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Health Highlights: Oct. 9, 2002

Testosterone Levels Rise As Men Try to Become Fathers: Study Gene Predicts Prostate Cancer's Virulence Melanoma Deaths Fall for Young Adults, Soar for Older Men FDA Approves New Drugs for Heroin Addicts Actress Teri Garr Reveals She Has Multiple Sclerosis Ballot Measure Would Give Oregonians Universal Health Coverage 'Morning After' Pill Helps Psychotic Depression

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

Testosterone Levels Rise As Men Try to Become Fathers: Study

Can sheer determination increase a man's chances of impregnating his partner? Perhaps, says a new study.

Researchers in Portugal say the bodies of men who are trying to become fathers appear to adjust their testosterone levels, which can improve chances of conception.

The findings came from an evaluation of 27 volunteers whose testosterone levels were measured daily for 90 days and who were asked to record the details of their sex lives during that period, reports New Scientist.

While peaks and troughs in testosterone levels were seen in all of the men, those trying for a baby showed much more consistent peaks in testosterone levels that coincided with periods of what they described as intense sexual activity.

Such increases in testosterone can open a hormonal pathway that increases sperm production, making conception more likely, says the study. The findings appear in a recent issue of the journal Hormones and Behavior.


Gene Predicts Prostate Cancer's Virulence

A gene that silences tumor-blocking proteins is a red flag for aggressive prostate cancer, new research says, and men having low levels of it could be spared unnecessary treatments.

The gene, EZH2, is much more active in aggressive prostate tumor cells than in either localized cancer or in healthy prostate tissue, reports HealthDay.

"This helps us distinguish between aggressive prostate cancer and slow-growing prostate cancer, and allows us to identify patients appropriate for watchful waiting and those who need radical [prostate removal surgery] or radiation," says Dr. Arul M. Chinnaiyan, a University of Michigan pathologist and leader of the research effort.

The study appears as a research letter in tomorrow's issue of Nature.

Prostate cancer affects roughly 190,000 American men a year, killing 30,000.


Melanoma Deaths Fall for Young Adults, Soar for Older Men

Melanoma deaths sank in people ages 20 to 44 over the past three decades, but rose among the 45-and-older set during the same time frame, Boston University researchers say.

As reported in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, the most severe form of skin cancer dropped 39 percent in young adult women from 1969 to 1999, and 29 percent among young men. The researchers cite successful educational campaigns about the dangers of too much sun, reports the Associated Press.

On the other hand, the death rate climbed 66 percent among men ages 45 to 64, and 19 percent among women the same age.

The American Cancer Society predicts 53,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma this year, and the disease will kill about 7,400. Light-skinned people are most vulnerable.


FDA Approves New Drugs for Heroin Addicts

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two new drugs for heroin addicts who are going through withdrawal. And the agency says it will allow doctors to prescribe the drugs themselves, rather than having to refer heroin users to a relatively small number of treatment clinics.

Subutex and Suboxone, manufactured by Britain's Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals, are two new formulations of the drug buprenorphine, which helps curb heroin cravings. Subutex, which contains only buprenorphine, is meant to be used at the beginning of treatment. Suboxone -- meant to maintain treatment -- contains both buprenorphine and the opiate antagonist naloxone, which is designed to guard against intravenous abuse of buprenorphine.

Both drugs come in 2 mg and 8 mg tablets that are placed under the tongue and must be allowed to dissolve. The medications were found to be safe and effective in clinical trials involving more than 2,000 people.

Side effects include cold or flu-like symptoms, headaches, sweating, insomnia, nausea and mood swings. Those symptoms usually peak at the beginning of treatment and usually last a few weeks, the FDA says.


Actress Teri Garr Has Multiple Sclerosis

Oscar nominee Teri Garr has had symptoms of multiple sclerosis for the past 19 years, she announced on CNN's "Larry King Live" last night.

Garr, 52, says she walks with a limp, has been fitted with a leg brace, and is taking the drug interferon to control her symptoms.

Nominated for best supporting actress for the movie "Tootsie," Garr says she was in denial for many years, though she remains optimistic.

MS, a chronic disease of the central nervous system, affects 2.5 million people worldwide -- mostly women. Symptoms can range from numbness and poor coordination to blindness and paralysis.


Ballot Measure Would Give Oregonians Universal Health Care Coverage

Oregon may soon become the first state in the nation to offer health care covering all residents.

An estimated 423,000 of the state's 3.3 million residents currently have no health insurance -- about 70,000 of them children, reports the Associated Press.

The proposed plan, which appears on the Nov. 5 ballot, would give coverage to all residents and would be financed by a new payroll tax of up to 11.5 percent on businesses and an increase in personal income taxes, which could rise from the current 9 percent to as high as 17 percent.

The plan, called Measure 23, reportedly faces strong opposition from business, insurance and health care industry groups, who claim it will lead to excessive spending and will damage the state's economy.


'Morning After' Pill Helps Psychotic Depression: Study

It's stirred up much controversy, but the abortion pill known as RU486 appears to have another use that few are likely to oppose: a treatment for psychotic depression.

A small study on a group of 30 volunteers at Stanford University indicated that the abortion pill resulted in improvements in symptoms for psychotic depression, which can include feelings not only of hopelessness and sadness, but hallucinations and delusions, reports the BBC.

The research, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, suggests that even a week on the pill can reduces surges of the stress hormone cortisol, which is strongly linked to psychotic depression.

Because the risk of suicide is greater with this form of depression, the researchers say they expect that RU486, also called mifepristone, could save lives.

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