Health Highlights: May 9, 2007

  • In 2003, women age 50 and older were less likely than men (50 percent vs. 54 percent) to receive recommended colorectal cancer screening.
  • Colorectal cancer screening rates for white women were 50 percent, compared with 44 percent for black women and 38 percent for Hispanic women.
  • 86 percent of white women start prenatal care in the first three months of pregnancy, compared with 78 percent of Hispanic women, 76 percent of black women, and 71 percent of American Indian-Alaska Native women.
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    Scientists to Catalog 1.8 Million Known Species

    All the world's 1.8 million known species will be catalogued in a massive new $12.5 million Web project called the "Encyclopedia of Life," scientists announced this week.

    The goal of the project is to create separate Web pages on every known species within a decade, the Washington Post reported. Entries will include written sections, photographs, video and sound recordings, and locator maps when possible.

    The effort is a collaboration of Chicago's Field Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, Harvard University, the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass., the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

    To date, humans have catalogued only about 10 percent of the world's species and much of that information is fragmented, Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson told the Post.

    Wilson, who helped initiate the Encyclopedia of Life, said the undertaking will create a pool of knowledge similar to the Human Genome Project.

    "In a relatively short period of time, we'll be able to fill up everything that is known on a given species," Wilson said. "It's something that's invaluable, and its time has come."

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    Doctors Paid Millions to Prescribe Anemia Drugs

    U.S. doctors are being paid millions of dollars a year by drug makers Amgen and Johnson & Johnson in return for prescribing anemia medicines to patients that may be unsafe at commonly used doses, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

    According to industry analysts, the payments to doctors for prescribing the drugs -- Aransep and Epogen from Amgen; and Procrit from Johnson & Johnson -- may amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year. The drugs are given to treat anemia caused by kidney disease or cancer chemotherapy.

    Neither Amgen or Johnson & Johnson have revealed the total amount of the payments, which are structured in a way that make them legal under federal law, The Times reported.

    Both patients and doctors would benefit from full disclosure about the payments and the profits doctors make from the payments, said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the American Cancer Society's deputy chief medical officer.

    On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration released a report suggesting that it may be necessary to limit the use of these anemia drugs in cancer patients. The report said research indicates that there's no evidence that the drugs improve quality of life or extend the lives of cancer patients. It also said that a number of studies suggest that high doses of the drugs may shorten patients' lives, The Times reported.

    An FDA panel is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss whether the drugs are overused. In March, the FDA ordered stronger warnings on the drugs' labels.

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    Chinese Company Linked to Cough Medicine Deaths Not Licensed

    The Chinese company linked to toxic cough medicine that killed at least 100 people in Panama was not licensed to be in the pharmaceutical business, say Chinese officials.

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