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American Cancer Society Releases Numbers Showing Huge Drop In Number Of Deaths From Cancer; Banning Smoking In Cars With Children; Several Studies Show South Asians At Higher Risk For Heart Disease; Guillaine-Barre Syndrome Rare But Serious; Recent Studies Show Lesbians More Likely To Be Overweight Or Obese

Aired January 20, 2007 - 08:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: News out of the Harvard School of Public Health, the amount of nicotine inhaled by smokers in each cigarette is rising. Unbelievable. Researchers say between 1998 and 2005, nicotine levels rose 11 percent, which experts say makes it harder for smokers to quit.
And Pennsylvania makes it five. They become the fifth state pursuing universal health coverage, hoping to provide insurance to millions of uninsured residents. That state's Democratic governor Ed Rendell says health insurance premiums have risen 75 percent since 2000.

And checking in on the newest advances in cancer research and prevention, President Bush visited the laboratories of the National Institutes of Health this week. The president took part in a roundtable with cancer survivors and researchers, talking about the latest in genetic research and applauding successes like the HPV vaccine for cervical cancer.

And more good news on the war on cancer this week. The American Cancer Society released new numbers, showing a huge drop in the number of deaths from cancer for the second year in a row. Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is here with the details.

Elizabeth, just how big of a drop are we talking about?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sanjay, we're talking about a very big drop, the biggest that the American Cancer Society has seen in the 70 years that they've been keeping track.

Let's take a look at these numbers. They're really quite stunning. Between 2003 and 2004, there were 3,014 fewer deaths from cancer in the United States, compared to 2002 to 2003, where there were 369 fewer deaths.

Those are the only two years that they did see drops. Other years, the rates pretty much stayed the same or actually went up.

Now why did they see such a big drop this year? There are three reasons that we can talk about. The first one is success in prevention. Really what we're talking about is fewer people are smoking. And that obviously is good news. All those public safety announcements and messages that they've been giving out really do seem to be working.

Second of all, improved screening, especially when you're talking about breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

And thirdly, more effective treatments. There's simply better chemotherapies out there and better hormonal treatments. And doctors are doing a better job of combining those two.

Now there was also some sobering news from this report from the American Cancer Society. And that is this. There are still huge disparities when you're talking about cancer between white Americans and minorities.

Let's take a look at the difference in cancer rates between African-American men and white men. African-American men have a 15 percent higher cancer rate and a 38 percent higher death rate from cancer. In other words, when white and black men get cancer, black men are 38 percent more likely to die from it.

Now let's take a look at women. African-American women actually have a 9 percent lower cancer rate than white women. However, an 18 percent higher death rate from cancer.

Now there are many reasons why this is true. And doctors are certainly working at narrowing that difference. So Sanjay, good news here, but still things that doctors need to work on. Sanjay?

GUPTA: Thanks, Elizabeth. Good points as well.

You at home can be proactive in fighting cancer. We've developed a special Web site to help you do just that. Go to and click on web X-rays. You're going to find a link to a cancer screening map showing resources in all 50 states. It's information that could truly save your life.

Cancer prevention is a big part of my special called "Saving Your Life." Watch it right here this weekend.

Now you just heard Elizabeth mention smoking prevention programs as one of the reasons listed for the decrease in cancer deaths. And some states are taking smoking bans to a whole new level, or perhaps I should say a whole new place.

Dan Lothian now with a look at smoking bans not in bars or restaurants, but on the road.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's illegal to drink and drive, and in some cities, to drive and talk on the phone. Now, if nine-year old Justin Kvadas gets his wish, it will also be illegal to smoke and drive in Connecticut when a young child is in the car.

JUSTIN KVADAS, 9-YEAR OLD: If you can't talk on a cell phone or eat while driving a vehicle, how come you can still smoke? LOTHIAN: Justin's effort began with a petition and e-mail campaign. Then the nine-year-old got the attention of a Connecticut lawmaker.

REP. HENRY GENGA (D), MASS. STATE HOUSE: He's committed to this. And he certainly is a constituent. Good ideas are not affected by age.

LOTHIAN: Representative Genga made some tweaks, then submitted a bill that he says will protect children under the age of seven from secondhand smoke.

