Sunday, 31 December 2006

Silent Voices: Women with Advanced Breast Cancer Share Their Needs

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There are about 150,000 women in the United States living with advanced breast cancer. Musa Mayer and Susan E Grober, consultants for the study called Silent Voices: Women with Advanced (Metastatic) Breast Cancer Share Their Needs and Preferences for Information, Support and Practical Resources, say that over the years many of the women living with metastatic disease have expressed that they feel isolated, marginalized and alone.

The study found that nearly one-third of the women living with advanced breast cancer do not know where to access programs or medical treatments and emerging research. This study's finding is among several that could impact healthcare professionals and advocates who serve women living with Stage 4 disease.

Women in the study said that many of the support and information networks for breast cancer focus mostly on early-stage disease. The information on metastatic disease is often hard to find. There is not one website dedicated to bringing together the existing resources on advanced breast cancer.

A survey was given to the women in the study. Here are some of the findings:

  • 75 percent of the women look for information about advanced breast cancer either daily or weekly.
  • 69 percent said they find it helpful to listen or read about the experiences of other women living with advanced disease.
  • 44 percent prefer online support groups while 38 percent prefer in-person groups.
  • 57 percent of women with the lowest level of knowledge about their advanced breast cancer report feelings of anxiety, whereas only 19 percent of those with the highest level of knowledge report anxiety.

About Alice: Calvin Trillin remembers wife in new book

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Three days ago, author and New Yorker staff writer Calvin Trillin's new book About Alice was released. He gives the reader a portrait of his life with his wife Alice in what is called, "a st raightforward honest portrait of their marriage and family life in this slim volume, opening with the suggestion that he had previously mischaracterized Alice when he wrote her into stories that were essentially sitcoms."

Alice, a non-smoker who was diagnosed with lung cancer in the 1970s, passed away the day after 9/11 on September 12, 2001 of heart failure that resulted from complications of radiation cancer treatment. During her life, her creativity, intelligence, talent and non-conformity led to her becoming an accomplished writer, editor and educator. As a cancer survivor, Alice wrote the article Of Dragons and Garden Peas: A Cancer Patient Talks to Doctors about her experience as a cancer patient in the Land of the Sick.

Trillin wrote of meeting his wife, "My first impression was that she looked more alive than anyone I'd ever seen. She seemed to glow. " About Alice is a loving tribute of a fascinating woman.

1600 year old cancer gene discovered in Scotland

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1600 years ago, about 400AD, an inherited form of melanoma began from a genetic mutation that occurred in a single ancestor, according to Glasgow University researchers who traced the genetic mutation back 88 generations. Upon further investigation, a number of Scottish families, presently living in Scotland, as well as Australia, Canada and America, were found to carry the specific genetic mutation that puts them at an increased risk for a certain type of melanoma.

Accord ing to the researchers, one in ten patients diagnosed with melanoma have a strong family history of the disease and between 20 to 40 percent of those patients carry a high-risk faulty gene known as CDKN2A. The Scottish mutation in this gene is known as M53I. With these genetic discoveries, there is hope that gene therapy can be developed to repair damaged genes in cancer cells.

Sunday Seven: Seven simple life instructions

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I've had the little book, with its glossy plaid cover, ever since it was released in 1991. I was 21 years old and already a fan of well-crafted, powerful words. So it was no surprise I picked up Life's Little Instruction Book: 511 suggestions, observations, and reminders on how to live a happy and rewarding life. And it's no surprise I have kept it with me for all these years, allowing it a lifetime membership on my bookshelf, where I can swiftly pluck it f rom its spot when I need a little inspiration.

Now in a worn, faded, and tattered state, this book is still one of my favorites. Its words are timeless, its messages are meaningful -- even more so now that I am 36 years ago. Now a college graduate, a one-time working professional, a wife, a mom, a writer, and a breast cancer survivor, the reflections printed in this book speak to me more clearly than ever before.

Here are seven of my current favorites from Life's Little Instruction Book -- written by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. for his college-bound son at a time when he had no idea the road map he provided for his child would come to serve so many others.
  • Always have something beautiful in sight, even if it's just a daisy in a jelly glass.
  • Don't forget, a person's greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated.
  • Choose work that is in harmony with your values.
  • Don't be intimidated by doctors and nurses. Even when you're in the hospital, it's still your body.
  • Don't use time or words carelessly. Neither can be retrieved.
  • Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.
  • Keep it simple.

State ups cigarette tax $1 dollar more a pack

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Beginning January 1st, an additional $1 dollar cigarette tax will be added to each pack of cigarettes purchased in Texas. CBS 11 News is reporting that this will raise the price of a pack of cigarettes to $4 dollars, or ten more dollars a carton, and smokers are stocking up on cartons of cigarettes before the tax hike goes into effect.

In the past, states that have increased taxing of cigarettes have seen a positive effect on the number of people who quit smoking, for no other reason than purchasing cigarettes becomes too cost prohibitive. The American Cancer Society (ACS) is looking forward to this happening, as they predict it will keep 300,000 people from starting up and cause 100,000 current smokers in Texas to quit.

Smoking has indeed become an expensive habit since the days when the government gave away cartons of cigarettes to World War II soldiers in the belief it calmed their nerves.

Meanwhile, back in Texas, CBS 11 News quoted Discount Cigarettes manager Patrick Ingram as saying, "Every state has their own tax, so you're not supposed to take large quantities across the border. So, people will go buy truck loads and brin g across the border, or just steal."

That's probably true, to a lesser extent, but the ACS is right, the increased overall price for a pack of cigarettes when the new tax is implemented will prompt more people to quit smoking and deter even more from starting a habit that is not only increasingly expensive but just plain bad for your health.

Cancer research complex where horses once roamed

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I drove by the farm-like land for years and years, watching horses from my car window on my way to class, to the university hospital, to other parts of town. I was first a college student, merely noting the vast property. And then I was a mom with two little boys and a definite interest in this acreage. I acquired a passion for this corner lot -- across from the Cancer Center that ten years later became a typical haunt -- and I often found myself driving, pointing, gesturing, shouting, "horses, horses, look at the horses."

