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Health Highlights: July 29, 2013

Malaria Drug Gets Stronger Warning Label Major Changes In Cancer Definition, Treatment Advised by Experts Coffee May Reduce Suicide Risk: Study Vitamin B Supplement Contains Anabolic Steroids: FDA

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

Malaria Drug Gets Stronger Warning Label

Strengthened and updated warnings about the serious psychiatric and neurologic side effects that can be caused by the malaria drug mefloquine hydrochloride have been added to the drug's label, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

The neurologic side effects can include dizziness, loss of balance or ringing in the ears. Psychiatric side effects can include feeling anxious, mistrustful, depressed or having hallucinations.

The neurologic side effects can occur at any time while taking the drug and can last for months to years after patients have stopped taking the drug, or can even be permanent, the FDA said.

The drug now carries a boxed warning, the most serious kind of caution. In addition, the medication guide and wallet card for the drug have been updated to include the new information.

Mefloquine hydrochloride is prescribed for mild to moderate acute malaria transmitted by certain types of mosquitoes and for the prevention of malaria infections caused by those mosquitoes. The drug was previously marketed under the brand name Lariam, but it is no longer marketed in the United States. However generic versions are available in the U.S.

Patients, caregivers and health care providers should watch for these side effects, the FDA said. If a patient develops neurologic or psychiatric symptoms, treatment with mefloquine hydrochloride should be stopped and another medicine should be used. Patients should not stop using the drug before consulting with a health care provider.


Major Changes In Cancer Definition, Treatment Advised by Experts

Reconsidering the very definition of cancer is among the sweeping changes in cancer detection and treatment recommended by a group of experts advising the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

For example, the word "cancer" should not be used to describe many growths (lesions) detected during breast, prostate, thyroid, lung or other cancer screenings. Instead, these growths should be reclassified as IDLE (indolent lesions of epithelial origin) conditions, The New York Times reported.

The NCI working group, which includes some of the top scientists in cancer research, also said that the some pre-cancerous conditions should be renamed to remove the word carcinoma. They said doing so would reduce patients' level of fear and make them less likely to seek what may be unnecessary and potentially harmful treatments.

The recommendations were published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

There is likely to be sharp disagreement from some cancer experts, and some or all of the recommendations may not be implemented for years, if at all. However, the fact that the report is from a leading group of cancer experts backed by the NCI is likely to change discussions in the United States about cancer, its definition, its treatment and future research, according to The Times.

There is growing concern among scientists, doctors and patient advocates that hundreds of thousands of Americans are undergoing needless and sometimes harmful and disfiguring treatments for pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions that grow so slowly they are unlikely to ever cause harm to patients.

"We need a 21st-century definition of cancer instead of a 19th-century definition of cancer, which is what we've been using," Dr. Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, told The Times. He was not directly involved in the report.

Overdiagnosis is a major public health issue and a priority of the NCI.

"We're still having trouble convincing people that the things that get found as a consequence of mammography and PSA testing and other screening devices are not always malignancies in the classical sense that will kill you," NCI Director Dr. Harold Varmus told The Times. "Just as the general public is catching up to this idea, there are scientists who are catching up, too."


Coffee May Reduce Suicide Risk: Study

People who drank more than four cups of coffee a day were 53 percent less likely to commit suicide than those who drank less than one cup a day, a new study found.

Those who drank two to three cups of coffee a day had a 45 percent lower risk of suicide, according to the analysis of data from more than 208,000 people who were followed from 1988 to 2008. During that time, there were 277 suicides, CBS News reported.

The study was published in the July issue of the World Journal of Biological Psychiatry.

The researchers said that caffeine in coffee can increased neurotransmitters, which can lift a person's mood and act as a mild antidepressant, CBS News reported.

"Unlike previous investigations, we were able to assess association of consumption of caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages, and we identify caffeine as the most likely candidate of any putative protective effect of coffee," study author Michel Lucas, a research fellow in the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, said in a news release.


Vitamin B Supplement Contains Anabolic Steroids: FDA

A product marketed as a vitamin B dietary supplement contains two potentially harmful anabolic steroids and should not be used by consumers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

Laboratory analysis showed that Healthy Life Chemistry By Purity First B-50 contains methasterone and dimethazine. These ingredients are not listed on the label and should not be in a dietary supplement.

The FDA has received reports of 29 incidents of health problems associated with the product, including fatigue, muscle cramping, muscle pain, and problems with liver and thyroid function and cholesterol levels.

Women who used this product reported unusual hair growth and missed periods, and men who used the product reported impotence and low testosterone. People who take Healthy Life Chemistry By Purity First B-50 and experience any of these symptoms should consult a doctor and report the incident to the FDA, the agency said.

Healthy Life Chemistry By Purity First B-50 is made by Mira Health Products Ltd. in Farmingdale, N.Y., and sold on various websites and in retail stores. The company has refused to voluntarily recall the product or to warn consumers about the potential for injury.

Taking products that contain anabolic steroids may cause liver damage. Some of the people who took Healthy Life Chemistry By Purity First B-50 had to be hospitalized, but there were no reports of death or liver failure, the FDA said.

Anabolic steroids can cause other serious long-term consequences in women, men and children, including: harmful changes in levels of blood fats; increased risk of heart attack and stroke; masculinization of women; shrinkage of the testicles; breast enlargement; infertility in males; and short stature in children.

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