Health Highlights: April 21, 2008
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Low Vitamin D Levels May Increase Breast Cancer Risk
Women with low blood levels of a marker for vitamin D have an increased risk of breast cancer, German researchers say.
They studied levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in 1,394 breast cancer patients and an equal number of healthy postmenopausal women, finding that those with a very low blood level of 25(OH)D were much more likely to develop breast cancer, United Press International reported.
The link between low levels of 25(OH)D and increased breast cancer risk was strongest among women who didn't take hormones for relief of menopausal symptoms. The researchers did note that chemotherapy or lack of sunlight during prolonged hospital stays may have contributed to low vitamin D levels in breast cancer patients.
The body produces vitamin D in response to sunlight, and the vitamin is present in certain foods.
Drug Effective in Shrinking Breast Tumors: Study
A drug called lapatinib may shrink breast cancer tumors within six weeks and could prove to be a valuable pre-surgery treatment, according to researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who studied 45 patients with locally advanced breast cancer in which the HER-2 gene was overexpressed.
The women received lapatinib, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that targets cell surface receptors, for six weeks. That was followed by a combination of weekly trastuzumab and three-times-a-week docetaxel for 12 weeks before primary surgery, United Press International reported.
Tests conducted before and after lapatinib treatment showed "significant tumor regression after six weeks of single-agent lapatinib," said study author Dr. Angel Rodriguez.
The study was to be presented at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Berlin.
FDA OKs Compact Heart Assist Device
A compact heart assist device designed to fit women and smaller men has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Heart assist devices are implanted mechanical devices that help weakened hearts pump blood while heart failure patients await a heart transplant. Previous models were too large to fit the upper abdomen of women and men of smaller stature, the FDA said.
The HeartMate II Left Ventricular Assist System is just 3 inches in length and weighs about 1 pound. A cable that powers the device passes through the patient's skin to an external controller, allowing the device to be powered either by battery or while connected to an electrical outlet.
In clinical testing on 126 people, 57 percent survived to undergo a heart transplant, which the FDA said is comparable to larger heart assist devices.
The manufacturer, Pleasanton, Calif.-based Thoratec Corp., will be required to conduct a post-approval study of the device's performance, the agency said.
Inhibition Strong Predictor of Sexual Problems in Women
Among women, sexual inhibition is the strongest predictor of sexual problems such as low sexual interest and arousal difficulty, says a U.S. study that included 540 women.
Researchers found that the ease with which arousal can be disrupted by situational factors (arousal contingency) and concerns about sexual function can predict sexual problems, United Press International reported.
The findings appear in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
"Although further research is needed to confirm these findings with other samples, particularly clinical samples of women seeking help for sexual problems, these findings suggest that high scores on sexual inhibition may help predict which women are vulnerable to experience sexual problems," according to a statement from study co-author Cynthia Graham, a research fellow at Indiana University's Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.
VA Lawsuit Over Lack of Mental Health Treatment Going to Trial
A class-action lawsuit charging that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs isn't doing enough to treat veterans' mental health problems is scheduled to go to trial this week.
The lawsuit was filed in July by two nonprofit groups representing veterans, who say the VA is failing to address the "rising tide" of mental health problems, especially post-traumatic stress disorder, the Associated Press reported. The groups want the judge to order the VA to make major changes.
"That failure to provide care is manifesting itself in an epidemic of suicides," the groups wrote in court papers filed Thursday.
A December e-mail between top VA officials said an average of 18 military veterans kill themselves each day, and five of them are under VA care when they commit suicide. The e-mail was filed as part of the lawsuit, the AP reported.
Government lawyers counter that the VA has been increasing the amount of resources for mental health and is making suicide prevention a top priority. The lawyers also argue that the courts don't have the authority to tell the VA how to operate, the news service said.
Consumers Warned About Lead in Mexican Candies
California health officials are warning consumers not to eat Chaca Chaca Chacatrozo candy imported from Mexico because tests found it had potentially harmful levels of lead.
The tests by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) found as much as 0.30 parts per million (ppm) of lead in the candy, according to a news release on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site. In California, products with 0.10 ppm lead are considered to be contaminated.
The candies are being removed from store shelves, and consumers who've purchased these candies should discard them. The CDPH also advised pregnant women and parents of children who've consumed these candies to consult a health-care provider to determine if medical testing is required.
Consumers who see Chaca Chaca Chacatrozo candies for sale are encouraged to call the CDPH complaint hotline at 1-800-495-3232.
Women in Academics Least Likely to Have Children
Women with academic careers are the least likely of all professional women to have children, according to University of Utah researchers who analyzed data from the 2000 U.S. Census.
For example, they found that male faculty members are 21 percent less likely than male doctors to have a child in their household, while female faculty members are 41 percent less likely than female doctors to have children, United Press International reported.
The researchers noted that it can take much longer for academics to achieve job security -- 40 is the average age when professors achieve tenure -- than other professionals.
The study is to be presented this week at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, UPI reported.
"Many studies have examined the effects of childbirth on professional success, but few have considered how career choice affects fertility," researcher Nicholas Wolfinger said in a prepared statement. "If women are sacrificing families for jobs, the sexual revolution has not come nearly as far as might otherwise be expected."
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