Health Highlights: Dec. 16 2009

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

Scientists Crack Genetic Codes of Lung, Skin Cancer

The complete genetic codes of skin and lung cancers have been deciphered, an achievement that will lead to earlier detection and improved treatments for two of the most common cancers, scientists report.

The researchers found that the DNA code for melanoma skin cancer contains more than 30,000 errors and that almost all those errors are caused by too much sun exposure, BBC News reported.

The DNA code of lung cancer has more than 23,000 errors, most of which are caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. The researchers estimated that a typical smoker develops one new mutation for every 15 cigarettes smoked. While most of these mutations are harmless, some will cause cancer.

WHAT TO KNOW

The research appears in the journal Nature.

Researchers worldwide are investigating the genomes of many types of human cancers -- including breast, stomach, brain, ovary, pancreas, liver and mouth tumors -- to catalogue all the genes that go wrong in these cancers, BBC News reported.

"These catalogues are going to change the way we think about individual cancers," said Professor Michael Stratton, of the Wellcome Trust in Great Britain.

"By identifying all the cancer genes we will be able to develop new drugs that target the specific mutated genes and work out which patients will benefit from these novel treatments," he said. "We can envisage a time when following the removal of a cancer, cataloguing it will become routine."

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FDA Panel Backs Crestor for People With Normal Cholesterol

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should approve expanded use of the cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and death in people with healthy cholesterol levels, an expert panel recommended Tuesday.

In a 12-4 vote with one abstention, the FDA advisory panel decided that Crestor's benefits outweigh its risks in patients with normal cholesterol and no history of heart disease, the Associated Press reported.

While not required to, the FDA usually follows the advice of its expert panels.

Crestor, made by AstraZeneca, is already a widely used drug, the AP reported.

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Former South African Health Minister Dies

Liver disease has claimed the life of a former South African health minister who doubted whether HIV caused AIDS and suggested that a healthy diet was better than drugs for fighting HIV.

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, 69, died from complications related to her 2007 liver transplant, according to her doctor, BBC News reported.

As health minister from 1999 to 2008, Tshabalala-Msimang maintained that anti-retroviral drugs were too costly and could cause harmful side effects. Instead, she recommended people infected with HIV eat olive oil, lemon, beetroot and the African potato as a way to treat their health problems.

She was widely criticized and dubbed "Dr. Beetroot" for her stance.

According to a study released last year, more than 300,000 people in South Africa died prematurely due to the delay in rolling out anti-retroviral drugs to HIV patients between 2000 and 2005, BBC News reported.

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Atlas Sexual Enhancement Products Recalled: FDA

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