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Health Highlights: Nov. 17, 2010

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

Hospital Stay Caused Cheney's Weight Loss: Spokesman

Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's thin appearance is the result of weight loss during a long hospital stay after he had heart surgery in the summer, according to a spokesman.

Cheney, who appeared Tuesday at the groundbreaking for the George W. Bush Presidential Center, wants to keep the weight off for health reasons, said spokesman Peter Long, the Associated Press reported.

The former vice president also used a cane during his appearance. Cheney needed the cane because a bad knee from playing high school football acts up occasionally, Long said.


FDA May Take Action Against Caffeinated Alcohol Drinks

The results of a year-long review on energy drinks that contain alcohol and caffeine are expected to be announced Wednesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The agency isn't saying what action it may take as a result of the review, but it's possible that manufacturers will be sent warning letters telling them that the drinks are unsafe, according to several food safety lawyers who once worked for the FDA, The New York Times reported.

CNN reported Tuesday that New York Sen. Charles Schumer said the FDA was preparing to ban the drinks.

The FDA declined to comment on the report, saying the matter was still under review.

But Schumer, in a news release, said the FDA would rule that caffeine is an unsafe additive to alcoholic beverages, effectively banning them from the U.S. market, CNN said.

"Let these rulings serve as a warning to anyone who tried to peddle dangerous and toxic brews to our children. Do it and we will shut you down," Schumer said.

An increasing number of incidents where young people have fallen ill or died after consuming the beverages have put pressure on state and federal regulators. Several states have moved to ban the drinks. Some state officials say the FDA has moved too slowly on the issue.

"To be very blunt, there's just no excuse for the delay in applying standards that clearly should bar this kind of witch's brew," Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, told The Times. When he was the state's attorney general, he led a campaign against the caffeinated alcohol drinks.


Diabetes Drug Mediator Linked to 500 Deaths

The banned diabetes and weight loss drug Mediator (benflourex) may have contributed to the deaths of about 500 people, say health officials in France.

The European Medicines Agency banned Mediator last year but France's health products safety agency said that people who used the drug between 2006 and 2009 should get checked for possible heart valve problems, the Associated Press reported.

About five million people have used Mediator since 1976, according to the French agency.

When the European Medicines Agency said it decided to pull the drug from the market because it had little effect on diabetes and could lead to a dangerous thickening of heart valves, the AP reported.


U.S. Cancer Patients' End-of-Life Care Varies Widely: Study

There are wide regional variations in the proportion of cancer patients who die in the hospital and get hospice care, say U.S. researchers.

They analyzed the records of 235,821 Medicare patients with cancer, ages 65 and older, who died between 2003 and 2007. Overall, one-third of the patients spent their final days in hospitals and intensive care units. However, regional rates ranged from 46.7 percent in New York City's Manhattan to only 7 percent in Mason City, Iowa, the Washington Post reported.

Overall, 6 percent of patients received chemotherapy in their last two weeks of life, but the rate was more than 10 percent in some places, said the researchers at the Dartmouth Atlas Project in Lebanon, N.H. Studies have shown that chemotherapy has little or no value for frail elderly patients and those with advanced cancer.

There was also wide variation in hospice care. At least 50 academic medical centers failed to provide hospice services for more than half of their patients with a poor prognosis. The researchers also found that some hospitals referred patients to hospice care too late to provide much comfort, the Post reported.

"The care that patients receive has less to do with what they want and more to do with the hospitals they happen to seek care from," study leader David Goodman said during a briefing. "Geography is destiny."


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Posted: November 2010