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May 31st, 2010
11:06 AM ET

Pentagon tells its warriors, it's OK to ask for help

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

Memorial Day is dedicated to honoring the fallen in all American wars.  As the wars Iraq and Afghanistan drag on and the U.S. military continues to grapple with increased suicide rates among its troops, the Department of Defense  wants to remind service members that anonymous mental health assessment tools are available on the Internet and by telephone, for service members who are feeling overwhelmed.

During the first three months of 2010, 71 suspected suicides in the Army were reported during the first three months of this year, according to  the Defense Department.

"The number of Marines who have died by suicide in recent years is shocking and unacceptable," Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February. In, 2009,  52 Marines committed suicide; 65 were lost in combat that same year.

In an effort to stem the continued rise in suicides,  all branches of the military  have multiple efforts under way. In addition, the Army is partnering with the National Institute of Mental Health in what they describe as the "largest study of suicide and mental health among military personnel ever undertaken."

But today – on Memorial Day – "Military Pathways" – a joint effort between the Defense Department and a Massachusetts-based non-profit organization called Screening for Mental Health – is reminding all members of the military that anonymous mental health self-assessments are available at http://www.militarymentalhealth.org/Welcome.aspx or by calling 1-877-877-3647.

The screening program addresses a variety of issues from lengths and number of deployments to post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, alcohol use and bipolar disorder. After the service member completes the self-assessment, he or she is provided information about the possible diagnosis and specific  resources available to help the soldier, marine, seaman or airman.

This program was first introduced in 2006. The purpose, according to the Defense Department, is to "reduce stigma, raise awareness about mental health and connect those in need to available resources."  Since its inception, more than 168,000 screenings were completed online, a spokesperson for Military Pathways tells CNN.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


May 30th, 2010
11:58 AM ET

Hopper's disease No. 2 cancer killer of men

Actor Dennis Hopper, who starred in such Hollywood classics as "Easy Rider" and "Blue Velvet," died Saturday at his home in Venice, California.  He was 74.  His prostate cancer was diagnosed last October.  According to his wife, Victoria Hopper, he was surrounded by his children when he died.

Hopper is one of the approximately 27,000 men who die every year from prostate cancer, according to the American Cancer Society It is the second largest cancer killer of men, just behind lung cancer.  In 2009, there were more than 192,000 new diagnoses according to ACS.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the best course of treatment for prostate cancer.  According to a study published last year in The New England Journal of Medicine, prostate screenings don't reduce the number of deaths from illness.  But not all experts agree.  The study caused much controversy in the medical community.  My colleague, Elizabeth Cohen, wrote about the opinions on treatment options in her column, "The Empowered Patient."

Funeral arrangements have not been decided, but Hopper's wish was to be buried in Taos, New Mexico, "his heart home," Victoria Hopper said.  To read more about Hopper's life and career, click here.


May 28th, 2010
04:22 PM ET

Public health pioneer on trail of "the next lead"

Doctors used to think that lead, like many dangerous substances, was only toxic beyond a certain threshold. That changed thanks to a landmark study by Dr. Philip Landrigan, whose findings inspired a federal ban on lead in paint and gasoline. Today he is a principal investigator with the National Children’s Study, a mammoth undertaking by the National Institutes of Health that aims to follow 100,000 children from before birth to age 21, to identify the health effects of toxic exposures and other factors. He spoke with Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Does it usually start off with a hypothesis on your part? Are you literally thinking, “I think there is a connection between this chemical and this problem?

Dr. Philip Landrigan: I think if you take the long view, it actually usually begins with clinical observation. A doctor somewhere who's smart and astute observes that the children who are exposed to a particular chemical are having problems. That's what happened 100 years ago when childhood lead poisoning was first recognized, in Australia. It's what happened 50 years ago when methyl-mercury poisoning was first recognized in Japan, at a village called Minamata. These were situations of acute, high-dose exposure, and smart clinicians recognized the connection between the exposure and the disease. Sometimes a lot of detective work was involved. Once the connection is established by an astute clinician, then hypothesis become part of the story. A number of years ago, we said, “We know that high-dose exposure causes devastating injury to the brain, with coma, with convulsions, with various, very severe clinical manifestations. Might it not be possible that a lower dose also causes dysfunction?” But that dysfunction requires more specialized testing to recognize.

