Higher Cancer Risk Continues After Chernobyl

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(BETHESDA, Md.) --  A new study from the National Institutes of Health finds the risk of thyroid cancer for those exposed to the fallout of Chernobyl has not yet to decline.

Nearly 25 years after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, exposure to radioactive iodine-131(I-131, a radioactive isotope) from fallout may be responsible for thyroid cancers that are still occurring among people who lived in the Chernobyl area and were children or adolescents at the time of the accident, researchers say.

An international team of researchers led by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health found a clear dose-response relationship, in which higher absorption of radiation from I-131 led to an increased risk for thyroid cancer that has not seemed to diminish over time.

The study, which represents the first prospective examination of thyroid cancer risk in relation to the I-131 doses received by Chernobyl-area children and adolescents, appeared March 17, 2011, in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

"This study is different from previous Chernobyl efforts in a number of important ways. First, we based radiation doses from I-131 on measurements of radioactivity in each individual's thyroid within two months of the accident," explained study author Alina Brenner, M.D., Ph.D., from NCI's Radiation Epidemiology Branch.  "Second, we identified thyroid cancers using standardized examination methods. Everyone in the cohort was screened, irrespective of dose."

The study included over 12,500 participants who were under 18 years of age at the time of the Chernobyl accident on April 26, 1986, and lived in one of three Ukrainian oblasts, or provinces, near the accident site: Chernigov, Zhytomyr, and Kiev.  Thyroid radioactivity levels were measured for each participant within two months of the accident, and were used to estimate each individual's I-131 dose.  The participants were screened for thyroid cancer up to four times over 10 years, with the first screening occurring 12 to 14 years after the accident.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pursuit of Better Hairline Costs Some Men Their Sex Lives 

Bananastock/Getty(WASHINGTON) -- The baldness drug finasteride has left some young, otherwise healthy men with persistent impotence, diminished sex drive and depression long after they've stopped taking it, according to emerging medical studies and patient reports, as well as lawsuits filed in the United States and Canada.

Millions of men have taken five-mg finasteride tablets since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1992 approved Merck and Co. Inc's Proscar for non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland. Millions more have taken finasteride since FDA's 1997 approval of Propecia, Merck's lower-dose (one mg) formulation for male-pattern baldness, which affects about half of all men.

In 2002, the FDA approved GlaxoSmithKline's closely related drug dutasteride (Avodart) to shrink enlarged prostates, further expanding the market for name-brand and generic 5-alpha reductase inhibitors. The drugs block an enzyme that converts the male sex hormone testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, which is toxic to hair follicles, but important for healthy sexual functioning.

Although the generally rare sexual side effects of finasteride and dutasteride have been mentioned at urology meetings, information about potentially irreversible consequences hasn't yet reached the larger community of prescribing physicians, such as dermatologists and primary care doctors -- or their patients, said researcher Abdulmaged M. Traish, a professor of biochemistry and urology at Boston University School of Medicine.

For an article published in the March issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Traish and a BU colleague, along with endocrinologists from Peabody, Mass.; Germany and Norway, reviewed available scientific studies on the adverse effects of finasteride and dutasteride. Although the overall percentage of men reporting sexual side effects was small, ranging from 5 percent to 23 percent, Traish said half of them never had their side effects go away.

"We found out that we're really ignoring the important part, especially those in whom the problem becomes persistent," Traish said in an interview Wednesday. "That's the group that everybody forgot. We have to worry about the consequences for people who are going to suffer -- even after they discontinue the drug -- from continuous loss of libido and potential depression." Other observed effects included reduced ejaculation and smaller volume of semen.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Doctors Fail to Monitor Potential Opioid Abuse Appropriately

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Statistics show the abuse of prescription painkillers has been on the rise for nearly two decades, but a new study found that primary care physicians may not be diligently monitoring patients who are taking opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, even those who are at risk for becoming dependent on them. Experts say dependence on opioids accounts for much of the rampant prescription drug abuse.

"We studied a cohort of more than 1,600 primary care patients prescribed long-term opioids and looked at how frequently they received three strategies for reducing the risk of misuse," said lead researcher Dr. Joanna Starrels, assistant professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y. The three risk-reduction strategies are urine tests, face-to-face office visits at least every six months and within a month of changing an opioid prescription, and limiting the number of early refills.

Data showed that only eight percent of the patients in the study had any urine drug testing, less than half had regular office visits and nearly 25 percent received multiple early refills.

"This suggests that primary care physicians are not using these risk reduction strategies very frequently," said Starrels.

Whitney O'Neill knows just how powerful prescription pain medication can be, and also how easy it could be for doctors to miss the signs of addiction.

For almost eight years, she was physically dependent on them. She started taking the drugs when she was around 12, after a fall caused her to suffer from crushing migraines. She was 17 when she said the drugs became a problem.

"After years of repeated use, I developed a dependency on them," said O'Neill, now 31. "I started to get sick if I didn't take them."

