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Health Headlines - June 21

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Drug Prices in U.S. Jump in 2006, Surveys Find

Prices for the most frequently prescribed drugs jumped sharply in the first quarter of the year, as the new Medicare drug coverage program was going into effect, two independent surveys found.

Wholesale prices charged by pharmaceutical companies rose 3.9 percent in the first three months of the year -- four times the inflation rate during the same span, according to an AARP analysis reported by the Associated Press.

The price of the popular sleep aid Ambien shot up 13.3 percent, and the top-selling cholesterol drug Lipitor jumped 4.7 percent to 6.5 percent, depending on the dose prescribed, the AARP said.

A separate survey by the patient advocacy group Families USA found similar price rises, the wire service reported. For the typical older American who takes an average of four prescription drugs, the price jumps translated to a $240 average increase over the 12 months ended March 31, the AARP said.

A drug industry trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, issued a statement calling the surveys "erroneous," the AP reported. The group said prices, in fact, had risen less than 2 percent since Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has accused Merck & Co. of conspiring with insurance companies to create lower copays for people who buy Merck's anti-cholesterol drug Zocor than for customers who would buy a soon-to-be released generic alternative, the AP said. Schumer asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

"It appears Senator Schumer is criticizing us because he says that our prices are too low. That's a new one," the wire service quoted a Merck spokesman as saying.

Lowering Stress Could Boost Pregnancy Chances

Reducing stress could help some women improve their chances of becoming pregnant, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta say.

A combination of stress management therapy and instruction on better diet and exercise "restored fertility" in 80 percent of participants in a small study, CBS News reported.

The researchers measured amounts of the stress hormone cortisol in study participants, who were ages 20-35. The scientists concluded that psychotherapy aimed at stress reduction could be an easier, less expensive alternative than fertility treatments.

Results were presented at a meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Prague.

Israeli researchers at the same meeting offered additional evidence that lifestyle changes could boost fertility, noting that women who were entertained by a trained clown shortly before they received in vitro fertilization treatments were up to 35 percent more likely to conceive, news reports said.

Faulty Gene Combination Linked to Breast Cancer

Icelandic women who had a pair of faulty genes were almost certain to develop breast cancer, researchers in Reykjavik found.

It's not clear to what degree that finding applies to women from other countries, the Associated Press reported.

Defects on two genes discovered in the 1990s -- BRCA1 and BRCA2 -- have been linked to inherited forms of breast cancer. But since they account for only 10 percent to 15 percent of total breast cancer cases, scientists have long searched for a genetic accomplice, the wire service said.

The BARD1 gene may be just that, according to the AP.

Women's risk of developing breast cancer roughly doubled when they were found to have mutations in both the BARD1 and BRCA2 genes, the Icelandic scientists said. In the United States, however, the genetic mutation in the BRCA1 gene is more common than the BRCA2 anomaly, according to the wire service.

The research, led by the company deCode Genetics Inc., included 1,090 Icelandic women with breast cancer, comparing them to 703 women who were free of the disease. Results are published in the journal PLoS Medicine.

World's Women Ignorant About Fertility: Survey

Most women who participated in a global survey of fertility issues didn't know many of the basic facts about reproductive health, including the age at which female fertility begins to decline, the survey's sponsor said Tuesday.

Other questions dealt with the impact of sexually transmitted disease on reproductive health, the effects of contraception, and the percentage of couples who are infertile. None of the more than 17,000 respondents from 10 countries was able to answer all 15 survey questions correctly, the American Fertility Association (AFA) said in a statement.

Respondents with a college education were more knowledgeable about fertility issues than those with a high school background, the association said. The general lack of knowledge was especially prevalent in Uganda, where surveyors interviewed some 6,500 people, often traveling by bicycle from village to village, the AFA said.

Other participants were from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Slovak Republic, Argentina, Turkey, and Belgium. Survey results were announced Tuesday at a meeting of the European Society of Human Reproductive Endocrinology in Prague.

Acupuncture Won't Help Hot Flashes: Report

Acupuncture was no better at preventing hot flashes associated with menopause than sham treatments, Mayo Clinic researchers found.

Four years ago, U.S. Women's Health Initiative scientists reported landmark findings that the female hormone estrogen -- once routinely prescribed to calm hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms -- raised women's risk of breast cancer and heart problems. This drove millions of women to seek alternative treatments.

Experts tell the Washington Post that women with hot flashes frequently respond to non-medicinal placebos, thinking their symptoms are actually being treated.

The Mayo researchers evaluated 103 women between the ages 45 and 59 who said they had at least five hot flashes daily. Half of the women who thought they were receiving acupuncture actually had the needles placed superficially where they would have no proven value. The women who had actual acupuncture had no better response to hot flashes than those who received the sham treatments, the researchers said.

Study results were presented at a recent meeting of the North American Conference on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and are to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Menopause, the Post said.
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