Health Highlights: Feb. 24, 2011

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

Toyota Announces Expanded Recall

About 2.1 million more Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the United States are included in an expanded recall of floor mats that can jam against cause accelerator pedals and cause unintended acceleration, Toyota announced Thursday.

The company claims the recalls are voluntary, but U.S. regulators say they requested them, USA Today reported.

The vehicles in the expanded recall include: Toyota RAV4, Lexus LX, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Highlander, Lexus RX, and Lexu GS.

Last year, Toyota recalled hundreds of thousands of vehicles to replace floor mats that can jam against accelerator pedals or to replace pedal mechanisms that can stick, USA Today reported.


Blocking Enzyme Prevents Breast Cancer Spread: Study

U.K. researchers have found a way to prevent breast cancer from spreading to other organs in mice.

They achieved this by blocking an enzyme called LOXL2 and said their findings offer a “fantastic” target for the development of new drugs to prevent breast cancer metastasis in women, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the journal Cancer Research.

The “results are very exciting, as although currently we can treat breast cancer that has spread, we cannot cure it,” Arlene Wilkie, director of research and policy at Breast Cancer Campaign in the U.K., told BBC News.

The campaign helped fund the study.


Feds Want Cigarette Companies to Make Public Confessions

The largest cigarette makers in the United States may be forced to run an ad campaign saying they lied to the public about the dangers of smoking.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department released 14 “corrective statements” it believes the companies should make as part of a 12-year-old lawsuit against the tobacco industry, the Associated Press reported.

The cigarette makers, who would have to establish and pay for the advertising campaign to acknowledge their past misbehavior, aren’t happy about the idea.

The Justice Department’s corrective statements for the tobacco industry include:

  • “A federal court is requiring tobacco companies to tell the truth about cigarette smoking. Here’s the truth: … Smoking kills 1,200 Americans. Every day.”
  • “We falsely marketed low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes to keep people smoking and sustain our profits.”
  • “We told Congress under oath that we believed nicotine is not addictive. We told you that smoking is not an addiction and all it takes to quit is willpower. Here’s the truth: Smoking is very addictive. And it’s not easy to quit.”
  • “The surgeon general has concluded” that “children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, ear problems and more severe asthma.”

The proposed statements were released after the Justice Department received permission from U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler to place them in the public record, the AP reported.

The judge, who will meet with federal officials and tobacco industry representatives Thursday, has not made a final decision on what the statements will say, where they must be placed, or for how long.


Spending on Drugs for Diabetes, Cholesterol Exceeds $52 Billion

Drugs to treat metabolic conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol were the class of prescription drugs that accounted for the highest level of spending by U.S. insurers and consumers in 2008, according to a federal government report.

Purchases of metabolic drugs by adults age 18 and older accounted for $52.2 billion (22 percent) of the nearly $233 billion spent overall to buy outpatient prescription medicines in 2008, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Ranked by total spending, the other top four classes of drugs were:

  • Central and nervous system drugs used to relieve chronic pain and control epileptic seizures and Parkinson’s disease tremors — $35 billion.
  • Cardiovascular drugs, including calcium channel blockers and diuretics — $29 billion.
  • Antacids, antidiarrheals, and other medicines for gastrointestinal conditions — $20 billion.
  • Antidepressants, antipsychotics and other psychotherapeutic drugs — $20 billion.


U.S. Whooping Cough Cases Topped 21,000 in 2010

More than 21,000 people in the United States got whooping cough last year, the highest number since 2005 and one of the highest numbers in more than 50 years, federal health officials said.

The recent spike in cases, many of which involve children and teens, puzzles experts because the vaccine against whooping cough is highly effective in children and vaccination rates for children are considered good, the Associated Press reported.

The latest figures were released at a vaccine advisory committee meeting in Atlanta.

Whooping cough, which is very contagious, starts like a cold but leads to severe coughing that can last for weeks. The disease can be fatal in rare cases, especially for infants too young to receive the vaccine, the AP reported.