Health Highlights: Oct. 8, 2007

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

Breast Cancer Chemo Drugs Under Scrutiny

Medical experts are debating whether chemotherapy drugs called anthracyclines -- a mainstay of breast cancer chemo -- should be relegated to the sidelines, the Associated Press reported Monday.

The drugs have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease in some women and new research suggests that anthracyclines are no more effective against breast cancer than chemo drugs that are safer for most women.

A study in this month's Journal of Oncology found that breast cancer survivors who received an anthracycline drug were 26 percent more likely to develop heart failure within 10 years than those who were given different chemo drugs, the AP reported.

    • Breast Cancer Chemo Drugs Under Scrutiny
    • U.S., U.K. Scientists Win 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine
    • Ultrasound Contrast Drugs to Carry Black Box Warning
    • Indonesia Reports 87th Bird Flu Death
    • Sam's Club Orders Nationwide Recall of Beef Patties

An article in this month's Journal of the American College of Cardiology said that outright heart failure during chemotherapy is rare, affecting about two percent of patients. But author Dr. Pamela Douglas, a Duke University cardiologist, said research has found that 10 percent to 50 percent of patients who receive anthracycline drugs experience subtle heart weakening, which makes them more vulnerable to common age-related conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Douglas noted that other factors may play a role in the development of heart problems in breast cancer patients, including chest radiation, stress, physical inactivity during treatment, and weight gain, the AP reported.

The National Breast Cancer Coalition is trying to persuade oncologists and U.S. government regulators to reconsider treatment guidelines, but many oncologists are skeptical and want more proof that other chemo drugs work as well as anthracyclines, the wire service said.

Douglas recommended that all breast cancer patients have a formal heart risk assessment before the start of treatment. Results may influence cancer therapy or help doctors identify women who will need extra heart care after cancer treatment, the AP reported.


U.S., U.K. Scientists Win 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine

American and British scientists won the 2007 Nobel Prize in medicine, it was announced Monday, for their discoveries that led to a powerful method for manipulating mouse genes. This has helped advance research into a number of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and heart disease.

Mario R. Capecchi of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Oliver Smithies of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Sir Martin J. Evans of Cardiff University in Wales, received the prestigious award for their work on a technique called gene targeting, which enables scientists to modify or inactivate specific genes in mice in order to study how the targeted genes affect health and disease, the Associated Press reported.

Since 1989, more than 10,000 genes in mice (about half of all mouse genes) have been studied using this technique.

"Gene targeting has pervaded all fields of biomedicine. Its impact on the understanding of gene function and its benefits to mankind will continue to increase over many years to come," said the citation for the $1.54 million Nobel Prize in medicine, the AP reported.

The award will be presented Dec. 10, along with Nobel Prizes for chemistry, physics, literature, peace and economics.


Ultrasound Contrast Drugs to Carry Black Box Warning

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is preparing to warn doctors about hazards associated with contrast drugs injected into the veins of patients undergoing ultrasound imaging to detect possible heart problems, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The drugs are meant to enhance the ultrasound images. An FDA spokeswoman said the agency "has been investigating reports of deaths and serious cardiopulmonary reactions" in patients and plans to alert doctors about "these serious risks and to provide guidance regarding the safe use" of the drugs.

The warning, which could be issued this week, involves the Bristol-Myers Squibb drug Definity and General Electric's Optison, the Journal reported.

The manufacturers have agreed to start placing the FDA's most serious black-box warning on the drugs' labeling, the FDA spokeswoman said. The warning will tell doctors not to use the drugs in patients with unstable angina, unstable cardiopulmonary disease, or acute heart attack.


Indonesia Reports 87th Bird Flu Death

Bird flu has killed a 44-year woman on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, making her the country's 87th victim of the H5N1 virus, BBC News reported.

The woman became sick after she bought chickens from a market in Pekanbaru city in central Sumatra. Blood tests showed that she was infected with H5N1, said health ministry officials.

So far, there have been 108 confirmed cases (87 fatal) of bird flu in Indonesia, which has been worst hit of all nations. Since it first appeared in Asia in 2003, the H5N1 virus has killed more than 180 people worldwide.

Nearly all human cases are believed to have been caused by close contact with infected poultry, BBC News reported. It's feared that if the virus mutates into a form that's easily transmitted between people, it could spark a pandemic and put millions of human lives at risk.


Sam's Club Orders Nationwide Recall of Beef Patties

The Wal-Mart chain's Sam's Club stores have announced a nationwide recall of beef patties that are believed to be responsible for four cases of E. coli bacteria poisoning in Minnesota.

The Associated Press reports the ground beef patties were produced by Cargill Inc., whose U.S. offices are based in Wayzata, Minn. Sam's Club identified the suspect meat as having an expiration date of Feb. 12, 2008 and were coded UPC 0002874907056 Item #700141.

Cargill announced a voluntary nationwide recall of more than 840,000 pounds of the frozen beef patties Saturday. A company spokesman told the wire service that the packages carried the dates Aug. 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17, and that every package had the number "Est.924A" inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The victims became sick between Sept. 10 and Sept. 20, the wire service reports. Two were hospitalized, and one remained in the hospital Saturday, the AP reports.

The beef patties were frozen and sold under the name American Chef's Selection Angus Beef Patties in three Minneapolis-area stores, but they may be in other Sam's Club outlets as well, health officials told the wire service.

"We can't be certain that meat from other stores is not involved, since the brand ... was likely sold at other Sam's Club locations," Heidi Kassenborg, acting director of the dairy and food inspection division of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, is quoted as saying.

The E. coli bacterium causes diarrhea and abdominal cramping, usually two-to-five days after the tainted food is consumed. Left untreated, it can cause more serious complications, including kidney failure.