May 2003 Health News Tips

Note to media: To reach the media contacts for any of these health news tips, call the Office of News and Publications at 214-648-3404.


If a server asks if you want your pork chops prepared rare, medium-rare or well done, it’s safer to choose the latter. Attention: Backyard barbequers - that goes for babybacks, too.

“Undercooked pork, which has an internal temperature less that 155 degrees Fahrenheit, may still carry a parasitic agent that causes food-borne illnesses,” says Dr. Vickie Vaclavik, clinical assistant professor in clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 76 million people suffer food-borne illnesses each year in the United States, accounting for 325,000 hospitalizations and more than 5,000 deaths.

Undercooked pork may result in a food-borne illness called trichinosis, which may cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, muscle soreness and pain and swelling around the eyes. “Eating pork or any other type of meat red near the bone is not a good idea,” Vaclavik adds.

Media Contact: Amy Shields


With the coming of summer, seniors will be particularly susceptible to heat-related illnesses because of existing health problems, the number and types of medications they take and because they don’t always drink enough liquid (the thirst sensation tends to diminish with age).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 300 people die each year from heat-related illnesses. How best for seniors to keep cool? Air conditioning is the best way, says Dr. Kevan Namazi, chairman of gerontology at Southwestern Allied Health Sciences School.

The UT Southwestern associate professor recommends other ways to keep cool:

  • Open windows on two sides of a room to create cross-ventilation and use a fan to circulate the air. Turn off the lights.
  • Drink plenty of liquids - even if you aren’t thirsty - but avoid sugary drinks and those with caffeine and alcohol. Eat lots of fruit and salads.
  • Take cold showers or baths, or get cool in libraries, senior centers or shopping malls.

Media Contact: Staishy Bostick Siem


Cigarette smoking causes a variety of health problems, from heart disease to cancer. It also affects the ability of the body to heal following surgery, says Dr. Rod Rohrich, chairman of plastic surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

“The reduced capacity for wound healing especially becomes a concern with elective surgical procedures,” Rohrich says. “Patients who smoke also have an increased risk of complications after surgery.”

Tobacco can interfere with the protective filtering cilia in the pulmonary system, reduce blood flow and impair the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, slowing delivery to surgical sites and decreasing the oxygen necessary to healing.

“Surgery candidates should abstain from smoking for four to six weeks before and after surgery,” Rohrich says. “This increases the ability to recover, and will improve overall health.”

Media Contact: Susan Morrison


Breast cancer is both the second-leading cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer death in women. Unfortunately, research shows those most at risk are least likely to get a mammogram.

Incidence of the disease increases markedly with age, and studies indicate nearly 60 percent of all deaths from breast cancer occur in women 65 and over. An annual mammogram is crucial, especially as you get older, says Dr. Marilyn Leitch, professor of surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and medical director of its Center for Breast Care.

A woman’s risk of getter breast cancer during the next 10 years is 1.5 percent at age 40, compared to 4 percent at age 70, Leitch says. Medicare has covered routine mammography for years, but many older women still fail to get screened.

“It may be inconvenient because of where the mammography facility is,” she says.

“Or older women may be less likely to have mammograms because they think they are too old to get breast cancer because news reports seem to focus on breast cancer in young women. But older women are more likely to have a mammogram if the physician recommends it, while a younger woman may actively request a mammogram.”

Mammography is highly accurate in diagnosing breast cancer in older women because their breasts are less dense. An annual mammogram can detect the disease in its earliest stages, when the cancer is too small to feel during a regular physical breast exam.

The earlier a tumor is found, the easier it is to treat, and early diagnosis leads to excellent chances for survival. At five years, 97 percent of women with early-stage breast cancer are still alive, Leitch says. “If cancers are diagnosed earlier, the woman is more likely to be able to save her breast and avoid chemotherapy.”

Media Contact: Scott Maier


Adults planning for parenthood should first consider taking a simple blood test to see if they carry a trait for sickle cell disease - a genetic disorder that can result in pain, anemia, organ damage and strokes - says Dr. Charles Quinn, an assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

“It’s important because it helps parents in their decision-making process,” Quinn says. “It makes them knowledgeable so they will not be surprised and lets them know that there are steps that can be taken to plan for the disease. Or prevent it.”

If both parents carry the sickle cell trait, they have a 25 percent chance of having a child with the incurable disease. It is most common in African Americans and Hispanics, and it affects about 70,000 people in the United States.

Media Contact: Staishy Bostick Siem


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