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Health Highlights: Feb. 1, 2002

Anti-Abortion Advocates May Use Ultrasound to Discourage Abortion Gastrointestinal Cancer Drug Gets FDA Approval Vibrating Video Joysticks May Bring Little Joy Flu Season's Been Mild, CDC Says Drug Seems to Suppress Cancer in Transplant Patients Doctors Refute U.S. Panel's Mammogram Analysis

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

Anti-Abortion Counselors May Offer Ultrasound to Discourage Abortion

A picture is worth a thousand words and anti-abortion advocates are hoping an ultrasound picture of an unborn child may convey the words that will convince pregnant women to keep their children, the Associated Press reports.

A congressional bill is already in the works that would fund the plan by the pro-life activists to provide ultrasound equipment to pregnancy centers that discourage abortion.

Pro-choice groups are speaking out against the plan, which they say may undermine some women's right to choose.

"They're using medical technology as political propaganda,'' Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told the AP.


Gastrointestinal Cancer Drug Gets FDA Approval

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new drug for the treatment of a rare form of gastrointestinal cancer, the Associated Press reports.

The drug, Gleevec, marketed by Novartis Pharmaceuticals, can now be used for the treatment of a cancer called gastrointestinal stromal tumor.

More than one-third of patients with such inoperable tumors saw their tumors shrink by 50 percent or more when using the drug, a study showed. Side effects from the drug are said to be mild-to-moderate, and include fluid retention, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea.

An estimated 5,000 people in the United States suffer from gastrointestinal stromal tumor.

Last year, the FDA approved Gleevec for the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia after it showed great success in treating that disease.


Vibrating Video Joysticks May Bring Little Joy to Users

Video game control makers strive to make the computer game-playing experience more realistic. Joysticks now vibrate in tune with the action on screen, so that when a race car crashes, the player's arm quivers in sync.

But a new report from the British Medical Journal warns that a real-life villain may profit from all of this shaking -- a condition known as hand-arm vibration syndrome, or HAVS.

The condition normally affects people who use chain saws or jackhammers for a living. Caused by injury to the small vessels that supply blood to the hands, its symptoms include poor circulation, numbness and unusual sensitivity to heat and cold.

The journal cites the case of a 15-year-old British boy who played video games for as long as seven hours a day. Researchers are afraid that this kind of non-stop playing may not be all that unusual, especially among boys in their early teens.


Flu Season's Been Mild, Government Says

Though flu cases have been rising recently, the current season -- now nearing its peak -- has been relatively mild so far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

As reported by HealthDay, the CDC says lab results that test positive for flu are up 4 percent since early December, and only to about 14 percent of all tests taken. CDC officials note that the figure tops out at about 25 percent during the average flu season, which should peak later this month or early March.

The CDC says 10 million doses of flu vaccine are still available in the U.S., despite concerns that there would be a run on flu vaccines by people who feared that they wouldn't be able to distinguish the flu from anthrax infection.

Experts say the rush on flu vaccines never came, citing a mild winter in many parts of the country, and the fact that anthrax attacks have abated.


For Transplant Victims, Risk of Cancer May Depend on Drug Prescribed

Transplant patients take anti-rejection drugs to prevent the body from attacking the new organ. But because these drugs suppress the immune system, a patient's risk of developing cancer can rise as much as a whopping 500 percent, experts say.

New research also indicates that the risk of contracting cancer may actually now hinge on which anti-rejection drug the patient takes, reports HealthDay.

Scientists report mice with colon cancer that received the immune-suppressing drug rapamycin -- also known as sirolimus or Rapamune -- were significantly less likely to have the cancer spread to the liver.

The findings are reported in the February issue of the journal Nature Medicine.


Doctors Refute U.S. Panel's Mammogram Analysis

Six prominent Cornell University doctors say they have important new evidence showing that mammography can save lives, HealthDay reports.

Their analysis, appearing in the Feb. 2 edition of the journal The Lancet, comes on the heels of a highly publicized report, issued earlier this month by a National Cancer Institute advisory panel, which concluded that screening mammography has little or no life-saving value.

The Cornell team based its findings on the same data examined by the advisory panel -- an analysis of seven breast-cancer studies published last year in The Lancet by European researchers Drs. Ole Olsen and Peter Gotzsche. The Cornell team said the two researchers' findings were seriously flawed.

"The biggest mistake is that the analysis simply did not look far enough into the future of the women to get a true picture of the value of mammography," says Dr. Claudia Henschke, the lead author of the new Lancet review, and a professor of radiology at New York Weill Cornell Medical College.

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