Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hair analysis reveals breast cancer

Hair sample may provide breast cancer diagnosis
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Trade with personal dealer service.NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Hair from women with breast cancer can be distinguished from hair obtained from women without the disease, researchers in Australia report.

When hair is exposed to X-rays, the radiation is diffracted in a distinctive pattern by the alpha-keratin that forms hair, the researchers explain in the International Journal of Cancer. Dr. Gary L. Corino and Dr. Peter W. French, based at Fermiscan Ltd in Sydney, used the technique to look at samples of hair from 13 patients diagnosed with breast cancer and 20 healthy subjects.

Hair was cut as close to the skin as possible to obtain samples of the most recent hair growth. The investigators "successfully and consistently generated the basic alpha-keratin X-ray diffraction pattern in every hair sample."

Hair from the breast cancer patients produced the same features "with the only difference being the superimposition of a new feature." This was a distinctive low-intensity ring.

This ring sign was fairly accurate in identifying breast cancer. It missed one of the breast cancer patients, and showed up as a false-positive in three of the healthy subject.

The researchers went on to study a length of hair representing 6 months' growth from a breast cancer patient whose hair fell out following chemotherapy. X-ray diffraction at three points along the hair showed clear evidence of the ring at the position furthest from the hair root, a fainter ring at the middle point, and complete absence of the ring close to the root.

"This progressive reduction in the intensity of the ring appears to correlate with the patient's course of treatment and possibly indicates the eradication of the cancer as a result of that treatment," Corino and French suggest.

As for the reason for the ring pattern, they suggest it may represent "incorporation of extraneous lipid material into the fiber as a result of the presence of a tumor." It may also be that the disease affects hair follicles in some way.

Further testing is needed to establish the accuracy of this methodology as a diagnostic test for breast cancer, they conclude.

SOURCE: International Journal of Cancer, February 15, 2008.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Health Net ordered to pay $9 million for canceling coverage during cancer treatment

The punitive damage award is the first of its kind and has prompted the giant medical insurer to scrap practices that have recently come under fire.

By Lisa Girion
Los Angeles Times
February 23, 2008

One of California's largest for-profit insurers stopped a controversial practice of canceling sick policyholders Friday after a judge ordered Health Net Inc. to pay more than $9 million to a breast cancer patient it dropped in the middle of chemotherapy.

The ruling by a private arbitration judge was the first of its kind and the most powerful rebuke to the state's major insurers whose cancellation practices are under fire from the courts, state regulators and elected officials.

Calling Woodland Hills-based Health Net's actions "egregious," Judge Sam Cianchetti, a retired Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, ruled that the company broke state laws and acted in bad faith.

"Health Net was primarily concerned with and considered its own financial interests and gave little, if any, consideration and concern for the interests of the insured," Cianchetti wrote in a 21-page ruling.

Patsy Bates, a 52-year-old grandmother, was at work at the Gardena hair salon she owns when her lawyer William Shernoff called with the news. Bates said she screamed and thanked the lawyer.

Then, "I thanked God," she said. "I praised the Lord."

Bates called the arbitration judge "an angel . . . a real stand-up kind of judge."

When Health Net dropped her in January 2004, Bates was stuck with more than $129,000 in medical bills and was forced to stop chemotherapy for several months until she found a charity to pay for it.

Health Net Chief Executive Jay Gellert ordered an immediate halt to cancellations and told The Times that the company would be changing its coverage applications and retraining its sales force.

"I felt bad about what happened to her," he said. "I feel bad about the whole situation."

Gellert said he would move quickly to "give people the confidence that they can count on their policy." Specifically, he pledged to stop all cancellations until an external review process could be established to approve all cancellations.

Other insurers were considering changing their own practices. A spokeswoman for WellPoint Inc., which operates Blue Cross of California, the state's largest for-profit insurer, said the company was in favor of such an idea. Blue Shield of California declined to comment.

Until Friday, the companies had uniformly defended cancellations, saying they were necessary to hold down costs by weeding out people who may have failed to disclose pre-existing conditions on applications for coverage. They say cancellations happen infrequently.

The judge's strong denunciation of the way Health Net carried out Bates' cancellation and big money award stunned and pleased regulators and patient advocates.