There are not many horses left on this land. There is, however, one very large building with a very important sign ann ouncing its presence on the University of Florida campus. The sign reads, Cancer and Genetics Research Complex -- and what a complex it is.

On November 15, officials dedicated this $84.5 million, 280,000 square-foot facility, promising the University of Florida will be at the forefront at cutting-edge cancer research.

A five-story cancer research wing and a six-story genetics research wing are just two of the multidisciplinary entities housed in this new complex, designed to maximize collaborations among researchers and to convert science into innovative cancer therapies and technologies.

"This building is bricks and mortar, but it's much more than that, because it really provides hope for cancer patients, who know that we're going to do the research, we're going to find the answers, we're going to help them," says the director of the UF Shands Cancer Center.

I am one of those cancer patients. And w hile I'm sad for the horses who lost their homes and my boys who can no longer admire these creatures, I am happy for the beacon of hope that sits prominently on the farm-like land I've been watching for years and years.

New way to track cancer spread

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In a discovery that opens up the possibility of stopping the spread of cancer before it has a chance to take hold elsewhere in the body, researchers have developed a means of tracking cancer cells as they spread past the original tumor.

Robarts Research Centre in London, Ontario researchers have announced a new technology that allowed them, for the first time, to follow single breast cancer cells as they migrated from the body to the brain. According to statistics, 22 to 30 per cent of women with breast cancer will suffer from cancer that spreads to the brain.

Interestingly, the new technology also allows them to watch which cancer cells that have spread into the brain develop into a tumor, and which ones remain dormant, or die off. Not all cancer cells become a cancerous tumor.

Of the new technology, Dr. Paula Foster says, "It will give us the ability to test what genes are important, what drugs actually work, how the drugs work. Then you can take that information to patients and hopefully treat this disease a little better."

This is the biggest fear of cancer survivors -- that the cancer will come back, that it will have spread.

Dr. Len's cancer year in review

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Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, MD, is the deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. He is also a blogger and authors his very own blog -- called Dr. Len's Cancer Blog.

Dr. Len writes on his blog about all sorts of topics related to cancer. He shares his opinion on the recent drop in breast cancer cases (December 15, 2006), he promotes the Great American Smokeout (November 14, 2006), he sounds off on lung cancer screenings (October 25, 2006), and he urges parents to always slather sunscreen on their children (October 5, 2006). He has so much more to say -- and his blog is a great stop for those wishing for more information on hot cancer topics.

As this year comes to a close, Dr. Len offers a review of what he believes were the hottest cancer topics of 2006.

Dr. Len reflects in his blog about decreased cancer death rates that represent real progress in the fight against cancer. He calls the HPV vaccine a breakthrough and he recaps the STAR trial -- a comparison of raloxifene to tamoxifen to reduce the risk of recurrent breast cancer in post-menopausal women -- with emphasis on how raloxifene proved just as effective as tamoxifen, but with a better safety profile. He calls new targeted therapies a dream -- with a hefty price tag -- sure to garner debate and discussion in 2007.

Dr. Len reviews the Surgeon General's report on second-hand smoke -- it's harmful to non-smokers, the report says -- and he marvels at the capability of science to approach an understanding of what makes a cancer cell a cancer cell. He also remarks on how remarkable it is that chronic myelogenous leukemia is in fact chronic and no longer fatal, thanks to the drug Gleevec.

Of course, there is ample attention given to the declining incidence of breast cancer, reportedly due to less women using hormone replacement therapy, and the risks weighing on those who are overweight and obese, and survivors and supporters who gathered for Celebration on the Hill -- the site of one incredible American Cancer Society event.

Dr. Len closes his review of 2006 with recognition of three celebrities who lost their lives this year to cancer --
Dana Reeve, Ann Richards, and Ed Bradley. And while he recognizes there are other lives and other stories that deserve mention, there is simply not enough time or space for him to do justice to every noteworthy item.

"What we have seen over the past year is an incredible leap forward in cancer research, diagnosis and treatment, and I suspect there are going to be even more exciting developments in the coming year," says Dr. Len who looks forward to 2007 -- a year that is sure to deliver more hope and more progress in the fight against cancer.

Saturday, 30 December 2006

dLife Makes Room for 2007

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One of the many shining stars of dLife, and a father of a type 1 diabetic, Tom Karlya, shares his reflections on 2006 through a satirical piece where he personifies 2006 and pays respect to the accomplishments of the diabetic community.

Reflections include the Team Type 1 fundraising event. The mission of Team Type 1 is to increase the general public's awareness of diabetes as a disease that can be managed effectively - allowing those with this condition to continue active, healthy lives and permitting them to perform well in athletic events. Another monumental accomplishment this year was a DVD created for the Public Health Foundation. The DVD addresses a topic most people consider unspeakable. You have to watch the video teaser online to get the picture. Last but certainly not least, Tom mentions the controversial but promising cure research of Dr. Denise Faustman.

Tom makes a great point when he says, "Same actions will never yield different results. .. Show me something that was not a biomedical finding funded by private industry." Take a minute to indulge in the victorious ending of 2006. Ring in the New Year with an optimistic smile of what's to come in the days ahead.

Low GI carbs may help with weight loss

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The carb craze, just when will it end? Years ago, carbs were an essential part of a well-balanced, if athletic, diet. Olympic gold medal runners would eat massive pasta dinners the night before a big road race, swimmers would carbo-load before meets, and everyday people went as far as taking carb-rich nutritional supplements to get them through a workout or two. BUT, then came along diets with strange names, like Zone and Atkins, all claiming that carbs will cause you to gain weight. Soon, people were avoiding carbs like the plague and instead opti ng for extra sides of bacon. The madness ensued for quite some time, until the masses finally came around to the concept of "good" carbs and "bad" carbs, something that people with diabetes have long since been aware of.

