Thursday, August 8, 2002
It takes years to learn of side effects

By Dr. Anthony Policastro
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital

One of the things that we learn over and over in medicine is that it takes a long time to find side effects of things. Recently cat cancer was linked to second-hand smoke. We really donít know how many cat owners had caused their cats to die over the years. Now that we know this, it will be interesting to see if any cigarette smokers stop to protect their cats. If they do not plan to stop, then they should find new homes for their cats to protect them from cat cancer. Those smokers who decide to keep smoking and keep their cats are really practicing cruelty to their pets. However, they are also trying to kill themselves by continuing to smoke, so I guess you really canít pick on them for what they do to their cats when they are doing worse to themselves.

Threat to the unborn
It took thousands of years before we found out what alcohol does to unborn infants. We have learned much about fetal alcohol syndrome only within the last 20-30 years. The dangers of toxic waste have been popularized in stories about the Love Canal in New York or in the recent movie Erin Brockovich. In each case, it took a long time and many cases before we knew what the dangers were.

Side effects of drugs
The same is true for new drugs. New drugs are often tested on hundreds of volunteers. Side effects that show up once in several thousands of takers of the drug may be missed. If the trials involved thousands of individuals, the side effects might be more obvious. Since the drug is only tested on a few hundred individuals, it looks safe. Then when it is used for a large group, the side effects become more obvious. That is what happened with drugs like Fen-phen. The moral of the story is donít be the first one to take a new drug unless it is the only drug for the condition that you have.
Cell phones and teens
I recently walked out of church one weekend. There were several adolescents already on their cell phones by the time I got out. We are relatively sure that limited cell phone use is not harmful to adults. We are not as certain as to what long hours of use will do to a growing brain. Parents should let someone else find out the answer to this question and limit their childrenís cell phone use to very brief time periods and only when necessary. The time to find out about possible damage is before it has happened to your child. You do not want your child being one of the cases that they write about in the news warning everyone else to not use cell phones. There are other situations that we do not yet know about. They may be new drugs. They may be new toys. They may be new electronic devices. They may be new chemical compounds. The hidden message here is to let someone else other than you and your familyÖ or pet be the guinea pig for finding out.

Dr. Anthony Policastro is medical director at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.