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Tim Byars (tbyars@earthlink.net)
Fri, 13 Aug 1999 12:51:30 -0700

More Sex, Marijuana; Less Lymphoma?
Scientists find factors that lower risk of non-Hodgkins By Michael Easterbrook
HealthSCOUT Reporter
FRIDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthSCOUT) -- Scientists have found that smoking pot and a
robust sex life are just two of the ways to reduce your risk of developing
non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of cancer that is increasing throughout the
The findings are from a large-scale epidemiological study on non-Hodgkins
lymphoma, that will appear in the Aug. 15 issue of the American Journal of
Epidemiology. But before indulging yourself, scientists warn that there are
better ways to stay healthy.
"First of all, having sex with a lot of different people is not a good idea,
and of course smoking marijuana, as far as I know, is illegal," says Elizabeth
Holly, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California at San
Francisco (UCSF), and the lead author of the study. "What would be good is to
watch your weight, eat lots of vegetables and don't smoke."
Non-Hodgkins lymphoma is a deadly cancer of the lymph nodes that, for reasons
scientists still can't explain, is increasing every year by 3 percent among
women and 4 percent among men. Of all forms of cancer, only skin cancer is
increasing at a faster rate. The American Cancer Society estimates that 56,800
people will be diagnosed with the disease this year and another 25,700 will
die. One of the more frustrating aspects of the disease is that scientists
haven't pinned down very many factors that make people vulnerable to the
Holly's study, one of the largest ever performed on the risk factors associated
with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, involved a survey, taken from 1988 to 1995, of
4,100 people.
Why would smoking marijuana and having lots of sex decrease your risk for
developing the cancer? According to Holly, both slow down the production of
B-cells, which are part of your body's immune system. Cancerous lymph nodes
have far too many of these cells.
Actually, it's probably not the sex that slows the production of B-cells but
semen. In animal studies, semen has been found to reduce B-cell counts. It
probably has the same effect on humans, say researchers, and its ability to
blunt B-cell counts may help women to conceive.
The other factors associated with a lowered risk of the cancer were taking
cholesterol-lowering drugs and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as
aspirin and other off-the-shelf pain relievers. These drugs indirectly suppress
the production of B-cells.
Also, having had vaccinations for yellow fever and cholera, and having had
allergies -- both to plants and to stings from bees and wasps -- reduced your
risk. Why? Well, people who have had vaccinations are also people who have
probably traveled to developing countries, where one's immune system is likely
to have been stimulated. (A stimulated immune system, Holly notes, does not
cause an overproduction of B-cells.) Allergies to plants and stings from bees
and wasps also point to well-functioning immune systems.
High-risk factors included having had polio, gonorrhea and having had your
spleen removed. People who were overweight were also at an increased risk.
"The higher you go up on the scale, the higher your risk," says Holly.
What To Do
This is a large study and is one of the first to pin down some factors that may
affect who gets non-Hodgkins lymphoma. But this is not the last word, and much
more research needs to be done on specifically what might cause the disease.
"What I think people can take from this is to think about what they're eating
and to think about the health factors involved in good health: Not smoking,
keeping your weight down, and eating properly and exercising," Holly says.

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