Friday, October 7, 2011

Blog is moving!

Note to my blog followers: I have officially moved my blog to our office website:
I will leave the posts from this site up for a few months; however, no new posts will be appearing.
I look forward to your comments.
Happy reading!
Toby (Mandelman)

Friday, September 30, 2011

An Apple a Day Really May Keep the Doctor Away Fruits and vegetables with white flesh associated with drop in stroke risk, study finds

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Sept. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Fruits and vegetables whose edible sections are white may lower your risk of stroke more than other fruits and vegetables, Dutch researchers report.
Every 25 grams per day of white fruits and vegetables consumed led to a 9 percent decrease in the risk of stroke, and apples and pears were the most commonly consumed "white fruit," according to the study, published in the November issue of Stroke.
"Green, orange/yellow and red/purple fruits and vegetables weren't related to stroke. However, the risk of stroke incidence was 52 percent lower for people with a high intake of white fruits and vegetables, compared to people with a low intake," said study author Linda M. Oude Greip, a postdoctoral fellow at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
But, Oude Greip pointed out that the findings don't mean it's OK to stop eating other fruits and vegetables. First, she noted, the findings need to be replicated. And, even if future research confirms these findings, "because other fruit and vegetable color groups may protect against other chronic diseases, it remains of importance to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables," she stressed.
Oude Greip said past research has shown that higher fruit and vegetable consumption can lower the risk of stroke, but none of that research looked at specific fruits and vegetables to see if any contributed more to the reduced risk than the others.
For her study, Oude Greip used data collected by the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment of the Netherlands that included more than 20,000 people. Study participants were between the ages of 20 and 65 at the start of the study, and none showed any signs of cardiovascular disease.
All of the study volunteers completed a 178-item food frequency questionnaire. The study then included 10 years of follow-up information on the participants' health. During the follow-up period, 233 people had a stroke.
Fruits and vegetables were divided into four color groups, each based on the color of the "fleshy" portion of the fruits and vegetables: Green, orange/yellow, red/purple and white.
The only group that was associated with a statistically significant decrease in stroke risk was white fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables included in the white category were apples, pears, apple juice, apple sauce, bananas, cauliflower, chicory, cucumber and mushrooms. White fruits and vegetables were the most commonly consumed produce, with 36 percent of fruit and vegetable intake coming from the white group. Within the white group, apples and pears were the most commonly consumed, representing 55 percent of what was consumed.
For every 25-gram increase in the amount of white fruit consumed each day, the risk of stroke went down by 9 percent, according to the study. A typical apple is 120 grams, the researchers added.
Oude Greip said it's not clear exactly what components in white fruit might be protective for stroke, but she suspects that the dietary fiber and the flavonoids play a role. Apples and pears are high in a flavonoid called quercetin.
Jessica Shapiro, an associate wellness dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, said, "Apples and pears are very good fruits. They're available year-round and are almost consistently good.
"As with any study, there are limitations. One is that the food intake was self-reported. Food frequency questionnaires are inherently biased because it's hard to remember exactly what you've eaten in the past. But, the positive thing to take from this is that everything we've been saying is confirmed again. Fruits and vegetables are good for you," she said.
Shapiro also said it would be difficult to single out what it is about white fruits that might reduce the risk of stroke. "It's really the whole foods. There's fiber and phytochemicals and flavonoids, and these all work together synergistically. I don't think you can single out one nutrient."
She said that she wouldn't recommend limiting your diet to just white fruits and veggies. "Eat the rainbow of fruits and vegetables," she added. "Each fruit and each vegetable provides certain nutrients that combine and interplay with others."

Friday, September 23, 2011

myVisionTrack App in Development To Test Vision Changes in People With Macular Degeneration

DALLAS, August 2011 — An upcoming iPhone/iPod Touch app called myVisionTrack will give macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy patients the ability to monitor changes in their vision over time. This in turn can help their eye doctor adjust treatment as needed. 

The 90-second test displays three circles, one of which is different from the others. You would cover one eye, then touch the circle that looks different. The differentiation becomes more subtle as the test progresses, and your scores are formulated and stored in the device. Then you test the other eye.

If your scores indicate that your vision has changed significantly, then you are instructed to visit your eye doctor.

Usually people with degenerative eye disease use an Amsler grid which looks like graph paper with a dot in the middle. When focusing on the dot, they may see distortions or blurriness in the lines of the grid, and recording these can help track their vision changes. But the developers of myVisionTrack say their device is twice as sensitive as Amsler grids in detecting subtle vision changes.