But, there's some new evidence to suggest that not only are "good" carbs (i.e. carbs that are not high on the glycemic index) easier on blood sugar, but they may also lead to weight loss. The prevailing thought behind this assertion is actually quite simple: It takes longer to digest low GI foods, which therefore causes you to feel more full for a longer period of time, and also requires the burning of more calories to complete the digestion process.

In a related study, now published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 129 overweight and obese people followed one of four reduced-calorie diets for 12 weeks. Two of the diets were high in carbs and two were high in protein, and of each of these two groups, one followed a low GI carb diet. The results? All groups lost weight (chalked up to the reduced-calorie diet itself), but the low GI diets lost nearly two times as much body fat.

Ideas for Innovative Drugs Running on Empty

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It hasn't gone unnoticed - the cost of healthcare is rising, diabetes diagnoses are rising, the pharmaceutical industry has dramatically increased its investment in research and development -- but that has not translated into more new treatments.

Between 1993 and 2004, funding for new drug applications submitted to the FDA increased almost a 150%. However, the number of new drug applications increased only 38%. Of those applications, only 7% were for innovative drugs with new ingredients. The Government Accountability Office (yes there is such a thing) says the reason for unimpressive returns on medical research funding dollars is due to the difficulty of developing new treatments, combined with marketplace pressure to produce blockbuster new drugs.

The phenomenon known as "me too" drugs (where companies produce drugs similar to drugs already on the market) has also become much more common. These drugs offer little in the way of innovation. However, despite the economic challenges of bringing new and innovative drugs to market, the pace of scientific discovery has increased substantially in the past 10 years - 56 diabetes drugs in development, alone. As the cost of discovering new medicines rises, it becomes more difficult for drug companies to recover these costs. It seems the research dollars are plentiful but ideas for new drugs can't compete with all the profit-decaying hurdles along the way. It's not a problem of interest until it's your own. I wouldn't wish diabetes on anybody-- even those who care more about the profit margin versus the quality of life of the person taking the pill.

Diabetes Education in Session Across America

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The National Changing Diabetes(SM) Program (NCDP) brings together innovators in diabetes education, treatment and policy to improve the lives of people with diabetes. Their intention is to create change in the US healthcare system to dramatically improve the prevention and care of diabetes.

NCDP is a program of Novo Nordisk, a visionary healthcare company with an 80 year history of innovation and achievement in diabetes care. NovoNordisk's business is driven by the Triple Bottom Line: a commitment to economic success, environmental soundness and social responsibility to employees and customers. offers a diverse collection of promising initiatives from across America, submitted by the diabetes community, healthcare providers, employers and government agencies. Programs and initiatives focus on a variety of areas such as telemedicine, coaching, health information technology and more. This program answers the need for change in diabetes care. Knowledge is power and goodness knows a disease like diabetes needs all the power it can get!

Spend New Year's Day with the Penguins

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With 2007 only a day away, there is little time left to come up with some New Year's resolutions if you haven't already. For many, January 1st represents a new beginning of sorts, an opportunity to start their lives off fresh all over again. For others, it simply represents a hangover and a pounding headache. But, for a very rare breed, it means swimming in 45 degree water, this year in efforts to raise money for diabetes research and education.

Held by the Atlantic General Hospital in Ocean City, Maryland, this year marks the 13th time 400-500 people take the plunge for this annual fundraiser. Last year alone, about $60,000 was raised for AGH, and over $750,000 has been raised since the inception of the Annual Penguin Swim. People of all ages participate in this event, and many more watch comfortably from the shore. Much like charity road races, individual swimmers and teams of swimmers receive sponsorship for their efforts from friends and colleagues.

The event this year will again take place on the beach side of the Princess Royale hotel on 91st Street in Ocean City, MD. Registration begins at noon, and swimmers are in the water by 1pm. So, if you happen to be in the area, and are feeling a little crazy/compassionate, maybe this can be your way of starting off the New Year right.

Black people may experience higher nighttime blood pressure

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According to information published in the December 19th issue of of Circulation, black people living in the United States may be at greater risk of nighttime blood pressure than other ethnic groups.

Starting as early as the age of 10, some black children experience less of a dip in their nighttime blood pressure than do white children. During the night, blood pressure should naturally drop, since the body is at rest. However, the researchers from MCG's Georgia Prevention Institute found that this drop is not as significant in some black people. And, as these children grew older, it was found that the gap between the blood pressure measurements of white and black people widens.

The researchers suggest that one possible cause could be that black people naturally tend to retain more sodium than do white people. As a result, there is an increase in fluid volume in their bodies and blood pressure. Doing due diligence, the researchers also ruled out most external factors in arriving at their data. However, it was also discovered that people of African descent who were living outside of the US show normal nighttime blood pressure.

An interesting discovery, no doubt about that. But, even by the researchers' own admissions, more studies must be conducted before any link between race and nighttime blood pressure can truly be made.

Harvard creates new food pyramid

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Healthy Eating: A Guide to the New Nutrition. That's what our friends over at Harvard Medical School titled their latest publication, focusing in large part on information suggesting that there is such a thing as a heart-healthy high-protein diet.

Contrary to popular belief, high-protein diets can actually lower harmful LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. In the past -- that is, just after the collapse of the Atkins diet phenomenon -- a great deal of information pointed at high-protein/high-fat diets as the cause of cardiovascular problems. But, this new information separates myth from fact, basically by reminding people that a high-protein diet doesn't have to mean steak and eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Protein can be sourced not only from lean meats, poultry and dairy, but also from nuts, beans, and whole grains. It also highlights the difference between good fats and bad fats, and how they too play a role in cholesterol levels.

Healthy Eating is a 48-page report that includes an in-depth look at some of the latest advancements in nutrition, to the point where a new Harvard Healthy Eating Pyramid was created. You probably won't find a copy of the report next to People Magazine the next time you're in line at the grocery store, so if you have any interest in reading it, you can shell out $16 and get it from Harvard Health Publications ( ) or by calling 1-877-649-9457.

