Double Dose: BCA Blasts Approval of Avastin; Short Maternity Leave for Women in the Military; Do Cellphones Affect Male Fertility?; More on Migraines; Debating "Juno"

By Christine Cupaiuolo — February 24, 2008

Score One for the Patient: A breast cancer patient whose medical coverage was canceled by her insurer was awarded more than $9 million from her for-profit insurer, Health Net Inc., reports the L.A. Times. “The award issued by an arbitration judge was the first of its kind and prompted Health Net to announce it was scrapping its cancellation practices that are under fire from state regulators, patients and the Los Angeles city attorney.”

BCA Blasts Approval of Avastin: In a surprise move, the FDA approved the use of Avastin as a treatment for breast cancer. “The big question was whether it was enough for a drug temporarily to stop cancer from worsening — as Avastin had done in a clinical trial — or was it necessary for a drug to enable patients to live longer, which Avastin had failed to do. Oncologists and patient advocates were divided, in part because of the drug’s sometimes severe side effects,” writes Andrew Pollack.

“In the end, the agency found a compromise of sorts. It gave Avastin ‘accelerated’ approval, which allows drugs for life-threatening diseases to reach the market on the basis of less than ideal data, subject to further study.”

Breast Cancer Action blasted the decision. “The FDA has lowered the bar on the approval of breast cancer therapies. At a time when many questions are being raised about how the FDA approves drugs for market, today’s decision is a victory for drug companies, but not for patients,” BCA Executive Director Barbara A. Brenner said a statement posted at Prescription Access Legislation.

Short Maternity Leaves, Long Deployments: The Washington Post reports on the difficulty women in the military face if they want to have children and keep their jobs. Ann Scott Tyson writes:

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed severe strains on the Army, including longer deployments in which soldiers serve 15 months in the war zone, followed by 12 months at home. Under that system, a woman who wishes to have a child and remain with her unit must conceive soon after returning home so she can give birth, recover and prepare for her next overseas tour.

Female soldiers interviewed over the past year say the tight schedule cuts short precious time for mother and infant to bond and breast-feed, forcing women to choose between their loyalty to their comrades — as well as their careers — and nurturing their families.

Vaccinating Boys for Girls’ Sake?: The New York Times looks at efforts to convince parents to vaccinate boys to prevent the spread of human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer. HPV also causes anal and penile cancers, but these are much more rare. (Read our previous coverage of the HPV vaccine Gardasil here.)

One woman tells the NYT, “You don’t want to say it’s just the girls’ problem … But my sons won’t contract cervical cancer. And genital warts are treatable. I’m very skeptical. What risks will I expose them to?”

Another woman comments, “If there was a vaccine I could take that would get rid of prostate cancer, why wouldn’t I? … If there was a vaccine that sons could get that would get rid of breast cancer, most parents wouldn’t hesitate. But cervical cancer is the ‘sex cancer.'”

Do Cellphones Affect Male Fertility?: Some studies suggest as much, but the data is limited, writes Tara Parker-Pope, adding, “There are some global concerns about declining male fertility in industrialized countries, but issues like pollutants, exposure to chemicals and smoking are likely far more worrisome culprits than cellphones.”

The Studies Surrounding DHEA: The L.A. Times “Healthy Skeptic” column looks at the anti-aging claims of DHEA and finds it’s no fountain of youth.

More on Migraines (and Music): I’ve mentioned the group blog on migraines at The New York Times — be sure to check out Paula Kamen’s latest post on leaving the rabbit hole. Kamen, who suffers from chronic daily headaches, also appeared last week on WBUR’s “The Point”.

Jeff Tweedy hasn’t weighed in yet, but I did see Wilco Tuesday and Wednesday (braving cold and limited views) during the band’s five-night run in Chicago. Yeah, OK, that had nothing to do with women’s health, but I had to boast somewhere.

Debating “Juno”: Will “Juno” win best picture? Stay tuned. In the meantime, young birth mothers discuss what they liked and didn’t like about the film’s portrayal of adoption.

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