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.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • 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.

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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.

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