Archive for the ‘Cancer’ Category

The Territory government has announced its long awaited timeframe for banning smoking inside clubs and pubs, saying new restrictions will come into place from the start of 2010.

The ban will not include outdoor areas where food and drink is not directly served.

Minister Chris Burns says the ban will start in 2010 so businesses will have time to do building work or make other adjustments for the changes.

“Venues need time to carry out works on their rooms and venue to accommodate this change. That’s the advice that we’ve had from industry.

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Study links diabetes, advanced breast cancer

An international study has established a link between type 2 diabetes and advanced breast cancer.

An international study has established a link between type 2 diabetes and advanced breast cancer. (ABC TV)

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An international study has established a link between type 2 diabetes and advanced breast cancer.

It has been known for a while that being overweight puts post-menopausal women at greater risk of breast cancer.

But now it has been found that women who are resistant to insulin, or who are overweight, are 50 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with the cancer, and only when it is in its advanced stages.

The finding comes after an international research team followed more than 60,000 Swedish women over 20 years.

Dr Anne Cust from the University of Melbourne is a collaborator in the study and will present the findings at a medical conference in Brisbane today.

Dr Cust told AM the study looked at the stage of breast cancer and the diagnosis.

“We found that women who were overweight or with insulin resistance were more likely to be diagnosed with an advanced stage of breast cancer,” she said.

“We don’t know the exact reasons why that might be. It might be that the cancer is growing more quickly or that it wasn’t diagnosed early but we need to do more research to find out exactly why that might be.”

She says there are a number of hypotheses as to why overweight or diabetic women aren’t diagnosed earlier with breast cancer.

“It may be that the hormones that are involved, that are linked with being overweight or having insulin resistance, might be making the tumour grow more quickly but we need to do more research to find out exactly why that might be the case,” she said.

But Dr Cust says that does not necessarily mean that women who are at risk of type 2 diabetes should be screened for breast cancer more often.

“The question of screening is something that would need to be looked at separately but I think it is just providing another indication that being overweight is linked to lots of different health problems and this is another reason to get off the couch and try to stay active and maintain a healthy weight,” she said.

“And also, the link with insulin resistance may provide a new avenue of research for looking at the causes of breast cancer and possibly new treatments.”

Based on an interview by Simon Lauder for AM

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Nurse practitioners ready for a bigger role in health system

By Ged Kearney

A care nurse helps a pensioner

(Reuters: Christian Hartmann, file photo)

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Nurse practitioners may well be the answer to Australia’s health concerns.

For Australians to see the benefits of real and sustainable health reform there must be major reform to the way health services are funded and delivered. This means putting nursing and midwifery at the centre of decisions in health and health reform.

Vital to a full and effective utilisation of the nursing and midwifery workforce is the role of nurse practitioner, yet they are unable to operate to their full scope of practice due to current funding barriers.

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses and midwives with advanced educational preparation and experience who are authorised to practice in an expanded nursing role. There are currently around 300 nurse practitioners in Australia who can be found working in illness prevention, chronic disease management, aged care, emergency care, wound care, diabetes education, sexual health and rural health.

These nurses and midwives seek candidacy through the nursing regulatory authority in their state or territory and must undergo rigorous review to be authorised to practice as a nurse practitioner. Most have at least five years in their chosen area of practice post-registration and at least seven to nine years study, inclusive of masters-level university qualification.

Nurse practitioners have been shown to bring immense benefit to areas of need, improving quality of and accessibility to health care services for all Australians whether in rural and remote Australia or in residential aged care facility. The benefits they bring have been well documented across Australia and indeed throughout the world.

Programs like the Walwa Bush Nursing Clinic and the ACT aged care nurse practitioner pilot provide evidence that nurse practitioners offer health care efficiency and improve patient care outcomes.

The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne recently conducted a study that demonstrated nurse practitioners operating out of the emergency department had reduced waiting times, staff stress, and patient returns and improved patient outcomes and satisfaction.

Nurse practitioners bring greater efficiency and quality of patient care to Australia’s health system, but are severely limited in their practice because of outdated funding structures.

While nurse practitioners are authorised to refer patients to other health professionals and prescribe some medications, there is currently no mechanism that allows patients to claim any subsidy from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) or Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS), as is the case for medical practitioners.

This is a massive disincentive for patients who can be forced to pay hundreds of dollars more for prescriptions or medical tests when they are ordered by a nurse or midwife practitioner as opposed to a GP. Subsequently they are currently under-utilised and left feeling under-valued.

Unless the Federal Government gives the patients of nurse practitioners access to pharmaceutical rebates they will continue to be under-utilised to the detriment of all Australians.

In addition to the obvious benefits to health care consumers in Australia, the role of nurse practitioner offers experienced nurses greater access to career opportunities in clinical practice. Some nurses do not want to move out of clinical nursing into education or management.

The opportunity to become a nurse practitioner offers an incentive to remain in the profession whilst providing expert nursing care. The regulatory process must be reviewed to facilitate advanced practice by suitably qualified nurses and midwives and improve community access to care.

Now that the Federal Government has put health reform on the agenda the time is right to better utilise the expertise of these skilled practitioners, enabling greater access to and equity within the public health system and offering nurses and midwives greater opportunity for career development, encouraging them to stay or if they have left, to return to the profession.

Ged Kearney is the federal secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation.

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New research body targets cure for asbestos illnesses

It is hoped a new Brisbane-based research group can help improve treatments and quality of life for people with asbestos-related diseases.