Younger smokers not using proven methods to quit

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Smoking is not an easy habit to break, and of the many methods tried, only a handful seem to work. Of the methods that do seem to work -- nicotine-replacement products; bupropion drugs; counseling; classes; calling a helpline or talking to a health professional -- younger smokers between the ages of 16 and 24 years who smoke and try to quit only use one of the recommended methods of help by talking to a professional. Because of this, younger smokers are less likely to be successful in quitting, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

During the 2003 National Youth Smoking Cessation Survey, the CDC found that younger smokers most often tried to quit smoking by cutting back on the number of cigarettes they smoked each day; not buying cigarettes; exercising; using the buddy system and trying to quit with a friend; telling others they were quitting and changing to a lighter brand of cigarette, switching to chewing tobacco, snuff, or other tobacco products. None of th ese methods are recommended by the US Public Health Service.

According to the National Youth Smoking Cessation Survey, 77 percent of younger smokers have tried to quit at least once without success. Over a third have tried to quit smoking numerous times without success. Researchers suggest that many younger smokers may need help with other high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking; depression or ADD/ADHD.

If you are a younger smoker who is trying to quit, the CDC encourages you to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or talk to your physician about methods that might lead to more success. The 2-page summary of the National Youth Smoking Cessation Survey is available as a pdf document.

Sharon Stone: dad survived cancer by playing golf

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Sexy. Seductive. Super-intelligent. All aptly describe Sharon Stone. Another is sportswoman, as Stone is an avid golfer. During a recent interview with Golf for Women, she shared a story about her father, also an avid golfer, surviving esophageal cancer by playing golf.

Given three months to live, her father was able to play through his chemo therapy and radiation treatments because of specially-built clubs designed by the golf equipment company Callaway. A feeding tube inserted after surgery prevented him from being able to bend. Without the new clubs, he would not have been able to continue in a much-loved positive activity.

Around the same time, Rob Lowe's father was being treated for cancer with a new targeted drug therapy, Avastin, and they helped Stone obtain the same drug for her father. She attributes the game of golf and the help of her friend Lowe with saving her father's life.

Twenty-two operations later, when Stone's father had successfully beaten cancer, she called the Callaway company to let them know how much a part she believed the company had in her father's recovery. The woman who took the call began to cry because it was the one year anniversary of her own mother's death from cancer and Stone's call lifted her spirits that something the company had done might have helped someone survive cancer.

For many golfers, golf is more than a sport. "Golf teaches you about life, about humanity, about things that will make you a better person," explains Stone. At the end of the article, Stone offers this advice, "Your life is a book; every page you write, you carry with you. You don't get to tear the pages out and throw them away. So write wisely. It doesn't matter what others write, ever, ever, ever. They don't know you at all. But what you write is indelible." Spirited. Insightful. Centered. All Sharon Stone.

Sharon Shakes It Up, Hollywood's A-list femme fatale has strong opinions about everything--including golf, is the Golf for Women cover story in the January/February 2007 issue. The interview has been published online here.

Horticulture therapy: the power of plants and flowers to heal

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From houseplants to raised beds, to plant a seed, tend the soil, and watch a plant grow is one of the most inspiringly hopeful of activities. In hopefulness is found a kind of healing. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, horticulture therapy is defined as "a process utilizing plants and horticultural activities to improve social, educational, psychological and physical adjustment of persons thus improving their body, mind, and spirit." The American Cancer Society offers a list of some of horticulture therapy benefits one can expect from gardening that include:
  • Feelings of hope.
  • Stress reduction.
  • Social interaction.
  • Pain relief.
  • Improved muscle tone, flexibility, and cardiopulmonary capability.
  • Creativity and self-expression.
  • Enhanced self-esteem and improved mood.
  • Motor skill development.
As the New Year arrives, so do the gardening catalogs in the mail. Interested in receiving gardening catalogs but not certain where to start? Cyndi's Catalog of Garden Catalogs lists over 2,000 mail-order gardening catalogs for the home gardener.

Two of my favorite gardening websites and online catalogs are found at Seeds of Change and Seed Savers Exchange.

At Seeds of Change, you can find garden seeds, seed collections, cover crops, seedlings, fruit trees, garden tools, kitchen items, and a bookstore. All organic. In addition, Seeds of Change publishes a newsletter.

Seed Savers Exchange is a nonprofit organization that saves and shares heirloom seeds. According to Seed Savers Exchange, "Our organization is savi ng the world's diverse, but endangered, garden heritage for future generations by building a network of people committed to collecting, conserving and sharing heirloom seeds and plants, while educating people about the value of genetic and cultural diversity."

But, wherever you start, once you catch the gardening bug, you will understand why horticulture therapy is becoming an integrated part in healing programs adopted at some of the medical centers across the country.
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Cancer specialist starts smoking in stupidity protest

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New Zealand Christchurch Hospital radiation therapists are in a dispute over pay and have threatened to stage a strike beginning the first week of January. According to the hospital's clinical director of radiation oncologist Dr. Chris Wynne, the amount of money being argued over is so small that the other doctors have offered to pitch in and make up the difference to end the dispute and avert a strike that would affect 250 cancer patients.

Because Dr. Wynne has not received a response from the District Health Board or the radiologists regarding the monetary offer made by the doctors, he has decided to bring attention to the dispute by doing something even he admits is stupid -- he has started smoking. That's right. He is standing outside the hospital smoking cigarettes in a play for media attention. Obviously, it is working, as the story has been picked up around the globe.

But surely, was this the only way he could think to bring attention to the dispute? Who knows -- you and I might have chosen a different course of action -- but Dr. Wynne thinks it is the only thing left to do to bring attention to the innocent victims who will be affected by the strike -- the cancer patients who will have to go without timely treatment. Dr. Wynne says he will continue doing a stupid thing by smoking for a s long as it takes until the stupidity of the entire situation ends.

Breast cancer drugs Tykerb, Xeloda don't extend life

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The combination of breast cancer drugs Tykerb and Xeloda are effective at slowing the progression of metastatic breast cancer after the drug Herceptin fails -- but the drug duo is only effective at extending the lives of patients for a few months, according to the results of a recent international clinical trial.

