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Health Highlights: April 2, 2002

JAMA Dedicates Issue to Basic Research IRS Ruling Allows Deductions for Obesity Income Level Determines Breast Cancer Care: Study Some Hormone Therapies May Increase Ovarian Cancer Risk Sleepless in Seattle ... and in Lots of Other Places Genetic Factors for Osteoarthritis Identified FDA Scrambles Biotech Egg Vaccine Plans

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

JAMA Dedicates Issue to Basic Research

Looking for research that has immediate implications for humansand has been confirmed beyond doubt? Then don't read the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The prestigious medical journal has decided to devote an entire issue instead to basic research that, however preliminary and inconclusive, bears much promise of someday having widespread implications.

For example, in one study researchers with Pittsburgh's Allegheny Singer Research Institute say that a look at the middle ears of chinchillas has revealed that a protective biofilm can be formed when ear infections occur, reports the Associated Press.

If the same film is found also to occur in humans, the findings could explain why some children's ear infections seem resistant to antibiotics.

The editors of the journal say the purpose of dedicating the issue to basic research is to provide a forum for research that may not otherwise receive much attention, but could, down the line, lead to significant advances in medicine.

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IRS Ruling Allows Deductions for Obesity

Thanks to a new tax break from the Internal Revenue Service, losing weight could mean gaining some extra pounds - - in your wallet.

In a ruling just announced by the IRS, obesity now qualifies as an official disease, and that means taxpayers can deduct the costs of weight loss programs and other expenses related to losing weight, reports the Associated Press.

Previously, such costs could only be deducted if they had been recommended by a doctor in order to treat a specific disease other than obesity.

In making the ruling, the IRS cited a large body (no pun intended) of research indicating that obesity is now considered a disease in itself, and not necessarily a consequence of another condition.

Simply joining a gym to shed a few pounds or improve your appearance won't qualify for a deduction, however. The IRS says taxpayers must be participating in the programs for medically valid reasons.

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Income Level Determines Breast Cancer Care: Study

Women in lower income levels have lower chances of being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer and have higher rates of dying from the disease, reports a new study as reported by HealthDay.

Researchers looked at a group of 5,719 Detroit, Mich., women with breast cancer and compared the experiences of those who were on Medicaid, a federal program to assist the poor, with those who were not on Medicaid.

They found that women on Medicaid were 41 percent more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at a late stage and were 44 percent less likely to receive radiation than those not on Medicaid.

In addition, the findings revealed that women on Medicaid were three times more likely to die from the disease than were non-Medicaid patients.

The study was prompted by previous research indicating that black women had later diagnoses for breast cancer and had shorter survival times than white women, but the researchers say the study indicates that income level is more important than race the quality of care women with breast cancer receive.

The findings are published in the latest issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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Some Hormone Therapies May Increase Ovarian Cancer Risk

Conventional wisdom has long held that hormone therapy protects women against ovarian cancer. Now, a new Swedish study refutes that wisdom by showing some forms of the therapy may actually increase a woman's risk of this killer disease.

Reporting in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Swedish researchers say two particular types of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) -- estrogen alone and estrogen with limited use of progestins, the synthetic form of progesterone -- are at the center of the new finding: Both types of therapy may increase the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer, a form of the disease involving cells covering the outer surface of the ovaries.

American doctors, however, say there is little for women in the United States to fear, because both of these HRT formulas have not, for the most part, been prescribed in the country for more than 10 years.

In fact, the study of more than 4,000 Swedish women found those who used the traditional American form of HRT, consisting of a daily dose of a combined estrogen/progestin formula, had no increase in ovarian cancer.

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Sleepless in Seattle, And New York, And Dallas. And...

A quarter of the adult population in America isn't getting enough sleep, the latest annual "Sleep in America" survey finds. The poll of 1,000 adults, released today by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), estimates that some 47 million Americans don't get the sleep they need to feel rested, reports HealthDay.

"If we were talking about a virus or a disease, we'd use the term epidemic," says NSF spokesman Dr. Gary Zammitt.

The survey finds:

  • 30 percent of respondents reported sleeping eight hours or more during the week.
  • 29 percent said they got between seven and eight hours a night.
  • 24 percent caught six-to-seven hours of shuteye nightly.
  • 15 percent said they were getting by on less than six hours of sleep on weekdays, and often tried to catch up on lost sleep during weekends.

Almost 40 percent of survey participants said their lack of sleep affected their daily activities at least a few days a month. Those between the ages of 18 and 29 seemed most affected, with 44 percent reporting sleep-related problems several times monthly.

Fear may be keeping Americans up, as part of the poll looked at how people were sleeping in the days immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

On a typical night, 27 percent said they get only a fair or poor night of sleep. In the days immediately following 9/11, that number jumped to 47 percent. And rates of insomnia symptoms increased from an average of 58 percent to 69 percent.

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Genetic Factors for Osteoarthritis Identified

Boston University researchers say they've identified genetic abnormalities that may increase a person's risk of developing osteoarthritis.

As reported in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, scientists from BU's School of Public Health examined DNA material from 793 older parents and 684 of their middle-age children. The researchers say they found eight areas in a person's genetic makeup that indicate an inherited risk for osteoarthritis.

The condition -- caused by a degeneration of the cartilage surrounding bones in the hands, knees or hips -- affects about 12 million Americans ages 25-74, according to the American College of Rheumatology.

The scientists say their discovery brings them a step closer to producing an effective treatment.

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FDA Scrambles Biotech Egg Vaccine Plans

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has quashed an Ohio firm's efforts to market antibody-laced chicken eggs as a way to stave off dangerous diseases, reports the Associated Press.

Richwood, Ohio-based OvImmune Inc. allegedly told its Web site visitors that its "magic bullet" eggs contained antibodies for diseases like AIDS, pneumonia and cancer. The FDA has told a federal grand jury looking into the company that if the products had any medicinal effect at all, they would be classified as unapproved drugs.

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