Prototypes are still in testing now, and the app is expected to be available sometime in 2012.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The plastic eye implant to replace reading glasses

By Victoria Lambert
8:00AM BST 11 Sep 2011
The Telegraph

It is one of the signs of reaching middle-age: the need to wear reading glasses.An estimated 23 million Britons suffer from presbyopia, or age-related longsightedness.Now a revolutionary new treatment, involving an operation to insert a plastic implant into the eye, could allow millions to abandon their spectacles.
The procedure will be available to private patients in Britain for the first time from tomorrow. Its promoters predict up to four million Britons – one in six of those who now use reading glasses – will have the operation over the next decade.
Independent experts say that the early signs from trials are promising, although one side effect is a worsening of night vision and there is not yet evidence of what long-term effect the operation might have.

In the procedure, a laser is used to make an incision in the cornea – the front lens of the eye – so that an inlay thinner than a red blood cell can be inserted by hand.
Looking like a flattened black polo mint, and smaller than a contact lens, the implant sits around the iris and pupil.
Working like a pinhole camera, it reduces the amount of light allowed through the pupil to reach the retina, the part of the eye where rays of light are turned into images.
By allowing through central beams, which produce the sharpest images, and blocking out those on our outer range of vision, which are useful for seeing in dark light but do not produce clear pictures, the implant can restore the perfect vision most of us were born with.
"Finding a treatment for presbyopia is important," said ophthalmologist Dr David Allamby, who specialises in the condition.
"As we age, the crystalline lens, which sits behind the cornea and acts like a zoom, stiffens from a squashy gel-like substance to a fixed structure. This makes it harder for eye muscles to squeeze it into shape, in order to get a clear image.
"Most over 45s will know that feeling: suddenly, struggling to read menus or maps. We squint at text messages, but our longer sight for driving, say, remains good.
"By the age of 50, 90 per cent of your lens flexibility is lost. The only people who will still read easily are those who were born short-sighted, but who already use glasses for distance work."
He added: "This is like granting immunity from the ageing process – at least for your eyes."
The procedure, called Z Kamra, was developed at a cost of $70 million (£44 million) in California where it is still in clinical trials. It has been available in Japan and parts of Europe since last year, with 6,000 treatments carried out so far.
Theresa Ferguson, 53, a health worker from south east London, was the first in the UK to have the treatment.
The mother-of-three said: "I had brilliant eyesight until I was 45. Then I began struggling with newspapers; I need to read small print on medical forms for work so I tried reading glasses and then varifocals."
A specialist suggested she might join a Z Kamra trial instead, and she had the surgery last month.
"I was nervous," she admitted. "But it was painless, although uncomfortable. It took 15 minutes."
During the procedure, the eye is anaesthetised by drops and held open to prevent movement.
Dr Allamby said: "I use a laser to even out the corneal surface and create a flap then, using high magnification tools, insert the implant by hand. The flap heals without stitches, but we give steroid drops for up to eight weeks to prevent rejection."
Mrs Ferguson's eyes were blurry and sore on the day of treatment, but the following morning she awoke with perfect vision. "I read a text message in bed without even thinking," she said. "It was amazing."
Dr Allamby said: "We believe this will be permanent as long as your near sight remains stable.
"The Kamra inlay is made of Polyvinylidene Fluoride (PVDF), a pure thermoplastic fluoropolymer, used for years for replacement cataracts, known to be safe and inert in the body."
Early trial patients have had implants, studded with 8,400 perforations to allow nutrients to pass through, for six years with no reported problems.
Those with a high degree of short or long sight, such as prescriptions of minus six or plus three, or those over 70 might not be suitable for the treatment as their cataracts may be close to needing replacement.
The procedure costs £2,800 for one eye but 90 per cent of patients will need both eyes treating for £4,600. Equivalent laser surgery would cost £4,000.
Dr Larry Benjamin, an eye surgeon at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire and chair of the Royal Society of Ophthalmologists education committee, was cautious.
He said: "This is an interesting concept. But it won't suit everyone and I imagine certain professionals such as pilots, where night vision is important, would not be allowed it, but the research so far shows it works reasonably well.
"However, I would like to see more follow-up data in terms of complications and visual symptoms."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

One Drink A Day May Be Beneficial For Middle-Age Women.

