DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband died at age 62 of liver cancer. I have a feeling that it might have been caused by the undiagnosed complications of hemochromatosis. I think this is so because three of my five children over the age of 40 have just been diagnosed with hemochromatosis and are presently under treatment for it. Could there be a connection between it and my husband’s cancer? – P.F.

Hemochromatosis (HE-moe-CROW-muh-TOE-suss) is an inherited disorder with an unfortunately unusual name that makes people think it’s a rarity. It is not. It has to do with an inappropriate absorption of iron.

Humans have a built-in mechanism that allows the digestive tract to absorb only the amount of iron that is lost every day. People with hemochromatosis don’t have this mechanism. They absorb far too much iron, which deposits in many tissues and organs. The liver is the principal organ affected, and the iron rusts it, so to speak.

Excess liver iron leads to cirrhosis. Iron in the heart brings on heart failure. In the pancreas it causes diabetes. Joints filled with iron become arthritic. Iron infiltrating the skin turns it a bronze color. Iron can invade the testicles and the pituitary gland and greatly damage them.

Although the defect is present from birth, signs don’t develop until sometime between 40 and 60. If the illness is diagnosed before organ damage takes place, treatment by removing blood keeps organs healthy. Blood is the body’s storehouse of iron.

Liver cancer can be a consequence of hemochromatosis. It happens to about 30 percent of those hemochromatosis patients who develop cirrhosis.

Since hemochromatosis is a genetic illness, all your children should be checked so that early treatment can keep organs healthy.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: You commented on pinworms. Is this the same as ringworm?

The school’s nurse told my 9-year-old son, who happens to have a red spot on his shoulder, that the spot could be ringworm. What is ringworm? How does one get it? How is it treated? Is it contagious? – E.S.

Pinworms and ringworm are not the same, not even distantly related. Pinworms are true worms. They’re slender as a thread and so tiny that it’s hard to see them without a magnifying glass. Pinworms cause rectal itching, especially during the night.

Ringworm is an unfortunate name. It’s not due to a worm. It’s caused by a fungus. The real medical name for body ringworm is tinea corporis. The fungus lives in the outer layer of skin, where it produces a patch or patches that are red, usually round, and with scaly surfaces. They often itch. Tinea corporis is not all that common in temperate climates.

You must be familiar with athlete’s foot. It’s another fungal infection, and its official name is tinea pedis. It is a common infection everywhere.

Body ringworm can be spread from one person to the next through close contact, from infected animals and even from inanimate objects that have the fungus on them.

Anti-fungal ointments or creams can generally get rid of body ringworm without too much trouble.

Micatin, Spectazole and Lotrimin are three examples. There are plenty more.

The family doctor can confirm the diagnosis by looking through a microscope at skin scrapings.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I’ve heard about sugar in beer and how alcoholics devour sweets. My nephew drinks beer. He checked his beer’s contents and found no sugar. Also, I heard that an alcoholic’s blood does not clot. What’s the truth? – D.S.

There’s almost no sugar in beer. During fermentation, the sugar in grains from which beer is made is turned into alcohol. There are other, nonsugar carbohydrates in beer.

Alcoholics and people with a tendency to alcoholism are said to crave sweets.

If alcoholics have liver malfunction, they bleed easily. Clotting factors are made in the liver, and excessive use of alcohol damages the liver.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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