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Health Highlights: Feb. 13, 2008

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

Avastin Shown Effective in Treating Breast Cancer, Maker Says

The Genentech drug Avastin (bevacizumab), approved in the United States to treat colorectal and lung cancers, has proven effective in recent clinical tests as a treatment for breast cancer, The New York Times reported, citing a company statement.

The drug lengthened the time before the cancer grew worse, the company said. The newer trials followed initial testing that did not include all "procedures in place that the FDA would have liked," the newspaper said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to decide by Feb. 23 whether to sanction Avastin for breast cancer, although that decision may be delayed to give the agency more time to evaluate the newer clinical data, the Times reported.

In December, an FDA advisory panel of experts voted to recommend against approving the drug for breast cancer, saying the drug's ability to slow the disease didn't outweigh Avastin's potential toxic side effects, "especially since women getting Avastin did not live significantly longer," the newspaper said.

The full FDA isn't bound by the decisions of its expert panels but usually follows them.

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Patches Containing Potent Painkiller Recalled

Patches containing the powerful prescription opiod painkiller fentanyl have been recalled because a flaw could cause patients or caregivers to overdose on the drug, the Associated Press reported.

Sold in the United States under the brand name Duragesic by PriCara and generically by Sandoz Inc., the recall includes all 25-microgram-per-hour patches with expiration dates on or before December 2009. The patches were also sold in Canada under the Duragesic brand by Janssen-Ortho Inc. and generically by Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd., the AP said.

A total of about 32 million patches will be recalled. PriCara estimates that two patches per million -- or a total of 64 -- have the defect, the Wall Street Journal said.

The AP said some of the patches might have a cut in the lining that contains fentanyl in gel form. If the gel leaks into the drug's packaging, it could cause a patient or caregiver to come in contact with the drug, possibly leading to difficulty breathing and even a fatal overdose. The drug is often prescribed for people dealing with chronic pain, such as cancer patients.

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Anger Plus Depression Means Double Trouble for Heart

Hostility and depression often appear together, and the combination can put a strain on the heart, a new study finds.

Researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis examined emotional symptoms and blood markers of inflammatory proteins in 316 healthy people aged 50 to 70.

As reported in The New York Times, patients with depressive symptoms and hostility were more prone to higher levels of the inflammatory proteins interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein -- each of which have been linked to heart disease risk.

"The relationship of these negative emotions to inflammatory markers is more complex and much stronger than depression or hostility individually," lead researcher Jesse Stewart, assistant professor of psychology, told the Times. "There are, of course, mental health reasons to treat depression and hostility. Now we know there is a physical health reason -- the link to cardiovascular diseases," he added.

The study is published in the February-March issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

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Research Shows How Breast Cancer Becomes Treatment-Resistant

Breast and ovarian cancers caused by a faulty BRCA2 gene often become resistant to standard drugs, and British scientists now believe they know why, the BBC News reported.

The findings could help doctors spot those patients who stand to benefit most from particular treatments, and also give insights into how medicines lose their effectiveness.

Reporting in the journal Nature, researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research in the United Kingdom, noted that healthy BRCA2 is actually a tumor suppressor. But a defective form of the gene renders cells incapable of fixing damaged DNA, which in turn encourages malignancy.

The new research was conducted with both breast and ovarian cancer cells. The research team found that after exposure to standard chemotherapy, some cells mutate back to the normal BRCA2 gene type. This allows the cells to overcome DNA damage but it does not neutralize the tumor. It does, however, neutralize the effectiveness of the cancer drugs, leading to drug resistance.

"The research deepens our understanding of why some breast cancer patients with a faulty BRCA2 gene may stop responding to treatment," Prof. Herbie Newell, executive director of translational research at Cancer Research UK, told the BBC. "This type of research is becoming increasingly important as we seek to tailor cancer therapies to individual patients," he said.

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'Icy Hot' Heat Therapy Products Recalled for Burn Hazard

The maker of "Icy Hot" Heat Therapy products is recalling them nationwide after receiving reports of first-, second-, and third-degree burns among some users, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday in an announcement on its Web site.

Tennessee-based Chattem Inc. said all lots and sizes of the following products are affected:

  • Icy Hot Heat Therapy Air Activated Heat - Back
  • Icy Hot Heat Therapy Air Activated Heat - Arm, neck, and leg
  • Icy Hot Heat Therapy Air Activated Heat - Arm, neck and leg single consumer use samples included in cartons of 3-oz. Aspercreme Pain Relieving Cream.

The products were sold over the counter at food, drug, and mass merchandise stores nationwide. Consumers should stop using them immediately, discard them, or return them to the manufacturer for a full refund.

For more information, visit the FDA.

Posted: February 2008


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