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Health Highlights: Dec. 5, 2011

Consumers Groups, Others Gain Access to Medicare Claims Database TV Hostess Rancic to Have Double Mastectomy Departing Medicare Chief Cites Wasteful Spending Prominent Cancer Researcher Dies Scene in 'Breaking Dawn' Movie Poses Seizure Risk: Report

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

Consumers Groups, Others Gain Access to Medicare Claims Database

Medicare will allow the use of its claims database to create ratings of hospitals, doctors and other health care service providers, officials said Monday.

The ratings, which would have to adhere to valid statistical methods, could be produced by consumer groups, employers and others. Medical providers would have 60 days to privately challenge a rating before it is made public, the Associated Press reported.

This is a "giant step forward" in helping patients make decisions about their medical care while holding providers accountable for quality, Medicare acting administrator Marilyn Tavenner said.

Consumer groups, which have long lobbied for the release of the data, are still analyzing the fine print, the AP reported.


TV Hostess Rancic to Have Double Mastectomy

E! News anchor Giuliana Rancic, 37, said Monday that next week she will have a double mastectomy (removal of both breasts) followed by reconstructive surgery.

She made the announcement on "The Today Show" and also revealed that she underwent a double lumpectomy in October after being diagnosed with breast cancer. A follow-up medical visit showed that cancer was still present in one breast, ABC News reported.

"With the double mastectomy, I have less than a 1 percent chance of getting it back. With another lumpectomy, radiation and medication, I could have seen 20 to 30 to 40 percent chance in my lifetime and for me it just wasn't worth it," she said in explaining her decision.

Rancic added that she wants to deliver a positive message to other women that a mastectomy is a life-saving operation and nothing to be ashamed of, ABC News reported.


Departing Medicare Chief Cites Wasteful Spending

Twenty to 30 percent of U.S. health spending is "waste" that provides no benefit to patients, according to the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Dr. Donald M. Berwick told The New York Times that the high level of wasteful spending is due to overtreatment of patients, failure to coordinate care, the health system's administrative complexity, burdensome rules and fraud, The New York Times reported.

Berwick, whose last day on the job was Thursday, also said Americans should support the nation's new health care law, even if they don't fully understand all the details.

"It's a complex, complicated law. To explain it takes a while. To understand it takes an investment that I'm not sure the man or woman in the street wants to make or ought to make," he told The Times.

He noted that Americans supported manned missions to the moon even though they didn't fully comprehend the science.

"We are a nation headed for justice, for fairness and justice in access to care," Berwick told The Times. "We are a nation headed for much more healing and much safer care. There is a moon shot here. But somehow we have not put together that story in a way that's compelling."


Prominent Cancer Researcher Dies

An American doctor who made major discoveries about the link between the immune system and cancer had died.

Dr. Lloyd J. Old, 78, died Nov. 28 at his home in Manhattan. His family said the cause of death was prostate cancer, The New York Times reported.

Old was considered a leader in a branch of cancer therapy called immunotherapy, also known as biotherapy. Most of the treatments in this field involve using cells from a cancer patient to boost the body's natural ability to kill cancer and to improve the immune system's ability to detect cancer cells.

Cancer immunotherapy was considered fringe when Old began in work in the field in the 1960s but is now considered one of the standard options for cancer treatment, The Times reported.

"Without Lloyd Old, there would be one less therapy available to treat cancer patients," Dr. Irving Weissman, director of the Institute of Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine, told The Times. "He has kept a field alive that shows great promise."


Scene in 'Breaking Dawn' Movie Poses Seizure Risk: Report

Flashing white lights in the birth scene of the movie "Breaking Dawn" can cause seizures in some people, the Epilepsy Foundation of America warns on a Facebook posting.

At least nine people have reported suffering photosensitive seizures during the scene, ABC News reported.

The flashing white lights can cause brain neurons to start firing in synch instead of their usual random patterns.

"When the brain is functioning normally, there are neurons firing all over the place," Dr. Dan Lowenstein, director of the University of California, San Francisco Epilepsy Center, told ABC News. "During a seizure, there's an abnormal synchronization that we don't usually have."

In 1997, more than 700 people in Japan were hospitalized after suffering seizures caused by special effects in a Pokemon cartoon.

Consumer News