The Week That Wasn't: Delaying Menopause, Active Infants, Breast Cancer Risks

Dana Najjar


August 09, 2019

Welcome to The Week That Wasn't. Here are three trending stories we decided not to cover this week, and why.

Cryopreservation to Delay Menopause

A British company named ProFam went on the record this week claiming its new surgery can delay menopause by up to 20 years when performed on women younger than 40. The procedure involves removing a piece of healthy ovarian tissue, cryogenically freezing it, and reimplanting it when the patient approaches menopause. Ten British women between the ages of 22 and 36 have already had ovarian tissue removed and frozen.

Ovarian tissue cryopreservation is currently considered an experimental treatment to preserve fertility in prepubertal cancer patients. It has not been attempted on this timeline, and there is no evidence that it will successfully stave off menopause. Despite that, the ProFam fertility clinic in Birmingham is offering it at the hefty price tag of £6000 ($7280).

Before writing about this procedure as a potential clinical intervention, we would need to see controlled clinical trials with outcomes showing whether the tissue sample could survive 20 years, whether reimplantation delays menopause, and if there are any adverse health effects for the women. Given the timelines involved, it looks like it might be a while before we revisit this one.

Active Mothers Give Birth to Active Babies. Or Do They?

Mothers who exercise three times a week during pregnancy give birth to infants with better neuromotor skills at 1 month of age than those who don't, a new study published this week in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise suggests. Seventy-one healthy mothers were randomly assigned either to partake in supervised aerobic exercise three times a week or to maintain their usual activity. The babies were then evaluated on their neuromotor skills when they were 1 month old. Infants of mothers in the exercise program scored higher on the developmental test than those born to women who didn't get supervised exercise.

We can't take too much issue with any study that encourages pregnant women to exercise if they can, but we had a number of reasons for not giving this one more airtime. For starters, the sample size is small. The observed effect was also small, with all infants falling well within the normal range of expected development for their age.

Several factors that could have affected the outcomes were not accounted for either, including the mother's nutrition and sleep, and the infant's birth weight and postnatal environment. It's also unclear how much exercise the women in the control group got — their "usual" levels of activity could have varied widely. With all those caveats, it's hard to conclude much about the effects of exercise during pregnancy from this study.

Red Meat Linked to Risk for Breast Cancer, Somewhat

A new study published this week in the International Journal of Cancer suggests that increased consumption of red meat was linked to a higher risk for breast cancer, whereas increased poultry consumption had the opposite relationship. The authors tracked the outcomes of 42,012 women who self-reported their eating habits at the beginning of the study and were then followed for an average of 7.6 years. Participants who reported eating the most red meat had a 23% higher risk of developing breast cancer compared with those who ate the least, whereas participants who reported eating the most poultry had a 15% lower risk.

The sample size was large, but the study had several shortcomings, which is why we decided to pass on covering it. The dietary categorization of the women is based on self-reporting their eating habits just once over more than 7 years and did not account for the fact that eating habits can change quite drastically. Self-reported data are not the most reliable to begin with.

In addition, the confidence intervals for the hazard ratios in both cases (increased and decreased risk) include 1.02 and 1.00, respectively, suggesting there may be no difference at all. In any case, the increased risk was small: For every 124 people who eat 86.5 additional grams (3 ounces) of steak per day for 7 years, one of them would develop breast cancer. We didn't feel that was worth reporting on.

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