The trial, led by Charles E. Geyer, M.D., of Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh and published in the December 28 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, focused on 324 women whose breast cancer had spread to other organ s. The women had already been treated with Herceptin for a median of 42-44 weeks -- and then half received Xeloda chemotherapy and half received both Xeloda and Tykerb.

Women who received the drug combination had more than a 50 percent delay in disease progression. Their cancer spread after a median 8.4 months, compared to 4.4 months for women who received only Xeloda.

Targeted drugs Herceptin and Tykerb are major advances in the fight against breast cancer -- for the 20 percent of diagnosed women with the aggressive HER2 positive disease -- and they are also quite expensive. While some say they are worth every penny if they offer a cure, others question the cost if they only delay the disease progression for a few months. Such was the case in this study.

Perhaps the greatest potential for these agents is for use before breast cancer spreads, when they may improve the chance for a cure.

Cervical cancer vaccine discount pursued for poor nations

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United States drug company Merck hopes to offer the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil to developing countries at much lower prices -- within months, if possible.

Currently, the three-dose vaccine is not affordable in the developing world -- where 80 percent of cervical cancer deaths occur and 95 percent of females have never had a Pap test . And while the exact discounted price has not yet been determined, Merck professionals report they are committed to slashing t he price of Gardasil for these women.

Merck also aims to help developing countries receive drugs sooner. Right now, there is a time lag of 15 to 20 years between the approval of drugs in the West and the time they reach these countries.

International health experts are pushing for rapid worldwide access to Gardasil, the vaccine that protects women against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) which causes most cases of the disease.

At this time, the vaccine is available in the United States and in 13 European Union countries.

New Zealand trust funds Herceptin treatment

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Catherine Jones has breast cancer. And she needs Herceptin in order to fight for her life. But Herceptin, a targeted drug used to treat HER2 positive breast cancer, is very expensive -- and for some time, Jones was not sure how she could possibly pay for this potentially life-saving therapy.

Jones, 49 and a resident of New Plymouth, New Zealand, decided to ask for help. So she set up the Herceptin for Catherine Trust to raise the $80,000 needed for the treatment. In less than four weeks, she received $64,600 in donations.

Jone s is overwhelmed by the support and says she will continue to use the trust to raise funds -- not just for herself, but for other women in need.

The New Zealand government and its drug-buying agency Pharmac does not fund Herceptin. So most breast cancer patients who medically qualify for the treatment have no means of receiving it.

Jones, who is about to receive her third of 17 Herceptin doses, thinks she can help. She is surely off to a great start.

Housework ranked better exercise than playing sports

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Over the years, here is an on-going conversation I have with my family physician:

Doctor: What kind of exercise are you doing?

My reply: I have three kids and a house to keep clean. I think that is all the exercise I need.

Doctor then rolls his eyes.

End of conversation.

I am 5-foot, 7-inches, weigh 120 pounds and am on the go from 5:30 AM to about 10 PM each night. Aside from work as an artist and writer, which requires that I sit at a drafting table or in front of the computer (which is not prolonged sitting -- I am up and down, up and down -- because as every parent knows, somebody always needs something or something needs to be done) I am in movement.

I am physically able to climb down riverbanks and over river boulders when we go fishing, and I can hike up any hill with the best of them. I do not worry that I am out of shape. I know I am not physically inactive. You can bet I will be taking a copy of this latest research with me to my next visit to see the doctor. He asks the same exercise question each time, only this time, I have data to back up my claim that I am indeed getting a very good form of exercise.

According to researchers, when it comes to the best workout, cleaning the house outranks playing a sport as a better form of exercise and "far more cancer protective." They state "that mode rate forms of physical activity, such as housework, may be more important than less frequent but more intense recreational physical activity in reducing breast cancer risk."

The women in the study spent an average of 16 to 17 hours a week cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry, and the researchers found housework cut breast cancer risk by 30 percent among the pre-menopausal women and 20 percent among the post-menopausal women. The study focused on women and breast cancer, but there is no reason to believe that these findings will not translate into cancer prevention for all cancers, and for men as well, as exercise is known to offer protection against the development of cancer. And in weighing in for the guys, men do housework too.

My One-Night Stand With Cancer: a Jewish lesbian's memoir

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Two-time breast cancer survivor Tania Katan was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 21, and then again ten years later. With gutsy humor in an outlandishly candid expose, she faced cancer twice, dealt with a "supportive but neurotic family," swore off toxic girlfriends, wrote about her experiences in a book and performed a one-woman play, both called My One-Night Stand With Cancer.

Katan, who underwent a mastectomy each time she was diagnosed with br east cancer, and who appears naked above the waist in her back-of-the-book photo, ran a race to raise breast cancer awareness in the best form she thought possible -- topless. "People were racing for something very specific, to cure breast cancer, but they didn't want to see what breast cancer looks like."

On the Amazon webpage for her book, the description of My One-Night Stand With Cancer

Grain and berry phytoestrogens and cancer risk

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Phytoestrogens are chemicals produced by plants that act like estrogens. These chemicals mimic and supplement the action of the bodies own hormones.

Lignans are one of the two major classes of phytoestrogens, they are naturally found in grains, berries and vegetables. Research has shown that lignans affect the estrogen signaling system. Estrogens play an important role in the development and progression of breast cancer.

Since the research shows that lignans affect the estrogen signaling system, they may therefore have a potential to affect breast cancer risk.

The lignan antioxidants can be found in flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, rye, soybeans, broccoli, beans, and some berries.

This research will hopefully contribute to the development of further studies on the effects of phytoestrogens on cancer.

Eye cancer and risk of metastasis

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Researchers have pioneered the first technique to biopsy tissue from the living eye in order to predict what tumors possess a high chance of spreading to other parts of the body.

If the eye cancer metastasizes the patient will usually not survive the disease. Ocular melanoma attacks the pigment cells in the retina. Earlier studies discovered that patients who are missing one copy of chromosome 3 in their tumor tissue are more likely to have highly aggressive cancers.

