Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
An expert panel in the United Kingdom said this week that regular mammograms save lives for women older than 50. But that comes at a cost. Three women are treated for breast cancers that would not have harmed them for every life saved, the panel said. A review of research released this week found health benefits as a result of public smoking bans. It found that hospital stays for heart attacks and strokes drop in places with the bans. Another review published this week questioned the benefits of taking antidepressant drugs during pregnancy. It found that risks to the baby may outweigh the benefits. During the storm Sandy this week, New York University Langone Medical Center had to evacuate 300 patients. The exodus began after the power went off and backup generators failed. Researchers reported promising results this week for a new drug to reduce LDL cholesterol. People in the study already were taking a statin. Adding the new drug lowered LDL more than just raising the statin dose.
This Issue: Panel: Mammograms Lead to Overtreatment Study: Smoking Bans Reduce Hospital Stays NYC Hospital Evacuates 300 during Storm Used with Statins, Drug May Further Lower Cholesterol Study Questions Antidepressant Use in Pregnancy
In the News:
Panel: Mammograms Lead to Overtreatment
Breast cancer screening of women over 50 saves lives, but leads to overtreatment of many more women, an expert group said this week. For every life saved, the group said, 3 women will be treated for cancers that never would have harmed them. The United Kingdom's health department and Cancer Research U.K. sponsored the study. The expert panel added together the numbers from 11 prior studies. They concluded that screening of women in their 50s reduces breast cancer deaths by 20%. They looked more closely at 3 studies that randomly divided women into 2 groups. One group was invited to regular screening, and the other group was not. When the studies were over, women in the second group still were not invited to begin screening. Based on these studies and other information, the expert group estimated overtreatment rates. In the UK, women over 50 are invited to have screening mammograms every 3 years. The panel concluded that about 0.43% of these women will be saved from dying of breast cancer. Another 1.29% will likely be treated for cancers that would not threaten their lives. The journal Lancet published the study. The Associated Press wrote about it.
Study: Smoking Bans Reduce Hospital Stays
Public smoking bans quickly reduce hospital stays for heart attack, stroke and some other diseases. That's the conclusion of a research review that looked at health effects of laws around the world. The new analysis included 45 studies. They focused on laws in the United States and other countries. After public smoking bans were passed, hospital stays for heart attack fell an average of 15%, the studies found. Hospital stays dropped 16% for stroke and 24% for respiratory diseases. The journal Archives of Internal Medicine published the study this week. Another study in the same issue also looked at the issue. It found that stricter laws led to bigger reductions. For example, a 2002 Minnesota law banned smoking only in restaurants. Hospital stays for heart attacks did not go down. But heart attacks fell 33% after a 2007 law that banned smoking in all workplaces, including bars. Fewer Minnesota smoked at home, too. Smoke-free homes in the state increased from 64.5% to 87.2% in the first 10 years of the new century.
NYC Hospital Evacuates 300 during Storm
A New York City hospital evacuated 300 patients this week in the wake of superstorm Sandy. Officials of New York University Langone Medical Center decided to evacuate after they lost backup generator power. Rescuers and staff walked with some patients down stairways. They lit the way with flashlights. Others were carried down on gurneys similar to sleighs. The hospital had sent 100 patients home before the storm. But after the power failed they started clearing out others. They began with 20 babies from the neonatal intensive care unit. Some of the babies were breathing with battery-powered respirators. Despite rising waters, ambulances were able to pick up the patients. They were taken to 5 other area hospitals. Hospital officials said the city had not advised them to send patients home ahead of the storm. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said hospital officials had assured him they had working generators. The Associated Press wrote about the evacuation.
Used with Statins, Drug May Further Lower Cholesterol
A new injectable drug may help people who can't lower LDL cholesterol enough with current treatments, a new study says. The drug is a monoclonal antibody, made in a laboratory. It blocks a protein that hinders the liver from removing LDL from the bloodstream. The study included 92 people. Their LDL was high even though they took statin drugs to lower it. People were randomly divided into 3 groups. One group received 10 milligrams (mg) of atorvastatin daily. This group also got injections of the antibody every 2 weeks. Another group received the antibody shots plus a bigger statin dose, 80 mg. The third group received 80 mg of the statin and placebo (fake) injections. After 8 weeks, LDL had dropped 73% in for those who got the high statin dose plus the antibody. The drop was 17% for those who got the high statin dose but no antibody. LDL fell 66% for people who got the antibody and the small statin dose. Experts said the drug has promise but needs larger tests. It also has not yet been shown to reduce heart attacks or deaths. The New England Journal of Medicine published the study online this week. USA Today wrote about it.
Study Questions Antidepressant Use in Pregnancy
Popular drugs for depression may lead to more risks than benefits for pregnant women, a review of research finds. The review focused on women who had problems getting pregnant. But the studies reviewed also included other pregnant women. The most popular drugs for depression are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Prior research has linked the use of some of these drugs during pregnancy with higher risks of miscarriage, birth defects and preterm (early) birth. The strongest evidence of risk has been seen for paroxetine (Paxil). Some studies also suggest effects on the babies' behavior and health. The new review of research found no evidence that treating depression with drugs can lead to a healthier pregnancy or birth. The study did conclude that talk therapy can reduce depression symptoms. This type of treatment does not require drugs. Experts interviewed by USA Today disagreed with the conclusion that drug treatment does not benefit the mother and baby. They said each woman should decide about treatment with her doctor. The journal Human Reproduction published the study online this week.
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