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Health Highlights: Feb. 25, 2007

Hormone Therapy May Increase Heart Death Risk for Older Prostate Cancer PatientsGovernors Ask Congress for More Money for Children's Health InsuranceTexas Governor Sued Over His Cervical Cancer Vaccine Order New ADHD Drug Wins Federal Approval Illinois Measure Backs Spending on Embryonic Stem Cell Research Girl Scout Cookies Dump Most Trans Fats

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

Hormone Therapy May Increase Heart Death Risk for Older Prostate Cancer Patients

One of the most common treatments for prostate cancer may give older patients an increased risk of death from heart disease.

Androgen deprivation therapy -- the reduction of male hormones in the body -- offers the possibility of increasing mortality from heart disease in patients over the age of 65, according to a news release from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. The results came from an analysis of a national registry of prostate cancer patients called CaPSURE.

The findings need to be confirmed through clinical trials, the researchers say, but they advise oncologists to weigh the benefits of androgen deprivation against the age and general condition of older prostate cancer patient.

This type of therapy is associated with those risks most common in heart disease, "... elevated body mass index, increased body fat deposits and diabetes, all of which raise the risk of death from heart diseased," according to the study's lead author, Dr. Henry Tsai, a resident at Dana-Farber, Brigham and Women's and the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program.

The study was presented over the weekend at a symposium sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology and the Society of Urologic Oncology.


Governors Ask Congress for More Money for Children's Health Insurance

Putting aside political party differences, 13 governors appealed to Congress and President Bush Saturday to come up with enough money to continue funding a program that provides health insurance to hundreds of thousands of children who would not be eligible under the Medicaid program.

The New York Times reports that seven Republican and six Democract governors from states as diverse as Illinois and Georgia signed the appeal at the national Governors Association winter meeting in Washington, D.C. The program is called the State Children's Health Insurance Program, and it provides some health insurance coverage for about 6 million children whose families make more than the minimum required for Medicaid eligibility but still can't afford to buy private health insurance.

The Times reports that while the Bush Administration has budgeted an increase in funding over the next five years, it doesn't compensate for what will be needed to keep the program at its current level or for it to expand to meet additional needs. "Without quick Congressional action," the letter to Congress said, "our states, all facing federal shortfalls, will be forced to make harsh decisions affecting the lives of thousands of families."

Congress is expected to take up the measure, which currently costs about $5 billion annually but is estimated to need another $14 billion within the next five years, during its current session, the Times reports.


Texas Governor Sued Over His Cervical Cancer Vaccine Order

The latest legal battle over whether a state official has the authority to order pre-teenage girls to be vaccinated against cervical cancer has returned to where it began -- Texas.

The Associated Press reports that a group of families has sued over whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry has the legal right to mandate the vaccination, which clinical trials have shown protects against more than 90 percent of all cervical cancer cases. This particular malignancy is caused by the papapillomavirus (HPV). Perry had issued an executive order in early February, mandating the vaccination for all Texas girls entering the sixth grade.

Because HPV is caused only by sexual contact, many parents objected to the order, because they felt it interfered in the way they wanted to talk to their children about sex.

Kenneth Chaiken, an attorney representing the families in the lawsuit, is quoted by the A.P. as saying in the court papers, "These school-age girls of Texas are not guinea pigs who may be subjected to medical procedures at the apparent whim of Texas' governor." Chaiken emphasized that the lawsuit isn't dealing with moral issues, only with Perry's authority to issue the order.

Perry doesn't appear to be backing down. The wire service quotes his spokesperson Krista Moody as saying, "He sees this vaccine as not only a fiscally responsible order but also one that has the potential to save the lives of thousands of women in Texas."


New ADHD Drug Wins Federal Approval

Shire PLC, a company that makes a top-selling drug to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) won federal approval Friday for a new amphetamine-based drug, which the manufacturer says may be better to control patient misuse.

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Vyvanse, (lisdexamfetamine), which Shire will market to replace its popular widely-used Adderall XR over the next two years. Adderall XR's patent is due to expire in 2009.

The wire service quotes Shire PLC spokesman Matt Cabrey as saying that the company has tested Vyvanse on adults who have a history of stimulant abuse to assess its "likeability." The outcome, according to Shire, was that Vyvanse delays the intensity of amphetamine effects, which include increased alertness, physical activity, and decreased appetite.

Despite the company's efforts, the A.P. says, Vyvanse will carry a "Black Box" warning, the same as other ADHD drugs, such as Ritalin and Adderall. The most-often cited concerns are amphetamine abuse and heart attack.


Illinois Measure Backs Spending on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Illinois Senate passed a measure Friday to spend state tax dollars on embryonic stem cell research, but opponents condemned the plan because it involves the destruction of human embryos.

The measure, which passed 35-23, now goes to the state House. If approved there, the legislation would bring the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute, to which Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich has already awarded $15 million in grants, under state law.

Supporters of the research say that embryonic stem cell studies could yield new treatments for diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, the Associated Press reported. Opponents say the research needlessly destroys human embryos, and some state senators argued the money would be better spent balancing Illinois' already strained budget.


Girl Scout Cookies Dump Most Trans Fats

This year's supply of Girl Scout cookies will come nearly free of trans fats, as the organization's bakers join cities, restaurants and fast-food outlets across the United States who have already made the switch to more healthy ingredients.

Marking their 90th year in the cookie business, the Scouts will also offer a sugar-free cookie called the Little Brownie. Another cookie, the Cartwheel, was introduced last year with reduced saturated fat, the Associated Press reported Friday. Every variety of Girl Scout cookie now meets U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards, based on serving sizes that range from four Thin Mints to two Samoas or Caramel deLites, the AP reported.

Denise J. Pessich, vice president of Girl Scouts of the USA, told the wire service that the switch was made only after the two commercial bakeries that make the treats found alternatives that didn't compromise the flavor, texture or shelf life of the cookies. The cookies, in fact, still contain a small amount of trans fat -- less than half a gram per serving -- but that's low enough to qualify for a "zero grams of trans fat" label under FDA rules. Pessich added that consumers should notice few differences.

One warning was sounded, however, by Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "If it says zero grams, but contains partially hydrogenated oil, people should know it does contain a little bit of trans fat," Jacobson said. "If somebody ate several servings of those foods a day, someone could consume 2 or 3 grams of trans fat, which is significant."


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