Top 25 Medical Moments
Since 1982, Americans have witnessed some significant medical advances, but also a
fair number of setbacks and challenges.
USA TODAY's medical staff looks back at the top 25 medical developments.
AIDS quilt in D.C., USA TODAY
In 1982, the government selects AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, as the
formal name for the deadly disease then known as gay-related immune deficiency, or
GRID. That same year the first cases were reported in Africa and an alarmed Congress
held its first hearings on the new disease. AIDS now afflicts 40 million people worldwide,
about 900,000 of them in the USA.
2Quitting the habit
Fewer Americans are lighting up, which means more lives saved. A report from the
American Cancer Society in 2006 said that men's death rates from cancer dropped 16%
from 1991 to 2003; women haven't experienced that dramactic drop off because smoking
rates in women have dropped more recently than among men.
Gannett News Service
Although fewer Americans are smoking, more of them are hitting the buffet lines. Roughly
32% of adults over 20 are obese, or 30 or more pounds over a health weight. Researcher
has shown that the extra pounds increases the risk of some types of cancer, diabetes,
heart diease and other ills.
More patients are opting to try to find cancer early. In 1987, only 39% of women over 40
had had a mammogram in the past two years. By 2005, 66% had been screened in the
past two years. Although experts say they don't yet have evidence that the PSA test saves
lives from prostate cancer, 58% of men over 50 had gotten the screening by 2003, up
from 41% in 2000.
Eli Lilly and Co.,'s Prozac hit the U.S. market in 1988. It was the first of a new class of
drugs that were touted as safer than older antidepressants. Primary care doctors began
prescribing the pills, and use quickly soared. The Food and Drug Administration has
recently ordered the makers of all antidepressants to update their labels, warning of an
increased risk of suicide in children and young adults taking the drugs. Still, doctors wrote
227 million prescriptions for antidepressants in 2006, making them the most popular U.S.
6Declining infant mortality
The infant mortality rate fell by nearly half from 1980 to 2004, to 6.8 deaths per 1,000
newborns. Experts credit advances in treatment of the sickest and smallest babies, as
well as the falling rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.
In 1982, Merck & Co. begins human trials of the first successful cholesterol-lowering drug,
lovastatin, and learn it can heart risk by about 30%. Since then, companies have
developed a whole class of so-called statins, which are among the world's top selling
The Food and Drug Administration in June 2006 approves the first vaccine specifically
designed to prevent cancer. The Merck vaccine, Gardasil, blocks infection by two types of
the human papillomarvirus (HPV) that account for about 70% of cervical cancer cases.
The debate about whether the vaccine should be mandatory for preteen girls continues.
9The rise of the AED
Hundreds and perhaps thousands of cardiac arrest victims are saved each year by folks
using an AED, which delivers a shock to a dying heart. The first models were sold for
home use in 1986, but it was in the early 1990s when the device became so simplified
with voice prompts that even children could use one to save a life.
10Are you having trouble ...
TV ads for prescripton drugs have long been legal, but, until the FDA issued guidelines in
1997, manufacturers were uncertain about how to meet the agency's requirements for
including information about side effects, contraindications and effectiveness. The
guidelines said commercials could fulfill the obligation of alerting consumers to risks by
referring them to their doctor, a toll-free number, a print ad and a Web site for more
information. New TV stars, like purple pills, talking stomachs and a chess-playing beaver,
11Donor egg baby
In 1983, doctors at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, took an egg from one
patient and fertilized it with sperm from the husband of a 25-year-old woman who'd gone
through premature menopause. The resulting embryo was placed in the womanÕs uterus,
resulting in the worldÕs first baby conceived with a donor egg. Many recipients of this
technology are now younger women whose ovaries failed prematurely or who carry a
genetic disorder they don't want to pass on..
The first draft of the human genome, our genetic blueprint, was published on Feb. 11,
2000. The scientific undertaking raises hope of finding causes for many diseases as well
as potential cures.
13Nasty bugs emerge
First it was West Nile virus, which made it's U.S. debut in 1999. Then came the
international epidemics of SARS and bird flu, along with the emergence of new strains of
drug-resistant bacteria. Partly fueled by globalization and misuse of antibiotics, nasty
bugs are on the rise.
Spectacular innovations in technology have changed the world of medical diagnosis and
research. For instance, PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, rapidly makes millions of
copies of DNA from the tiniest samples, enhancing crime detection and forensics, allowing
DNA fingerprinting and ushering in a new era of genetic research.
15Minimally invasive operations
Wider use of laparoscopic surgery has drastically reduced the recovery time for patients
undergoing a number of surgical procedures.
Hormone therapy was once thought to be a fountain of youth for postmenopausal women,
but a landmark study in 2002 found that estrogen plus progestin raises the risk of breast
cancer, heart attacks, stroke and blood clots. Women stopped taking the hormones in
droves, and today, they're prescribed only for relief of hot flashes and other symptoms.
17Johnny's little helper
Children considered hyperactive or unfocused began to take prescription pills. Ritalin, the
first drug for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, became widely used in the last 20
years. Now there are more drugs for ADHD, such as Strattera and Concerta.
18Targeted cancer therapies
Doctors are slowly replacing traditional chemotherapy – which kills all growing cells, both
good and bad – with quot;targetedquot; cancer drugs designed to block the deadly effects of
specific genetic mutations. Herceptin, approved in 1998 for certain breast tumors, and
Gleevec, approved in 2001 for rare leukemias, led the way.
The U.S. C-section rate hit an all time high of 30.2% in 2005 -- a 46% increase over 1996.
Growing numbers of older mothers, multiple births and labor inductions are thought to be
some of the reasons.
Arthritis drug Vioxx was taken off the market in 2004 because of increased heart attack
risk. That would led to concern over the safety of a number of other drugs in the medicine
21Child health, safety
Lawmakers have gotten serious about protecting kids on the roads. Since 1993, 21 states
and Washington, D.C., have passed laws requiring kids to wear bike helmets, which
reduce the risk of serious brain injury by 85%, according to the National Highway Safety
Administration. And all states now require car seats for children, which cuts their risk of
dying in an accident by more than half.
Since 1990, roughly 8 million Americans have ditched their eyeglasses or contact lenses
for this high-tech laser surgery to correct their eyesight.The first laser was approved for
LASIK by the FDA in 1998, so there is no long-term safety and effectiveness data about
the popular eye surgery.
23Shunning the sun
Americans, who once slicked with baby oil and used reflective shields to enhance their
tans, have learned that it's safer to cover up. Many beachgoers now coat themselves with
sunscreens – and even clothing lines – that offer sun protection factors of 55 or more.
The little baby blue pill came onto the U.S. market in 1998, and erectile dysfunction, or
ED, became a part of the American vernacular. Viagra pushed ED (formerly known as
impotence) out of the bedroom and onto the television screen. Viagra was the first pill for
ED, but it now faces competition from Cialis and Levitra.
Even before the FDA approved Botox for cosmetic use in 2002, Americans were shelling
out hundreds of dollars for injections of the stuff, aka botulinum toxin.The shots
temporarily paralyze muscles that cause expression lines, which, fans say, creates a
more youthful appearance.