cancers

  1. Looks like you need your tonsils after all

    When I was a kid, I was incredibly jealous of my friends who had their tonsils removed. They got to miss some school and eat ice cream for several days straight -- which, let's face it, is pretty much every child's dream diet.

    And if that's not enough, most of them also got get-well gifts in the form of awesome toys.

    Me? I got to hear all about it.

    Well, today I'm glad I still have my tonsils because the latest research shows those infection-prone bumps in the back of your throat may actually have an important role to play after all: They can make T-cells.

    Those are the immune system cells your body needs to fight off cancers and autoimmune diseases. They're called T-cells because until now, researchers believed they all developed in the thymus -- an organ in the chest.

    Now, I guess, that "T" could stand for "tonsils" as well, since scientists at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center have discovered the cells in five different stages of development there.

    That alone is big news, since this is the first time T-cells were spotted in the tonsils. But the bigger news here is that four of the five groups of T-cells they found had the capacity to turn into the so-called "natural killer" cells the body needs to fight cancer.

    So maybe the tonsils aren't so useless after all -- and this isn't the first study to make the case against pulling them out.

    One small study found that kids who were candidates for tonsil removal but didn't actually get them removed had fewer doctor visits than those who did have them plucked -- a strong hint that there is indeed an immune system benefit to keeping them in place.

    Another study found that people without tonsils fidget less -- which might sound like a benefit at first. But a little fidgeting is good for us. The small and barely noticed movements we make throughout the day actually burn calories.

    In other words, losing your tonsils could cause you to gain weight.

    The team behind the latest study says the next step is to see how many T-cells are made in the tonsils vs. the thymus.

    The study I'd like to see next, however, is whether or not people without tonsils are more prone to cancer and autoimmune diseases, or if they have a harder time fighting those conditions when they do strike.

    Stay tuned.

  2. The secret to avoiding skin cancer

    I’m sure you’ve heard it said about a million times by now: The best way to avoid skin cancer is to stay out of the sun -- and don’t forget to slather on the sunscreen when you do dare to step outside.

    But no matter how many times you hear it, it’s still not true.

    Simply put, you don’t have to live like a vampire to avoid the deadliest form of skin cancer. In fact, the latest research shows that the best way to slash your melanoma risk has nothing to do with the sun at all.

    It’s a simple vitamin -- and you might want to go check the label of your multi right now.

    If the form of vitamin A used in yours is retinol, you’re golden -- because a new study finds that people who get this form of A have a 60 percent lower risk of melanoma. And those who got the most A of all -- 1,200 mcg a day -- were 74 percent less likely to suffer melanoma, according to the study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

    The "catch" here is that vitamin A from food -- like liver (calf or chicken), kale, spinach or carrots -- didn’t make a bit of difference. The vitamin A precursors such as beta-carotene and lycopene used in many multivitamins didn’t make the cut either.

    Only the retinol form of A, and only from supplements -- or what the drug industry refers to as "the ‘s’ word" -- did the trick.

    The new study might fly in the face of what the mainstream has been saying about lowering your melanoma risk, but the research has shown for years now that the sun isn’t the real cause of most of these cancers.

    And one of the biggest risk factors of all might be completely out of your control: genetics.

    In other words, blame your ancestors -- not the sun. And if you have a history of the disease in your family, you might want to make an A supplement your top priority.

    Just don’t overdo it, since it’s possible to get too much of a good thing-- and too much vitamin A can cause liver damage, hair loss, and skin conditions.

    The level used in the study (1,200 mcg a day) is more than what’s recommended by federal guidelines, but perfectly safe for most people.

  3. PSA tests don't save lives

    The best way to protect your prostate is to keep it far away from doctors who want to screen it -- and even further from the surgeons who make a living off prostate cancer procedures.
  4. Low marks for high-tech mammograms

    A new spin on mammograms has managed to take a badly flawed technology... and make it even worse. The technology is called computer-aided detection, or CAD, and it's supposed to help radiologists find potential cancers in breast tissue -- which would be great if it actually worked.
  5. New guidelines push more mammograms

    Just when I thought we were getting somewhere with cancer screenings, yet another organization has cooked up its own set of guidelines. And it's a huge step backwards.

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