Gupta: When you're talking about cause and effect, are there things now that in 10 to 20 years, kids will come to us and say, “When did you first start to suspect that X was a problem?” Are there things right now that in the back of your mind where you're thinking, “I can't prove this yet, but I'm pretty convinced that this it's going to be a problem and it's causing [problems] in kids?

Landrigan: Well I think one very important class of chemicals that falls squarely in that category today are the phthalates. Phthalates are a type of chemical that falls under the broad category of plastics chemicals. They're added to a lot of rigid plastics, like polyvinyl chloride, to make them flexible. Other phthalates are widely used in cosmetics, skin creams and the like, and they penetrate into people's bodies through the skin. Investigators in our department at Mount Sinai School of Medicine of New York have just recently published a paper in one of the peer reviewed medical journals, which showed that babies who were exposed in the womb to phthalates – six or seven years ago – are now, at age seven, showing aberrations in behavior that look very much like attention deficit disorder. This is obviously something that has to be corroborated; this is just one study. But we're all exposed to phthalates, and if this finding holds up, we've got a problem that we've got to do something about.

Gupta: What is the reaction to the sort of work that you do, within the medical community?

Landrigan: I think there's growing appreciation for this work. You know, historically, most medical students have had very little training in environmental medicine. The average is about four or five hours, in most medical schools across the country. And so most doctors know about lead poisoning; most doctors know about the environmental triggers of asthma, but beyond that their knowledge base is a little thin, and often they don't have much appreciation for environmental problems.

For more of Dr. Gupta’s conversation with Dr. Landrigan, watch “Sanjay Gupta, MD,” Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m., ET.


May 28th, 2010
12:45 PM ET

Brush your teeth, save your heart?

By Madison Park
CNNhealth.com writer/producer

It’s not only tartar build-up and nasty gum diseases you have to worry about. If you don’t brush your teeth twice a day, you’re more likely to develop heart disease, says a new British study.

Someone tell Jessica Simpson.

Earlier this month, the pop singer and sometimes-actress, told Ellen DeGeneres that she  brushes her teeth only about three times a week, because she doesn’t like them to “feel too slippery.”

“I don’t brush them everyday. I’ll use a shirt or something ... I know it's gross, but I always have fresh breath," she said.  Simpson added that she's a big fan of Listerine and floss.

So keep in mind - just because they’re pearly and sheen, it doesn’t mean they’re clean.

Other ways you might be ruining your teeth

The study published Friday in the British Medical Journal found that individuals with poor oral hygiene have a 70 percent increased risk of heart disease compared with people who brush twice daily. Read research here

This adds to existing research that shows having bad oral hygiene can lead to  problems, including inflammation that could clog arteries.

Researchers from the University College London analyzed data from a Scottish health survey, looking at responses from 11,000 adults about smoking, physical activity and oral health routine – including how often they visited the dentists and brushed their teeth. Their family and personal medical histories, blood pressure and samples were taken, too.

About 71 percent reported brushing their teeth twice a day and 62 percent said they visit a dentist twice a year*.  Those with poor oral hygiene  had higher risk of heart disease and also tested positive for inflammatory markers such as the C-reactive protein and fibrinogen.

People magazine interviewed Simpson’s dentist, Dr. Bill Dorfman, who was surprised to hear his patient did not brush twice a day.

"It's great that she’s flossing all the time, but you have to brush too," Dorfman told People. "What goes on in your mouth really affects your whole body."

[*An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the frequency of dental visits by people in the study.]