State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner applauded the judge, saying "health insurers simply cannot hold out the promise of insurance for their consumers and then snatch it away just when people need it most. That is illegal, immoral and will not be tolerated."

Earlier, Health Net had defended its actions, saying it never would have issued Bates a policy in the first place if she had disclosed her true weight and a preexisting heart condition on her application.

Bates said a broker filled out the application while she was styling a client's hair on a busy day in her shop. She said she answered his questions as best she could.

Bates said she already had insurance and wasn't in the market until the broker came by and told her that he thought he could get her a lower monthly premium if she switched to Health Net.

At the arbitration hearing, internal company documents were disclosed showing that Health Net had paid employee bonuses for meeting a cancellation quota and for the amount of money saved.

"It's difficult to imagine a policy more reprehensible than tying bonuses to encourage the rescission of health insurance that keeps the public well and alive," the judge wrote.,1,2680255.story

Universal Health Care cost 1.1% in Taiwan

Experts call for health cover in U.S., cite study
Wed Feb 20, 2008 8

HONG KONG (Reuters) -
Experts called for universal health insurance in the United States, citing a study in Taiwan that showed it increased life expectancy and closed the gap between those who were most healthy and least healthy.

In a commentary published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the experts said Taiwan's experience lent "credence to the argument that the United States should join other industrialized nations in ensuring universal health insurance coverage".

"Our failure to introduce national health insurance undermines access to care for millions and is a major factor in health outcome disparities and highly preventable deaths in the United States," wrote Karen Davis, of The Commonwealth Fund, and Andrew Huang, of Duke University Medical Centre.

Their call accompanied an article in the same journal on a 10-year study in Taiwan that showed that universal health insurance raised life expectancy.

However, the Taiwan researchers considered the improvements to be modest and called for more aggressive disease prevention programs to reduce lifestyle-related illnesses, such as cancer.

"Two risk behaviors among men in Taiwan, smoking and betel quid chewing, remained high after the introduction of national health insurance," the Taiwan researchers wrote.

"Every second middle-aged man is a smoker and every fourth is a chewer ... which could account for the large increases in lung and oral cancer in the lower socioeconomic groups and the relatively small reduction in health disparities."

Taiwan introduced universal health insurance in 1995, which extended insurance coverage from 57 percent of the population to everyone. Co-payments are required, however: 10 percent for inpatient and 20 percent for outpatient care, although these are waived for the very poor, veterans and indigenous groups.

National health expenditure rose modestly, from 5.1 percent of gross national product before 1995 to 6.2 percent in 2005.

Visits to the doctor and use of medication increased substantially after 1995, especially among the elderly and poor.

The most obvious positive correlation was life expectancy for men, which increased to 74.22 years from 71.83 years after universal health insurance.

There was a reduction in deaths from cardiovascular and infectious diseases, and from accidents, but deaths from cancer and diabetes rose.

(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Music improves stroke recovery

Music hits right note for stroke patients
Tue Feb 19, 2008
21 Feb 2008

LONDON (Reuters) - A little Beethoven is good for the brain, according to a Finnish study published on Wednesday showing that music helps people recover more quickly from strokes.

And patients who listened to a few hours of music each day soon after a stroke also improved their verbal memory and were in a better mood compared to patients who did not listen to music or used audio books, the researchers said.

Music therapy has long been used in a range of treatments but the study published in the journal Brain is the first to show the effect in people, they added.

"These findings demonstrate for the first time that music listening during the early post-stroke stage can enhance cognitive recovery and prevent negative mood," the researchers wrote...

Hospitals slow on cardiac arrest treatment at night

Cardiac arrest: avoid nights, weekend, study says
Wed Feb 20, 2008
Daytime dozing may be warning sign of stroke

CHICAGO (Reuters) - People who have a cardiac arrest in the hospital at night or on the weekend are far less likely to survive than those who suffer one during the day, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

Studies suggest this may be at least partly because of inadequate staffing at off-peak hours.

The researchers found only 14.7 percent of people whose hearts stop pumping during the night survive, compared with nearly 20 percent of people during the day.

Those who had a cardiac arrest at around 3 p.m. had the survival rate, Dr. Mary Ann Peberdy of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The only part of the hospital with difference in survival day or night was the emergency department. "That survival difference by time of day was there regardless of where we looked, except in the emergency department," Peberdy said...