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Health Highlights: April 19, 2005

Broccoli, Red Chili Pepper May Slow Cancer Tumors: Study Wyoming Has Top State Medical Board Canada First Country to Approve Cannabis-Derived MS Drug Grilled Meat Byproducts Cause Cancer, HHS Says Survey: 4 in 10 Seniors Don't Take Drugs as Directed U.S. Ends Cancer Drug Iressa Trial

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

Broccoli, Red Chili Pepper May Slow Cancer Tumors: Study

Dietary agents in red chili pepper and broccoli may help fight cancer by slowing or preventing the growth of cancerous tumor cells, say two studies presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The studies investigated the effect that these dietary agents had on two types of cancers that have poor prognoses.

"In our studies, we decided to look at two particular cancers -- ovarian and pancreatic -- with low survival rates, to ascertain the contribution of diet and nutrition to the development of these cancers. We discovered that red chili pepper and broccoli appear to be effective inhibitors of the cancer process," lead investigator Sanjay K. Srivastava, an assistant professor in the department of pharmacology at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

The first study found that capsaicin, the "hot" ingredient in red chili pepper, exhibited anti-cancer activity against pancreatic cancer cells.

"Our results demonstrate that capsaicin is a potent anticancer agent, induces apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells and produces no significant damage to normal pancreatic cells, indicating its potential use as a novel chemotherapeutic agent for pancreatic cancer," Srivastava said.

The second study found that phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), which is found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, showed cancer-fighting properties when tested on ovarian cancer cells.


Wyoming Has Top State Medical Board

Wyoming came in first and Hawaii last in a ranking of U.S. state medical boards released Tuesday by Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

Public Citizen based its rankings on Federation of State Medical Boards' data on disciplinary action taken against doctors from 2002 to 2004. The group calculated the rate of serious disciplinary actions -- revocations, surrenders, suspensions and probation/restrictions -- per 1,000 doctors in each state for each year.

Overall, there were 3,296 serious disciplinary actions taken by state medical boards in 2004, an increase of 10.1 percent from 2,992 such actions in 2003.

The three-year state disciplinary rates ranged from 10.04 serious actions per 1,000 doctors in Wyoming to 1.44 serious actions per 1,000 doctors in Hawaii. That's a seven-fold difference between the best and worst states, Public Citizen noted.

After Wyoming, the next four top states were Kentucky, North Dakota, Alaska and Oklahoma. After Hawaii, the next four worst states were Delaware, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Maryland.


Canada First Country to Approve Cannabis-Derived MS Drug

Canada is the first country to approve the cannabis-derived drug Sativex, which is designed to treat the central nervous system and reduce multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms.

The drug, which is administered by mouth spray, will be marketed in Canada by German pharmaceutical company Bayer and is expected to be available for sale later this spring, BBC News reported.

Sativex is made by UK biotech company GW Pharmaceuticals, which says this is the world's first approval of a drug derived from cannabis.

"The approval of Sativex reflects the urgent need for additional treatment options in the field of neuropathic pain in MS," Dr. Allan Gordon of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said in a statement issued by Health Canada.

GW Pharmaceuticals had hoped to win UK approval for Sativex in 2003 but the UK government said it wanted more evidence about the drug's benefits before they granted approval. GW said it plans to take initial steps this year to seek U.S. approval for a cannabis-derived drug.


Grilled Meat Byproducts Cause Cancer, HHS Says

With the backyard barbeque season in full swing nationwide, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has added chemical compounds formed when meat, fish or poultry are grilled to its official list of cancer-causing substances, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The compounds are called heterocyclic amines. They're primarily formed when meat and other foods are cooked at high temperatures and exposed to flame flare-ups. At least one other group of chemicals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which also collect on meat cooked over hot coals, has been on the agency's list since 1981, the Times said.

If there's a silver lining, it's that covering the grill grate with tin foil and avoiding charred food may help lessen risks, the newspaper said. Experts also suggest microwaving the food in advance, reducing the time it spends on the grill. Finally, marinating the food has proven beneficial, probably because the liquid prevents the food from burning.


Survey: 4 in 10 Seniors Don't Take Drugs as Directed

Forty percent of seniors polled don't take all of the medications their doctors prescribe as directed, a national survey finds.

The poll of 17,685 people over age 65 attributed the finding to the high cost of prescription drugs, the belief that the drugs weren't helping, or the feeling that the medications were unnecessary. More than half of those polled with three or more chronic conditions said they didn't take their medications as prescribed, the survey found. It was sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund, and Tufts-New England Medical Center.

Of the 89 percent of seniors who said they took at least one prescription drug in the past year, 46 percent said they took five or more. And 54 percent said they had more than one physician who prescribed medication.

Conversely, 27 percent of participants said they didn't have any prescription drug coverage at the time of the polling, the survey sponsors said.


U.S. Ends Cancer Drug Iressa Trial

The National Cancer Institute has ended its Phase III clinical trials of the AstraZeneca lung cancer drug Iressa (gefitinib) because the drug has failed to prolong patients' lives.

Iressa was being tested as a way to extend the lives of patients who had completed chemotherapy. Its 2003 approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was conditioned on additional clinical testing.

The drug had been designed to inhibit an enzyme, tyrosine kinase, that's important to the growth of cancer cells, the National Cancer Institute said in a statement.

Last December, AstraZeneca announced that ongoing trials found that the drug did not help patients live longer. According to the Associated Press, the company subsequently withdrew an application to sell the drug in Europe.

Results from the most recent trials will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting next month.

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