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Health Highlights: May 14, 2002

Bush Signs Blood Disease Funding Law Meat Substitute More Like Mold Than Mushroom, Say Critics Cancer Cases May Double by 2050 Diabetes Research Covers Head to Toe Drug May Harm Some Diabetics FDA Warns of Counterfeit Dialysis Drug

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

Bush Signs Blood Disease Funding Law

President Bush has signed into law a bill allowing increased federal funding for research and awareness of blood cancers.

Under the legislation, more money can be provided by the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute for research and education on diseases such as leukemia, multiple myeloma and lymphoma.

A research program created by the law is to be named for the late Rep. Joe Moakley, a Massachusetts Democrat who died of leukemia. An education program also will be named for former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, who has multiple myeloma.

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Meat Substitute More Like Mold Than Mushroom, Say Critics

A popular frozen meat substitute long popular in Europe is not getting a warm reception in the United States, but it's not what's in the product that has some critics upset - - it's what's not.

The product, named for a British village, is called Quorn, and while it is a form of fungus grown in fermentation tanks and processed into a high protein substance, its main ingredient does not, as its label suggests, "come from a small, unassuming member of the mushroom family," say competitors and consumer groups.

In an article in the New York Times, Penn State University fungi experts say calling the source of Quorn a mushroom "is analogous to calling a rat a chicken because both are animals."

The fungus used in Quorn would be, more accurately, albeit less appetizingly, described as a "mold," they say.

Mushroom or mold aside, Quorn's manufacturer, Marlow Foods, has sold about a half a million boxes of the product in the United States since hitting American health food stores in January.

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Cancer Cases May Double by 2050

As the nation grays, the number of cancer cases in this country may double by the middle of the century, with major implications for the nation's health-care system.

That's the claim of a new report that also notes an estimated 1.3 million Americans are now diagnosed with cancer each year, with much higher rates of the disease among the older age brackets, reports HealthDay.

As the population ages, and if the incidence of cancer remains unchanged, that figure could hit 2.6 million by the year 2050, the report found.

The number of cases among people aged 75 and up could triple, from 389,000 in 2000 to more than 1.1 million, the report estimates. Among even older Americans the increased caseload could be more dramatic: a fourfold jump for those 85 and over during the next four-odd decades.

The report, a sort of State of Cancer in the nation, appears in the May 15 issue of the journal Cancer.

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Diabetes Findings Range From Head to Toe

A drink or two a day may help women fend off diabetes, but special shoe inserts don't appear to work wonders in preventing dangerous diabetic ulcers.

Such are the conclusions of two diabetes-related studies appearing in the may 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, as reported by HealthDay.

The first study on the benefits of the two drinks admitted the possibility was small, and involved just 53 post-menopausal women, but it is "the first controlled intervention study to demonstrate the effects of alcohol consumption on blood insulin concentrations," says lead author David J. Baer, a U.S. Department of Agriculture research physiologist.

However, that advice is hedged with cautions.

For one thing, no alcohol at all is advised for women during pregnancy and breast-feeding. And the detailed blood tests done as part of the study "confirmed what we suspected. Levels of some hormones associated with a risk of breast cancer increased with consumption of alcohol," Baer says. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute collaborated in the study.

And the second study found that special shoes and inserts that shield the feet of diabetics reduce the risk of ulcers that may require amputation --but just by inches.

That study found that two kinds of inserts -- one cork and one polyurethane -- offered only a slight edge over conventional shoes at preventing return ulcers in diabetics with a history of the dangerous sores.

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Drug May Harm Some Diabetics

A common diabetes drug could harm or even kill some users with heart or kidney problems, according to a report in the May 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The drug metaformin, sold by Bristol-Myers Squibb under the brand name Glucophage, helps the body process insulin and is one of the most common drugs to treat Type II diabetes, which attacks about 17 million Americans. The package insert includes a so-called "black box" warning that the drug can cause a rare side effect called lactic acidosis, a buildup of lactic acid in the bloodstream, reports the Associated Press.

The JAMA report, authored by lead North Carolina researcher Cheryl Horlen, says nearly one fourth of the 100 prescriptions checked revealed that patients with heart and kidney problems were being prescribed Glucophage. None had developed lactic acidosis. Several other studies have found similiar rates of inappropriate use, the AP reports.

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FDA Warns of Counterfeit Dialysis Drug

The Food and Drug Administration says counterfeit vials of an anti-anemia drug prescribed to dialysis patients have been discovered.

Some 150,000 Americans take Epogen, manufactured by Amgen, Inc. The manufacturer says the bogus vials were found in a batch of 40,000 units of the drug, though it wouldn't reveal how the problem was discovered or the exact number of phony vials that may have been distributed. Amgen says warning letters have been sent to doctors, pharmacists, and drug wholesalers.

The company says the counterfeit vials contain the correct active ingredient, though the concentration is about 20 times lower than it should be, reports the Associated Press.

Epogen is Amgen's best selling medication, with $2.2 billion in sales last year. Experts quoted by the AP say the $4,000 price tag for a 10-pack box of the drug makes it an attractive target for counterfeiters.

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