Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Rituxan Approved to Treat Blood Vessel Inflammation Disorders
The arthritis and cancer drug Rituxan has been approved to treat two rare disorders that cause blood vessel inflammation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday.
In combination with steroids called glucocorticoids, Rituxan (rituximab) can be used to treat patients with Wegener's granulomatosis (WG) and microscopic polyangiitis (MPA). The diseases each affect less than 200,000 people in the United States.
The FDA approval was based on a single clinical trial that included 197 patients with WG or MPA. Common side effects included infection, nausea, diarrhea, headache, muscle spasms and anemia.
The drug already has FDA approval to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Policy Shift Will Reduce Medicare Drug Plan Service Cuts
The Obama administration will award quality bonuses to hundreds of Medicare Advantage plans rated as average, a move that could prevent service cuts to millions of seniors enrolled in the plans.
The decision will lead to a $6.7 billion infusion into the popular private insurance plans and could avert service cuts that would have been a political problem for the president and Democrats in Congress, the Associated Press reported.
The quality bonuses will change what would have been averaged out as a net loss for the Medicare Advantage plans in 2012 into a small gain, according to the insurance industry.
Plans with average ratings account for more than half of the approximately 11 million Medicare Advantage enrollees, the AP reported.
Woman Shows Off New Hand
A 26-year-old American woman who showed off her newly transplanted right hand Tuesday said she's still getting used to it.
"I do feel like it's mine. Slowly but surely, every day it becomes more and more mine," Emily Fennell said Tuesday at a news conference at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, the Associated Press reported.
She received her new hand March 5 during a 14 1/2-hour operation at the medical center. It was the first such transplant at the hospital and the 13th in the United States.
Doctors said Fennell, who lost her hand in a traffic crash, faces a long rehabilitation process, the AP reported.
Breath Test for Cancer a Step Closer: Scientists
Researchers say they're a step closer to creating a breath test that can detect cancer.
Israeli scientists who created an "electronic nose" found that it was able to identify chemical signals of cancer in the breath of 80 patients with lung or head and neck cancer, BBC News reported.
The findings appear in the British Journal of Cancer.
"There's an urgent need to develop new ways to detect head-and-neck cancer because diagnosis of the disease is complicated, requiring specialist examinations," said lead researcher Professor Hossam Haick of the Israel Institute of Technology, BBC News reported.
"We've shown that a simple 'breath test' can spot the patterns of molecules which are found in head-and-neck patients in a small, early study," Haick said. "We now need to test these results in larger studies to find if this could lead to a potential screening method for the disease."
While the findings are encouraging, it will take years of research to determine if the breath test could be used in the clinic, Dr. Lesley Walker, of Cancer Research UK, told BBC News.
U.S. Spending on Medicines Slows: Study
Spending on medicines in the United States grew at a slower rate in 2010, rising 2.3 percent compared to 5.1 percent in 2009, a new study says.
The total spent on medicines last year was $307.4 billion, according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, Dow Jones Newswires reported.
Spending on brand name medicines fell 0.7 percent in 2010 while spending on generic medicines increased. Generic medicines now account for 78 percent of all retail prescriptions, the study said.
It also found that the number of doctor offices visits decreased 4.2 percent in 2010, and the number of new patients starting new treatments for chronic conditions fell by 3.4 million, Dow Jones reported.
A high jobless rate and rising healthcare costs were the reason for the slowdown in healthcare spending last year, according to the researchers.
Copyright © 2011 HealthDay. All rights reserved.