Health Highlights: July 31, 2008

Please note: This article was published more than one year ago. The facts and conclusions presented may have since changed and may no longer be accurate. And "More information" links may no longer work. Questions about personal health should always be referred to a physician or other health care professional.

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

Living Near Highway Raises Risk of Low Birth-Weight Baby: Study

Living near a highway increases a woman's risk of having a low birth-weight baby, according to a study of almost 100,000 live births in Montreal between 1997 and 2001.

Women who lived within 200 meters (about 219 yards) of a highway had a 14 percent greater risk of pre-term birth and were 17 percent more likely to have a low birth-weight baby than women who didn't live close to a highway, CBC News reported.

Affluent women appeared more at risk, found authors of the study, which appears in the August issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

"Among affluent mothers who live within 200 meters of a highway, the odds of delivering an infant with low birth weight increase by 81 percent, while their odds of delivering a pre-term baby increase by 58 percent compared to mothers who don't live anywhere close to expressways," study author Dr. Melissa Genereux said in a news release cited by CBC News.

"Advantaged mothers may be more susceptible to environmental hazards because they have been protected from other hazards," the study authors wrote. "These mothers may be particularly susceptible to exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, which is hypothesized to interfere directly with intrauterine growth via pollutant absorption and placental exchange, or indirectly by increasing maternal susceptibility to infection or impairing maternal respiratory function."


FDA Orders Aranesp and Procrit Label Changes

Labels on the anemia drugs Aranesp and Procrit must be changed in a way that could limit their use in treating cancer patients, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

It's the first time the FDA has used its authority under a 2007 law that gave the agency the power to order changes in a drug's prescribing information, The New York Times reported. Before the new law, the FDA could only negotiate with drug makers to change labels.

Amgen makes both Aranesp and Procrit, but Procrit is sold under license by Johnson & Johnson.

In the past year, sales of both drugs fell after studies suggested their use to treat anemia caused by chemotherapy could actually worsen cancer and shorten patients' lives, the Times reported.


House Passes Bill Giving FDA Control Over Tobacco

Legislation that would subject the tobacco industry to regulation by U.S. health authorities was passed Wednesday by the House in a 326-102 vote.

Under the bill, the Food and Drug Administration would have the power to regulate tobacco products. The FDA couldn't ban tobacco or nicotine, but it could order the reduction or elimination of cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke, the Associated Press reported.

In addition, the bill would: further tighten restrictions on tobacco advertising; impose new penalties for selling to minors; prohibit candy-flavored cigarettes and cigars; and give the FDA authority to ban menthol, the most common type of flavoring.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act appears to have enough support to pass this year, but it's unclear whether the Senate will have time to act, the AP reported. The White House issued a veto threat Wednesday.

A potential sticking point as the Senate considers the measure is its treatment of menthol, a favorite choice among black smokers. The National African American Tobacco Prevention Network has said it won't support the bill unless it included an outright ban on menthol. But given that menthol represents more than 25 percent of cigarettes sold, tobacco makers' support for the bill could be in jeopardy if the legislation included a menthol ban, the AP said.


FDA Approves Test to Identify Cancer Cells in Tumors

A test that helps identify the type of cancer cells present in a tumor has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Pathwork Tissue of Origin test compares the genetic material of a patient's tumor with genetic data stored in a database from evaluated cancers. The test, which is able to analyze thousands of pieces of genetic material at a time, considers 15 common cancer types, including those of the bladder, breast, and colon.

"The clearance of the Pathwork test is another step in the continued integration of molecular-based medicine into standard practice," Dr. Daniel Schultz, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in an agency news release.

The test and its technology are produced by Pathwork Diagnostics of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Affymetrix Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif.


Brown Rice Can Benefit Diabetics

A compound in brown rice can reduce diabetes-related damage in nerves and blood vessels, says a U.S. study.

The growth factor acylated steryl glucosides (ASG) -- which is released when brown rice is soaked in water overnight before cooking -- helps normalize blood sugar and enzymes that are awry in people with diabetes, United Press International reported.

The study appears in the Journal of Lipid Research.

Unlike white rice, brown rice still has some of the growth factor, which resumes activity after about 24 hours in water, said Dr. Robert K. Yu of the Medical College of Georgia, UPI reported.

"You have to let it grow, germinate a little bit. Some of the active ingredients generated as a result of the germination process are beneficial to you," he said in a news release.

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