can improve mobility up to a year after a stroke. This challenges previous thinking that recovery happens early and peaks at six months. NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) provided primary funding for the study.

Cell Phones and Your Brain

Scientists have found that our brains are sensitive to the electromagnetic radiation from cell phone antennae. But it’s too early to say what the health impact may be.

Researchers used a PET scan to see what happens in the brain when people hold a cell phone to their ear for 50 minutes. The phone was either turned on, with the sound muted, or turned off.

The scans showed more metabolic activity (glucose consumption) in the part of the brain closest to the antenna when the phone was on. More studies may be needed to determine any potential long-term effects. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), led the study.

Two Pesticides Linked to Parkinson’s Disease

Researchers have linked two pesticides—rotenone and paraquat—to Parkinson’s disease, finding that people who used them were 2.5 times more likely to develop the incurable central nervous system disorder affecting muscle movement.

Rotenone directly inhibits the function of the mitochondria, the structure responsible for cell energy production. Paraquat increases production of certain oxygen derivatives that may harm cellular structures. The results provide insight into mechanisms involved in Parkinson’s disease and may help develop approaches to intervention or prevention. NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) helped fund the study.


Spring 2011 Issue: Volume 6 Number 1 Page 28