Health Highlights: Jan. 26, 2005

Breast Cancer Drug Bests Tamoxifen in Major Trial Chirac Calls for International Tax to Combat AIDS Survey Says Americans at Heart Risk Don't Use Aspirin Therapy Feds Move to Limit Cold Medicine Sales Instant Teas May Have Too Much Fluoride Court Reinstates McDonald's Obesity Suit

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

Breast Cancer Drug Bests Tamoxifen in Major Trial

In what is being described as a milestone in breast cancer treatment, new research has found that the drug letrazole is more effective than tamoxifen in preventing the disease recurring.

The findings, announced at a breast cancer conference in St. Gallen, Switzerland Wednesday, showed letrozole, sold as Femara, reduced the risk of disease recurrence and metastasis and prolonged disease-free survival compared to tamoxifen, the most commonly used drug, according to wire reports and industry statements.

The clinical trial, known as the Breast International Group 1-98 study, is one of the largest breast cancer trials ever conducted, involved 8,000 post-menopausal women with hormone-sensitive breast cancer in 27 countries.

Letrozole works by reducing the production of estrogen, depriving cancer cells of the source of the hormone. It is the second drug belonging to the new class of anti-cancer drugs called aromatase inhibitors that has been proven to be more effective than tamoxifen.

Last month, a study of 9,000 women published in The Lancet found that the aromatase inhibitor Arimidex prolonged disease-free survival by 13 per cent and reduced the cancer spreading by 14 per cent compared with tamoxifen.

In the United States, letrozole currently is approved for use in breast cancer patients after they've completed a lengthy treatment with tamoxifen.

"This drug's improving by nearly 20 percent on what was a very good start. They're stopping people getting recurrences of breast cancer," said Dr. Andrew Wardley, who conducted the clinical trials in Great Britain.

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Chirac Calls for International Tax to Combat AIDS

French President Jacques Chirac is proposing an "experimental" international tax to help finance the global fight against AIDS.

The tax could be placed on international financial transactions, airline tickets and aviation and maritime fuels, Chirac said Wednesday in a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Agence France-Presse reported.

At least $10 billion each is needed to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS, Chirac added.

He noted that, despite major efforts to date, "we are failing in the face of this terrible pandemic."

Developed countries should also create tax incentives in order to encourage private charitable donations, Chirac said. He acknowledged that his tax proposal would ignite widespread debate, AFP reported.

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Survey Says Americans at Heart Risk Don't Use Aspirin Therapy

Forty-three percent of American adults at risk of heart disease are not using aspirin therapy to cut that risk, according to preliminary survey results released by the American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM).

The online survey of 1,299 adults over age 40 and 533 healthcare professionals found that 59 percent of increased-risk men reported regular aspirin use, compared to 54 percent of increased-risk women, even though 41 percent of women considered themselves knowledgeable about aspirin therapy, compared to 33 percent of men. The survey was funded by Bayer Aspirin.

"The survey findings have profound implications for all Americans aged 40 and over who are at risk for heart disease," Dr. George K. Anderson, ACPM past president, said in a prepared statement.

"While health professionals report that they are discussing aspirin's benefits with appropriate patients, not nearly enough moderate-to-high risk people are making aspirin a part of their risk-reduction action plan," Anderson added.

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Feds Move to Limit Cold Medicine Sales

A dozen bipartisan senators have introduced a federal bill to limit sales of non-prescription cold medications that contain pseudoephedrine, an ingredient that can be used to make a dangerous street drug called methamphetamine, often dubbed "meth."

Under the legislation, consumers would have to show a photo ID to a pharmacy worker before they could buy popular remedies like Sudafed or Tylenol cold medicine, the Associated Press reported.

While law enforcement officials applauded the legislation, it's being condemned by drug-industry groups, who insisted the bill is too restrictive against people who simply want to treat a runny nose, the wire service said.

The bill is modeled on an Oklahoma law that took effect in April. Buyers would be limited to 9 grams -- or 366 30-milligram pills -- in a 30-day period, the AP said. Local governments can make exceptions where pharmacies aren't easily accessible.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, more than 7,000 meth labs were dismantled nationwide in 2003, the wire service reported.

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Instant Teas May Have Too Much Fluoride

Instant teas may contain harmful amounts of fluoride that could cause bone pain among frequent drinkers, Washington University researchers say.

The scientists tested 10 brands of instant teas brewed in fluoride-free water, finding levels ranging from 1.0 to 6.5 parts per million, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. The study is published in the January issue of the American Journal of Medicine. The maximum level allowed in drinking water by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is 4 parts per million, the wire service said.

Fluoride, which is added to many sources of home drinking water to thwart tooth decay, is absorbed naturally into tea plants from soil and rain water. Too much fluoride intake can cause a condition called skeletal fluorosis, with symptoms including bone and joint pain, calcified ligaments, and fused vertebrae. The condition is rare in the United States, but is more common in some countries than osteoporosis, the AP said.

The study was prompted by research into a middle-aged woman's mysterious spinal pain. The patient ultimately disclosed that she drank one to two gallons of double-strength instant tea each day. The Washington researchers, noting these excessive amounts, recommended consuming instant teas in moderation, the wire service said.

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Court Reinstates McDonald's Obesity Suit

A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit that blames fast-food giant McDonald's for making people fat.

A group of New York teenagers sued the restaurant chain, claiming the company deliberately hid the health risks posed by its burgers, fries and other fatty fare. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday reversed a lower court's dismissal of the suit. A McDonald's spokesman repeated prior assertions that the suit was without merit, according to the Bloomberg news service.

The lawsuit alleges that thousands of consumers were misled about McDonald's products, resulting in spiraling cases of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The teens say they ate McDonald's products three to five times a week for some 15 years.

The McDonald's spokesman called the suit "frivolous."

"The key issue remains personal responsibility, and making informed choices," the spokesman said.

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