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The Top Health Stories Of 2009, From The Harvard Health Letter
Date:12/3/2009

ning tests for breast and prostate cancers. A provocative analysis in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) came to the conclusion that the past 20 years of screening mammography for breast cancer and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing for prostate cancer have led to detection and treatment of many cancers that pose minimal risk while achieving only modest reductions in the number of more advanced cases. And after the Health Letter went to press, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force came out with new mammography guidelines that said most women should not start getting mammograms before age 50 (the old guidelines said 40) and that it’s best for the tests to be done every two years, instead of every year. A huge controversy ensued, which shows, if nothing else, that screening mammography is far from a settled issue.

An alternative to warfarin? Millions of people depend on the blood-thinning drug warfarin (Coumadin), especially those with atrial fibrillation. But warfarin interacts with dozens of drugs and herbs and some foods, and frequent blood tests are often necessary to make sure the blood’s clotting capacity stays in a safe range. Patients and their doctors have accepted these drawbacks for lack of a good alternative. But this year, a good substitute might have been found. A new drug called dabigatran acts directly on thrombin, one of the key players in the formation of blood clots, and does not require blood monitoring. It has far fewer interactions with other drugs, herbs, and foods than warfarin. But the news isn’t all good: in trials, heart attacks and gastrointestinal side effects were more common among those taking the new drug than they were among those taking warfarin. The FDA is expected to approve dabigatran in 2010.

Other items on the Health Letter’s top 10 list:

 

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