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Health Updates 5 June 2012

  • Antidepressant Cymbalta might ease chemo-linked painCancer patients on certain chemotherapies often experience a painful tingling in their extremities called peripheral neuropathy, and a new study suggests the antidepressant Cymbalta may be the first treatment to work against the condition.  In a small study, 59 percent of patients who’d experienced peripheral neuropathy said that they gained relief after taking Cymbalta (duloxetine), compared to 39 percent who took a ‘dummy’pill.  Taking Cymbalta daily ‘decreases chronic chemotherapy-induced neuropathy and pain severity in the majority of patients who take it and it improves function and quality of life,’ said study author Ellen Lavoie Smith, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan‘s School of Nursing.  She said the drug is also ‘very well tolerated’ by most patients.”  Experts are encouraged by the results, as the side effects for patients undergoing chemotherapy can be physically and mentally devastating.  One noted that “‘it is extremely exciting that there is now a drug we can offer that can reduce this terrible side effect and make chemotherapy more tolerable’.”  Tingling and numbness of the hands and feet plague more than a third of patients, prompting many of them to discontinue the therapy.  The disabling effects can go on for months, possibly years. (HealthDay)
  • Drug industry-sponsored patient assistance programs are seldom used by older adults: “Despite expanded drug coverage under Medicare Part D, gaps resulting in out-of-pocket expenses remain.  This may force some seniors to ration their prescriptions, seek out free samples from their physicians, and enroll in industry-sponsored patient assistance programs (PAPs).  A new study found that while seniors take advantage of free samples, they do not take advantage of PAPs, which are strongly linked to doctor-patient communication about them….In the survey, each senior was asked if they received free samples or participated in a PAP.  They were also asked a number of questions dealing with doctor-patient communication, for example, how often they discussed drug costs with their physicians and if they had admitted to not filling a prescription due to cost issues.  Just over half (51.4 percent) of all seniors in the study group reported receiving at least one free sample in the last 12 months.  Nearly 30 percent obtained samples more than once.  Seniors with a regular doctor were more likely to report receiving free samples.  In fact, seniors who discussed costs with their doctor had twice the odds of receiving free samples…Reported participation in a PAP, however, was dramatically low at only 1.3 percent.  Those most likely to participate in a PAP had low incomes, lacked insurance coverage, and had less than a high school education.” (AHRQ)
  • Infant ‘smarts’ similar with different types of formula: study “Babies who are fed soy formula do as well as babies drinking cow’s milk formula on tests of mental ability in the first year of life,  a new study finds.  But breast-fed babies score slightly higher than infants on either type of formula, the researchers say.  About 20 percent of formula-fed babies in the United States are on soy formula, often because their mothers cannot breast-feed and they are allergic to cow’s milk formula.  ‘Our study is very important because it shows that the growth and development of children in the US who are fed soy formula is the same as children who are fed milk formulas,’ said Thomas Badger, professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and lead investigator of the study….’This study should be a great relief to people who have been using soy formula,’ said Dr. Ruth Lawrence, medical director of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who was not involved in the study.  ‘But you really have to see  what the babies do when they have to learn to read and do social things,’ Lawrence said.  Badger and his colleagues will test the babies in the study when they are 6 years old to see if there are differences in test scores or behavior later in life.  ‘I would expect that at 6 years you will see a wider   spread between human milk and formula [groups],’  Lawrence said.  Previous research has found that people who were breast-fed do better all the way up through high school than those who were fed cow’s milk formulas, she added. (MedlinePlus)
  • ASCO: Ginseng fights fatigue in cancer: Ginseng appears to counteract the fatigue often associated with cancer, according to randomized trial results.  After 8 weeks of taking supplements of the ground-up root, fatigue scores among cancer patients dropped 20% compared with 10% on placebo pills….Ginseng appeared as safe as placebo, at least over the short-term, they reported here at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting.  ‘This is an exciting finding because there are no or limited choices at this point’ in treating cancer-related fatigue, commended Sriram Yennu, MD, MS, of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  Nearly all cancer patients experience fatigue, most commonly when starting cancer treatment but often persisting to some degree after completion.  Erythropoietin drugs had been effective but their use was brought to a halt by discovery of serious mortality and cardiovascular or venous thromboembolism risks.  Roughly 80% of cancer patients take some form of complementary medicine….Ginseng is a popular choice, so the trials are reassuring in that regard, [Yennu] noted.  In traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng is seen as a natural energy booster.  It’s thought to be anti-inflammatory or it may work through control of the stress hormone cortisol.” (Crystal Phend, MedPage Today)
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