Health Highlights: July 11, 2007

Uninsured Women Less Likely to Get Pap Smears APA Reviews Policy for Counseling Gays and Lesbians More Moles May Mean Slower Aging Doctors Restore Fertility in Woman After Chemotherapy: Report Older Adults Less Likely to Understand Jokes FDA Approves Robotic Arm Brace for Stroke Patients

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

Uninsured Women Less Likely to Get Pap Smears

When surveyed in 2005, one-fourth of uninsured U.S. women ages 18 to 64 said they did not have a Pap smear within the previous three years, according to findings released Wednesday by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

In contrast, 11 percent of women with private insurance and 15 percent of those covered by Medicaid or other public insurance reported that they did not have a Pap smear within the prior three years.

The latest News and Numbers from the AHRQ also found that:

  • Overall, 14 percent of U.S. women ages 18 to 64 -- with or without insurance -- did not receive a Pap smear in the three years prior to the survey.
  • Among different ethnic/racial groups, 21.5 percent of Asian women said they hadn't had a Pap smear, compared to 16 percent of Hispanic women, 13.5 percent of whites, and 10 percent of black women.
  • Women ages 50 to 64 were more likely (17 percent) to not have had a Pap smear than women ages 40 to 49 (12 percent) and women ages 30 to 39 (nine percent).

It's recommended that women ages 21 to 64 undergo Pap smear screening every three years to detect cervical cancer and abnormal cells that can develop into cancer, the AHRQ said.


APA Reviews Policy for Counseling Gays and Lesbians

Controversy surrounds the American Psychological Association's plans to conduct the first review of its 10-year-old policy on counseling gays and lesbians, the Associated Press reported.

Conservative groups are upset that they have no voice on the six-member review task force that will hold its first meeting next week. Conservatives want the APA to support reparative therapy (also called conversion therapy), in which therapists try to change a person's sexual orientation.

Gay-rights activists hope the APA's review results in a denunciation of that kind of therapy, which they consider useless and harmful. The current APA policy rules out any counseling that treats homosexuality as a mental illness, but it does not explicitly condemn reparative therapy, the AP reported.

Scientific research, not religious ideology, will guide the panel's policy review, said Clinton Anderson, director of the APA's Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns Office. The task force will submit a preliminary report to the APA's directors in December and final report may be ready by March 2008.


More Moles May Mean Slower Aging

The more moles a person has, the more likely their DNA has properties that help slow aging, according to a U.K. study of 1,800 twins.

People with more than 100 moles had longer telomeres than people with fewer than 25 moles, the study found. Telomeres -- bundles of DNA found at the end of chromosomes in all cells -- help keep chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to one another, BBC News reported.

Telomeres shorten as people age. The difference in telomere length between study volunteers with more than 100 moles and those with fewer than 25 moles was equivalent to six to seven years of aging, said the study, which appears in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention.

"The results of this study are very exciting as they show, for the first time, that moley people who have a slightly increased risk of melanoma may, on the other hand, have the benefit of a reduce rate of aging," said lead researcher Dr. Veronique Bataille of King's College London, BBC News reported.

"This could imply susceptibility to fewer age-related diseases, such as heart disease or osteoporosis, for example. Further studies are needed to confirm these findings," Bataille said.


Doctors Restore Fertility in Woman After Chemotherapy: Report

In what he says is a world-first, a Belgian gynecologist restored the fertility of a women who became infertile after undergoing chemotherapy and whole-body radiation for cancer, Agence France-Presse reported.

Dr. Jacques Donnez said he grafted ovarian tissue from the patient's sister during an operation last year.

"To this day, more than a year after the graft, the patient continues to menstruate regularly. Her ovarian functions are restored, as well as her chances of natural childbirth," Donnez said in a statement released Tuesday.

An article about the case is to be published in the journal Human Reproduction.

In 2005, an American doctor reported a successful transplant of ovarian tissue supplied by the patient's identical twin sister, which greatly reduced the risk of rejection. In this latest case, the sister was not an identical twin, AFP reported.

In 2004, Donnez and his team achieved a world-first when they helped a woman give birth after her ovarian tissue was removed, thawed and then re-implanted.


Older Adults Less Likely to Understand Jokes

Older adults have a harder time understanding jokes and comic strips, which is an indication of cognitive decline, says a Washington University study that included 40 healthy adults over age 65 and 40 undergraduate students.

The participants did exercises in which they had to complete jokes and stories and they were also asked to choose the correct punch line for verbal jokes and select funny endings to cartoon panels, the Associated Press reported.

The younger adults did 14 percent better on the cartoons and six percent better on the verbal jokes than the older adults, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

"This wasn't a study about what people find funny. It was a study about whether they get what's supposed to be funny," psychology professor Brian Carpenter told the AP. "There are basic cognitive mechanisms to understanding what's going on in a joke. Older adults, because they may have deficits in some of those cognitive areas, may have a harder time understanding what a joke is about."


FDA Approves Robotic Arm Brace for Stroke Patients

A robotic arm brace designed to help stroke patients relearn how to move affected muscles and regain use of paralyzed limbs has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, device maker Myomo Inc. announced Tuesday.

The Boston-based company said it would start marketing the e100 Neurorobotic System to medical specialists and rehabilitation clinics, the Associated Press reported. It's expected that the device will cost $5,000 to $10,000.

The brace slides onto the arm and sensors in the brace detect muscle contractions. This triggers a motor that allows patients to control their arm movement. The motor is located in a backpack worn by the patient.

The brace does require invasive procedures and does not use electrical stimulation. It's meant to help stroke patients use their own biological signals to regain muscle control and movement, the AP reported.


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