KVADAS: I think it's cool that this is happening.

LOTHIAN: It's also happening in Bangor, Maine, where the city recently passed an ordinance banning smoking in cars carrying passengers under the age of 18.

DON WINSLOW, BANGOR POLICE CHIEF: They're concerned for the welfare of children who don't have the ability to make decisions as to whether or not they want to be in a car with somebody that smokes like an adult would.

LOTHIAN: And according to the Centers of Disease Control and the American Cancer Society, secondhand smoke can lead to heart disease. Another effect, an increase in the number and severity of asthma attacks in up to one million children each year. But some worry these latest efforts to further restrict smokers go too far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're just pick, pick, pick, pick on the smokers. It's -- pick on someone else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all good to keep it away from the kids, but I don't know, like where do you draw the line with that?

LOTHIAN (on camera): The Connecticut bill is set to make its way through various committees. The ordinance in Maine is expected to go into effect later this week. Violators there will face fines of up to $50.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Boston.


GUPTA: All right, Dan.

And from cancer to the number one killer in America, heart disease. Several studies, including one published just last week, show that people from South Asia are at higher risk for heart disease. I fall into this high risk group. Plus I have a strong family history that I need to be aware of. So knowing that heart disease often begins before you ever have symptoms, I decided to see for myself how my heart is doing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA (voice-over): You may wonder what condition your heart is in. I did. And for the first time ever, I got a chance to see my own beating heart.

Truth is, I'm 37-years old, pretty healthy, but a strong family history of heart disease makes me worry. So my doctors told me to have two types of testing done. First up, drawing blood, lots of it. More than 10 tubes, looking for all sorts of things, like genetic markers, that might put me at especially high risk for heart disease.

Also, markers of inflammation like C-reactive protein. Too high a number and your risk of heart disease skyrockets.

And finally, cholesterol and any other fat that might be accumulating in my arteries. That accumulation clogs up blood vessels, which restricts the blood supply to the heart, could lead to a heart attack.

(on camera): So most people get their blood work done, as you saw I did. But another step might actually be to get my heart looked at, actually looking at the blood vessels that go to my heart. The question is do I have some disease right now? And the more important question is, is there something that can be done about it? I decided to have this done because of my own family history. Let's see what we find.

What I'm about to undergo is called a CT angiogram, using this sophisticated X-ray machine that takes ten pictures between each heartbeat. The test itself doesn't take very long, just about 10 minutes. But all these X-rays are used to check out different things in my heart

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're looking for is is there any calcification in the arteries? So far, there's no calcium.

GUPTA: And the health of the arteries. This is what the CT angiogram does so well. It provides a 3D image of the heart without having to use any invasive measure.

When I walk out of here out of everything you told me, how should I feel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would be very reassured. There's absolutely no coronary calcium. There's absolutely no soft plaque in the coronary arterial bed. You really have no evidence for heart disease in the arteries at this time.


GUPTA: All right. So that's good news for me, but that scan isn't cheap. Costs just more than $1,000. And unfortunately, while 3D angiograms are available at most major hospitals, many insurance companies won't cover the test unless a person has some sort of symptom of heart disease.

Now the good news is that might be changing. Some insurance companies have begun covering this test for people with strong risk factors, like a strong family history of heart disease or something else.

Stay where you are. Just ahead on HOUSE CALL, doctors and troopers fight to save embryos in a flood. Coming up, a new arrival from one of those grateful families. And news on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Researchers say they might have found an important clue in helping prevent future cases. And later in the show, surviving a mysterious illness that leaves you paralyzed. One man's story and his amazing comeback. That's just ahead.


GUPTA: an unusual request. CNN's Gulf correspondent Susan Roesgen now with a story of a remarkable rescue that led to a new life.



SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a strange way, Glen Markum's new baby boy is a Katrina survivor, even though he was born more than 16 months after the hurricane hit.


ROESGEN: The Markums' baby was one of 1,400 frozen embryos being stored for in vitro fertilization in a clinic that flooded during Katrina. The embryos were kept in super cold liquid nitrogen tanks like this one. And when the clinic lost power and air conditioning, the embryos could have been lost, too. So the call went out to the state police to try to rescue the embryos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were still submerged in the liquid nitrogen. The level had dropped down some, but they were safe. Perhaps a few more days or another week, and they would not have been.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here comes the first tank.

