Health Highlights: June 25, 2008

New England Has Highest Rate of Health Insurance Coverage FDA Has Questions About Gardasil Use in Older Women $30 Billion a Year Needed to Fight Hunger: U.N. Official Cuban Scientists Develop Lung Cancer Vaccine Breast Cancer Gene Linked to Deadly Prostate Cancer Unsafe Sexual Behavior a Problem in NYC

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

New England Has Highest Rate of Health Insurance Coverage

New England has the highest rate of health insurance coverage in the United States, while the Southwest has the lowest coverage, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

Only 11 percent of non-elderly adults and 4 percent of children in New England are uninsured, compared with 30 percent of adults and 18 percent of children in the Southwest, the Associated Press reported.

Three regions -- the Great Plains, Great Lakes in the upper Midwest, and the Northeast -- had uninsured rates of 14 percent to 15 percent for adults and 6 percent to 7 percent for children. In the Southeast, almost 23 percent of adults were uninsured.

Overall, about 17 percent of people under age 65 were uninsured when the survey of 106,000 families was conducted from 2004 through 2006, the AP reported.


FDA Has Questions About Gardasil Use in Older Women

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants more information before it considers approving the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil for women ages 27 to 45, drug maker Merck & Co. said Wednesday. The company had expected FDA approval by next month.

Merck spokeswoman Kelley Dougherty wouldn't reveal the nature of the FDA's questions but said the company will respond to the agency next month, Bloomberg news reported.

Gardasil protects against human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer later in life. According to a Merck-sponsored study, Gardasil prevented 91 percent of precancers and external genital lesions in women ages 24 to 45.

The FDA's concerns about the use of the vaccine in older women don't affect Gardasil's approved use for girls and women ages 9 to 26, Bloomberg reported.


$30 Billion a Year Needed to Fight Hunger: U.N. Official

About $30 billion will be needed each year until 2050 to stave off world hunger, the director general of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Wednesday at an agricultural conference in Innsbruck, Austria.

The bulk of the money is needed to increase worldwide agricultural production, Jacques Diouf told reporters before the conference, Agence France Presse reported.

He also said strong demand, low food reserves and harvesting problems caused by climate change mean the global price of food commodities will remain high.

Ways in which the FAO can help countries worst hit by the current food crisis will be among the topics discussed at the conference, AFP reported.


Cuban Scientists Develop Lung Cancer Vaccine

A vaccine to fight lung cancer was unveiled Tuesday by Cuban scientists, who said the vaccine extends the lives of patients by up to five months, improves their breathing and decreases their pain.

The vaccine, the first of its kind in the world, is based on two proteins and triggers an immune response against lung cancer, Agence France Presse reported.

Advanced tests of the vaccine are currently under way at 18 Cuban hospitals and other tests were conducted in Canada and Great Britain. Further tests are scheduled or under way in a number of countries, including China, India, Malaysia, Peru and Singapore.

The vaccine is available in Cuba and will be commercialized in Latin America, AFP reported.


Breast Cancer Gene Linked to Deadly Prostate Cancer

A gene that greatly increases a woman's risk of breast cancer also causes a particularly deadly form of prostate cancer, say Canadian researchers who studied 301 prostate cancer patients. On average, those with the defective BRCA2 gene lived an average of four years after diagnosis. The average survival time for prostate cancer patients is 12 years.

The University of Toronto study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, appears to confirm previous findings that BRCA2 is associated with highly dangerous prostate cancer, BBC News reported. An Icelandic study found that prostate cancer patients with the gene lived an average of 2.1 years.

The defective BRCA2 gene is found in about one in 500 men, and men with the gene can be five times more likely to develop prostate cancer than men in the general population.

"Although only a very small percentage of men with prostate cancer will carry a faulty BRCA2 gene, they're much more likely to die from the disease," Dr. Lesley Walker, of the charity Cancer Research UK, told BBC News. "It is important that more research is done in this area to ensure that this group is targeted effectively so cancer is picked up at an early stage and, more importantly, that they are given the most appropriate treatment."


Unsafe Sexual Behavior a Problem in NYC

Unsafe sexual behavior continues to be a problem in New York City, says a health department report that found 11 percent of residents (about 610,000 adults) reported having more than one sex partner in the past year.

Men were much more likely than women to report multiple partners (17 percent vs. 6 percent), and young adults were four times more likely than older adults to report multiple partners, United Press International reported.

People with same-sex partners were three times more likely than those with opposite-sex partners to report more than one partner in the past year. Overall, 60 percent of those with multiple partners said they used a condom the last time they had sex. But that figure was only 43 percent among those in committed relationships who had sex with other partners in the past year.

In 2006, more than half of all pregnancies in New York City were unplanned and more than 60,000 new sexually transmitted infections were reported, including 3,745 people newly-diagnosed with HIV, UPI reported.

Consumer News