Health Buzz: Mammograms, Privacy Breaches, and Other Health News

The risk of heart disease by marijuana users, and healthcare reform

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Ultrasound Combined With Mammogram More Successful Than Mammogram Alone

Mammography can detect only about half of all breast cancers in women with dense breast tissue, Deborah Kotz reports. But by combining a mammogram with ultrasound, the success rate jumps to about three quarters, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Unlucky women who have dense breasts don't have much success with the standard mammogram because tumors, which are also dense, are tough to distinguish from normal tissue on the X-rays. About half of women under age 50 and about one-third of women over 50 have this density problem, and the younger they are, the more likely they are to have dense breasts. This news gives premenopausal women a double whammy: They have no good early detection tool that's widely available and they have faster growing breast tumors, according to a study published last week.

U.S. News explains what to do if you have dense breasts. Recently, a study found that taking aspirin may reduce the risk of developing the most common type of breast cancer. And Kotz explains what you need to know about hormones and breast cancer, and she lists three ways to lower your risk of recurrence of the disease.

More UCLA Medical Center Employees Accused of Breaching Celebrities’ Medical Records

A total of 68 UCLA Medical Center workers have now been accused of snooping through celebrities' medical records, reports the Los Angeles Times. A California Department of Health investigation implicated 14 additional current and former employees, including four physicians, in improperly accessing the medical files of high-profile patients such as Britney Spears and Maria Shriver. The health department began looking into this issue last month after it received a report of an employee's unauthorized access to a celebrity's health record.

Earlier, Health Buzz reported that Lawanda Jackson, a former UCLA Medical Center employee, was indicted in April on charges of improperly accessing records and selling them to a media outlet. She faces a charge of one count of illegally obtaining individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage. Prosecutors accuse Jackson of being paid at least $4,600 by a media outlet for providing medical information.

If you're worried about the security of your own medical records, U.S. News provides advice on how to protect yourself if you suspect you're a victim of medical identity theft.

Marijuana May Increase the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Smoking marijuana may raise the risk of heart attack and stroke, a new study reports. Scientists found that using the drug may raise the body's production of a protein known to increase levels of blood fats that are linked with cardiovascular problems. The new findings help explain the results of early studies, which also showed an association between marijuana use and cardiovascular disease, researchers said. The study was published yesterday in Molecular Psychiatry.

Last week, a government report indicated that teen depression may be worsened by marijuana use. U.S. News also offers advice on how to protect your kids from substance abuse. Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States, WebMD reports.

Commonwealth Fund Puts Forth Its Own Healthcare Reform Plan

Imagine a healthcare system that provides coverage for nearly everyone and lowers insurance costs for individuals and small businesses by 30 percent. That's the gist of a new plan, developed by the Commonwealth Fund and published yesterday in the journal Health Affairs, Michelle Andrews reports. The think tank's plan is similar in many ways to the proposals put forward by the Democratic presidential candidates. But unlike the candidates' plans, this one offers specifics about costs to individuals and businesses.

Like the Democrats' plans, the Commonwealth Fund proposal would create a new national "connector" through which small businesses and individuals could buy insurance, a souped-up "Medicare Extra" plan through either the federal government or private insurance. Everyone would be required to have coverage, but insurers couldn't turn anyone away or charge people extra because they're sick. The program would expand Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Plan coverage for low-income adults and children to all those earning less than 150 percent of the poverty level (about $15,000) and provide tax credits for everyone to make premiums more affordable. Employers would be required to either provide health insurance or contribute to a pool to help pay for coverage.