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Health Headlines - February 1

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:25pm
Viruses Added to List of Cancer Causes

WASHINGTON - The government is adding viruses for the first time to its list of known or suspected causes of cancer, including hepatitis B and C and a third virus that causes sexually transmitted diseases. Lead, X-rays and compounds in grilled meats also are joining the list.

It has been known that the hepatitis viruses can cause liver cancer and that some forms of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus can cause cervical cancer.

But they were added to the list Monday only after officials decided to go beyond the report's historical focus on the occupational and environmental causes of cancer, said Dr. Christopher Portier, associate director of the National Toxicology Program, which prepared the latest update.

"We felt (the report) needed to be expanded to include other things in our general environment that can cause cancer," Portier said.

Dr. Michael Thun, who runs the American Cancer Society's epidemiological program, said adding the viruses was important. "These are human carcinogens and very important carcinogens," he said.

The list, which now identifies 246 known or suspected cancer-causing agents, is intended to give people who may or may not be exposed to any of the substances something to think about, he said.

Take X-rays, added to the "known" category. "This is simply to remind them that when they are making a decision about an X-ray to think about it and talk it over with your physician," Portier said.

But the American College of Radiology faulted the addition of X-rays and gamma rays, saying it was misleading and could prompt patients to avoid getting needed care.

"X-rays and gamma rays are not substances that the general public has access or exposure to and do not belong on a list of substances that pose a risk to people in the course of their normal, daily lives," Dr. James Borgstede, chairman of the radiology college's board of chancellors, said in a statement.

New to the suspected category are substances that form when meats are cooked or grilled at high temperatures. Studies suggest an increased cancer risk when foods containing them are eaten.

But "does that mean you have to throw out your barbecue grill?" asked Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, a critic of the list from the American Council on Science and Health, a consumer education group.

She said the "not consumer friendly" list should include information on the types of exposures and dosages that cause cancer, as well as on the health benefits of some of the substances identified, such as tamoxifen, the breast cancer treatment pill.

Lead, used to make lead-acid storage batteries, ammunition and cable coverings, and lead compounds, used in paint, glass and ceramics, in some cosmetics and as a fuel additive also joined the suspect list.

Portier said other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, are responsible for determining exposure levels, dosages and other issues.

"We think everything on this list is, in fact, relevant to people's daily lives and the public health of the country," he said.

The Report on Carcinogens — which federal law requires the health and human services secretary to update every two years — lists 58 "known" and 188 "reasonably anticipated" cancer-causing substances.

It was prepared by the National Toxicology Program of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, and was last updated in December 2002.

Texas Teens Increased Sex After Abstinence Program

Abstinence-only sex education programs, a major plank in President Bush's education plan, have had no impact on teenagers' behavior in his home state of Texas, according to a new study.

Childhood Abuse Common Among Manic Depressives

Nearly half of patients suffering from manic depression, or bipolar disorder, may have been abused as children, scientists say in a new report.

Weight Gain Linked to Breast Cancer Death

Women who are overweight when diagnosed with breast cancer or who become overweight after learning of their condition are more likely to die or have the disease come back, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

Scan Older Smokers for Aneurysms, U.S. Group Advises

Older male smokers and ex-smokers should get at least one ultrasound scan to make sure they do not have a developing aneurysm near the heart, a team of U.S. experts advised on Monday.

Obesity Gene Identified in Mice

A gene that encodes a protein called lipin seems to promote obesity in mice, even when food intake remains stable, according to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Hazard Posed by Infant Bath Seats and Rings

Parents should not use bath seats and bath rings to bathe their infants, according to a Canadian child health organization. Their survey findings show that the risk of injury and drowning associated with these products is too great.

Vioxx Increases Heart Attack Risk in Elderly

A new study adds to the evidence that cardiac risk is increased in Vioxx (rofecoxib) users, even in those without a history of heart attack. The results also show that at lower doses of Vioxx, concurrent aspirin use can reduce the risk.

Consumer Group Says Pfizer Hid Celebrex Study

A U.S. consumer group on Monday accused Pfizer Inc. of burying a study suggesting its painkiller Celebrex boosts the risk of heart attack and stroke, a claim the No. 1 drug maker has denied.

Quality of Life Okay After Repaired Heart Defect

Adults who have undergone surgery during childhood to repair a congenital heart defect called tetralogy of Fallot have a satisfactory quality of life, although psychosocial problems and impaired thinking are often present.

Test May Help Detect Alzheimer's Earlier

A highly sensitive new test could lead to a different way to diagnose people with Alzheimer's disease, possibly helping find the illness in its early stages when there might be time for treatment.

Deal Could Lead to Male Birth Control Pill

A Norwegian company seeking to develop a male birth control pill has signed a licensing agreement with the University of Massachusetts Medical School covering research that could lead to a drug to block sperm's ability to swim and fertilize an egg.

Bread Industry Hopes for 2005 Comeback

Low-carb bread? That's so 2004. The bread industry, hoping for a comeback after last year's low-carb fad, is trying to get people to eat bread because it's good for them — especially when it's made with whole grains.

Doctors: Recovery Chances Good for Marine

A Marine who returned from Iraq with a mysterious near-fatal infection requiring a liver transplant was expected to make a full recovery, doctors said Monday.

Group Renews Call for Ban on Celebrex

More evidence has linked painkiller Celebrex to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, consumer group Public Citizen said on Monday as it renewed calls for the government to ban Pfizer Inc. from selling Celebrex and arthritis drug Bextra.

FDA Approves Generic Version of Pain Patch

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved the first generic version of a patch used to treat severe chronic pain.

FDA Issues Alert for Preloaded Syringes

The Food and Drug Administration issued a nationwide alert Monday against the use of all IV Flush brand preloaded syringes containing either heparin or sodium chloride because the products have not received proper clearance and may be contaminated.

Health Tip: Build Strong Bones

Here's yet another benefit of regular exercise -- it will help keep your bones strong and fit, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Good Nutrition vs. Need: A Closer Look

Few people picking up groceries at a New Mexico food pantry recently were focusing on the right amount of vegetables and whole-grain products that are now recommended for the daily American diet.

Surgery Helps Those With Vision Loss

A surgical procedure called MT360 improves quality of life for people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), say researchers at the Duke University Eye Center.

New Advance in Gene Therapy for Cancer

A technique that uses a specially designed virus may help overcome a major stumbling block in using gene therapy to treat cancer, say Columbia University Medical Center researchers.

Genetics May Drive MS Gender Gap

A genetic variant may explain why women develop multiple sclerosis (MS) nearly twice as often as men, says an international research team led by the Mayo Clinic.

Gene Defect Linked to Familial Nerve Disorder

A defect in a gene called dynamin 2 causes one form of the inherited nerve disorder Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, according to a new study.

'Birdbrain' Gets Some Smart Backers

It took 29 internationally renowned scientists to get the ball rolling, but the term "birdbrain" could be on its way out, at least in its pejorative sense.

Vietnam to host bird flu summit in February, reports 12th victim

Countries battling bird flu will meet UN agencies and donors in Vietnam in late February to discuss the fight against the deadly virus, officials said as the latest outbreak claimed its 12th victim.
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