Health Buzz: Kennedy's Brain Cancer and Other Health News

Rare disease, hospital quality, and hormone replacement therapy for women

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Ted Kennedy's Brain Cancer Can be Fought

Doctors announced yesterday that Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was rushed to the hospital Saturday because of a sudden seizure, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. But the diagnosis of a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe of his brain may not be so grim. U.S. News's Bernadine Healy once had a seizure that led to the detection of a malignant glioma, also located in the left parietal lobe. As Healy explained about her own battle with brain cancer in her book Living Time and in an excerpt in U.S. News last year, gliomas are rare and often forgotten tumors that strike fear into anyone's heart. But it is worth remembering that prognoses are estimates--and can be misleading. When Healy was diagnosed, it looked like she would not see her 12-year-old daughter complete middle school. This past weekend, her daughter graduated from college.

Learn more about brain tumors.

New NIH Program Targets Rare Diseases

The National Institutes of Health recently started the Undiagnosed Disease Program--designed to focus on the most puzzling medical cases referred to NIH's Clinical Center. These patients have symptoms that don’t clearly correspond to a known medical condition, which makes caring and treating for them difficult. But studying these cases may provide new insight into the mechanism of disease, according to NIH. The goal of the program is to improve disease management for patients and advance medical knowledge overall.

Patients must be referred by a doctor and provide all medical records and test results that NIH requests. Additional evaluation may be required at the Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md. The program’s website has more information, and doctors and patients can also call 1-866-444-8806.

U.S. News offers advice on how to find good medical care. Nancy Shute reported on obstacles in finding primary-care doctors, and she listed seven tips for locating a doctor. And the Comarow On Quality blog provides the latest news in evaluating healthcare quality.

Government Launches Ad Campaign Focusing on Hospital Quality

The federal government's Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services launched the first national print advertising campaign focusing on quality of care at hospitals. The ads appear in 58 major newspapers today and promote the Hospital Compare website, intended to help consumers make well-informed decisions when choosing a hospital. The site includes a total of 26 quality-of-care measures, and the ads list data from two of those measures for a sample of hospitals in the areas the newspapers serve. The ads include the percentage of patients at each hospital who always received help when they requested it (as reported by the patients) and the percentage who were given antibiotics one hour prior to surgery (as reported by the hospitals).

U.S. News's Avery Comarow reported in March how hospitals compare on patient satisfaction, and he reviewed CMS's Hospital Compare site. Also, you can use U.S. News's list of America's Best Hospitals to find facilities in your area.

Hormone Replacement Therapy Safe for Healthy Women, Group Says

Healthy women entering menopause can relax about hormone replacement therapy and should push aside concerns about heart disease, breast cancer, and strokes, Deborah Kotz reports. That's the conclusion of a group of international experts affiliated with the International Menopause Society, which convened at a conference in Madrid yesterday. The researchers were worried that the negative findings from the landmark Women's Health Initiative have been overhyped--that women who really need HRT to combat nasty hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings aren't getting it.

Healy reported in March that findings from the Women's Health Initiative should be interpreted with caution. Follow the latest in women's health news in the On Women blog.

--January W. Payne