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Health Highlights: Sept. 11, 2012

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Cancers Added to Federal 9/11 Health Program

About 50 types of cancers will be added to the U.S. government's list of illnesses linked to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and will be covered by the 9/11 health program, two New York state senators said Monday.

According to the Associated Press, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer announced the move in a statement. Unresolved questions about links between exposure to dust from the World Trade Center attacks and cancer had kept Congress from adding malignancies to the initial list of covered illnesses, the AP said.

However, last June the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announced that it favored enlarging the $4.3 billion program to cover cancer.

An advisory panel said it was possible that first responders and others might have gotten cancer due to exposures to toxins in the dust.

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Alzheimer's Drug May Still Hold Promise, Researchers Say

Researchers say an experimental Alzheimer's drug shows some promise even though it failed to halt mental deterioration in a trial of patients with mild to moderate forms of the age-related brain disorder.

Extensive review of two major studies suggest the drug, bapineuzumab, might help if patients took it in an earlier stage of the disease before serious damage occurs, the Associated Press reported. Bapineuzumab is made by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, Inc.

Brain imaging and other tests found that some study participants who received the drug showed less nerve damage and more consistent levels of harmful brain plaque than those given an inactive placebo, researchers reported Tuesday at a neurology conference in Sweden.

This suggests that the drug was "doing something to the biology of the disease," Dr. Reisa Sperling, director of the Alzheimer's center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who led one of the studies, told the AP. "We've got a path forward" for testing in patients with milder forms of disease, she added.

About 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, a progressive brain disease for which there is no known cure.

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Pancreatic Cancer Deaths Set to Rise, Advocacy Group Says

By 2020, or even as early as 2015, pancreatic cancer will rise from the fourth leading cancer killer to the number two position, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network warned in a new report.

The advocacy group said that pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer killer where the death toll is expected to rise, not fall, over the next two decades, the Associated Press reported.

The group's report adds, however, that a bill being mulled by Congress, the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, might help turn things around. The bill would set forth a comprehensive, long-term strategy to investigate new diagnostic tools and treatments that might boost survival for people with pancreatic cancers, the AP said.

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More Young Adults Gaining Health Insurance: Study

A new study finds that the percentage of young American adults without health insurance fell by one-sixth in 2011 compared to the prior year, the steepest annual drop since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention starting collecting data on the issue in 1997.

Although the exact reason for the sudden uptake of health insurance for people aged 19 to 25 wasn't clear, study author Matthew Broaddus told The New York Times that it's almost certainly due to the provision of the Affordable Care Act that allowed young adults under age 26 to be covered by their parents' health plans.

The study led by Broaddus, a research analyst at the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, found that the number of young adults without health care coverage fell from 33.9 percent in 2010 to 27.9 percent in 2011 -- about 1.6 million fewer uninsured. However, for the next age group -- those aged 26 to 35 -- the share of people without insurance actually rose, another sign that the Affordable Care Act was driving the change for those under 26, Broaddus said.

The percentage of all Americans who were uninsured fell to 15.1 percent in 2011 (about 46 million people) from 16 percent in 2010, the study noted.

The data came from the federal government's National Health Interview Survey.

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