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Health Highlights: June 28, 2006

Year-Round Birth Control Pill Approval Withheld Two Genes Linked to Liver Cancer Novel Weight-Loss Drug to Be Launched in Britain Cervical Cancer Vaccine Should be Standard for Young Girls: Panel Heart Patients Often Become Depressed: Study Exelon Approved for Parkinson's Dementia

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

Year-Round Birth Control Pill Approval Withheld

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has delayed approval of a new birth control pill that prevents users from menstruating at all, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The FDA had already extended the review period for Lybrel, and manufacturer Wyeth Pharmaceuticals told the wire service that it hoped the contraceptive would have been approved Tuesday.

But the FDA asked for an additional delay, saying it wanted more clinical trial data on the pill's shelf live, pregnancy rates, and trial dropout rates, the AP reported.

The pill is designed to prevent menstruation, but only if used 365 days a year without interruption. Clinical trials suggested the pill was 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, although some users had problems with bleeding or spotting, Wyeth told the wire service.

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Two Genes Linked to Liver Cancer

Abnormalities in two genes, dubbed Yap and CIAP1, probably play a "significant role" in causing liver cancer, say scientists at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

Liver cancer is the fifth most common form of cancer worldwide, yet in absence of effective treatment options, it's the third-leading cause of cancer deaths, the researchers said in a statement.

The scientists discovered the genetic link while observing how engineered liver stem cells responded after being transplanted into the livers of adult mice. The researchers performed DNA scans on mice that went on to develop liver cancer.

The findings offered hope for testing new therapies and treatments for liver cancer, the researchers said. The study is published in the June 30 issue of the journal Cell.

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Novel Weight-Loss Drug to Be Launched in Britain

Britons will be the first to gain access to Sanofi-Aventis' much-anticipated diet drug Acomplia (rimonabant), but obese Americans will have to wait for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's possible approval later this year.

The European Union on Wednesday approved the heralded pill, which in trials cut users' body weight by up to 10 percent within a year, Britain's Daily Mail reported. The drug works by curbing a person's appetite.

The pill and its hefty price tag of nearly $100 a month won't be available to the British masses just yet, the newspaper noted, because Britain's National Health Service hasn't decided whether to subsidize it.

Rollouts of rimonabant are expected soon in Denmark, Ireland, Germany, Finland, and Norway, the Daily Mail said. The U.S. FDA has asked Sanofi for additional data before considering approval, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

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Cervical Cancer Vaccine Should be Standard for Young Girls: Panel

The newly approved vaccine to prevent cervical cancer should be a routine shot given to all girls 11 and 12 years old, a panel of experts advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended.

Merck's Gardasil, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on June 8, prevents infection with the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV) that's responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. The cancer can emerge later in life from exposure during the teenage years, the Bloomberg news service reported.

The CDC's advisory panel has submitted a proposal to the agency's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommending the shot for all 11- and 12-year-olds. The committee is set to decide on Thursday whether the CDC should add Gardasil to the list of standard inoculations for teen girls, Bloomberg said. The full agency usually adopts the recommendations of its expert committees.

Girls at that age now typically get a combination vaccine that protects them against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, and another against meningitis, Bloomberg said.

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Heart Patients Often Become Depressed: Study

Almost half of those who are hospitalized for cardiovascular problems go on to develop depression, new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concludes.

On the other hand, 80 percent of the heart patients who are treated for depression eventually respond to treatment, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found.

But they warned in Wednesday's issue of the journal that depression among heart patients is underdiagnosed, noting that the problem is far more common than among the 1-in-20 people in the general population who has depression.

Depression may have been present before heart problems surfaced or been caused by the mental stress of having cardiovascular issues, the researchers said. But the physical effects of surgery can also spark depression, they said, noting prior scientific findings that tiny clots can travel to the patient's brain after cardiovascular surgery, triggering problems including depression, experts told the Associated Press.

A positive side effect of taking depression medication after heart surgery is that most antidepressants help make the blood less likely to clot, possibly preventing future cardiovascular problems, the wire service reported.

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Exelon Approved for Parkinson's Dementia

The first drug to treat dementia associated with Parkinson's disease has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Novartis Pharmaceutical's Exelon (rivastigmine tartrate) is already sanctioned to treat mild-to-moderate dementia associated with Alzheimer's disease, the agency said in a statement.

Almost 0.5 percent of people older than 65 have Parkinson's dementia, including such symptoms as impaired memory and attention. Exelon's effectiveness was established in 24-week clinical trials involving 541 people with mild-to-moderate dementia associated with Parkinson's, the FDA said.

Common adverse reactions to the drug included nausea, weight loss, anorexia, and loss of strength, the agency said.

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