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


May 25th, 2010
02:39 PM ET

Restaurants take calories to the extreme, report says

By Sabriya Rice
CNN Medical Producer

An estimated 67 percent of U.S. adults over age 20 are overweight or obese - and a new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest says some popular restaurant chains are contributing to the problem.

The report awards the Extreme Eating 2010 Award  to a total of nine dishes from seven companies.  

“These chains don't promote moderation. They practice caloric extremism, and they're helping make modern-day Americans become the most obese people ever to walk the Earth," stated CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson in a press release.

The report highlights for example that a Five Guys bacon cheeseburger with a large order of fries adds up to 2,380 calories, and that P.F. Chang’s double pan-fried noodle combo, which includes beef, pork and chicken, comes to about 1,820 calories.  One meal can put a person close to – or well over – the 2000 -2500 calories  per day the USDA recommends for the average person to maintain a healthy weight.

A spokesperson from P.F. Chang’s says the nutritional information for the double pan-fried noodles combo is inaccurate. The company notes that according to the website, the dish contains only 455 calories per serving, and the serving size is for four people. However the CSPI says, that wording can often be misleading.

“One of the oldest tricks in the book is to say that a given plate of food serves X number of people,” says the CSPI. “While people do often share at Chinese restaurants it's hard to imagine four people sharing this and nothing else!”

CNN received responses from two of the other restaurant chains mentioned in the report. California Pizza Kitchen – which was cited for two dishes, including a pesto cream penne pasta that amounted to 1,350 calories before any meat was added – says it offers a wide variety of menu choices and that, most often, its pizzas are shared. “We welcome our guests to modify any of our menu items to meet their dietary needs," a company spokesman says.  Similarly, Outback Steakhouse said its chefs can customize meals, desserts and drinks to satisfy customers’ specific preferences and dietary needs. Outback says the company was among the first  to offer an online nutritional tool that “ provides [consumers] with all of the information needed to make an informed decision when placing an order.”

In fact, many of the companies in the report currently list their nutritional information right on their websites: Bob Evans; California Pizza Kitchen; Five Guys; P.F. Chang's; Outback Steakhouse; Chevys. Nutritionists say it is a good rule of thumb to check out nutrition information before heading to a restaurant. Also, the USDA and the American Heart Association  offer other useful tips for ways you can eat healthfully when dining out on their websites.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


May 25th, 2010
11:23 AM ET

Lithium batteries a growing swallowing hazard

by Madison Park
CNNhealth writer/producer

From rocks to coins, pacifiers and toys, kids like to taste everyday objects.  But some of these items can be serious choking hazards – take circular batteries.

The 20mm lithium batteries are described as a common culprit in a study published in Pediatrics.

The research published in the journal this week reported a 6.7-fold increase in the percentage of severe outcomes caused by battery ingestion in the last 24 years. The severity of the battery-related incidents has worsened, causing injuries including the destruction of the esophagus, perforation of the aorta and vocal cord paralysis.

The batteries look like buttons somewhere between the size of a nickel and a penny. Or perhaps they even look like candy to a small child, but they pack a punch.  The batteries are large enough to get lodged and obstruct breathing.

Once swallowed, the stuck battery can create a current, burning through the child’s esophagus, airway or even the aorta, said Dr. Toby Litovitz, the executive medical director of the National Poison Center.

Parents should childproof everyday electronics such as calculators, flashlights, cameras and talking books by reinforcing the battery compartment with tape, she advised.  Children can easily snap open the latches to get to the batteries.

iReport: Tell us about your unexpected choking hazards

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


May 24th, 2010
06:05 PM ET

African Americans lack access to marrow transplants

By Trisha Henry and Jennifer Bixler
CNN Medical News

Every year, more than 10,000 Americans are found to have cancers of the blood, such as leukemia or lymphoma. For many of them, bone marrow transplants are the only thing that can save their lives. However, a new study suggests not everyone has the same access to marrow transplants.

