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A health news Update


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Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Study Examining High Cancer Incidence in U.S. South

Researchers plan to recruit 90,000 people in 12 Southern states in an effort to learn why the South has become the cancer belt of the United States and why blacks have higher rates of several kinds of cancer, United Press International reported.

Brain cancer and lung cancer are among those that disproportionately affect people living in the South.

"When you look at a map of brain cancer incidence in the United States the Southeast just lights up in red," Dr. Reid Thompson, of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville said in a news release.

The researchers will look at study participants' lifestyles, family medical histories and risk factors for cancer and other serious diseases, UPI reported.

"We're asking patients about their diets, possible job-related exposure to cancer causing chemicals, and we're collecting DNA samples," Thompson said.


Plant-Based Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise

A plant-based cancer vaccine that kick-starts the immune system and can be tailored to target specific tumor types shows promise, according to U.S. researchers who tested the vaccine on 16 people with incurable follicular B-cell lymphoma.

More than 70 percent of the patients developed an immune response and none of them showed any significant side effects, Agence France-Presse reported. The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The idea is to marshal the body's own immune system to fight cancer," said study senior author Ronald Levy of the Stanford Medical Center. "We know that if you get the immune system revved up, it can attack and kill cancer."

He and his colleagues are the first to test a plant-based cancer vaccine on people, AFP reported. It's not yet clear whether the immune response triggered by the vaccine is sufficient to destroy cancer.


New Drug Seems Effective Against Aggressive Prostate Cancer

A new drug called abiraterone may prove to be a breakthrough treatment for aggressive prostate cancer. Scientists say the drug -- which blocks hormones that fuel the cancer -- could potentially treat up to 80 percent of patients with a deadly form of the disease that's resistant to chemotherapy, BBC News reported.

A study of 21 patients with advanced, aggressive prostate cancer treated with the drug found significant tumor shrinkage and a decline in levels of a key protein produced by the cancer. Many patients reported a significant improvement in their quality of life, and some were able to stop taking morphine to ease the pain caused by the spread of the cancer into their bones.

The findings appear in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

"We believe we have made a major step forward in the treatment of end-stage prostate cancer patients," according to lead researcher Dr. Johann de Bono, who was quoted by BBC News.

"These men have very aggressive prostate cancer which is exceptionally difficult to treat and almost always proves fatal. We hope that abiraterone will eventually offer them real hope of an effective way of managing their condition and prolonging their lives," de Bono said.

Currently, the drug is being assessed in an advanced clinical trial involving 1,200 patients around the world, BBC News reported.


South Korea Begins Year-Round Bird Flu Monitoring

South Korea plans to establish about 23 teams to conduct year-round monitoring for bird flu, the agriculture ministry said Tuesday. The decision comes after the country experienced its worst bird flu outbreak, which led to the slaughter of more than 8 million domestic birds.

As part of the new program, migratory and resident wild birds will be monitored regularly and all chicken and duck farms will be inspected every other week for strains of bird flu, Agence France-Presse reported.

Until now, South Korea went on heightened bird flu alert from November to March, when migratory birds stay in the country and weather conditions can promote the spread of bird flu. But this year, an outbreak began in early April and spread through most of the country.

Even though the country has had three major bird flu outbreaks, no person in South Korea is known to have contracted the disease, AFP reported. Worldwide, the H5N1 bird flu virus has killed more than 240 people since 2003.


Deep Brain Stimulation Eases Depression: Study

Deep brain stimulation can help many patients with tough-to-treat depression, says a Canadian study. In deep brain stimulation, electrical impulses are delivered through electrodes implanted in the brain.

The patients in the study had major depressive disorder, a severe form of depression that's unresponsive to other treatments. One month after the start of deep brain stimulation, 35 percent of patients responded well to the therapy, with 10 percent of them entering remission, CBC News reported. Six months after the start of treatment, 60 percent of patients showed a good response and 35 percent were in remission.

"Our research confirmed that 60 percent of patients have shown a clinically significant response to the surgery and the benefits were sustained for at least one year," Dr. Andres Lazano, a neurosurgeon at the Krembil Neurosciences Centre at Toronto Western Hospital, said in a news release.

Lozano and colleagues said there were few serious side effects and no patients suffered long-term harm from the surgery to implant the electrodes, CBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.


Study Challenges Stereotypes About Obese Workers

Overweight workers aren't lazier, more emotionally unstable, or more difficult to get along with than other workers, say U.S. researchers who examined the relationship between body weight and personality traits among 3,500 adults.

The findings, which contradict widely held perceptions, mean that employers should not use weight as a predictor of personality traits when it comes to hiring, promoting or firing people, said study author Mark Roehling of Michigan State University, United Press International reported.

"Previous research has demonstrated that many employers hold negative stereotypes about obese workers and those beliefs contribute to discrimination against overweight workers at virtually every stage of the employment process, from hiring to promotion to firing," Roehling said in news release.

The study was published in the journal Group & Organization Management.

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