The Asbestos Research Group, based at Brisbane’s Wesley Hospital, will examine the progression of diseases like mesothelioma and the impact of reduced lung capacity.

Karen Banton, the widow of mesothelioma victim and campaigner Bernie Banton, says while a cure for the disease is a long way off, more can be done in the short term.

“To give better quality of life, improved quality of life to asbestos sufferers and also to make it easier for their families,” she said.

“Just to give them hope really that what they’re going through will not befall other families and that one day there will be a cure for these insidious diseases.”

Dr Roger Allen says about 27,000 Australians will die from mesothelioma in the next 40 years and researchers are hoping to find a cure.

“I think that’s a long way off but we have to start somewhere,” he said.

“We don’t even know why certain types of asbestos cause mesothelioma – they occur in various ratios so that some types of asbestos fibres are more virulent than others, are more likely to produce cancer.

“They’re really basic questions that we can’t even answer, let alone treat it.”

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Solarium operators face court grilling

Cancer patient Clare Oliver

Anti-sunbed crusader: Clare Oliver (The 7.30 Report)

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Australia’s consumer watchdog is taking three solarium operators to court, accusing them of misleading the public about the risks of tanning.

The Federal Court action is being taken against Tropical Sun Industries, Body Bronze International and the Australian Tanning Association.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) alleges the organisations engaged in false, misleading and deceptive conduct.

The ACCC is also launching action against Scott Meneilly, the former president of the ATA and the current chief executive of Body Bronze.

The watchdog is concerned about comments made after the death of Melbourne anti-tanning crusader Clare Oliver.

Ms Oliver’s doctor, Associate Professor Grant MacArthur, has told AM he is not surprised by the court action.

“There was really a disconnect between the available medical evidence in the way that the industry were promoting their product,” he said.

“It is inevitable that this sort of action would come about.

“I think this is a very significant step forward in the battle against melanoma, and I think it’s absolutely clear that Clare would be absolutely thrilled to see the industry having to face court in this way,” he added.

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New controls considered for complementary medicines

Consumer advocates are pushing for new labelling laws for complementary medicines.

Consumer advocates are pushing for new labelling laws for complementary medicines. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin, file photo)

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More than half of Australians have used at least one complementary medicine, ranging from vitamins to treatment drugs for arthritis and weight loss.

But recent studies have raised doubts about the effectiveness of some top-selling remedies.

Consumer group Choice recently found the drug glucosamine, used to treat osteoarthritis, provided little benefit to sufferers.

Choice spokesman Christopher Zinn says the only effect is a placebo one.

“People who purchase it are convinced of its efficacy but in terms of the real science, we are far less convinced of that, and in fact we just advise people, you are much better off moving to lifestyle treatments, losing weight, doing exercise,” he said.

“This is actually going to get you better results than taking glucosamine.”

There are more than 16,000 complementary medicines listed on the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The national prescribing service is currently reviewing the information provided to consumers about such drugs.

Jan McLucas is the parliamentary secretary to the federal Health Minister and is responsible for complementary medicines

She says she’ll consider the report within the next two months.

“Information provided to consumers can really only be described as patchy,” she said.

“Some producers provide very good websites with information about their products.

“With other products it is quite difficult to find out firstly what is in them and how they will work.”

Senator McLucas says the Federal Government may introduce measures to help consumers make more informed choices about complementary medicines.

She says that may include tougher disclosure rules.

“A range of proposals have been put to the Government including increased labelling on the medications themselves,” she said.

“Another alternative is to look at a Government-run website which consumers would have confidence in.”

Another option being considered is a proposal by Choice for complementary medicines to be given the right to display a green tick – similar to the red tick used by the National Heart Foundation.

Mr Zinn says improvements to the industry are long overdue.

“There is no reason why complementary medicines should not be treated with the same, if not similar, scrutiny as other pharmaceuticals and something else we would like to see is that those medicines who do not choose this opting system with a green tick, have some sort of label on their packaging which says this medicine has not been evaluated by health authorities for efficacy,” he said.

Dr Ken Harvey, from the school of public health at the La Trobe University, has welcomed the Government’s proposals.

“Most complementary medicines are listed, which means they’re not evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Authority to see if they work,” he said.

“There is no approved product information for them, as there is for other medicines and there is no consumer medicines information either.

“So really there is no independent source of information about these medicines in Australia.”

Nobody from two of the biggest suppliers of complementary medicines, Symbion and Blackmores, was available today to respond to the criticism.

But Dr Wendy Morrow, the executive director of the Complementary Healthcare Council, rejects suggestions the industry doesn’t provide consumers with adequate information.

She says the changes aren’t needed.

“The Complementary Healthcare Council believes that the Australian Therapeutic Goods legislation and regulations already provide consumers with one of the best practice and most scientifically rigorous regulatory frameworks for complementary medicines internationally,” she said.

“There have been two comprehensive government-initiated reviews of this system since 2003 and both of these substantially supported the existed risk-based regulatory framework, subject to minor modifications and that is something that we do support.”

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Gene discovery brings hope to bowel cancer patients

By national medical reporter Sophie Scott

Australian scientists have identified a genetic marker for bowel cancer.

A study by Niall Tebbutt from the Austin Hospital in Melbourne looked at whether patients with advanced bowel cancer had a normal or mutated form of a gene known as the KRAS gene.

He found two-thirds of patients had a type of gene that could respond to the latest targeted therapies.

Dr Tebbutt says new medications switch off chemical signals so cancer cells do not grow or spread.

In the future, patients with bowel cancer could undergo genetic testing to make sure they receive the best treatment.

The findings were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in the United States.

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