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Health Highlights: Nov. 29, 2010

Congress Postpones Doctors' Medicare Payment Cut Alcohol-Spiked Whipped Cream Concerns Health Officials Drugs Reduce Prostate Cancer Risk: FDA Senate Votes on Food Safety Bill Probiotics May Ease Some Children's Illnesses: AAP Gene Mutation Increases Risk of Penis Birth Defect: Study Brain Chemical Boost May Benefit Alzheimer's Patients: Study

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

Congress Postpones Doctors' Medicare Payment Cut

A one-month delay in Medicare payment cuts to doctors was approved Monday by the House of Representatives, giving lawmakers more time to develop a long-term plan to overhaul the system.

The bill, passed by the Senate earlier this month, postpones a 23 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors that was scheduled to take effect Dec. 1, the Associated Press reported.

The short-term delay was commended by American Medical Association President Dr. Cecil B. Wilson, who noted that the first baby boomers will turn 65 next year and begin using Medicare, the AP reported.

"Congress is responsible for ensuring that the baby boomers can see a doctor through Medicare by enacting long-term reform next year of the broken Medicare physician payment system," Wilson said.

A year-long postponement that would give lawmakers time to create a new Medicare payment system for doctors is being developed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. and the committee's leading Republican, Charles Grassley of Iowa, the AP reported.


Alcohol-Spiked Whipped Cream Concerns Health Officials

Alcohol-infused whipped cream is the latest booze-related concern for U.S. health officials.

The product Cans of Cream is 30-proof whipped cream that comes in flavors such as chocolate, raspberry, orange and cherry.

Consumers "can get a significant amount of alcohol in one shot," said Dr. Anita Barry, a director at the Boston Public Health Department, United Press International reported.

It's likely that Cans of Cream will be targeted at young drinkers, said Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University's School of Public Health.

"What we need is a good surveillance system to be able to monitor these things," he said, UPI reported.


Drugs Reduce Prostate Cancer Risk: FDA

The drugs Avodart and Proscar reduce the risk of prostate cancer but the tumors they prevent are usually not life-threatening, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration review posted online Monday.

Both drugs are already approved to treat enlarged prostate. But GlaxoSmithKline wants the FDA to approve Avodart for a new use against prostate cancer. Research showed that men taking the drug had a 23 percent reduced risk of developing low-grade prostate tumors, the Associated Press reported.

Merck achieved similar results with Proscar and wants the FDA to approve labeling about the drug's benefit in reducing prostate cancer risk.

While the authors of the FDA review agreed that the two drugs reduce the risk of prostate cancer, they questioned the drugs' overall benefit. They also noted that the studies submitted by the drug makers included only a small number of black Americans, who are at high risk for prostate cancer, the AP reported.

On Wednesday, a independent panel of FDA advisers will meet to decide whether the FDA should approve the drugs for use in prostate cancer prevention. The FDA usually follows the advice of its expert panels.


Senate Votes on Food Safety Bill

The authority to order recalls of tainted food products is among the increased powers to be given to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under legislation expected to be passed by the Senate this week.

The bill would also require the FDA to step up inspections of food plants and force farms and food manufacturers to adhere to tougher safety standards, the Associated Press reported.

There is wide bipartisan support for the bill, meant to help improve the FDA's ability to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks.

But it's not clear if the bill can make it to President Barack Obama's desk during the current congressional session, because the House passed a different version of the legislation in 2009, the AP reported.


Probiotics May Ease Some Children's Illnesses: AAP

Probiotics may offer limited benefits for certain illnesses in children, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics report published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

The group said evidence suggests that taking probiotics ("good" bacteria) early during diarrhea from a viral infection may shorten the length of the illness in otherwise healthy children, the Associated Press reported.

In addition, probiotics also may prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotics.

But the AAP said more evidence is required before it can recommend probiotics for constipation, irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease in children, or probiotics in pregnant women or infants to prevent eczema or asthma, the AP reported.

Due to the risk of serious infections, probiotics should not be used in children with compromised immune systems or those with intravenous catheters, the group warned.


Gene Mutation Increases Risk of Penis Birth Defect: Study

A gene mutation that more than doubles the risk of a common penis birth defect called hypospadias has been identified by U.K. and Dutch researchers.

In infant boys with the condition, the opening of the urethral tube is not at the tip of the penis. Instead, the opening is along the bottom of the penis or even in the scrotum, BBC News reported.

The researchers said the mutation occurs in the DGKK gene, which is found on the X chromosome, which boys can only inherit from their mother, BBC News reported.

The finding, published in the journal Nature Genetics, may explain why hypospadias runs in families, said the study authors.


Brain Chemical Boost May Benefit Alzheimer's Patients: Study

Boosting levels of a neurotransmitter called EphB2 could help reduce or even prevent some symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, according to U.S. scientists.

The team at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Diseases in San Francisco found that reducing levels of EphB2 in healthy mice resulted in Alzheimer's-like memory problems, BBC News reported.

They also found that mice with an Alzheimer's-like condition showed improved memory after receiving gene therapy to increase their levels of EphB2.

The researchers said their findings suggest that this brain chemical plays an important role in memory and is depleted in people with Alzheimer's, BBC News reported.

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