Morning Rounds: Pills and Politics : Shots - Health News Morning Rounds: Cancer, contraception and fraud in the news.
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Morning Rounds: Pills and Politics

It's true there are no magic pills in medicine, but some are more transformative than others. Today's headlines bring news of two drugs definitely worth watching -- one to prevent pregnancy, and the other to stop often deadly, inherited forms of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice department continues its crackdown on Medicare fraud rings across the country. This week's snag: Detroit.

First, the pill to fight cancer: This week's New England Journal of Medicine has a report of a small, experimental test of a drug called a "PARP-inhibitor" among 19 patients with inherited forms of cancer that are caused by mutations in genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. As the BBC reports:

In 12 of the patients--none of whom had responded to other therapies -- tumors shrank or stabilized.

Some of those cancers were advanced. And because the drug selectively targets a particular mutation in tumor cells, patients who got the drug say the side effects were milder than most chemotherapies.

It's still very early days; no telling if the dramatic effect will hold, which doses are best, or how widely the drug will work in other patients or other cancers (BRCA mutations are thought to account for about five percent of breast and ovarian cancers and perhaps one or two percent of prostate cancers.) But similar success in animal studies suggests this is a family of drugs to watch.

The contraceptive making news is a generic version of levonorgestrel or "Plan B" -- the emergency morning-after pill that ends a pregnancy before it starts.

The drug has been available in brand name, prescription form to women 18 or older since 2006. The generic version is expected to be available over the counter to this age-group by late August. For now, the generic will only be sold by prescription, and only to teens 17 and under. MedPage has the interesting political back-story behind the convoluted age restrictions.

Drugs were one focus of the Detroit fraud cases, too. Indictments unsealed yesterday by the U.S. Justice Department accused 52 people -- patients, doctors, medical assistants and company owners -- with bilking Medicare for costly drugs to treat HIV-AIDS, as well as fraudulently filing for reimbursement for physical and occupational therapy sessions.

Miami and Los Angeles have had similar round-ups in recent months, and FBI Director Robert Mueller says we can expect more. His team is now investigating 2,400 cases of Medicare fraud nationwide.