Health Highlights: Nov. 19, 2007

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

U.S. Hysterectomy Rates Remain High

Although there are less expensive alternatives, the number of hysterectomies performed in the United States has remained at about 600,000 per year over the past 25 years, says a report released Monday by the not-for-profit National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC).

About one in every three women will have a pelvic disorder by age 60. Based on current trends, about 25 percent of women in the United States will have had a hysterectomy by age 60, and most will be treated with the open total abdominal procedure, said the report, presented at the Global Congress of Minimally Invasive Gynecology in Washington, D.C.

"Many women are still being treated for fibroids and menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding) with hysterectomy, particularly the most invasive total abdominal hysterectomy (TAH), even though it comes with a long and painful recovery," Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, NWHRC executive vice president, said in a prepared statement.

"While there are some cases where TAH is appropriate, women need to understand that there are less invasive options to hysterectomy that can get them back to their daily lives quicker and are actually more cost effective," she said.


Three E.U. Countries Halt Sales of Prexige

Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom have halted sales of the anti-inflammatory painkiller Prexige due to concerns that it may cause liver damage, Agence France-Presse reported.

Earlier this year, Australia and Canada suspended sales of the Novartis drug, which hasn't been approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"Patients taking Prexige in the U.K., Germany and Austria should consult their healthcare provider," said a statement released by Novartis. The drug maker also noted that other European Union countries "may decide to independently suspend the marketing authorization or sale of Prexige ahead of a decision," by the E.U.'s medical regulator expected in December, AFP reported.

According to Novartis, "available data suggest that Prexige 100 mg once-daily for osteoarthritis is not associated with increased hepatic [liver] risk" compared to other painkillers.


Few Older Workers Have Job-Related Stress: Study

Work-related stress isn't an issue for most older American workers, suggests a University of Michigan survey of 1,544 people, aged 53 to 85.

Results from the 2006 survey showed that only 15 percent of respondents said their work "often" or "almost" interfered with their personal lives, although 47 percent did agree that time constraints were stressful, CBC News reported.

The researchers were surprised by the conclusions of the survey, which also found that 19 percent of respondents felt they had poor job security.

"Given what we know about the extent of age discrimination at work and the current economic climate regarding unemployment, this is a surprisingly low number," of older workers affected by job-related stress, study co-author Gwenith Fisher said in a prepared statement.

She noted that many older workers no longer have children to care for, and have more personal time. This may be a factor behind lower-than-expected levels of work-related stress among this group, CBC News reported.

The survey was presented at the annual meeting in San Francisco of the Gerontological Society of America.


Caregivers Have High Out-of-Pocket Expenses

Americans caring for an ailing spouse or elderly parent spend an average of $5,500 a year on out-of-pocket expenses, such as groceries, drugs, transportation, medical co-payments and household goods, according to a telephone survey conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and long-term care coordinator Evercare.

That amount is more than double previous estimates and more than what the average American household spends each year on health care and entertainment combined, The New York Times reported.

Caregivers cover these out-of-pocket costs, which account for an average of 10 percent of their household income, by dipping into savings, getting loans, skipping vacations, or ignoring their own health care, said the survey.

The researchers called for tax deductions, tax credits or other forms of government assistance for family caregivers, The Times reported.

The survey of 1,000 adults caring for someone over age 50 is the first to provide detailed information about out-of-pocket spending among the estimated 34 million Americans who provide care for older loved ones.


Drug Shows Promise in Slowing Aggressive Brain Cancer

The drug Avastin shows promised in slowing the spread of an aggressive and hard-to-treat brain cancer called glioblastoma, according to a study presented Sunday at the Society for Neuro-Oncology meeting in Dallas.

The Phase II study of 167 patients with a relapsed form of glioblastoma found that tumors remained stable for six months in about 36 percent of patients who took the drug, compared to about 15 percent of patients who took other drugs in previous studies, Bloomberg reported.

Among patients in the new study who took both Avastin and the chemotherapy drug irinotecan, about 51 percent were alive with stable tumors after six months. About 8 percent of patients taking Avastin experienced significant hypertension and about 6 percent had convulsions. The study was sponsored by California-based Genentech, which makes Avastin. Currently, the drug is approved for treatment of colon and lung cancer.

A previous study of 35 glioblastoma patients found that 46 percent of those who took Avastin lived six months with stable tumors, Bloomberg reported.


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Currently, patients with relapsed glioblastoma are expected to live about three to six months.


Older Canadian Cattle Threaten U.S. Meat Supply: Consumers Union

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is putting meat safety at risk by allowing imports of older Canadian cattle, says the Consumers Union.

Beginning Monday, the U.S. will allow imports of Canadian cattle born after 1999. These cattle can be slaughtered and processed as steak and beef burgers to be sold to Americans. Until Monday, the USDA had restricted imports of Canadian cattle to those up to 2.5 years old.

"Canada claims that all cattle born after 1999 are safe, as its new feed rules became effective at that time. But no less than five cases of mad cow disease have been detected in Canadian cattle born after 1999," Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist for food safety at Consumers Union, said in a prepared statement.

"Moreover, these cattle have been detected in a relatively small test program that tests only about one percent of slaughtered or dead Canadian cattle. How many more are there that are escaping detection?" he said.

If an infected Canadian animal does enter the U.S. it's unlikely that it will be detected by the small-scale American testing program, Hansen said.

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