Monday, 02 January 2006 00:00

Health Highlights: Jan. 2, 2006

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

Art Therapy Eases Cancer Patients' Anxieties: Research

Drawing, painting or doing pottery appears to help cancer patients feel less tired and anxious, according to new U.S. research.

A group of 50 cancer sufferers who underwent art therapy also reported less pain, depression, drowsiness, loss of appetite and breathlessness immediately after their sessions, the Telegram reported.

Dr Judith Paice, director of the Cancer Pain Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and one of the study's authors, said: "Our study provides beginning evidence for the important role art therapy can play in reducing symptoms. It provides a distraction that allows patients to focus on something positive instead of their health.

The researchers, whose study is published in the American Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, used one-hour art therapy sessions to measure nine symptoms on a 0-10 scale -- pain, tiredness, nausea, depression, anxiety, drowsiness, lack of appetite, shortness of breath and overall well-being.

Participants could choose from activities that included pottery, collage, drawing, painting and making jewelry. Those who were unable to use their hands or were not comfortable using the art materials were able to direct an art therapist to do the work for them.

All the patients showed statistically significant improvements in eight out of the nine symptom categories: The level of tiredness across the group dropped from 4.4 out of 10 to 2.9. Anxiety levels fell from 3.1 to 1.8. Pain, depression, drowsiness, loss of appetite and breathlessness all dropped by between six and 10 per cent, while overall well-being went up from 2.7 out of 10 to 3.7.

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Medicare Drug Benefit Starts

Medicare's long-awaited "Plan D" drug benefit program has started. The program works with private plans to supplement drug costs, and is especially designed to help low-income elderly get the medications they need.

Yet many potential beneficiaries still find the program confusing, with seniors forced to choose from up to 60 competing plans, depending on their locale.

While everyone agrees the plan could save seniors thousands of dollars in drug costs, a survey released in November found that low-income elderly are the least likely to understand it.

And a survey done jointly by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health showed that half of the people who make less than $15,000 a year didn't know about the program or didn't think they were eligible.

Compounding the problem is the fact that the Internet is the most highly touted source of information on the new plan -- even though 76 percent of seniors polled admitted they had never surfed the Web.

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Accutane Registry Created to Help Prevent Birth Defects

A long-awaited national registry has begun accepting the names of Americans who take the acne-fighting drug Accutane, part of a federal effort to limit its use by pregnant women because the medication has a high risk of birth defects.

Doctors, wholesalers and pharmacies had until Friday to register with the computerized "iPledge" registry if they want to continue prescribing or selling Accutane and any of the three generic versions of the drug, known as isotretinoin. Generic versions are sold as Amnesteem, Claravis or Sotret, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tried for more than 20 years to limit fetal exposure to the drug. The reason: If a woman uses Accutane during pregnancy -- or becomes pregnant within a month of taking the drug -- her baby runs a high risk of brain