Caucasians are 40 percent more likely to undergo bone marrow transplants than African Americans in the United States, says study author Dr. J. Douglas Rizzo of the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "I don't think we know why.” His study appears in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society . Rizzo says more research needs to be done to understand why minorities don't always have the same access to care as whites.

The study found there are a combination of things that may influence whether someone chooses to get a bone marrow transplant. It could be a patient's cultural beliefs, financial resources, lack of insurance, or the inability to find a match, since minorities are much less represented among the potential donor pool. "There is a lot of ethnic mixing within in the us," says Rizzo.

The other issue is lack of minority bone marrow donors. Be the Match, the national donor registry, has special outreach programs for minorities. More than 8 million people are on the registry in the United States and 13 million worldwide, according to Tiffany Friesen, Southeast program director. "Right now, the chances of Caucasians finding a match using the registry is in the 90th percentile,” Friesen says, “but if you are a minority, your chances can be as low as 50 percent."

An anonymous bone marrow donor saved Gigi Pasley's life when she was 4. Her mother, Jessica Pasley, urges everyone she meets to get on the National Bone Marrow Registry. "It is imperative, people just don't know how important it is," says Pasley from her office in Nashville, Tennessee. Gigi is now 12 and cancer free. "I just look at Gigi and know she wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her donor."

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


May 24th, 2010
12:38 PM ET

Libido booster for women to get FDA consideration

By John Bonifield
CNN Medical Producer

When men show up at the pharmacy to pick up prescription drugs for sex problems, they have several options. Viagra. Cialis. Levitra. That hasn’t been the case for women with similar problems. But a Food and Drug Administration panel next month will debate approving a pill that could bring on the demise of this double standard. The drug, called flibanserin, has been developed to boost women’s libido.

“The most common sexual problem for women is low desire,” says Sheryl Kingsberg, a clinical psychologist with University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio. “These women are really distressed by it.”

The German drug company Boehringer Ingelheim developed flibanserin as an antidepressant. The drug didn’t work as a treatment for depression, but it did produce a surprising libido-enhancing side effect in some women.

“There are millions of women who have a sexual life that is problematic for them,” says Michael Sand, the company’s director of clinical research on flibanserin.

According Sand, women taking flibanserin experience an increase in sexual desire and satisfying sexual activity and a decrease in emotional distress.

If the FDA approves flibanserin, Kingsberg says, the drug will be a game changer.

“If nothing else, it's going to open the door to women knowing that they're entitled to good quality sexual health. That it's not just for men anymore,” says Kingsberg, who has been a paid consultant for the company and for other developers of libido-enhancing drugs.

Boehringer Ingelheim plans to discuss its findings on flibanserin with the FDA on June 18.

Next week on CNN, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen will explore female libido and what’s available now to help restore a lagging sex drive.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


May 24th, 2010
08:54 AM ET

Most kids under 4 should learn to swim, pediatricians say

By Sabriya Rice
CNN Medical Producer

Parents should consider swimming lessons for most children between ages 1 and 4, the American Academy of Pediatrics urges  in new guidelines on drowning prevention and water safety. The guidance is a change from previous recommendations.

“In light of new research that has revealed that swim instruction for children 1 to 4 years of age may decrease drowning, it is reasonable for the AAP to relax its policy regarding the age at which children should start learning water-survival skills,” the authors say in the report.

Previously, the AAP discouraged swimming lessons for this age group, noting a lack of evidence on whether these children were developmentally ready. The new guidelines, however, do not extend to all children under 4. The AAP still does not recommend swimming lessons before age 1, and says children with motor or cognitive disabilities may not be not be ready for swimming lessons until a later age.

Drowning is the second-leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 19, according to the AAP report. New data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissions finds children between the ages of 1 and 2 represent 47 percent of submersion injuries and 53 percent of fatalities for children younger than 15. In light of those statistics, the CPSC launched Poolsafety.gov as as an educational resource for parents, providing pool safety videos and links to resources on drowning prevention.

