Good Health

DEAR DR. ROACH: Do people who have never had chickenpox get shingles? — K.C.H.

ANSWER: Ninety-nine percent of people have had chickenpox and are at risk for shingles, and this includes most people who think they haven't had chickenpox. (Some cases are so mild that they go unrecognized.) But only people who have had chickenpox (or the vaccine, which is a weakened form of the live virus) can get shingles. People who had the vaccine seem to be at lower risk of shingles than those who had the infection.

If the shingles vaccine technology can work for a chickenpox vaccine (and I see no reason it shouldn't), then it's possible we could see the end of chickenpox and of shingles forever, the way we were able to eliminate smallpox.

DEAR DR. ROACH: Is there medical help or gene therapy to prevent excessive height? My niece is 6 feet, 1 inch tall and soon will marry a man who is 6 feet, 11 inches tall. Life was not always easy for her, as she was mocked at school. And he has had a daily life of "How's the weather up there?" Could they prevent their children from growing to such a height? — D.B.

ANSWER: No, there is no medical treatment to prevent excess height, and there is no medical reason to do so. Instead, I'd advise your niece and her fiance to encourage their children to be comfortable how they are, no matter what their height, and to recognize that many of the comments they will hear are based on envy.

I'd especially recommend that if they happen to have a tall girl (if they do have a girl, one formula for predicting height would estimate her height at 6 feet, 4 inches), they encourage her to have excellent posture. I see too many tall women hunched over, as if trying to hide their height. There are good medical reasons to have an erect posture, especially for taller people.

DEAR DR. ROACH: I recently was diagnosed with kidney cancer, and my wife is now getting treatment for breast cancer. Would cooking on a nonstick skillet have caused the cancers? My wife used one for quite some time. — B.R.

ANSWER: When someone is diagnosed with any serious disease, but especially with cancer, it is a human trait to think back on possible causes. We want to have as much control over our fate as possible. However, most cases of cancer occur without a specific risk (smoking cigarettes is the biggest exception). Cancer happens, among other reasons, when there is an error in replicating DNA, when we are hit by natural radiation or when something in our environment damages our DNA. There certainly are behaviors we can do to reduce cancer risk, but there is no way to entirely prevent cancer from occurring.

In the case of nonstick cookware, there is no increased risk. Workers who make nonstick coatings for pans or clothing are potentially at risk due to a chemical used in manufacturing called PFOA, but there is none of this (probably) carcinogenic chemical in the final product. Overheating a nonstick-coated pan can cause irritating, but not cancer-causing, chemical fumes.

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.  (c) 2019 North America Synd., Inc.  All Rights Reserved

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