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Health Highlights: Nov. 13, 2006

Gum Disease May Raise Pancreatic Cancer Risk Diabetes a Major Threat to Indigenous People Laser Eye Surgeries Safe and Effective: Study Wide Variation in Complication Rates for Bariatric Surgery Gerald Ford Longest-Living U.S. President

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

Gum Disease May Raise Pancreatic Cancer Risk

Gum disease-related chronic inflammation may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, say Harvard School of Public Health researchers, who analyzed 16 years of health data about more than 52,000 men.

Men who reported having gum disease had a 63 percent greater risk of pancreatic cancer than men without gum disease, the researchers found. This held true even after the scientists adjusted for smoking, diabetes, age, physical activity, and diet.

Men who reported gum disease and tooth loss in the previous four years had a 2.5-fold increased risk of pancreatic cancer, compared to those who had no gum disease or tooth loss. However, tooth loss alone was not associated with increased risk for pancreatic cancer.

The study was presented Monday at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Gum disease can cause chronic inflammation, both in the mouth and the entire body, the researchers noted. Previous research has linked inflammation and cancer, including a strong association between inflammation of the pancreas and pancreatic cancer.

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Diabetes a Major Threat to Indigenous People

Unless something is done to halt an obesity-related diabetes epidemic, indigenous people around the world may become extinct this century, experts told the International Diabetes Federation meeting in Australia.

People with diabetes are at increased risk for stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease.

"Without urgent action there certainly is a real risk of a major wipe-out of indigenous communities, if not total extinction, within this century," said Professor Paul Zimmet, director of the International Diabetes Institute.

He said indigenous people are at particular risk of developing type 2 diabetes due to a rapid switch to Western diets and sedentary lifestyles, Agence France Presse reported.

Up to half the adult populations in some indigenous communities have diabetes, noted Canadian diabetes expert Professor Stewart Harris. For example, he said 45 percent of Sioux and Pima Indians in the United States have the disease, AFP reported.

Type 2 diabetes has replaced infectious diseases as the leading threat to the survival of indigenous people, Harris said.

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Laser Eye Surgeries Safe and Effective: Study

Both LASIK and PRK laser eye surgeries are safe and effective, according to the findings of a 10-year study of 100 eyes with myopia (nearsightedness) corrected by LASIK and 100 eyes corrected by PRK.

The study measured how well the patients maintained the ability to focus, as well as any changes in visual distortion, 10 years after they had the procedures. On average, the patients in the study maintained 20-25 vision a decade after surgery.

"Our study provides a clear answer to those who doubt LASIK's reliability, showing that both LASIK and PRK are effective for correcting myopia with no long-term complications," study lead investigator Jorge L. Alio, chairman of ophthalmology at the Universidad Miguel Hernandez in Alicante, Spain, said in a prepared statement.

The findings were presented Monday in Las Vegas at the American Academy of Ophthalmology's joint meeting with the Asia Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology.

LASIK uses a laser to reshape the cornea without working directly on the outer surface of the cornea, while PRK works directly on the outer surface of the cornea.

This study found that LASIK provided slightly better results than PRK for patients with more severe myopia, while PRK was a bit more effective for those with less severe nearsightedness.

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Wide Variation in Complication Rates for Bariatric Surgery

In-hospital complication rates for bariatric surgery patients vary widely among U.S. hospitals, says a study released Monday by the health-care ratings company HealthGrades.

Bariatric surgery is also known as gastric-bypass surgery, weight-loss surgery, or obesity surgery.

The analysis of 86,520 bariatric surgeries performed in 17 states from 2002 through 2004 concluded that a patient in a five-star rated hospital would, on average, be 66 percent less likely to suffer one or more major complications -- such as bleeding and respiratory and cardiac problems -- than a patient in a one-star rated hospital.

The study also found that:

  • Hospitals that do more bariatric surgeries have better quality. Hospitals that received a five-star HealthGrades rating for bariatric surgery did, on average, twice the number of bariatric procedures during the three-year study compared to hospitals with a one-star rating.
  • Hospital stays were shorter for patients at hospitals with high-quality programs. The average hospital stay was 21 percent shorter for patients at five-star hospitals, compared to the national average.
  • If all hospitals performed at the same level as five-star hospitals, 3,297 of the 86,520 patients studied could have potentially avoided one or more major in-hospital complications.
  • The average death rate for bariatric surgery was 0.19 percent (two patients per 1,000).

"It is predicted that more than 200,000 bariatric surgeries will be performed in 2006, but this study shows very clearly that not all hospitals perform this procedure with the same level of quality," Dr. Samantha Collier, HealthGrades senior vice president of medical affairs, said in a prepared statement.

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Gerald Ford Longest-Living U.S. President

Gerald R. Ford is now the longest-living U.S. president. He achieved that milestone when he reached 93 years and 121 days on Sunday.

The distinction was previously held by Ronald Reagan, who was 93 years, 120 days when he died June 5, 2004, the Associated Press reported.

"The length of one's days matters less than the love of one's family and friends," Ford said in a statement.

"I thank God for the gift of every sunrise and, even more, for all the years he has blessed me with Betty and the children, with our extended family and the friends of a lifetime," said Ford, who has suffered a number of health problems in recent years.

He was president from Aug. 9, 1974 -- when Richard Nixon resigned -- until January 1977.

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