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Health Highlights: June 1, 2008

Laparoscopic Prostate Cancer Surgery Not Always Best Choice, Report Says Baltimore Adopts First-Ever Limit on Single Cigar SalesIndian 'Laugh-In' Has its Serious, Scientific Side FDA Panel Recommends Drug for Rare Blood Disorder Facial Features Affect Perception of Mood Recalled Toy Helicopters Pose Fire, Burn Hazards Most Children's Caregivers Ignorant About Household Poisons

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

Laparoscopic Prostate Cancer Surgery Not Always Best Choice, Report Says

Minimally invasive surgery on prostate cancer patients has mixed results, a new study suggests.

The New York Times reports that a study examining the results of laparoscopic prostate cancer surgery on a sample of 2,702 patients who had undergone the procedure to remove a malignant prostate gland found that there was a 27 percent lower risk of complications immediately after surgery and a shorter hospital stay by an average of almost three days.

But the Times adds, the study also found that laparoscopy patients had a 40 percent greater chance of scarring, which could require additional surgery. And more than 25 percent of the patients also needed hormonal drug treatment within six months, more than double those who had conventional surgery.

The study was published May 10, 2008 in The Journal of Clinical Oncology,


Baltimore Adopts First-Ever Limit on Single Cigar Sales

Move over, cigarettes. Make room for limitations on cigar sales... at least in Baltimore.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the city council has adopted a proposal that would make Baltimore, Md. the first city in the United States to limit sales of small, individual cigars known as "blunts" or "loosies" in neighborhood stores.

The law is specifically aimed at teenagers influenced by popular hip-hop singers, the Sun reports, and each cigar contains much more nicotine than a cigarette. In addition to packing more of a nicotine wallop, the newspaper says, the cigars are artificially sweetened, adding to their appeal to adolescents.

The sale limitation could be implemented by the city's health department within days, the Sun reported, and would prohibit selling the cigars individually, at about 50 cents each. Because the cigars would have to be sold in minimum packs of five, city officials theorize the increased cost could reduce the number of teenagers smoking cigars.

Cigars don't fall under U.S. government regulations against selling cigarettes to minors, the newspaper reports, and this may have led to a 2007 study by Johns Hopkins University researchers that found nearly 24 percent of Baltimore residents between 18 and 25-years-old had smoked a small cigar within the past 30 days.

While scientific studies on the impact of long-term cigar smoking aren't as comprehensive as those that looked at cigarette smoking, the U.S. government's National cancer Institute says that research "has shown that cancers of the oral cavity (lip, tongue, mouth, and throat), larynx, lung, and esophagus are associated with cigar smoking."


Indian 'Laugh-In' Has its Serious, Scientific Side

Once again, an attempt is being made to find out if laughter is indeed the best medicine.

The Washington Post reports that participants in the International Laughter Yoga Conference in India are using as many different types of laughter as their collective imagination can create to replicate findings from 2006 that showed the cardio-pulmonary system was positively affected from a good laugh.

The idea, the Post says, is for the laughers to create enough energy to release endorphins -- hormones that elevate the mood and are often released from rigorous exercise.

In the 2006 study, published in the journal Heart, researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore collected a total of 160 measurements of brachial artery flow from the participants a minute before and after phases of laughter or sadness. The brachial artery, which runs from the shoulder to the elbow, is a good indicator of blood flow throughout the body.

According to the researchers, brachial blood flow was reduced in 14 of the 20 participants after they watched segments from the sad movies. Blood flow was increased in 19 of the 20 participants after they watched clips from comedy movies.

Now, those promoting mirth at the Indian yoga conference are attempting to add to the original research.


FDA Panel Recommends Drug for Rare Blood Disorder

Despite reservations by U.S. Food and Drug Administration scientists, a panel of experts advising the agency has recommended the full agency's approval of a drug to treat a rare immune system disorder that causes the body to destroy its own blood platelets.

The advisory panel voted unanimously Friday to recommend Promacta, produced by GlaxoSmithKline and Ligand Pharmaceuticals, the Associated Press reported. Earlier in the week, FDA scientists released data that they suggested found that Promacta was no better than a placebo in treating chronic idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. Some 60,000 people in the United States have the disorder, which leads to excessive bleeding and bruising.

While noting that the drug makers haven't provided long-term data on the drug's safety and effectiveness, the panel said a pair of six-week studies indicated Promacta was of significant benefit to people with the disorder, the AP reported.

The FDA has until June 19 to decide whether to approve the drug. While it isn't bound by the recommendations of its expert panels, it typically follows them.


Facial Features Affect Perception of Mood

A person's facial expressions and mood can be misperceived due to differences in facial features such as eyebrow shape, eyelid position and wrinkles, according to a U.S. study.

It included 20 health care workers who viewed photos that were digitally altered to change a number of features. The participants were asked to rate, on a scale of 0 to 5, seven expressions or emotions conveyed in the photos: tiredness, happiness, surprise, anger, disgust, fear and sadness, United Press International reported.

Results for the altered photos were compared to the scores from the original photos. Overall, eyebrow shape was deemed to be the greatest indicator of mood, drooping of the eyelids was considered the biggest indicator of tiredness, and raising the lower eyelid and the presence of crow's feet were associated with happiness.

The study appears in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

"A key complaint of those seeking facial plastic surgery is that people always tell them they look tired, even when they do not feel tired," study co-author Dr. John Persing said in a prepared statement cited by UPI. "We found that variations in eyebrow contour, drooping of the upper eyelid, and wrinkles may be conveying facial expressions that don't necessarily match how patients are feeling."


Recalled Toy Helicopters Pose Fire, Burn Hazards

About 152,000 Sky Champion wireless indoor helicopters are being recalled because the rechargeable battery inside the toy can ignite and pose fire or burn hazards to consumers, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

There have been two reports of the Chinese-made toy helicopters catching fire but no reports of injuries or property damage, according to importer/distributor Tradewinds International Enterprises Inc. (TWIE), of San Francisco, Calif.

recalled helicopters

The recalled helicopters have the code BH26047 printed on the tail. The code WIC 551777 and the UPC code 630990006005 are printed on the packaging. The toys were sold at Walgreens stores across the United States from June 2007 through November 2007 for about $20.

Consumers should stop using the toys and contact TWIE at 888-583-4908 for a refund. Walgreens will not accept returns or provide refunds, the CPSC said.


Most Children's Caregivers Ignorant About Household Poisons

Less than one-third of people who cared for children younger than age six knew the toxicity of common household products, a new U.S. study found.

"Young children are at risk of household chemical ingestion and their caretakers often do not have a good understanding of how toxic those chemical are. Parental education needs to be focused more on younger caretakers with more children," study leader Dr. Rika N. O'Malley, of the Albert Einstein Medical Center, said in a prepared statement.

The researchers screened primary caregivers who visited emergency departments, asking them to identify toxic items from a list of common household products. People with a higher level of education, responsibility for fewer children, and those more than 23 years old were more likely to have knowledge of household poisons.

The study was presented Friday at a meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine.

The researchers said doctors needed to boost efforts to educate primary caregivers about the risks of household toxins.


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