Moderate drinking has been linked with various health benefits, and now a study finds that middle-age women who indulge in one drink a day or less on a regular basis may have a better chance of being healthier when they're older.

The study, released today in the journal PLoS Medicine, looked at data on alcohol consumption among 121,700 femalenurses who were part of the Nurses' Health Study. Of those participants, 13,894 lived to the age of 70 or older. Among them, 1,491 were considered to have aged successfully, defined as having no heart diseasediabetes or other chronic diseases, and no substantial cognitive declines, mental impairment or physical limitations at age 70 and older.

Among the study participants, about one-fourth were non-drinkers, about 62% drank one drink per day, almost 10% drank one to two drinks per day, and 3% drank two to three drinks per day.

Overall, moderate drinking was linked with having better odds of successful aging. Looking at both the amount and frequency of drinking, women who drank five or more grams of alcohol (between one-third and one drink) per day and spread their drinking out over three to seven days a week had better odds of successful aging compared with non-drinkers.

Looking just at frequency, researchers found that spreading out drinking throughout the week was linked with better general health, but drinking just one to two days a week was not.

Compared with teetotalers, women who drank several days out of the week had a 50% better chance of overall good health later in life.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Chocolate (but not too much of it) may be good for your heart

Eating chocolate could benefit the heart, a study finds, possibly lowering heart disease by 37%.

The results come from a meta-analysis released online Monday in the British Medical Journal. Researchers from the United Kingdom and Colombia focused on seven studies looking at the link between eating chocolate and a reduction in heart disease that included 114,009 people.

Of those seven, five showed an association between higher levels of chocolate consumption and a lowered risk of cardiometabolic illness. The highest levels were linked with a 37% drop in cardiovascular disease and a 29% reduction in stroke, compared to the lowest levels. There was no significant association seen between chocolate consumption and heart failure, and only one study drew a link between eating chocolate and a lowered risk of diabetes. None of the studies, including the meta-analysis, were funded by a chocolate company or a related industry.

But before you dash to the supermarket to buy that five-pound bag of M&Ms, the study authors caution about eating chocolate with abandon. After all, they point out, chocolate isn't exactly calorie-free. Although the participants in the studies ate a variety of chocolate products, including chocolate bars, drinks, nutritional supplements and desserts, all chocolate is not created equal, and eating too much of the stuff that's filled with fat and sugar can put on pounds, possibly upping the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes -- the very stuff that can lead to cardiovascular problems.

The study authors noted that among the studies there was no obvious dose-response relationship between chocolate and the risk of cardiometabolic disorders, so for now, everything in moderation, as they say.

And although the studies reviewed did control for a number of factors, including age, body mass index, physical activity, smoking and aspects of diet, there still may be other factors at work causing the heart benefits.

If chocolate is the root of these heart-healthy advantages, it may be due to its polyphenol content, anti-oxidants that could improve endothelial function (which may affect the risk of stroke and heart attack) as well as have a positive effect on blood pressure and insulin resistance.

More studies are needed, the authors wrote, to go beyond just an association and determine causation. We guess that means scientists will need more study participants willing to eat chocolate. That's going to be tough.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mouse-eye view may lead to gene therapy for blindness

Wed, Aug 17 - 4:54 AM

Chronicle Herald

IF YOU’VE EVER wanted to look through someone else’s eyes, you can do it right here in Halifax at Dalhousie’s medical school.

Or, more specifically, you can look through the retina of a mouse. The retina is being kept artificially alive in a dish, fed with oxygen and glucose, and its optic nerve is hooked up to a computer. If you visit Dr. Gautam Awatramani’s lab, you can watch the computer screen and see what the mouse would see if it still had its retina.

Sounds like sci-fi? In fact, Awatramani’s research into vision is so cutting-edge that he was turned down for grants only a few years ago. He said the Canadian Institute of Health Research told him he was crazy and should stick to basic science. Now the neurobiologist’s work, which offers some of science’s best prospects for restoring sight to the blind, is feeding into a booming academic field that is slowly being taken up by biotechnology companies around the world.

Awatramani’s specialty is called optogenetics. Like it sounds, it combines optics, or light, with genes that are tweaked to respond to that light.

In 2008, with friends in a lab in Switzerland, he was part of a scientific breakthrough when his team took genes from green algae, a plant that responds to light, and injected them into the retinas of mice that were predisposed to go blind later in life.

