Category Archives: Science and Medicine

OBSTETRICS: Amniocentesis risk may be lower than was thought, The Boston Globe, Health and Science

Amniocentesis, a test used to detect genetic abnormalities in a fetus, is not as risky as was
previously believed, a new study suggests. The test, often giving to pregnant women over 35 or with a family history of genetic disorders, involves withdrawing amniotic fluid from the uterus with a needle. Many pregnant women are terrified of the test because studies in the 1970s and 1980s suggested that it would trigger miscarriage in one in 200 procedures. But a group of researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York has reassessed the test’s miscarriage risk and found it eight times safer, with miscarriage triggered in only one of 1,600 procedures. The researchers looked at 35,003 women from 15 clinics, all between 10 and 14 weeks after conception. Roughly 3,100 underwent amniocentesis and 31,907 didn’t. The researchers, who could not explain why earlier research showed the procedure to be far more dangerous, found no significant difference between the number of miscarriages in the group that underwent amniocentesis and the group that didn’t.
BOTTOM LINE: “When doctors offer the test to patients, they should take into account the results of this study showing a lower miscarriage risk,” said Dr. Keith Eddleman, the study’s lead author.
CAUTIONS: This is the first study to show such a low miscarriage risk. More are required to confirm this finding.
WHAT’S NEXT: Eddleman wants to see whether the miscarriage risk associated with another procedure used to detect fetal genetic abnormalities – the chorionic villus sampling test – is also lower than suggested by previous studies.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Obstetrics & Gynecology, November


Blood tests used to detect prostate cancer may not be accurately diagnosing the disease in obese men, according to researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Screening for prostate cancer involves testing blood for prostate specific antigen, or PSA, a protein produced by the prostate gland. Higher-than-normal blood PSA levels may indicate cancer, since more protein leaks into blood when a tumor is present in the prostate gland. Past studies showed that African-American men had higher levels of this protein than Caucasian men. To find out how obesity affected blood PSA levels in the two racial groups, the study’s authors tested blood from 299 healthy men 150 African-Americans and 149 Caucasians. They also calculated subjects’ body mass indices, a measure of obesity, and found PSA levels were lower in obese men of both races. Therefore, a marginally elevated PSA level rather than levels usually used to diagnose cancer might indicate cancer in obese men, although the study did not look at that question directly.
BOTTOM LINE: “We need to be careful while screening obese men for prostate cancer,” said Jay Fowke, the study’s lead author. “For some reason, PSA levels are suppressed in obese men.”
CAUTIONS: The study was conducted on a small group and looked only at healthy men, so the research showed only that obese men seem to have lower PSAs than men of normal weight and not if the PSA tests are underdiagnosing cancer in obese men.
WHAT’S NEXT: The researchers are going to look at PSA levels and obesity in both healthy men and men with prostate cancer.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Cancer, Nov. 15