Cancer and Vitamins Teenagers, MySpace and Risky Behaviors
By, Robert A. Wascher, MD, FACS
Last Updated: 01/18/2009
The information in this column is intended for informational purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice or recommendations by the author. Please consult with your physician before making any lifestyle or medication changes, or if you have any other concerns regarding your health.
CANCER & VITAMINS
Regular readers of this column already know that the results of recent cancer prevention research studies have been very disappointing with regards to antioxidant vitamins. Earlier, and much lower powered, laboratory and epidemiological research had suggested a role for Vitamin C, Vitamin E and beta-carotene in preventing some types of cancer. However, recent large-scale prospective human clinical trials have not identified any protective role for these vitamins against either cancer or cardiovascular disease. Now, yet another prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial adds its weight to other recently published cancer prevention trials and, once again, the study’s outcomes are not favorable.
In this study, just published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 7,627 women were randomly assigned to take daily supplements of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, or beta-carotene, or an identical placebo (sugar pill). In addition to it prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled design, this study is also laudable for its large cohort of patient volunteers, and for its nearly 10-year duration of follow-up.
During the course of this decade-long study, 624 women developed cancer, and 176 died of cancer. At nearly 10 years of average follow-up, there was no statistically significant difference in cancer risk or cancer-associated deaths among women in any vitamin group when compared with the women in the placebo group. Vitamin C, Vitamin E and beta-carotene supplements, taken alone or in combination, did not have any significant effect on the risk of developing cancer, or of dying of cancer, when compared to placebo sugar pills. (There was, however, a non-significant trend towards a decreased incidence of colon cancer in the Vitamin E group, and a non-significant trend towards an increase in lung cancer risk in the beta-carotene group; both of which have been observed in previous studies).
As someone who previously held great hope that antioxidant vitamins and other dietary supplements might reduce the risk of both cancer and cardiovascular disease, I really wish that I could report some positive findings in this area of research. However, increasingly, when subject to the much greater power of “gold standard” prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical research trials, our earlier hypotheses about antioxidant vitamins and cancer prevention simply haven’t held up to this higher level of research scrutiny. (Which makes other scientifically validated lifestyle approaches to cancer prevention all the more important, as I discuss in much greater detail in my forthcoming book, “A Cancer Guide for the Human Race.”)
As the inventory of bottles in my own little plastic tray of vitamins and other supplement continues toshrink in the face of overwhelming research pointing to their lack of benefit, my wife has been able to reclaim more space in her kitchen cabinets, and I have been saving some spare change that I previously spent on Vitamin E, Vitamin C and beta-carotene supplements.
TEENAGERS, MYSPACE & RISKY BEHAVIORS
Okay, so what parent doesn’t already know what their teenager is likely thinking about much of the time? We all know that adolescence is a turbulent, intense, hormone-fuelled period when kids begin to question almost everything that their parents have been telling them; and a time when many teens either fantasize or actually engage in risk-taking behaviors. However, what is different about today’s teens, when compared to my own Baby Boomer generation, is that, through the twin miracles of the Internet and social online networks like MySpace, today’s adolescents can easily tap into a universe of like minds (as well as many nefarious denizens that anonymously lurk everywhere on the Web).
A new clinical study, just published in the journal Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, providessome disturbing insight into how teens may be using social networking sites, like MySpace, to reveal behaviors associated with sexual content, substance abuse and violence. In this intriguing study, the researchers analyzed the content of 500 publicly available MySpace profiles of 18 year-old teens in the United States.
Of the 500 MySpace profiles, 54 percent were associated with content specific for risky behaviors. Twenty-four percent of these 18 year-olds referenced risky sexual behaviors in their online profile, 41 percent made references to engaging in illegal substance abuse, and 14 percent alluded to having engaged in violent acts. Not surprisingly, female teens were much less likely to make reference to violent behaviors when compared with males. Teens reporting a non-heterosexual sexual orientation were nearly 5 times more likely to report sexual behaviors when compared to self-reported heterosexual adolescents. Among the 18 year-olds who reported strong religious feelings or who referenced attending church, discussion of sexual behaviors was 68 percent less common when compared to other teens. These religious teens were also 62 percent less likely to report illegal substance abuse, and were 88 percent less likely to report violent behaviors. Likewise, reporting involvement in a sport, or other hobbies, was associated with a significantly lower involvement in risky sexual, substance abuse, and violent behaviors.
While this study undoubtedly suffers from “selection bias,” in that it only analyzed a cross-section of adolescent MySpace profiles that were accessible to the general public, it still provides a fascinating window into the online behavior of American adolescents. (Indeed, one must assume that the prevalence of the self-reporting of risky behaviors by teens who have chosen to keep their profiles confidential is likely to be significantly higher than was identified in this particular study.) Given the unregulated environment of the Internet, I urge all parents to closely monitor the activities of their children online. Stay involved with your teens, and keep the lines of communication open, always.
Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, a professor of surgery, a widely published author, and the Director of Surgical Oncology for the Kaiser Permanente healthcare system in Orange County, California
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Robert A. Wascher, MD, FACS.
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