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December 2008 Mayo Clinic Health Letter Highlights: Colorectal Screenings, Lighting Tips for Low Vision and Generic Medications

ROCHESTER, Minn., Dec. 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Here are highlights from the December issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter. You may cite this publication as often as you wish. Reprinting is allowed for a fee. Mayo Clinic Health Letter attribution is required. Include the following subscription information as your editorial policies permit: orcall toll-free for subscription information, 800-333-9037, extension 9771.

What's Stopping You? Colorectal Screenings Can Prevent Cancer

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, can be prevented before it starts. And when it's caught at the earliest stage, the treatment success rate is greater than 90 percent.

Both prevention and successful treatment require regular screenings -- a health check that many avoid. Fewer than four in 10 eligible people undergo regular colorectal screenings.

The December issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter describes how screenings can catch cancer before it spreads or even starts.

The large intestine, which consists of the colon and rectum, is a muscular tube at the end of the digestive system. The inside lining of these organs is usually smooth. As a person ages, precancerous clumps of cells, called polyps, may grow in the lining. Some are considered harmless, and others pose a risk. Adenomatous polyps have cells that typically look and act differently from normal cells and can become cancerous as they grow. The progression to cancer is more likely when a polyp's diameter exceeds 10 millimeters.

Polyps can grow anywhere in the colon. Of the many screening options available, colonoscopy is considered the tool of choice, because the entire colon -- about four feet -- is examined. During a colonoscopy, a flexible, slender tube equipped with a tiny camera, is used to look for polyps. The doctor can remove precancerous polyps during the exam. If needed, tissue samples (biopsies) can be taken to check for cancer. The test takes 15 to 30 minutes, requires colon cleansing, and may involve the use of a mild sedative for comfort. Generally, the test is recommended every 10 years.

Eventually, colorectal cancer can cause symptoms such as rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, persistent abdominal discomfort, unexplained loss of weight or appetite, or bowel habit changes such as persistent diarrhea or constipation. But the signs and symptoms often don't show up until the disease is advanced, when it's more difficult to treat. Because many avoid screening, only one-third of all colorectal cancers are diagnosed in the early stages.

Talk to a care provider about screening options, including colonoscopy and any concerns you might have about bowel preparation or discomfort. Men and women at average risk of developing colon cancer should be screened starting at age 50. It's not hard to imagine that the death rate due to colon cancer would drop substantially if all people eligible for screening had a colonoscopy.

Lighting Tips for Low Vision

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Eyesight can fade over time because of aging or an eye disease. The December issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter offers tips to help compensate for low vision:

Around the house:

  • Reduce differences in brightness -- Equalize indoor and outdoor light sources by leaving some house lights on during bright sunny days.
  • Reduce glare -- Cover shiny surfaces, such as a polished table, with a cloth. Dark-colored place mats can help at mealtime. Opt for furnishings with a flat or matte finish.
  • Light up dark spots -- Install lighting in dark areas, such as inside closets. Keep a pocket flashlight handy for dark areas.

For better close-up vision:

  • Use bright, direct lighting -- Position an adjustable lamp about four to eight inches from reading material or a close-up task. Keep the lamp slightly to one side to reduce glare. If possible, position the light over the shoulder on the side of the better-seeing eye.
  • Use daylight -- To take advantage of natural light, position yourself so that windows are to the side or behind you.
  • Use a dark background -- When reading, reduce glare by using a piece of dark construction paper to cover areas of text you're not reading at that moment.

Decrease Drug Costs - Go Generic

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Today, more than ever, consumers can opt for generic equivalents of brand-name medications at substantial cost savings. According to the December issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter, generic versions of brand-name prescription drugs can cost 30 percent to 90 percent less.

Last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a record number of generic drug applications, up more than 30 percent from 2006.

Generics might look different from the brand-name drug because they can have different fillers or coloring agents. But the active ingredients are closely regulated by the FDA and must be within a small percentage of the brand-name medication.

For a brand-name drug to become available as a generic can take decades. An initial patent life is 20 years, and patents can be extended for variations on the medication. When the patent expires, the FDA frequently grants one company six months of exclusive rights to produce the generic drug. Usually, the price drops slightly. But if the generic is widely used, other companies will manufacture the drug, and usually the price drops substantially.

Here are some brand-name drugs available as generic since 2006:

  • Altace (ramipril) for blood pressure and heart failure
  • Ambien (zolpidem), a sleep aid
  • Depakote (divalproex) for seizures, migraines and bipolar disorder
  • Fosamax (alendronate) for osteoporosis
  • Requip (ropinirole) for restless legs syndrome
  • Toprol-XL (metoprolol succinate) for blood pressure, heart failure and angina
  • Zyrtec-D (cetirizine/pseudoephedrine) for allergies. Now available over-the-counter.

Many more brand-name medications are expected to be available in generic forms in the next two years. Among those to watch are the migraine medication Imitrex (sumatriptan), the glaucoma drug Cosopt (timolol/dorzolamide), the anti-seizure drug Topamax (topiramate), and the herpes anti-viral drug Valtrex (valacyclovir).

Ask your doctor or pharmacist about less-expensive medication options. Not all brand-name medications have generic equivalents, but always inquire.

Mayo Clinic Health Letter is an eight-page monthly newsletter of reliable, accurate and practical information on today's health and medical news. To subscribe, please call 800-333-9037 (toll-free), extension 9771, or

SOURCE Mayo Clinic
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