ROESGEN: This is home video of the nitrogen tanks being carried out of the flooded clinic.

JOHN KISSLER, STATE POLICE: Literally like you were carrying eggs. You treated them very gently. You didn't want to tip them over, rock them. And we treated them with, you know, very special care.

ROESGEN: State police Lieutenant John Kissler was one of the rescuers.

KISSLER: I think first responders anywhere, I mean, you know, you're used to car crashes, or fires, or any sort of emergencies that you kind of handle like that. But the embryos were -- I think everybody thought there was a special mission.

ROESGEN: And now the mission is complete.

REBEKAH MARKAM, MOTHER: He's going to be studying Katrina in school and knowing it's a huge part of history. And I'm going to be able to explain to him that he survived it before he was even born.

ROESGEN: So far, eight pregnancies have come from the embryos rescued in the great flood. The Markums have named their new baby Noah.

Susan Roesgen, CNN, Covington, Louisiana.


GUPTA: Susan, thanks. What a great name too. Noah.

News this week as well that may help one day to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Researchers at Vanderbilt University discovered nearly 10 percent of SIDS victims have a defective heart gene, which increases the risk of the deadly heart rhythms.

SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants up to age one, but scientists involved in two studies say knowing about these genes could help identify infants at risk. They don't go so far as to recommend genetic testing for every newborn, but suggest high risk babies' hearts could be examined with an EKG to determine if genetic testing is required.

Let's take a look now at some news making medical headlines this week with Judy Fortin and "The Pulse".


JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Taking good care of your teeth could help prevent cancer. Harvard researchers found that those with periodontal or gum disease have a greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Researchers believe inflammation and high levels of oral bacteria are to blame.

When it comes to apple juice, the cloudier, the better. That's the verdict of Polish researchers, who say that pulpy, non clarified juice, has more disease fighting antioxidants than clear apple juice.

New York doctors might be able to offer some help to women who want to give birth, but can't. The doctors say they have recovered eight uteri from deceased donors and are screening women in preparation for a possible uterine transplant.

The surgery has been performed on animals. And the first U.S. operation could take place within a year.

Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: All right, Judy, thanks.

Coming up, fighting back from paralysis.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last year, my hands were limp like this. I couldn't hold my hands up at all.


GUPTA: We'll give you a chance to meet Coach Mike Sutton. Also find out about the rare syndrome that left him paralyzed. That's coming up after the break.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. With basketball season in full swing, we take you courtside to meet an active and popular coach, Mike Sutton, who was suddenly paralyzed, the victim of a mysterious disease called Guillaine-Barre Syndrome, or GBS.

Even though this disease is rare, affecting one in 100,000 each year, some people do die from GBS. Others, like Mike Sutton, are left to fight back to regain some semblance of the life they once had.


GUPTA (voice-over): Mike Sutton was an energetic basketball coach with Tennessee Tech when his health took a stunning turn for the worse.

MIKE SUTTON, TENN. TECH BASKETBALL COACH: My hands and feet ached, and I was really tired, and collapsed in the parking lot, fell down on my suitcase.

GUPTA: With no warning, Sutton was struck with Guillaine-Barre Syndrome or GBS. GBS causes the body's immune system to mistakenly attack and destroy the insulation protecting the nerves in your body. So in just a matter of days, Mike was paralyzed. He could barely move a muscle.

SUTTON: The thumb and the index finger, I could move just ever so slightly.

GUPTA: He needed a tracheotomy to breathe. He couldn't talk. He could just blink.

SUTTON: You have no way to communicate. And that's probably the most frustrating thing is you have no way to tell people if there's pain.

GUPTA: That was almost two years ago. Today, Coach Sutton is making a slow and what many consider an unbelievable comeback.

SUTTON: Talk your way through it. Talk your way through it. Talk, Francis. Talk, Francis.

GUPTA: Sutton is helped by a specially designed wheelchair, a walker, and support from his staff, as well as lots of hard work.

SUTTON: Last year, my hands were limp like this. I couldn't hold my hands up at all.

