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Anxiety Medication Use Linked to Pancreatic Cancer Outcomes

Oncologists often prescribe their patients benzodiazepines—drugs that treat anxiety, insomnia and seizures. These medications are beneficial overall for cancer patients, but the type of benzodiazepine prescribed can have a huge impact, according to a study published online Aug. 17 in Clinical Cancer Research. Researchers analyzed outcomes for people with pancreatic cancer treated at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, from 2004 to 2020. Taking benzodiazepines was associated with a 30% lower risk for pancreatic cancer death compared with not using the drugs. However, further analysis showed a stark contrast in outcomes for the two most popular benzodiazepines, alprazolam (commonly known by the brand name Xanax) and lorazepam (commonly known as Ativan). While alprazolam was associated with a 62% reduced risk of cancer progression or death, lorazepam was linked to a 383% increased risk. Researchers also found lorazepam was associated with worse progression-free and overall survival for people with seven other cancers. In mice studies, researchers learned lorazepam may activate GPR68, a protein that can lead to inflammation and tumor growth. “Before our report, we thought that the psychiatric medications we used for symptom management in pancreatic cancer have no effect in long-term patient outcomes, but our findings challenge this notion,” Christos Fountzilas, a medical oncologist at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and a study author, told Healio.

Bariatric Surgery Associated With Reduced Cancer Risk in Women

Having bariatric surgery is associated with a reduced cancer risk among women with severe obesity, according to results of a study published online Aug. 22 in the journal Obesity. Researchers looked at 38 years of health data for 21,837 people who underwent bariatric surgery—such as gastric bypass or gastric banding—between 1982 and 2018. They found female patients who had surgery had a 33% lower risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 41% lower risk of developing an obesity-related cancer compared with women with severe obesity who did not undergo the procedure. Women who had the surgery also had reduced incidence of hormone-driven cancers, including breast, colon, ovarian and uterine cancers. “This study suggests that [bariatric surgery] may reduce several cancer types that are hormonally-related such as breast cancer but also has an anti-inflammatory effect, which has been shown to be important in the development of several cancers,” Anton Bilchik, a surgical oncologist at Saint John’s Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California, who was not involved in the study, told Healthline. Additionally, women who had surgery had a 47% lower risk of dying from cancer. There was no difference in cancer risk among men.

Screening Rates Remain Low for the Deadliest Cancer

Lung cancer remains the deadliest cancer in the U.S., killing more than breast, cervical and colorectal cancers combined. The high mortality is, in large part, because nearly half of lung cancer cases are found at advanced stages. When caught early, there are more treatment options and 80% of patients survive at least 20 years. Despite the importance of early detection, only 5.7% of people at high risk for lung cancer undergo screening, STAT reported. That’s a vast difference from the 70% to 75% rate for other cancer screenings like mammograms and Pap smears. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force endorsed lung cancer screening in 2013, but uptake has increased just 2% since then. Experts attribute the low rate in part to confusing screening criteria, which require patients to be age 50 to 80, currently smoke or have quit within 15 years, and have a 20-pack-year smoking history, which equates to smoking one pack per day for 20 years. Doctors say the criteria rely on patients being forthcoming and reliable about reporting their smoking habits, which isn’t always the case. Additionally, it excludes people who do not smoke, who make up 10% to 20% of lung cancer diagnoses. While some groups advocate making low-dose CT scans for lung cancer as accessible as mammograms, other experts say it’s important to limit screening to those most at risk to avoid overdiagnosis.