This new procedure could offer huge medical and psychological benefits to the patients. Dr. Tara Young, assistant professor of ophthalmology at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute and a Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher, said "Identifying patients at high risk for metastasis is an important first step toward reducing the death rate of this cancer, which kills nearly half of its patients."

The technique of fine needle aspiration for collecting cancer cells from the living eye has been the standard of care at the Jules Stein Eye Institute since 2004, but adopted by only a handful of other ophthalmic centers in the nation.

Ocular melanoma is the most common eye cancer to strike adults. Some 2,000 cases are newly diagnosed every year in the United States and Canada.

Patients want to know about their prognosis. The patients that have a low chance of metastasis can breathe a sigh of relief and the high risk group can plan arrangements for their family and finances. The high risk group might also want to have more aggressive treatment and join a clinical trial to find better treatments to treat metastatic eye cancer.

Playwright and screenwriter John Bishop dies of cancer

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On December 20, founder of L.A.'s Circle West theater company and member of the off-Broadway Circle Repertory Company in New York, playwright and screenwriter John Bishop passed away from cancer during his stay at a clinic in Bad Heilbrunn, Germany.

Marshall W. Mason, founding artistic director of the Circle Repertory Company is quoted as saying, "John was one of our major writers. I think next to Lanford Wilson, he was our most prominent writer; he wrote many plays for us. Bishop had a remarkable insight into the dark side of human nature, which he saw in both a comic and satiric way. All this served him very well whe n he came to Hollywood because of that sardonic view, and also he was very into action. He made a good screenwriter as a result."

Bishop's credits are many, both as a playwright and screenwriter. Plays produced on Broadway included The Trip Back Down, The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, Elmer Gantry, Borderlines, The Great Grandson of Jedediah Kohler, Winter Signs and The Harvesting. He directed The Beaver Coat, El Salvador, Florida Crackers, and Empty Hearts. His screen credits included Drop Zone, The Package, Sliver and Beverly Hills Cops III. Described by the New Yorker as "one of our best dramatists," Bishop was 77.

Timing of treatment works for and against us

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My new breast cancer friend recently sat through her second infusion of Adriamycin and Cytoxan -- the long-time traditional chemotherapy combination for breast cancer -- and all the while, listened to another breast cancer survivor share her thoughts on these two drugs.

This woman told my friend she opted to stray from these chemotherapy agents because of their toxic s ide effects, because of their combined potential for causing other cancers, like leukemia. She instead took another drug route and was happy for her decision. My friend, however, was scared.

My friend returned home from her treatment and found herself reading a Cancer Blog post reporting that Adriamycin and Cytoxan may no longer be the gold standard treatment for breast cancer, that Taxotere and Cytoxan may become the preferred, safer option.

Fear and panic set in, and my friend e-mailed me, in search of perspective from a recipient of the drugs she was starting to believe are both ineffective and cancer-causing.

I am not a doctor. I am not an expert. I am not qualified in any way to represent the facts about medical research. But I am surviving breast cancer. And I did spend eight difficult weeks under the influence of Adr iamycin and Cytoxan, given every two weeks in a dose-dense fashion. So I have an opinion about these drugs -- and about most things breast cancer related.

I shared my opinion with my friend, who has since decided to proceed with her prescribed treatment plan. I told her that in rare cases, chemotherapy can cause a second cancer, like leukemia. But this is not common, and the unlikely risk does not outweigh the benefit of receiving chemotherapy to address the cancer at hand.

I also shared with my friend that we can only benefit from therapies that are available and effective at the time of our treatment. Studies prove that Adriamycin and Cytoxan work -- that's why so many women are treated with this accepted method. Drugs in the research pipeline may one day definitively replace what is available today. But we must be OK with what we receive - - because we have no control over what lies ahead. We must live in the here and now -- with the knowledge that should our cancers return, bigger and better options may await us.

Consider Herceptin. Once not even an option for women with aggressive HER2 positive breast cancer, this targeted drug may be the magic bullet in an attack against this disease. I received Herceptin. My friend will receive Herceptin. Timing was on our side for this medical breakthrough.

Timing may not have been on our side should a new gold-standard drug treatment emerge and replace Adriamycin and Cytoxan. But we can still trust these two drugs will do their jobs, will prevent a recurrence of a disease that is so much more treatable today than it was years ago. Lucky for us.
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Couple collects 32 million pennies for cancer care center

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How many of us value the worth of a penny?

Twenty years ago, Peter and Bette Pickstock, from a village in Sturdivant near Cheltenham, England, thought pennies might one day add up to make a difference and thus began the collection of pennies.

Two decades later, and 32 million pennies total (nearly $700,000 dollars), the couple recently do nated the money to the Cobalt Appeal Fund in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, a cancer care center.

The Queen of England was impressed, as Peter and Bette Pickstock were invited to Buckingham Palace to meet Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Although the couple could not have known this twenty years ago when they decided to do something good for others in the simple act of collecting pennies, two years ago Mrs. Pickstock was diagnosed with breast cancer and learned firsthand how much a cancer care center can help cancer patients. They said they plan to continue collecting pennies.

Ovulation disorders cut breask cancer risk

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Women with ovulation disorders -- and related infertility problems -- have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, according to a study of more than 116,000 women.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston studied data from the Nurses' Health Study II and evaluated female nurses aged 25 to 42, tracking them every two years beginning in 1989 and ending in 2001.

Results of the study, reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, revealed 1,357 diagnosed cases of invasive breast cancer. Overall, women with ov ulation disorders had a 25 percent less chance of developing this disease than those without the disorder.

Also detected was an even lower risk of breast cancer for women who experienced induced ovulation for treatment of infertility. This is potentially great news -- pending more research, of course -- for women worried about breast cancer implications of infertility treatment.

