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Health Highlights: May 5, 2015

Aetna to Halt Most Coverage of Laparoscopic Hysterectomy Device Cancer Drug Spending Hits Record High Blood Tests Detect Ovarian Cancer at Earlier Stage: Study Man Has Rare Throat-Area Transplant Power Plant Emissions Cuts Could Save Thousands of Lives a Year: Study

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

Aetna to Halt Most Coverage of Laparoscopic Hysterectomy Device

Most coverage of a once-popular device used in laparoscopic hysterectomies will end within two weeks, Aetna says.

As of May 15, the nation's third-largest health insurer will no longer cover the use of power morcellation in hysterectomies or for removing uterine fibroids, the Associated Press reported.

However, Aetna added it will make exceptions for certain patients who want to maintain their fertility or for whom the use of another procedure could be life-threatening.

Last fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned that laparoscopic power morcellators can spread undetected cancers and should not be used in most patients, the AP reported.


Cancer Drug Spending Hits Record High

Spending on cancer drugs worldwide hit a record high of $100 billion in 2014, which was 10 percent higher than in 2013 and $75 billion more than five years ago, a research firm says.

Targeted therapies now account for nearly half of all spending on cancer drugs, according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, NBC News reported.

Spending on cancer medicines is likely to accelerate as more new drugs get approved, according to IMS. It said in the last five years, the compound average growth rate on cancer drugs has been 6.5 percent worldwide, and will be 6 percent to 8 percent through 2018.

Between 2010 and 2014, 45 new cancer drugs became available, including 10 last year alone. Two belong to a new class of drugs that utilize the immune system to fight cancer and both cost $12,500 a month, NBC News reported.

However, advances in cancer drugs have led to significant improvements in patient outcomes, according to IMS. Two-thirds of American cancer patients now live at least five years, compared to just over half in 1990.


Blood Tests Detect Ovarian Cancer at Earlier Stage: Study

Blood tests can detect most ovarian cancers at an earlier stage, according to a new study. Ovarian cancer is often deadly because it is diagnosed at a late stage.

The 14-year study of more than 46,000 postmenopausal women in the U.K. found that annual blood tests detected 86 percent of ovarian cancers before the point it would typically be diagnosed, BBC News reported.

The blood tests checked levels of a chemical called CA125, which is produced by ovarian tumors. If a woman's levels of CA125 increased over time, she was sent for further tests, according to the study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

While these are promising findings, the University College London researchers it's still unknown whether the blood tests can detect ovarian cancer early enough to save lives, BBC News reported.

Data analysis to answer that question is being conducted and the results are expected in the fall.


Man Has Rare Throat-Area Transplant

A patient is recovering after undergoing a rare, extensive transplant of the throat area, Polish surgeons announced Monday.

The 37-year-old man -- identified only as Michal -- had advanced cancer of the voice box and was unable to breathe on his own, or to swallow and speak.

Along with a new voice box, the man also received a windpipe, esophagus, thyroid gland and adjacent glands, muscles, nerves, blood vessels and skin, the Associated Press reported.

The 17-hour transplant was performed April 11. Michal can now swallow liquified, mushed food. With intensive rehabilitation, he should eventually be able to "eat, breathe and speak just like we all do," said Dr. Adam Maciejewski, a professor at the Oncology Center in the town of Gliwice.

Michal appeared with his medical team at Monday's news conference and whispered thanks. Potential problems include rejection and infections, the AP reported.

This is only the third such transplant to be performed in the world, according to Maciejewski, who added that the previous two were less extensive.


Power Plant Emissions Cuts Could Save Thousands of Lives a Year: Study

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed new carbon emission standards for coal-fired power plants could prevent 3,500 premature deaths and more than 1,000 heart attacks and hospitalizations a year, a new study says.

The researchers used modeling to predict the potential benefits of reducing carbon emissions from power plants. The largest decreases in pollution and related health problems would occur in states in the Ohio River Valley, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, The New York Times reported.

The study was published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The researchers began their study -- which includes three models -- about a year before the EPA announced its proposed carbon reduction plan. It was a coincidence that one of their models closely resembled the EPA proposal, lead author Charles Driscoll, a professor of environmental systems engineering at Syracuse University, told The Times.

The EPA proposal -- which would reduce power plant carbon emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 -- is included in a final set of climate change regulations expected to be unveiled this summer by President Barack Obama.

Opponents in the energy industry say the health benefits of the plan to reduce power plant emissions are overstated, The Times reported.

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