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Health Highlights: April 27, 2004

Protein Helps Some Cancer Cells Survive Chemotherapy Pancreatic Extract Drugs Must Get FDA Approval Dental X-Rays While Pregnant May Boost Chances of Smaller Babies Beijing Quarantines Hundreds to Prevent SARS Spread Cholesterol Levels Vary With Seasons: Study KFC: We Do Chicken Roast

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

Protein Helps Some Cancer Cells Survive Chemotherapy

Some cancer cells avoid being killed by chemotherapy by putting their growth on hold, says a study by Cancer Research UK scientists.

The researchers found that a protein molecule called p300 seems to control this process, BBC News Online reported.

Blocking this protein may help increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy. The discovery of the important role of p300 may also help scientists find new ways to predict which cancer patients will respond to treatment.

The study appears in the new issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Pancreatic Extract Drugs Must Get FDA Approval

Companies that make pancreatic extract drugs must get U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for those drugs within the next four years for those drugs to remain on the market, the FDA announced Tuesday.

The FDA decision to require approval of new drug applications (NDAs) for all pancreatic extract drugs was made after the agency reviewed data that showed there were substantial variations among such drugs currently on the market.

That review revealed variations in the formulation, dosage, and manufacturing processes that affected the potency of the enzymes after being taken by patients. Those variations in potency could affect the drugs' safety and effectiveness.

There are currently more than three dozen such pancreatic extract drugs sold in the United States. These are drugs that went on the market before the FDA required proof that a medication was truly effective.

"Variations in the potency of pancreatic extract drug product are unacceptable. Patients with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency disorders rely on these drugs to provide the enzymes they need to digest food properly. If the label contains an inaccurate statement about a particular product's potency, then the patient is at risk for receiving too much or too little of the medicine," Dr. Lester M. Crawford, FDA Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs, said in a prepared statement.

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Dental X-Ray While Pregnant May Boost Chance of Smaller Baby

Women who get dental X-rays while they're pregnant have a greater chance of delivering smaller-than-normal babies, says a study in the April 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study concluded that the prevalence of small babies might be reduced by as much as five percent if it were possible to stop all dental X-rays during pregnancies, HealthDay reports.

While this association between X-rays and smaller babies requires further investigation, experts are advising that women who plan to get pregnant should visit their dentist before they conceive.

American Dental Association consumer advisor Dr. Sally Cram said dentists have been taking steps for many years to protect patients against excessive radiation.

"But women who are considering getting pregnant or who are pregnant should certainly take very seriously their oral health so as to avoid having emergency X-rays that could potentially cause harm to the fetus or the child," Cram told HealthDay.

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Beijing Quarantines Hundreds to Prevent SARS Spread

More than 600 people have been isolated in Beijing as the Chinese government attempts to prevent the current SARS outbreak from widening, Channel News Asia reported Tuesday.

In the past week, health officials have identified two confirmed cases and six suspected cases of SARS in the capital city and in Anhui province. One of the confirmed cases is said to be recovering.

All of the current cases are thought to stem from an infection among two workers at the nation's Center for Disease Control in Beijing. One of them reportedly spread the virus to a nurse, who then is believed to have infected several family members in Anhui. The World Health Organization said it is investigating the all-but-certain lapses in lab security that led to the initial infections.

Government officials are increasingly concerned about the week-long May Day holiday period that begins this weekend, when millions of Chinese typically travel across the country, Channel News Asia reported. Last year's May Day observances were significantly curtailed in response to the initial SARS outbreak that began in late 2002.

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Cholesterol Levels Vary With Seasons: Study

Winter, spring, summer and fall, a person's cholesterol levels appear to vary with the season, results of a new study show.

University of Massachusetts Medical Center scientists concluded that blood levels peak during the winter. The change was greater in women than in men, and it was also greater in people with higher levels of cholesterol, the researchers reported in the April 26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Over the course of the one-year study, men's cholesterol levels increased by 3.9 mg/dL, peaking in December, and women's increased by 5.4 mg/dL, peaking in January, HealthDay reported. In addition, these increases were greater in those who had high cholesterol levels at the start of the study.

The researchers suggest that since blood volume increases in the summer and decreases in the winter, cholesterol may be diluted during the summer and more concentrated in winter.

Based on these findings, the scientists said doctors may need to measure cholesterol at different times during the year to determine the effectiveness of an anti-cholesterol treatment.

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KFC: We Do Chicken Roast

KFC plans to add a number of roasted chicken products to its traditional menu of fried fare, USA Today reported Tuesday.

The company, once known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, will join fellow fast fooders McDonald's and Burger King in offering a healthier menu, the newspaper said. While the fried food will remain, newer offerings will include oven-roasted chicken in boneless strips, chicken wraps, and entree salads.

The changes follow a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission about now-canceled KFC ads, which suggested that fried chicken could be a healthier part of a high-protein, low-carb diet. Neither the company nor the FTC would comment on the complaint, the newspaper said.

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