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Health Highlights: Dec. 7, 2007

Half of Older Americans Haven't Had Screening Colonoscopy Heavy Cell Phone Use Ups Tumor Risk: Study Triple-Drug Therapy for HIV Highly Effective Changes Made to U.S. Nutrition Program for Women and Children School Athletes Less Likely to Smoke: Study Gardasil Vaccine is Safe: FDA

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

Half of Older Americans Haven't Had Screening Colonoscopy

Only half of Americans age 50 and older have had a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer, according to survey data in the latest News and Numbers from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The federal Preventive Services Task Force recommends that everyone age 50 and older be screened for colon cancer, the nation's second-leading cause of cancer death.

The survey revealed that:

  • Some 67 percent of Hispanics, 55.8 percent of blacks, and 47.1 percent of whites age 50 and older said they'd never had a screening colonoscopy.
  • Among uninsured adults ages 50 to 64, 77 percent had never had a screening colonoscopy, compared to 54.1 percent of those with private insurance and 61 percent of those covered by Medicaid and other public insurance.
  • Just over half of people age 65 and older covered by Medicare plus other public coverage had never had a screening colonoscopy, compared with 45 percent in the same age group who only had Medicare coverage, and 34.6 of those with Medicare plus private insurance.


Heavy Cell Phone Use Boosts Tumor Risk: Study

Regular use of cell phones for more than 22 hours a month increases a person's risk of developing a parotid gland tumor by about 50 percent, according to an Israeli study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The parotid gland is located near the ear. The study said the tumor risk was even greater among people who always put the phone to the same ear, who didn't use hands-free devices, or who lived in rural areas, Agence France-Presse reported.

For this study, the researchers looked at cases of 402 benign and 58 malignant parotid gland tumors diagnosed in people age 18 or older in Israel from 2001-2003.

"Analysis restricted to regular users or to conditions that may yield higher levels of exposure (eg. heavy use in rural areas) showed consistently elevated risks," according to an abstract of the study, AFP reported.


Triple-Drug Therapy for HIV Highly Effective

A British study has found that standard triple-drug therapy for HIV infection gives long-term protection against the development of full-flown AIDS, Agence France-Presse reported.

Researchers analyzed data about 7,916 HIV-positive patients on the standard triple-antiretroviral drug therapy, finding that only 167 developed extensive resistance to all three types of medication. The researchers estimated the risk of such triple failure after 10 years of therapy at about 9.2 percent.

The findings appear in The Lancet medical journal.

The three main classes of drugs used in this triple therapy are nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, and protease inhibitors. The therapy is considered to have failed when the drugs can no longer suppress replication of the HIV virus, AFP reported.


Changes Made to U.S. Nutrition Program for Women and Children

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says amounts of whole grains, fruits, vegetables will be added to the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, while amounts of milk, cheese, eggs and juice will be reduced.

Alternative products such as tofu, soy beverages, tortillas and brown rice will also be added to the program for low-income women and their children, the Associated Press reported.

"This is a historic day for USDA. It's the first time in 30 years that the food packages for WIC have been revised to better meet the nutritional needs of women, infants and children," said Eric Steiner, the USDA's associate administrator for special nutrition programs.

The changes to the program, which serves about 8 million people, take effect in February. State agencies will have 18 months to implement the changes, the AP reported.

Anti-hunger advocates praised the changes, while the dairy, egg and juice industries expressed displeasure.


School Athletes Less Likely to Smoke: Study

Young Americans who participate in high school team sports or individual physical activity are less likely to smoke than their classmates, says a University of Pennsylvania study, which found this effect lasts for at least three years after high school graduation.

Researchers followed 985 young people from grade 12 through the third year after graduation from high school, finding that participation in high school team sports reduced the likelihood of smoking by 18 percent and individual physical activity reduced it by 12 percent.

Both forms of activity reduced the risk of smoking by improving young peoples' perception of their physical self, the researchers said. Team sports also reduced contact with peers who smoke.

Another study by the same researchers found that participation in team sports in grade 10 reduced the risk of smoking in grade 11 by 5 percent. In this study of 384 students, the reduced likelihood of smoking was due to an increased feeling of competence in their sport and fewer depressive symptoms in students who were on teams.

"Most smoking initiation occurs during adolescence. So, if you can make it out of that adolescent period, and you have a sport to buffer you from smoking during that period, you're pretty safe," study author Daniel Rodriguez, research assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

The studies were to be presented at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.


Gardasil Vaccine is Safe: FDA

The cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil is safe, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, responding to reports that 28 U.S. women who received the vaccine suffered miscarriages, said Fox News, reporting a story.

The FDA said clinical trials show the miscarriage rate among women who received the vaccine was consistent with that of women who received a placebo. The agency also said most of the miscarriages reported among women who were vaccinated cannot directly be connected to Gardasil.

The vaccine protects against the sexually-transmitted human papillomovirus, which is believed to be the cause of most cervical cancer cases.

In June 2006, the FDA approved Gardasil for use in girls as young as 9. Since than, there have been 3,461 reported adverse reactions, including eight deaths, among females who have received the vaccine.

The FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say most side effects are minor, the Fox News report said.

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