While she doesn't blame her doctor for feeding her habit with a constant supply of painkillers, she doesn't think her doctor realized she had a problem. And at that time, she couldn't admit she was an addict.

"I think it was a missed opportunity to have recognized I had addictive disease," said O'Neill, who is now outreach coordinator for Faces and Voices of Recovery, an advocacy group.

Addiction specialists say a lot of burden falls on primary care physicians, usually on the front lines of pain management. Some believe primary care physicians just don't know enough about addiction, while others say factors beyond their control are contributing to the increased use of opioids.

"Most primary care physicians are not trained in addictions," said Dr. Stephen Ross, clinical director of the NYU Langone Center of Excellence on Addiction. "It's not that physicians are not well-meaning, it's just a lack of education and not knowing how to treat addictions."

"It's not a lack of awareness or caring, but they don't have the tools to help manage the risk," said Starrels. "They may not know what risk the factors are or how to monitor their patients for evidence of misuse."

As for the finding that many doctors provide more early refills to patients at higher risk for misuse, even those who have a drug use disorder, Starrels stressed it's important to figure out why. She says it may be because patients are abusing the medications or because doctors are cautious and prescribing a lower dose than patients need for pain.

"This finding is very concerning, and we need to understand the reasons." 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Lawmakers Sponsor Bill to Reduce Sports-Related Injuries

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Kids playing sports is a good thing but what they're using to protect themselves from serious injuries may be worrisome.

With that in mind, two Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday meant to make sure that high school-aged and younger children wear football helmets that meet stringent safety standards to lower the risk of concussions and other injuries.

The Children's Sports Athletic Equipment Safety Act, sponsored by New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall and New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell, would also slap stiffer penalties against equipment manufacturers who make false safety claims about their sports gear.

While today's football helmets are an upgrade from those used generations ago, most only afford maximum protection from a direct hit to the head.  They don't take into account less severe impact or accidents that spin the head and brain.

The other major problem is that helmets aren't usually replaced every year by schools.  Some athletes wear headgear that's over a decade old.

More people aged 15 to 24 suffer traumatic brain injuries from sports than from any cause other than vehicular accidents.  It's believed that there are as many as 3.8 million sports-related concussions annually.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Will Bugs Be the Next Meat Alternative?

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Bumble bee burgers, grasshopper pie, and beetle tacos -- are you hungry yet?

While these foods may sound outlandish and even unappetizing to most, scientists are predicting that as the global population grows, so will the demand for animal protein.

These factors -- along with the considerable strain that traditional methods of raising mainstream animal protein place on the environment -- make insects as a cheap and nutritionally sound alternative to beef, pork, chicken and other proteins consumed in Western culture a true possibility.

Long before Survivor contestants ate bugs, insects were considered a source of nutrition for ancient Romans.  Even the Bible mentions creepy crawlers as food in its reference to John the Baptist's diet of "locusts and wild honey."

However, insects as a main course isn't a relic of antique times, as a wide variety of insects are used in global cuisine.  Traveling throughout Asia, it's not uncommon to come across insects incorporated in rice dishes, snacks, and even delectable desserts.  Similarly, Mexican cooking is noted for making use of crispy grasshoppers, and many nouveau restaurants both at home and abroad are experimenting with insects in traditional dishes.

The Food and Drug Administration already permits "natural" and "unavoidable" allowances of insect matter in processed foods such as chocolate, peanut butter and fruit juice, which means that on average, most Americans eat about a pound of insects a year.

Furthermore, the traces of insects found in our food are anything but harmful, as less than 0.5 percent of insects carry harmful diseases and bugs are notably rich in zinc and iron, while low in fat and high in protein, making them the perfect food source.

Spearheading the movement to popularize insects as food in the Western world are entomologists Marcel Dick and Arnold van Huis of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.  The two are working under the umbrella of a federal $1.3 million research program to explore the possibility of using insects as food given rising food demands and production costs in a swelling global society.

In a recent publication, Dick and van Huis tackled the most controversial reasons regarding insects as a viable food source, maintaining that raising insects in a hygienic environment is cheaper, more nutritious, and more resourceful than raising a protein like cattle given increasingly expensive agricultural land prices, the rising risk of herd infection, production expenses, and the cost of fodder and water.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Heart Patients Recover Equally Well with Bypass Surgery, Stents 

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) -- Findings from a new study suggest that whether one has heart bypass surgery or undergoes a less-invasive procedure in which medicated stents are used to open clogged arteries, cardiac patients may manage their recovery similarly.

"The degree of symptom relief is very comparable," said study author Dr. David Cohen, director of cardiovascular research at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo. 

Patients can feel comfortable with whatever option they choose. However HealthDay News notes that the most severe cases fare better with bypass surgery, despite the quick recovery time of the stent procedure.

Dr. Kirk N. Garratt of the Lenox Hill Heart and Vascular Institute in New York City commented that most patients, about 90 percent, "do just fine" taking medication for arterial blockage, but surgery is necessary for other cardiac care patients.