The mice that had been treated with algae genes kept some of their vision while the others went completely blind. The effects of the gene therapy also lasted in the long term as the part of the eye that had degenerated began to express the new gene on its own. Down the road, Awatramani said, he hopes to see a new surgery developed that could do the same for human eyeballs.

"The operation should be very simple. That’s the beauty of the system," he said. "I think it’ll form its own niche, for sure."

The business world might take some time to catch up. Companies have been busy over the last few years developing visual prosthetics, or implants that can help stimulate parts of the eye.

It’s a small field but has attracted a fair amount of attention and investment.

The commercial leader in visual prosthetics, Second Sight Medical Products Inc. in California, made Fast Company magazine’s top-10 list of innovative health companies this year and counts billionaire bioengineer Alfred Mann, who helped develop the cochlear implant for the deaf, among its investors.

Optogeneticists’ attempts to do the same thing — restore some vision to the blind — are slowly starting to win some of that attention, Awatramani said. While the prosthetics stimulate an entire layer of the retina more indiscriminately, feeding the brain information that it finds harder to decipher, algae genes work in a more specific and natural way since they build on the retina’s existing structure.

"It’s a little bit of a crazy idea, but I think people find it less crazy now than they did a handful of years ago," said Alan Horsager, co-founder of a tiny Los Angeles firm called Eos Neuroscience Inc., one of the only companies trying to usher the research through clinical trials.

Horsager said some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies are also looking at gene therapy for the blind. Incorporating genetics into medicine is becoming a more common idea, he said, although no type of gene therapy has been approved for humans yet.

He and his two co-founders at Eos are talking to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and could bring research like Awatramani’s to market in five to eight years.

"People are coming around and saying, OK, gene therapy isn’t so weird," Horsager said. "You have some data here."

For the medical industry, being able to "light up" specific neurons has far-reaching applications, especially understanding the brain’s more complex patterns.

"The retina’s a piece of brain," Awatramani said in his lab.

"It’s the most accessible part of the brain. We can get to it fast and easily, and from a business perspective, that’s why it’s so attractive for treating neurological disease, because you don’t have to open the skull to get to it."


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sunglasses should be worn all year to protect eyes from UV rays

We all know the importance of guarding your skin with sunscreen, but what about protecting your eyes on these long, bright summer days? When I think about shielding my peepers with sunglasses, it’s mostly from a style perspective: Can I really pull off those trendy oversize frames? But really, sunglasses should be seen as a health topic.

“We should all be protecting our eyes from both visible light and UV light, throughout our lifetimes, because [sun exposure] can damage structures in the cornea, the lens of the eye and the retina, as well as the skin around the eyes or eyelids,” says Michael Repka, a professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He notes that studies have shown that ultraviolet exposure can result in increased risk for a range of vision-related problems, from heightened sensitivity to light and irritation to cataracts andpossibly macular degeneration and skin cancers on the eyelid.

Indeed, at my last yearly eye exam, my ophthalmologist informed me that I’d developed pingueculum, small changes to the surface of the eye that look like tiny yellow spots, probably due to chronic UV exposure — perhaps the result of a three-year stint living on a small island, during which I spent a lot of time on boats and only infrequently donned shades. Luckily the condition isn’t usually serious, but my doctor said wearing sunglasses would help prevent it from getting worse.

Eye protection is important all year long, no matter the weather. “Thirty-one percent of UV light still comes through on cloudy days,” says Dora Adamopoulos, an optometrist in Alexandria, who adds that snow-covered surfaces reflect up to 80 percent of UV rays, as opposed to the quarter that are reflected off sand or water.

And certain people run an elevated risk for UV damage, says District optometrist Michael Rosenblatt, who points out that those of us with light-colored irises are particularly susceptible: “If you easily burn in the sun, you should think of yourself as a person who suffers greater damage from UV light in all areas, including your eyes.” Geography is another factor, with people living in the south and at higher elevations tending to get the greatest levels of UV exposure.

Children are also a major concern. “It amazes me that kids go to the beach and their moms are spraying on all this suntan lotion, but they’re running around with no sunglasses on,” says Rosen-blatt. He says that not only are young ones outside often, but that their pupils are larger than adults’ and that, unlike adults, their lenses aren’t able to filter out some UV rays. So just as with skin exposure, “by the time you’re 18 or so, you’ve pretty much done most of the sun-related damage to your eyes,” says Adamopoulos.

That’s not to say that these experts are unsympathetic to the challenges of trying to get children to don shades — children such as my 2-year-old, whose new favorite game involves ripping off his tiny sunglasses and hat as soon as I put them on him, throwing them on the ground, running away and then repeating this action about a thousand times during any park, beach or pool outing. “But you’ve just got to try,” says Rosenblatt.

The best thing we can do to protect ourselves from the cumulative effects of UV exposure on the eyes is to buy properly fitting, comfortable, quality sunglasses — and then wear them as much as possible, along with a wide-brimmed hat. Rosenblatt, for one, recommends frames that extend from the eyebrow to the cheek and wrap around the contour of face, along with lenses that have 100 percent UVA and UVB protection. He also points out that while some contact lenses come with different levels of UV coating, they should all still be worn with sunglasses.

Also be aware that specialized sunglasses can help when you’re engaged in outdoor pursuits such as skiing, sailing or even biking, says Adamopoulos. He says that yellow- and brown-tinted lenses are best on the water, for example, while gray, brown and amber tints work well for field activities, and mirrored coatings are good for snow sports; polarization is a lens treatment that can help reduce glare.

In general, darker isn’t necessarily better, if the lenses don’t have proper UV protection. Says Adamoponous: “You can actually damage your eyes if there isn’t proper UV coverage, because darker lenses cause your pupils to get bigger to see,” which results in increased UV exposure in the retina.

As for the cost of sunglasses, know that you don’t always get what you pay for. “Sometimes the most expensive glasses are worse than cheapest, in terms of filtering UVA and UVB light,” explains Repka, so checking those sticker labels on lenses about UVA and UVB protection is key.

I just invested in a pricey pair of designer, Jackie O-style sunglasses with polarized lenses that seem to make the world appear quite a bit crisper, as if my vision has actually improved. My hope is that looking good will inspire me to wear them more often — and inspire my kids to follow suit with their own shades. If not, at least I can count on the cardio benefits of chasing after my little one with his sunglasses and hat.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Type 2 diabetes in newly diagnosed 'can be reversed'

An extreme eight-week diet of 600 calories a day can reverse Type 2 diabetes in people newly diagnosed with the disease, says a Diabetologia study.

Newcastle University researchers found the low-calorie diet reduced fat levels in the pancreas and liver, which helped insulin production return to normal.

Seven out of 11 people studied were free of diabetes three months later, say findings published in the journal.

More research is needed to see whether the reversal is permanent, say experts.

Type 2 diabetes affects 2.5m people in the UK. It develops when not enough insulin is produced in the body or the insulin that is made by the body doesn't work properly.

When this happens, glucose - a type of sugar - builds up in the blood instead of being broken down into energy or fuel which the body needs.

The 11 participants in the study were all diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes within the previous four years.

They cut their food intake drastically for two months, eating only liquid diet drinks and non-starchy vegetables.

Fat loss

After one week of the diet, researchers found that the pre-breakfast blood sugar levels of all participants had returned to normal.

MRI scans of their pancreases also revealed that the fat levels in the organ had decreased from around 8% - an elevated level - to a more normal 6%.

Three months after the end of the diet, when participants had returned to eating normally and received advice on healthy eating and portion size, most no longer suffered from the condition.

Professor Roy Taylor, director of Newcastle Magnetic Resonance Centre at Newcastle University and lead study author, said he was not suggesting that people should follow the diet.

"This diet was only used to test the hypothesis that if people lose substantial weight they will lose their diabetes.

"Although this study involved people diagnosed with diabetes within the last four years, there is potential for people with longer-standing diabetes to turn things around too."

Susceptibility question

Dr Ee Lin Lim, also from Newcastle University's research team, said that although dietary factors were already known to have an impact on Type 2 diabetes, the research showed that the disease did not have to be a life sentence.

"It's easy to take a pill, but harder to change lifestyle for good. Asking people to shift weight does actually work," she said.

However, not everyone in the study managed to stay free of diabetes.

"It all depends on how much individuals are susceptible to diabetes. We need to find out why some people are more susceptible than others, then target these obese people. We can't know the reasons for that in this study," Dr Lim said.

Professor Edwin Gale, a diabetes expert from the University of Bristol, said the study did not reveal anything new.

"We have known that starvation is a good cure for diabetes. If we introduced rationing tomorrow, then we could get rid of diabetes in this country.

"If you can catch people with diabetes in the early stages while beta cells are still functioning, then you can delay its onset for years, but you will get it sooner or later because it's in the system."

But Keith Frayn, professor of human metabolism at the University of Oxford, said the Newcastle study was important.

"People who lose large amounts of weight following surgery to alter their stomach size or the plumbing of their intestines often lose their diabetes and no longer need treatment.

"This study shows that a period of marked weight loss can produce the same reversal of Type 2 diabetes.

"It offers great hope for many people with diabetes, although it must be said that not everyone will find it possible to stick to the extremely low-calorie diet used in this study."

Dr Iain Frame, director of research at Diabetes UK, which funded the study, said the diet was not an easy fix.

"Such a drastic diet should only be undertaken under medical supervision. Despite being a very small trial, we look forward to future results particularly to see whether the reversal would remain in the long term."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Virtual White Cane for the Blind

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem recently unveiled a new "virtual cane" that allows blind users to reconstruct a more accurate image of their surroundings than with a traditional white cane.

Its basic operating principle is quite simple. The cane emits a beam at objects around the user and transmits the information to him or her as a gentle vibration. The cane's sensors allow the blind person to assess the height and distance of the surrounding objects. The accuracy of the reconstruction of the person's surroundings increases his or her safety. Moreover, the virtual cane is quite small, making it easier to carry than a white cane, and it can function for up to 12 hours before needing to be recharged.

Dr. Amir Amedi's team has tested the virtual cane in a variety of situations, including a maze. While ensuring that the cane was effective was an objective, the research primarily aimed at studying how the brain of the blind functioned, particularly with respect to brain reorganization. The tests demonstrated that using the virtual cane was very intuitive and could be mastered in just a few minutes.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Daily aspirin may protect against melanoma

Long-term use cut risk of deadly skin cancer by almost half, study finds

By contributor
updated 6/23/2011 8:58:48 AM ET

An aspirin a day may keep melanoma at bay, a new study suggests.

After scrutinizing the medical records of 1,000 people, an international team of researchers have determined that the risk of melanoma was cut by almost half when people took a daily dose of aspirin for at least five years.

“Our data at least support the hypothesis that long-term steady aspirin use has an effect,” said study co-author Dr. Robert Stern, a professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School and chief of dermatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston.

Previously, the only melanoma prevention advice cancer experts could give was for people to stay out of the sun and get their skin checked for early warning signs of the disease. If melanoma isn’t detected early, it can be deadly.

Stern and his colleagues compared data from 400 melanoma patients to that from 600 healthy volunteers. The healthy volunteers were matched in age and gender to the cancer patients, some of whom ended up with more than one matched group.

The 1,000 study participants were interviewed and asked about lifestyle habits and known risk factors for melanoma, such as light skin color and history of sunburns. They were also questioned about medication use.

While melanoma is not as common as other types of skin cancer, it is the most dangerous and most likely to spread to other parts of the body. It killed nearly 9,000 people in the U.S. last year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The researchers focused on usage of anti-cholesterol statins and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or NSAIDs, because some earlier population studies had suggested that these medications might have an impact on melanoma development.

Although the study found no beneficial effect associated with statin use, it did find a substantial reduction in risk associated with the use of aspirin, which is an anti-inflammatory. There was also a hint that other NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (marketed as Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), might reduce melanoma risk if taken regularly over a long period of time. But the data on these drugs wasn’t as strong.

Stern suspects that may be because far fewer people take these NSAIDs on a daily basis. Many middle-aged people take a daily baby aspirin to protect their hearts, he said. The use of other NSAID painkillers tends to be more sporadic.

Melanoma isn’t the only cancer that appears to be affected by NSAIDs. Other research has shown that the medications can lower the risk of colorectal cancer .

Nobody knows why NSAIDs might prevent cancer, but there are theories. Some researchers suspect that cancers like melanoma hijack the body’s inflammatory response to a growing tumor to bring more blood to the site and to help cancer cells slip past the body’s defenses and attach elsewhere, said Dr. John Kirkwood, director of the Melanoma Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

Kirkwood hopes that the new study will spur researchers to do a long-term study to look at the impact of NSAIDs prospectively, since the protective effect seen here might not be the result of the medication, but rather something that people who take daily aspirin have in common.

Until that happens, doctors can’t counsel patients to take aspirin to protect against melanoma. Still, this is one more possible benefit to consider if you’re advised to take aspirin to prevent heart disease, he said.

For now, this is the first piece of good news on the melanoma prevention front.

“The hope,” Kirkwood said, “is to stop the disease before it gets out of the starting blocks.”