According to Marshall, in 2004, the two health-related stories that got the most attention were the lack of available flu shots and the removal of the arthritis drug Vioxx from the market. "Now, fortunately, the flu season hasn't been very bad so far," she says. "But, as you probably remember, the shortage caused fights to break out in lines where people were waiting to get vaccinated, and it even became an issue in the presidential race."
In the case of Vioxx, she explains, "The drug's maker, Merck, voluntarily took it off shelves after a clinical study showed that people who took Vioxx for more than 18 months had twice the risk of heart attack and stroke when compared to people taking a placebo. Fortunately, Vioxx, which is a Cox-2 inhibitor, is not the only drug on the market to treat arthritis, and people have other options."
Here's what to expect in the new year for some other diseases, Marshall reports:
- Heart disease. Nearly 5 million Americans are living with heart failure, and 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, so it's something that needs to be taken very seriously. We spoke with the head of the American Heart Association and she told us what the focus of her group would be in the new year. The group wants to get out the word that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States and that African Americans have the higher risk of getting the disease.
We can also expect wider use of High Intensity Focus Ultrasound (HIFU) to treat heart disease. Dr. Alice Jacobs also told us she expects there to be advances in robotic cardiac surgery.
- Cancer. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. More than half a million Americans die from cancer each year.
The good news is that we saw an advance in breast cancer treatment last year that, hopefully, more women can take advantage of this year. The drug is called Arimidex. It's for women with the type of breast cancer related to the female hormone, estrogen. Many women currently take the drug tamoxifen to prevent the cancer from coming back after they've had surgery. But now Arimedex is proving to be much more effective.
- Arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, this year the focus will be on sufferers who may benefit from therapies that target the root causes of serious forms of arthritis, rather than those aimed at treating the disease's symptoms. One such therapy, which was considered a big advance last year, involves using two experimental biologic agents that target the harmful immune cells involved with rheumatoid arthritis.
In the coming year, we can also expect it to become routine to screen patients to determine who is at risk for severe disease progression and, therefore, who is most likely to benefit from early and aggressive treatment.
- Weight Loss. Keeping a healthy weight is so important because as we know, excess weight is a risk factor for many diseases and conditions, such as diabetes. Up until now, there have been various prescription medications to help you lose weight. Unfortunately, almost all have side-effects, some of them serious.
Now there is a drug that is showing some promise. It's being touted as a miracle drug, but more testing is needed. It's called Rimonabant and it will be sent to the Food and Drug Administration this year for approval. It works by making people less interested in food. A study done on mice found they lost 20 percent of their body weight and had lower levels of blood glucose and lipids, which are diabetes factors.