Garratt said that with bypass surgery, the body may try to heal itself, thereby causing post-op scar tissue to form, which can be harmful.  This is one reason the stent procedure has become the preferable option -- the stents are coated with a drug that can help to prevent this scar tissue from forming.

The study, which followed up with 1,800 heart patients who underwent bypass surgery or the stent prodecure, showed that 76 percent of bypass patients had no chest pain within a year after the operation, while 72 percent of stent patients said the same.

While neither procedure can guarantee a longer life for heart patients, Garratt said both do improve quality of life.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NY State Reports Rare HIV Transmission from Living Organ Donor

ABC News Radio (NEW YORK) -- The New York State Department of Health confirmed Tuesday that an organ recipient had contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS from a live kidney donor at an unnamed city hospital, The Wall Street Journal reports.  The health department will not identify the hospital for protection of the patients' privacy.

A spokeswoman for the health department called it the country's first documented case where HIV was transmitted from a living organ donor since a test for the virus was introduced to screen donors in 1985.

Now the department recommends that health care facilities screen potential donors for HIV and both Hepatitis C and B within 14 days before the organ transplant. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not issued organ donor screening guidelines since 1994.  An update to the current guidelines is expected from the CDC this year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Seasonal Asthma Flare-Ups Cut Dramatically by Xolair  

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(MADISON, Wisc.) -- The FDA-approved Xolair can improve asthma symptoms, alleviate seasonal flare-ups and allow for a dosage reduction for other asthma medications for children as young as six years of age, according to a recently released study.

Although the study tested Xolair in asthma patients aged 6-20, the FDA has only approved the medication for use in people 12 and older.

However, researcher William W. Busse, MD, from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health reported that the drug reduced symptom days by 25 percent in study participants.  He added that the number of asthma attacks were also reduced by about 30 percent.

More important, Busse says, is that his team of researchers saw a near elimination in the onset of attacks associated with seasonal allergies, colds and other airway infections when children took Xolair.

"It indicates in these kids that allergy seems to play an important role in their asthma," Busse told WebMD.

Critics of the study say the cost of the drug (typically $1,700 for the injected drug) is one drawback among many.  According to WebMD, excessive use of Xolair can actually trigger asthma symptoms and a condition called anaphylaxis, which affects breathing.

But Busse says that although the drug is costly, patients will visit the hospital less frequently, saving on hospitalization costs.

As for the drug's links to various negative side effects, the FDA required that Genentech, Xolair's manufacturer, add a warning label to boxes cautioning users of the potential risk of anaphylaxis.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Transplant-Rejection Drug Is First Treatment for Rare Lung Disease

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(CINCINNATI) -- The drug sirolimus (Rapamycin) is the first to produce any benefit for women who suffer from a rare lung disease called lyphangioleiomyomatosis, or LAM.  The disease has had no cure, and until now, no suitable treatments.

While sirolimus has already been approved as a transplant-rejection drug, a study released Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that when given to LAM patients, lung function and quality of life is improved.

LAM is the loss of lung function due to the abnormal growth of muscle tissue causing airway obstruction.  Internationally, an estimated 250,000 women are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, according to the LAM Foundation.

The study's lead author, Dr. Francis X. McCormack of the University of Cincinnati and scientific director of the LAM Foundation, noted the "rare and special" nature of the treatment's discovery, but said that stabilized lung function only occurred "for as long as patients took the drug."  If a patient stopped taking the drug, a decline in lung function would resume, McCormack said.

McCormack added that sirolimus costs around $8 a tablet, and that the recommended dosage is two tablets a day.

Jill Raleigh, executive director of the LAM Foundation, indicated the treatment isn't likely to be a cure-all for everyone.

"It's not a cure," she said. "But it's hope."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Gene Therapy Is Successful as Parkinson's Treatment, Study Says

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- There is no magic bullet to cure diseases like Parkinson's. Certain therapies like deep brain stimulation and dopamine drugs are not often successful. But a new study published in Lancet Neurology provides results from a successful phase II gene therapy trial in patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

A hallmark of Parkinson’s disease is uncontrolled tremors and movement impairment due to abnormal brain circuitry. In the study, the authors use a sophisticated approach to inject genetic material into the brain cells responsible for motor functions in an attempt to correct the abnormal functioning.

Forty-five patients aged 30-75 years with moderate to advanced Parkinson’s disease were enrolled in the trial, with half of them receiving the gene therapy and the other half getting a “sham surgery." The patients were then tested after six months for their motor score which was based on speech, tremor at rest and facial expressions.

In the results of the trial, researchers found that patients receiving gene therapy had a 23.1-percent improvement in their motor score as compared to 12.7-percent improvement in the control group. Based on these results, the authors conclude that gene therapy can be further developed as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease. This is a first-ever successful phase II clinical trial of a gene therapy for Parkinson’s or any other neurological disorder. The phase I trial was published in 2007.

Unlike ceep brain stimulation which involves the implantation of a medical device called a brain pacemaker, gene therapy does not involve any electrical variables. However, it still remains to be seen if the improvements with this therapy are long-lasting.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio