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Health Highlights: Oct. 3, 2007

Bush Vetoes Child Health Insurance Bill Raise Benefits for Injured Veterans, Panel Suggests FDA Strengthens Potency Rule on Thyroid Drug Age, Tumor Size Major Factors in Breast Cancer Survival Child's Cells May Protect Mother Against Breast Cancer Rattles Pose Choking Hazard

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

Bush Vetoes Child Health Insurance Bill

President George W. Bush on Wednesday vetoed the child's health insurance bill known as SCHIP, only the fourth veto of his presidency.

Congress's $60 billion, five-year plan to re-fund the State Children's Health Insurance Program was $35 billion more than current spending and $30 billion more than the Bush administration had proposed, The New York Times said. The bill would have expanded enrollment to 10 children million from 6.6 million.

Bush had argued that increasing funding would widen the program's original intent of providing health insurance to poor children, expanding it to members of the middle class.

Condemnation of the president's act was swift.

"Today we learned that the same president who is willing to throw away a half trillion dollars in Iraq is unwilling to spend a small fraction of that amount to bring health care to American children," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

The American Medical Association issued a statement saying it was "deeply disappointed."

"For children to get a good start in life, they need access to medical care that this program makes possible ... The AMA strongly urges members of Congress from both political parties to stand on the side of America's parents and children by voting to override the veto," the statement continued.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he believed the Senate already had enough votes to override the veto, but the outcome appeared less certain in the House of Representatives, the Times reported.


Raise Benefits for Injured Veterans, Panel Suggests

Disability payments for injured U.S. war veterans should be raised by up to 25 percent, a special commission recommended Wednesday.

Citing veterans' lost "quality of life" stemming from service to the nation, the Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission concluded in a 544-page report that the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs provided insufficient mental health coverage and inadequate disability payments, the Associated Press reported.

The panel, concluding a 2 1/2-year investigation, also said extra payments to injured veterans should be made as soon as possible.

"Congress should increase the compensation rates up to 25 percent as an interim and baseline future benefit for loss of quality of life, pending development and implementation of quality of life measures," the panel's report said.

Among its 113 recommendations, the panel also said benefits should be given out for any service-related injury, regardless of whether it was incurred in combat, the AP reported.


FDA Strengthens Potency Rule on Thyroid Drug

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday strengthened rules governing the expiration of a popular thyroid drug, saying manufacturers had to ensure that the drug retained at least 95 percent of its potency until the expiration date.

Levothyroxine sodium, used to treat underactive thyroid and other thyroid disorders, is used by more than 13 million people in the United States, the agency said in a statement. The thyroid is key to regulating metabolism in every cell of the body.

The FDA, noting it was acting on the recommendations of a panel of experts, said drug makers had two years to comply. Currently, the drug is allowed a potency range as low as 90 percent, the agency said.

Consumers can do their part, the FDA suggested, by storing the drug in a dry place in room temperature, avoiding hot and humid areas such as bathrooms.


Age, Tumor Size Major Factors in Breast Cancer Survival

Age and tumor size at time of diagnosis are major factors that influence breast cancer survival, according to an Australian study of more than 100,000 women.

Researchers found that the five-year survival rate is 98 percent if a breast tumor is less than 10 millimeters in diameter at the time of diagnosis, compared with 95 percent for 11-15mm tumors, 93 percent for 16-19mm tumors, 88 percent for 20-29mm tumors, 73 percent for tumors larger than 30 mm, and 49 percent for tumors of unknown size, The Australian reported.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study also found that women ages 50-59 had a 90 percent likelihood of being alive five years after a breast cancer diagnosis (irrespective of tumor size), compared with 86 percent for women in their 30s and younger.

Younger women in the study tended to develop more aggressive tumors and more research needs to be done to determine the reason why and what can be done about it, said Helen Zorbas, director of the National Breast Cancer Center, which commissioned the study.

She said the findings highlight the importance of screening to detect breast cancer in the early stages, The Australian reported.


Child's Cells May Protect Mother Against Breast Cancer

U.S. researchers say that having children may help reduce a woman's risk of breast cancer as a result of protective cells transferred from the fetus to the mother.

The study by a team from the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle included 35 women who'd been diagnosed with breast cancer and 47 who'd never had the disease.

About 43 percent of the women in the non-breast cancer group had a child's DNA in their blood, compared with 14 percent of the women in the breast cancer group, Agence France-Presse reported.

"My hypothesis was that maybe fetal cells can get into a mother and recognize a pre-cancer breast cancer cell and kill it before it becomes an active cancer," said lead author V.K. Gadi.

He noted that fetal cells could remain in the mother for the rest of her life and help protect her against cancer, AFP reported. The study appears in the October issue of the journal Cancer Research.


Rattles Pose Choking Hazard

A recall of about 82,000 Chinese-made rattles that can break open and release small beads that pose a choking hazard to young children was announced Tuesday by the Target chain of department stores. There have been no reported injuries.

The Plush Boy Rattles were sold at Target stores across the United States from March 2007 through May 2007 for about $1. The rattles were sold in three styles: a white baseball with red stitching; a brown football with white stitching; and an orange basketball with black stitching, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

A tag sewn into the rattles contains the following information: Reg. No. PA5706(CN), Distributed by Double Nice Co LTd. 3f-2 No. 325, Wu Chuan Road, Taichung, Taiwan, Made in China.

Consumers with these rattle should take them away from children and return them to a Target store for a full refund. For more information, contact Target at 1-800-440-0680.

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