GUPTA: Three times a week for two hours a session, he undergoes physical and occupational therapy, trying to train new nerves to do the job of the old ones destroyed by the disease.

SUTTON: These are things that, you know, I work on to develop the finger dexterity.

GUPTA: He's having to relearn almost everything, from grasping a fork, to eat, to exercising leg muscles to walk. He says he couldn't have done this without his immediate and extended families, who cheered him on.

JONATHAN JONES, TENN. TECH BASKETBALL TEAM: He's a strong guy. He's always been our leader. He's always going to be our leader. And I know that disease isn't going to stop him at all.

SUTTON: Even though something unfortunate happened to me, I'm still blessed, you know, with my family and my loving wife and, you know, a great group of kids on the basketball team, and a wonderful staff. And I work at a wonderful university. One, two, three.



GUPTA: Mike Sutton is a great survival story. He actually coached his team from the bedside.

He's come a long way, but there is no known cure for Guillaine- Barre Syndrome. Recovery from GBS can take weeks or years. And 30 percent of patients still have some muscle weakness three years after being stricken.

Coach Sutton was in the hospital for eight months. And early on, received one of the most common treatments for GBS, transfusions to help rid his body of the anti-bodies that were destroying his nerves.

The rest of his recovery depends on his own body and his mind's ability to heal itself. If you want more information about Guillaine- Barre Syndrome, go to

Just ahead on HOUSE CALL, we're going to focus on a group of women at risk for obesity.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got depressed. I'd eat. And then I'd gain weight and then I'd be depressed. So I'd eat to feel better.


GUPTA: Coming up, we're focusing on getting all segments of this society fit and healthy. That's ahead on HOUSE CALL


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. There are many obesity intervention programs out there targeting vulnerable minority populations. Aerobic classes for African-American women. Exercise equipment built specifically for the aging. But there is little, if anything, to help one group that suffers from obesity problems.


GUPTA: Laura Brown shocked herself when she became an award- winning triathlete.

LAURA BROWN, BATTLING WEIGHT: Now for the fun part.

GUPTA: Victoria Stag Elliott was surprised to find she loved and excelled at ice skating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And yes. Get it there.

GUPTA: Both are unexpected athletes, once so obese, their lives were at risk.

BROWN: By the time I was 28 and 270 pounds, I remember walking into malls and stores. And I would down at the ground because I didn't want to look up and see somebody looking at me with disgust on their face.

VICTORIA STAGG ELLIOT, BATTLING WEIGHT: Ten years ago, I couldn't climb a flight of stairs without feeling like I was dying. I had to sit down.

GUPTA: And they have something else in common. They're both lesbians. Researchers are finding a link between sexual orientation and a woman's weight.

DR. DEBORAH AARON, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: There were significant differences between lesbians and heterosexual women.

GUPTA: Epidemiologist Deborah Aaron says recent studies show lesbians are more likely to be overweight or even obese. As to why, Aaron speculates it could be stress, feeling discrimination. Some may overeat. That was Laura Brown's explanation.

BROWN: I got depressed, I'd eat. And then I'd gain weight. And then I'd be depressed, so I'd eat to feel better.

GUPTA: Others suggest gay women are more comfortable with the bigger bodies than straight women.

LORI, LAURA'S PARTNER: She looks gorgeous then and she's just as pretty now. She didn't believe that, but it didn't change one way or the other for me. I still love her just as much as I did the first day. GUPTA: Scientists want to do more studies targeting gay populations. In the meanwhile, Victoria Stagg Elliott says everyone can be healthier if they find a passion, as she has.

ELLIOTT: The best exercise or playing or whatever you want to do is something that you enjoy, that you want to keep doing.


GUPTA: And Victoria's right, you know. It's a message we hear often. Find exercise you enjoy, and it won't feel like exercise. Just keep moving.

Also, keep watching HOUSE CALL. We're going to have more of it after this quick break.


GUPTA: If you missed any part of today's show, you can go online and get free transcripts of any HOUSE CALL at

Unfortunately, we're out of time for today. Make sure to watch my special report on cancer this weekend. We teamed up with Lance Armstrong and cancer specialists to bring you "Saving Your Life."

Tune in every weekend morning at 8:30 Eastern for another edition of HOUSE CALL. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.


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