“Children need to learn to swim,” say the authors of the Pediatrics report. But they also warn parents not to equate swimming lessons with “drown proofing.” They recommend a multilayered safety approach because, as they note, even children with advanced swimming skills can still drown. Beside swimming lessons, here are three additional things parents can do:

Fence in your pool: Many parents do not consider putting fencing around large inflatable pools,the AAP says,  and because these pools are considered to be portable, they fall outside of many state regulations. The AAP recommends parents install a four-sided fence that is at least 4 feet high if you have any kind of pool in your back yard. The American Red Cross also offers a home pool maintenance class online to help you ensure your pool is set up properly. The two-hour class costs $19.95 and you receive a manual to keep at your home.

Learn CPR: According to the NIH, “all parents and those who take care of children should learn infant and child CPR if they haven't already.” But note that CPR recommendations vary by age group. You can find a CPR training class near you through the American Heart Association, and the National Institutes of Health has guidelines for performing CPR on children between the ages of 1 and 8.

Purchase the proper gear: The AAP warns against using inflatable swimming aids because they can easily lose air and they “are not designed to keep swimmers safe.” On the academy's  website, parents can view a list of the types of personal flotation devices approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


May 20th, 2010
08:08 PM ET

Study: Screening for ovarian cancer may be closer

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

(CNN) Researchers may have found an effective way to screen for ovarian cancer by using an existing blood test in a new way, according to a study released Thursday by the American Society of Clinical Oncology).

Ovarian cancer is often called the silent killer because there is no good equivalent screening tool, like mammograms are for breast cancer. Dr. Douglas Blaney, ASCO president, calls this cancer vicious because it's usually detected after it can be cured with surgery.

For more than two decades, doctors have known that a protein called CA-125, is much more prevalent in ovarian cancer cells than healthy cells.

A blood test that looks for CA-125 is used to determine whether an ovarian cancer patient's treatment is working. However, the CA-125 test hasn't been an effective screening for ovarian cancer because many women who have high levels of this protein don't actually have cancer.

"For the last 10 years, the ovarian cancer community has been interested in screening for new [cancer] markers," says lead author Dr. Karen Lu from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. But when researchers compared all the new markers for ovarian cancer at a cancer conference last year, Lu says, of all the new markers, the old one – CA-125 was the best.

So Lu and her co-authors developed mathematical way to determine how the old test could be used in a new way.

For eight years, researchers followed over 3,200 postmenopausal women age 50 and older who didn't have a family history of the disease.

They started by testing the women's CA-125 levels. Based on the woman's age and depending on how high those levels were, the women were asked to get their next blood test one year later, to wait three months, or If their levels were high, they were immediately referred to ultrasound screening and a surgeon.

"What these folks are trying to do is look at change over time," explains Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, who was not involved in the study.

Using criteria developed by the researchers, 82 percent of the women had low CA-125 levels and were told to come back in a year. They were classified as low risk.

Over the course of the study, about 7 percent of the women were judged to be at intermediate risk based on their protein levels and were asked to get tested every three months. And less than 1 percent were at high risk and sent to get an ultrasound and see a surgeon immediately.

Five women were found to have ovarian cancer, all at an early stage.

The study authors say their work provides early evidence that this new method of using the CA-125 test could be a feasible strategy for screening women over 50 years of age.

Blaney describes the results as a more refined application of known test.

Lu was cautiously optimistic about the study because it found very few false positive results and doctors were able to pick up this very aggressive cancer at an early stage giving women a much better chance of survival.

However, this study will not lead doctors to recommend all women start getting this blood test once they hit the age of 50 – at least not yet.

Because ovarian cancer is so rare, a much larger trial is needed says Lu. Ovarian cancer strikes one in 2,500 post-menopausal women – and one in 10,000 women between the ages of 35 and 50.

The definitive study is being done in the United Kingdom," say Lu.

This study involves 200,000 women and is designed to determine whether lives are actually saved by using this new application of the old test.

Results from this trial are expected in four years.

"Four years is pretty fast" says Lu.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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