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Health Headlines - March 12

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:22pm

More Than Half of Americans Covered by Colon Cancer Screening Laws

For the first time, more than half of the U.S. population -- 54 percent -- is covered by state laws that require insurance providers to cover the cost of colon cancer screening tests, says a report card released Tuesday by a coalition of 11 leading public health organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the American College of Gastroenterology.

The 2008 Colorectal Cancer Legislation Report Card gave an "A" grade to 19 states for colon cancer coverage laws that met certain guidelines, while 26 states received a "D" or "F" for failing to require coverage of colon cancer screening.

Screening rates in states with "A" level coverage laws increased 40 percent faster than the rates in states without such laws, according to a 2006 analysis by the American Cancer Society.

If all Americans aged 50 and older had regular colon cancer screening, colorectal cancer deaths could be reduced by as much as 60 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But only half of people at risk for colon cancer get screened for the disease. Concern about insurance coverage is a major barrier to colon cancer screening, the American Cancer Society analysis found.

When detected early, colon cancer is one of the most treatable cancers. About 90 percent of people diagnosed with early-stage colon cancer survive five years, compared with 10 percent of patients diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer.

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Anemia Drugs Linked to Increased Death Risk: FDA

The anemia drugs Aranesp, Epogen and Procrit are associated with increased risk of death and faster-spreading tumors at high doses, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration briefing information posted Tuesday on the agency's Web site.

The information said eight clinical trials indicated the drugs -- used to treat weakness or fatigue in patients with chronic kidney disease or those who are undergoing cancer chemotherapy -- posed greater risks for patients with breast, lung, head and neck, and cervical cancers, Bloomberg news reported.

"There is now mounting evidence of documented effects on survival, tumor progression," and blood clots, and this evidence "requires a re-assessment of the net benefits of this class of drugs," FDA staff wrote.

The briefing information was prepared in advance of Thursday's scheduled meeting of an FDA advisory panel that will consider the risks and benefits of the three anemia drugs. They may decide that new restrictions need to be imposed on the use of the drugs, Bloomberg reported.

Aranesp and Epogen are made by Amgen Inc., while Procrit is made by Johnson & Johnson.

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FDA Issues Alert About Tussionex Cough Medicine

Due to numerous reports of serious side effects and death associated with the misuse and inappropriate use of the long-acting prescription cough medicine Tussionex Pennkinetic Extended-Release Suspension, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday issued an alert on the safe and correct use of the medicine.

Tussionex, which contains the narcotic hydrocodone and the antihistamine chlorpheniramine, is approved for use in adults and children over the age of 6. It should be taken no more than once every 12 hours, the FDA said.

"There is a real and serious risk for overdose if this medication is not used according to the labeling," Dr. Curtis Rosebraugh, acting director of the FDA's Office of Drug Evaluation II, said in a prepared statement.

Reports suggest that doctors and other health professionals are sometimes prescribing, and patients are sometimes taking, more than the recommended dose or taking the medication more frequently than once every 12 hours. Reports also indicate that the medicine is being given to children less than 6 years old, the FDA said.

In its alert, the FDA reminded doctors and patients about the proper use of Tussionex. The manufacturer of the cough medicine -- UCB Inc., of Smyrna, Ga. -- has agreed to update to labeling to highlight that Tussionex should not be prescribed or used in children younger than 6, as well as the need for accurate dosing.

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JCPenney Recalls Deep Fryers Due to Fire/Burn Hazard

About 27,000 Cooks Deep Fryers have been recalled by JCPenney Co. due to a faulty heating element that can overheat and pose a fire and burn hazard, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Tuesday.

To date, there have been five reported incidents involving the deep fryers, including three reports of damaged countertops and one report of a minor burn injury.

The recalled fryers have a brushed stainless steel exterior, a lid with a window, black handles, and 1/3-gallon capacity. "Cooks" is stamped on the side of the fryers and model number 22016 is printed on the bottom of the fryers, which were sold from August 2007 through January 2008 for about $50.

Consumers with recalled fryers should immediately stop using them and return the fryer to the nearest JCPenney store for a full refund, the CPSC said. For more information, contact JCPenney toll-free at 888-333-6063 anytime.

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Stagnant Funding Threatens U.S. Health Research: Report

If the budget of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) remains stagnant, the country could lose a generation of young researchers and their potential discoveries, which would pose a threat to the future of Americans' health, warns a report released Tuesday by seven leading academic research institutions.

The report, A Broken Pipeline? Flat Funding of the NIH Puts a Generation of Science at Risk, details how five consecutive years of flat funding for the NIH have affected 12 promising junior researchers who specialize in areas such as stem cells, cancer and brain diseases, and kidney disease.

"This is a real problem, discussed at almost every meeting one attends on campus, that can't simply be dismissed," Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, said in a prepared statement.

"This is about the investment that America is -- or is not -- making in the health of its citizens and its economy. Right now, the nation's brightest, young researchers, upon whom the future of American medicine rests, are getting the message that biomedical research may be a dead end and they should explore other career options -- and in too many cases, they're taking that message to heart. The President's latest budget proposal that calls for another year without an increase will only make the problem worse," Faust said.

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HIV Can Hide in Cells for Years

U.S. researchers have found that HIV is able to hide in some of the body's cells for years in order to avoid destruction by antiretroviral drugs. The finding confirms that HIV-positive people must take the drugs indefinitely to maintain control of the virus, which causes AIDS, BBC News reported.

The U.S. National Cancer Institute team followed 40 HIV-positive patients and found that 77 percent of them still had low levels of dormant HIV seven years after starting -- and responding well to -- antiretroviral therapy.

The researchers believe that HIV hides in CD4+ cells, which play a role in the immune system. It's likely that HIV infects these cells before the start of antiretroviral therapy and the amount of virus produced by the infected cells is low, BBC News reported.

The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It is extremely important that new drugs are developed to eradicate HIV infection as the side effects associated with long-term HIV treatment can be severe," said researcher Dr. Sarah Palmer.

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