Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
Women are less likely to have chest pain with a heart attack, and more likely to die, research published this week finds. Another study shows for the first time that removing polyps by colonoscopy reduces colon cancer. A study from a major hospital found that more children are getting treatment for gender identity disorder. In government news, an expert panel this week supported approving the diet drug Qnexa. And a government study found that deaths from hepatitis C are rising.
This Issue: Women Have Less Chest Pain, More Deaths Study: Colonoscopy Cuts Cancer Deaths More Kids Treated for Gender Issues Experts Back New Weight Loss Pill Hepatitis C Deaths Rising; Test Program Weighed
In the News:
Women Have Less Chest Pain, More Deaths
Not only are women with heart attacks less likely to have chest pain than men, but those without this symptom are more likely to die, a study published this week finds. The difference was especially strong among younger women. Recent research has shown that women and men may have different heart attack symptoms. The new study provided more information. It used records from 1.1 million heart attack patients. They were seen at U.S. hospitals between 1994 and 2006. About 42% of women and 31% of men did not have chest pain or pressure. Nearly 15% of women died in the hospital, compared with 10% of men. The average woman having a heart attack was 74, compared with 67 for men. But younger women, under age 65, were 24% to 30% more likely to die in the hospital than men the same age. Both men and women were more likely to die if they did not have chest pain. Among those without chest pain, younger women had higher death rates than younger men. This difference disappeared by age 65. The Journal of the American Medical Association published the study. USA Today wrote about it.
Study: Colonoscopy Cuts Cancer Deaths
Removing growths in the colon reduces colon cancer death rates by half, research published this week suggests. It's the first study to show that a test called colonoscopy can save lives. This test looks inside the colon using a long tube with an attached camera. The doctor can remove any cancers, or growths called polyps, that are found. Some polyps can develop into cancer. The new study kept track of 2,602 people who had precancerous polyps removed during a colonoscopy. In the next 16 years, 12 died of colon cancer. The estimated number of deaths was 25 for a similar group in the general population. The New England Journal of Medicine published the study. A second study in the journal compared results for 2 tests used for screening people without symptoms for colon cancer. One was colonoscopy, which is widely considered the best test. The other test looked for blood in a stool sample. About 53,000 people were randomly assigned to have one of the tests. Each test found about 30 colon cancer cases. But the colonoscopy found twice as many precancerous polyps. The Associated Press wrote about the studies.
More Kids Treated for Gender Issues
More children are seeking support and treatment for gender identity disorder, research published this week finds. These children are at high risk of psychological illness, the articles say. The journal Pediatrics published the articles online. One reports that Children's Hospital in Boston is treating 19 patients a year for gender identity disorder. This compares with about 4 per year in the late 1990s. In a commentary, a doctor from Galveston, Texas, reports a similar increase. Treatment includes counseling. Children also can take drugs to stop puberty from occurring. Later, they can get hormones for the opposite sex. This can continue until they are old enough to decide whether to make the sex change permanent with surgery. The Boston study took a close look at 97 patients. Before entering the program, 45% had been treated for a psychological disorder. About 20% had harmed themselves, such as by cutting. About 9% had attempted suicide. The Associated Press wrote about the research.
Experts Back New Weight Loss Pill
A group of experts this week recommended approval of the weight loss pill Qnexa despite concerns about potential risks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to decide on approval by April 17. The FDA usually, but not always, follows the advice of its expert advisers. The advisory group and the FDA voted against approval 2 years ago. They cited Qnexa's link to increases in heart rate and birth defects. But this time members were reassured by steps that will be taken to keep pregnant women from taking the drug. Qnexa's maker, Vivus, also emphasized the health risks of obesity. Tests showed Qnexa can help people lose about 10% of body weight in a year. Panel members were persuaded that this benefit was worth the drug's potential risks. Qnexa is made of 2 drugs that already are sold separately. One is topiramate, an epilepsy and migraine medicine. The other is the stimulant phentermine, which also was part of the weight loss drug fen-phen. That combination pill was banned in 1997. It had been linked to a higher rate of heart valve defects. The International Herald Tribune wrote about the panel vote.
Hepatitis C Deaths Rising; Test Program Weighed
Hepatitis C killed more Americans than AIDS in 2007, a study released this week concludes. And 3 out of 4 hepatitis deaths were among baby boomers, the study found. Deaths are likely to keep rising for at least 10 years, U.S. health officials said. They are considering whether to recommend a one-time test for chronic (long-term) hepatitis C. It would be given to people born between 1945 and 1965. Another new study published this week concluded that such a program could save 82,000 lives. Hepatitis C can cause extensive liver damage. But not everyone has such severe damage. Treatments for hepatitis C are costly and can have serious side effects. New treatments approved last summer cost even more, but greatly improve cure rates. A third study published this week concluded that the most up-to-date treatment, involving 3 drugs, is worthwhile for people with advanced disease. Researcher said it could help to prevent the need for a liver transplant. These often cost about $100,000. The journal Annals of Internal Medicine published the studies. The Associated Press wrote about them.
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