Ovarian cancer survivor shares lessons learned from cancer

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Lance Armstrong has a commercial airing in which he stares into the camera and says, "Remember me cancer? You made me who I am today." Jane Younce, who writes a community column for The Noblesville Ledger, has shared some of the lessons she has learned as an ovarian cancer survivor.

As she reflects on the last year, and looks forward to the new one, Younce writes:
  • I've learned in the last year that bald is beautiful and people love you with or without hair.
  • I've learned that my illness brought out so many friends I didn't even know I had.
  • I've learned that there are no "do-overs" in life, so you should make the most of every day.
  • I've learned that my best friends don't have to say a word about my illness; they just have to be there and hold your hand through the tough times.
  • I've learned that real love, not the stuff you see in movies or on soap operas, is my husband telling me I look beautiful while I am bald and vomiting.
  • I've learned how to make a hospital gown glamorous.
  • But the most important thing I learned in 2006, is that prayer changes everything!
  • Remember me, cancer? My friends kicked your butt with prayer.
Losing all my hair from chemotherapy treatment did give me a new perspective to all the times I groused about having a bad hair day, and I gained the wisdom to realize beauty was never physical. I knew I was loved, but never as much or so much, as after my cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately, I never learned how to make a hospital gown look anything but unflattering. Prayer can indeed carry us through the darkest moments in life.

Cancer does change us, in ways we could not have anticipated or predicted ahead of time. Some times it reminds us what is important, other times it helps up to clarify the need to follow dreams we put aside for a better more opportune time. We realize there is no better time than now. If you are a cancer survivor, what would you add to the list of Remember me cancer? You made me who I am today.

Value of missed cancer diagnosis: $16.66 per day

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For 18 months, New Zealand resident Heather Kubiak lived with undiagnosed breast cancer. It was no fault of her own that her disease was left undetected for all this time. It was the fault of the hospital staff who lost her file -- marked urgent -- and thus failed to communicate with her about the cancer living in her body.

In December 2003, Kubiak had both breasts removed because her cancer had spread. And so began the battle for her life -- and the battle against a system that admittedly botched up her medical care due to organizational failure.

It took years to resolve her claim but earlier this year, Kub iak, a wife and mother of four, received a lump-sum compensation of -- $9,000. That's $16.66 per day for every day of the 18 months her undiagnosed breast cancer continued to spread.

It was important for Kubiak to see her hospital held accountable -- and while $9,000 hardly makes up for what she has lost -- she is happy the legal ordeal is over. And she hopes her experience will motivate others to actively pursue their own medical misadventures.

"I do worry for people who aren't articulate enough or strong enough to fight the system because you have to keep on and on," she says.

Protein linked to thyroid cancer discovered

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Using a three-dimensional model, Queen's University researchers were able to watch how a mutated RET protein linked to thyroid cancer worked, which might result in the development of drugs to treat and prevent inherited and non-inherited thyroid cancer.

The researchers discovered that the protein was ten times more active than normal in cells associated with an inherited cancer syndrome, Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia 2B (MEN 2B).

"We now know why this gene causes these tumors and can start looking at how best to target the mutant proteins so that the cells expressing them can be killed or stopped from growing," says Lois Mulligan, professor of pathology and molecular medicine with the Division of Cancer Biology and Genetics of the Queen's Cancer Research Institute.

According to Medline Plus, thyroid cancer affects one in 1,000 people. Those who had radiation therapy to the neck -- therapy was commonly used in the 1950s to treat enlarged thymus glands, adenoids, tonsils and skin disorders -- are at an increased risk of thyroid cancer. Additional risk factors include chronic goiter and a family history of the disease.

Symptoms of thyroid cancer can be:
  • Enlargement of the thyroid gland
  • Neck swelling
  • A thyroid nodule
  • Hoarseness or changing voice
  • Cough or cough with bleeding
  • Difficulty swallowing
To read more about thyroid cancer, visit The Cancer Blog's thyroid cancer-related posts.

Hospice allows pet to stay with owner

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A poodle named Lucy refuses to leave her owners side and has become very popular with the nurses and visitors. The patient Maggie Bellamy is staying at the hospice while she is undergoing cancer treatments.

Lucy likes to snuggle up on the rug near Maggie's bed and goes for short walks around the grounds. Ms. Bellamy said "I thought it was incredible when I was told that Lucy could come and stay with me in the hospice. She frets over me, but is very well behaved and everyone fell in love with her. She is good therapy for other patients too."

Lucy is the only dog you will see at this hospice. Dogs belonging to Pets as Therapy also pop in with their owners to visit patients.

Fraser Meek, manager of the hospice in-patient unit, said "We are happy to welcome a patient's pet to be bought along either for a visit, or to stay in the room where possible. Visits from gentle pets help the patients relax and add to the homely atmosphere of the hospice".

What a nice story!

Top ten health news 2006

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As complied by Forbe's HealthDay, half of the top ten health news of 2006 feature issues of interest to cancer patients and the cancer community in regard to cancer research, treatment and prevention. The top health story involves the concern over cost of medical care among those with health insurance and the continually growing numbers of uninsured. A recent study shows that one in six, or 50 million people, are struggling to afford medical treatment as they now spend more than ten percent of their income on medical expenses.

After much controversy regarding ethics and morality, this year saw the approval of the first cervical cancer vaccine. The federal government recommends that girls as young as nine-years-old be given the vaccine. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) re-approved the use of silicone breast implants. Although banned in 1992 because of concerns that silicone leakage might be linked to cancer, silicone implants were still offered to women undergoing breast reconstruction after breast cancer surgery. Supposedly the implants are now safe for all women. Some consumer advocacy groups still strongly disapprove of the FDA decision.

Another controversial issue being debated based on ethics and morality is stem cell research. According to Forbes, the majority of Americans are in favor of stem cell research and the promise it holds in the cure of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, a nd many other diseases.

Lastly, scandals swept throught the research community as fake research and researchers were exposed, as was conflict of interest over questionable financial ties in the research community.

