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Men's health at risk from iron overload

Thursday 17 January, 2008

A common hereditary disorder affecting 100,000 Australians is 30 times more likely to cause serious complications in men than women, according to new research from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, The University of Melbourne and The Cancer Council Victoria.

The HealthIron Study, a sub study of the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study*, monitored 31,192 people aged between the ages of 40 and 69 for 12 years to determine those at genetic risk of the iron overload disease, haemochromatosis.

The study, published today in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that 28 per cent of men (but only one per cent of women) who were at genetic risk of haemochromatosis developed iron overload disease which causes damage to the liver and other organs.

"Arthritis, chronic fatigue and liver disease can arise as a result of iron-overload," said Associate Professor Katie Allen from the Murdoch Childrens who led the research "However these complications can be avoided by donating blood regularly."

*Parent study, the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study (MCCS), conducted by Cancer Council Victoria and the University of Melbourne, investigates the lifestyle influences on the development of common chronic disease.

Professor Graham Giles, chief investigator of the MCCS said that one of best outcomes of the HealthIron Study was a better understanding of the genetic risk of haemochromatosis as well as the ability to evaluate long term outcomes.

"With the results of the HealthIron study, we can now more accurately assess the cost-effectiveness of population-based genetic screening programs for haemochromatosis," said A/Professor Katie Allen, who also led a previous study into community screening, the results of which were published in top medical journal The Lancet.