Health Highlights: Sept. 23, 2013
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Pain Patches Pose Serious Threat to Young Children: FDA
Skin patches that contain the powerful pain reliever fentanyl can be deadly to young children, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday.
The agency has issued a Drug Safety Communication to warn patients, caregivers and health care workers about the dangers of accidental exposure to and improper storage and disposal of fentanyl patches.
The FDA is aware of 32 cases of children who were accidentally exposed to fentanyl since 1997, most of them involving children younger than age 2. There have been 12 deaths and 12 cases requiring hospitalization.
"These types of events are tragic; you never want this to happen. We are looking for ways that we can help prevent this from happening in the future," Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in an agency news release. "This reinforces the need to talk to patients and their families to make sure that these patches are stored, used and disposed of carefully."
Fentanyl is a potent opioid pain reliever. The patches, which are sold under the brand name Duragesic and as a generic product, are used to treat patients in constant pain by releasing fentanyl over the course of three days.
A fentanyl overdose -- caused when a child either puts a patch in his or her mouth or applies it to the skin -- can cause death by slowing breathing and increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, the FDA said.
The FDA said Monday that it approved changes to the Duragesic patch so the name of the drug and its strength will be printed on the patch in long-lasting ink in a clearly visible color. The agency added that it has asked manufacturers of the generic versions to make the same changes. The previous ink color varied by strength and was not always easy to see.
Chemotherapy Undertreatment Common Among Obese
Many obese cancer patients receive inadequate doses of chemotherapy and this is one reason why they have higher rates of cancer recurrence and death, experts say.
In order to correct the problem, the American Society of Clinical Oncology has adopted guidelines promoting full, weight-based chemotherapy doses for obese patients, the Associated Press reported.
Doctors should use a patient's size to calculate chemotherapy doses, but often fail to do so with those who are obese, the report said. One reason is concern about how much chemotherapy an obese patient can bear, but research shows that larger people cope with chemotherapy better than smaller people.
Studies suggest that as many as 40 percent of obese cancer patients receive less than 85 percent of the right doses for their size, according to the AP.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology's new advice should be viewed as right-sizing cancer care, said Dr. Gary Lyman, a Duke University oncologist who led the guidelines panel.
"There's little doubt that some degree of undertreatment is contributing to the higher mortality and recurrence rates in obese patients," he told the AP.
There is a problem with obese cancer patients receiving inadequate chemotherapy doses, said Dr. Richard Pazdur, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's office of cancer drugs.
"By minimizing the dose, or capping the dose, we have been undertreating patients," he told the AP.
The issue affects a lot of patients, as 60 percent of Americans are overweight and more than one-third are obese.