Other health news stories that made Forbe's HealthDay top ten list included: Tainted-Food Scares Rattle Public; Drug-Eluting Stents May Stay; 'Morning-After' Pill Goes OTC; Antidepressants' Link to Suicide Debated; and More Progress Against Alzheimer's Disease. You can read the Forbe's top ten list in its entirety here.

Thursday, 28 December 2006

Motivate, Monitor and Measure

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In 2005, Omron Healthcare presented the Motivate, Monitor and Measure session at the annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. At the conference, specialists spoke about weight management as it relates to diabetes, hypertension and overall wellness. Omron wanted to focus on the importance of motivating to increase activity, monitoring the response and measuring the outcomes.

People with diabetes are faced with a greater risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease. Omron's commitment to raising awareness about blood pressure, weight and exercise programs is evidenced by the engineering that makes their products among the best in the market for their ease of use and accuracy.

Omron Healthcare's products were used during the presentation to show how patients can motivate themselves and monitor their walking with the HJ-112 Premium Pedometer, as well as monitor and measure their blood pressure with the HEM-780 Automatic Blood Pressure Monitor, equipped with the ComFit Cuff, which fits arms 9 to 17 inches, the only cuff which is applicable to 97% of the US adult population and proven to be accurate for obese individuals and the HEM-637 Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor outfitted with Automatic Positioning Sensor (A.P.S.), which detects the position of the wrist and guides it to the heart level by sound and dis play on the monitor. The product lineup has all the whistles and bells a person needs to be motivated to monitor and measure. After all - it's your health we're talking about!

Insulin suppresses appetite

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Looks like a patriotic liver, doesn't it? Well that picture is an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of fat in our bodies. We'll get to it later. What I'd like to do now is dispel a rumor about insulin. Contrary to popular belief, insulin acts as an appetite suppressant when it reaches the brain. A study i dentifies that diabetics have a lack of insulin receptors, which result in a failure to adequately suppress the appetite. In addition, diabetics have a lack of lipase (patriotic liver picture), affecting their ability to metabolize fat for energy. Good grief, Charlie Brown.

The endocrine system and the nervous system work together in regulating our appetite. Insulin notifies the brain when the body needs the liver to release glucose for energy. The efficiency of this hormonal pathway is impaired in diabetics, go figure. Leptin is the way that your fat stores speak to your brain to let your brain know how much energy is available and, very importantly, what to do with it. There is a defining correlation between leptin and insulin levels when it comes to diabetes and obesity. Hunger leads to higher sugars ultimately leading to weight gain. Obviously this resulting weight gain is based on how you react to the leading indicator of hunger. Sounds like a vicious cycle because it is!

Although I have not found an acceptable answer to this atrocious hormonal imbalance, I gained an inkling of appreciation for learning a little about the problem. I would like to thank my dad, CJ Bizzle, MD for the translation of the cryptic medical lingo in the study. Anybody else reading with questions or objections to the above content - send them on. I've been wrong before. I would really like to be wrong about this.

Mind your Business

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In light of the fact that the number of diabetics in America has grown 80 percent in the past 10 years, the New York Times has published an article about diabetics in the workplace.

The article cited a few cases of discrimination where diabetics felt they were being blocked from the near-normal lives they can conceivably live, according to their doctors. Of course the near-normal life is contingent upon the level of control they can achieve throughout their day, 9 to 5 included. Companies are unsure about whether diabetes is a legitimate disability posing concern for liabilities, both financially and professionally. The irony of the situation is the better a person does in managing his or her diabetes, the less likely that person is to be protected from discrimination under the American's with Disabilities Act 1990.

I have firsthand knowledge of how difficult things can become in the workplace if your employer insists on becoming too involved in your diabetes affairs. To avoid any confusion on the issue, the American Diabetes Association has prepared guidelines on employment discrimination. Hindsight is 20/20 but foresight is immeasurable.

The Crystal Ball of Diabetes Drugs in 2007

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In the $20 billion diabetes market, when drugs make their way onto the scene, it's a head-turning event. So far, one drug is gaining ground and two of them are raising interest.

Januvia, manufactured by Merck, was recently approved for the treatment of diabetes. Januvia is used with diet and exercise to lower blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes. Januvia lowers blood sugar when blood sugar is high, especially after a meal. It also lowers blood sugar between meals and helps to improve the levels of insulin produced by your own body after a meal. The drug is unlikely to cause your blood sugar to be lowered to a dangerous level because it does not work when your blood sugar is low. Januvia faces potential competition from an experimental drug, Galvus. The drugs are similar in many respects, including their status as once-a-day pills, and their ability to lower blood-sugar levels in diabetics while helping them to lose weight, or at least to avoid gaining it. The FDA delayed its decision on Galvus, so we may be waiting till the first half of 2007 to see it in action.

Acomplia, manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis, is in hot pursuit of FDA approval. Acomplia is primarily a treatment for diabetics, but the drug is unusually multi-faceted. It was created to help people quit smoking and lose fat by blocking circuitry in the brain that gives the body cravings. The drug works by blocking the same circuitry in the brain that gives pot-smokers the munchies. The drug is expected to receive FDA approval in the first half of 2007.

All Natural Sugar to help prevent Diabetes

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Horizon Science has developed an all natural sugar with less effect on raising blood sugar. The discovery was made over a three-year period at a sugar mill in Australia.

The glycemic index is based on how much blood glucose rises after consuming a particular food over a 2-hour period. This is compared to a "reference" food. White sugar has a GI rating of 65, whereas the GI rating of this sugar is 51, nearly 25 percent lower. In essence, this means that the lower GI sugar will raise your blood sugar 25 percent less than white sugar. The low GI sugar has higher amounts of polyphenols, which have been shown to reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass. A number of studies suggest that a low GI and slowly digestible carbohydrates can contribute to the prevention of obesity and diabetes.

The new ingredient can be used in cooking and baking like ordinary sugar, whereas artificial sweeteners can become carcinogenic when heated. Don't preheat the oven just yet -- you'll have to wait a little while for the sweet victory of lower GI sugar. The product will not be on the market until 2008.