Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
Having less than a drink a day of alcohol can increase women's risk of breast cancer. So says a study released this week. Another study offered good news for children with an attention disorder. It found that medicines for this condition do not increase the risk of heart problems. U.S. officials said this week that overdose deaths caused by prescription painkillers have tripled in the last decade. Other officials this week approved a new device to help doctors detect melanoma. And President Obama issued an order to increase government efforts to prevent shortages of some medicines.
This Issue: Light Drinking May Increase Breast Cancer Study Finds No Heart Risk with ADHD Drugs Report: Painkiller Overdoses Triple Since '99 U.S. Approves Device to Help Detect Melanoma Obama Takes Steps on Drug Shortages
In the News:
Light Drinking May Increase Breast Cancer
Even light drinking of alcohol slightly increases a woman's risk of breast cancer, new research finds. The study found a 15% higher risk for women who had 3 to 6 drinks a week, compared with non-drinkers. Previous studies have shown a higher risk for women who drink more than this. Researchers used data from the Nurses' Health Study. The study included more than 100,000 women. They regularly filled out questionnaires about their health and habits. The study began in 1980 and continued through 2008. Breast cancer risk increased by 10% for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed daily. That's about one standard drink of alcohol. It could be a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 4-ounce glass of wine or a shot of whiskey. The type of alcohol did not matter. The Journal of the American Medical Association published the study this week. The Associated Press wrote about it.
Study Finds No Heart Risk with ADHD Drugs
Children who take medicine for attention disorders do not have a higher risk of serious heart problems, a study released this week found. The study looked at records from 4 insurance plans. It covered 1.2 million children and young adults, up to age 24. This was the largest study yet to look at the safety of drugs for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The study covered the years 1998 through 2005. In those years, there were 81 cases of heart attack, stroke or sudden death among the group studied. People taking ADHD medicines were no more likely to have these events than non-users or former users. U.S. government agencies sponsored the study. Alarms had been raised about the drugs because a small number of children had heart attacks or strokes while taking these drugs. Some of the drugs carry warnings about possible heart risks. But the new study found that the drugs did not increase risk. The New England Journal of Medicine published the study this week. The Associated Press wrote about it.
Report: Painkiller Overdoses Triple Since '99
Deaths from overdoses of narcotic painkillers have tripled in the last decade, a new report says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the report this week. It focused on prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin. These drugs help to control severe pain but are highly addictive. More than 15,000 people died in 2008 from overdoses of these drugs, the report said. There were 4,000 such deaths in 1999. About 5% of American say they abuse narcotic painkillers, the report said. Deaths have risen along with prescriptions for these drugs. In 2008, enough of them were prescribed to supply every American for a month, the report said. Overdose and abuse rates vary greatly from state to state. CDC officials said that's because state policies can help or hurt. They said states can crack down on doctors with loose prescribing policies and patients who "doctor shop." U.S. drug officials also have encouraged all states to track prescriptions for narcotics. Doctors also should prescribe these drugs only as a last resort, officials said. The Associated Press and the New York Times News Service wrote about the report.
U.S. Approves Device to Help Detect Melanoma
U.S. officials this week approved a new device that may help doctors decide which moles to check for melanoma. This form of skin cancer is nearly always cured when found early. But 85% of people with advanced melanoma die within 5 years. Dermatologists, or skin doctors, decide which moles to check based on what they look like. But doctors can't always tell by looking. The new device uses a special light to look below the surface. It compares the mole with a database of 10,000 images. Then it recommends whether to biopsy the mole. In a biopsy, some or all of the mole is removed to examine it for cancer. The new device is called MelaFind. It is made by Mela Sciences Inc. Company research tried the device on moles that had been removed by doctors. It correctly identified 125 of 127 moles that were cancerous. In approving the device, the Food and Drug Administration added restrictions. It said MelaFind can be used only by dermatologists who have been "board-certified" by passing a professional test. They also must take a course on using the device. The Associated Press wrote about the approval of MelaFind.
Obama Takes Steps on Drug Shortages
President Obama issued an order this week to help address the problem of increased drug shortages. He told the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to send out more early warnings about specific drug shortages that may occur and try to prevent them. Shortages have increased greatly. The FDA said there were 178 last year and more this year. Many of the shortages involve cancer drugs. The FDA said it had prevented 137 other shortages in the last two years when companies said they were having problems. In these cases, the FDA got other companies to make more of a drug or helped a company find suppliers, among other things. Obama's order tells the FDA to push more companies to report problems early and try to avert shortages. The Associated Press wrote about the order.
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