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Health Highlights: Jan. 31, 2002

Doctors Refute U.S. Panel's Mammogram Analysis States Can Call Fetus 'Unborn Child,' Govt Says Kidney Created From Cow Embryo Clone U.S. Infant Mortality Drops 20 Percent 'Polyp Man' to Take On Cancer-Test Avoiders Anthrax Maker Gets Go-Ahead to Ship Shots

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

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 today's 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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States Can Call Fetus an Unborn Child, Gov't Says

States may classify a developing fetus as an "unborn child" eligible for government health care, the Bush administration said today in a move that would give low-income women access to prenatal care and bolster the arguments of abortion opponents.

The Associated Press reports that the plan will make a fetus eligible for health care under the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Because CHIP is aimed at kids, it does not typically cover parents or pregnant women.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson cited well-established data on the importance of prenatal care in explaining the proposal. "Prenatal care for women and their babies is a crucial part of the medical care every person should have through the course of their life cycle," he said in a statement. "`Prenatal services can be a vital, lifelong determinant of health, and we should do everything we can to make this care available for all pregnant women."

Abortion rights supporters complain that there are other ways to include coverage for pregnant women in CHIP. They see today's action as a backdoor attempt to establish the fetus as a person with legal standing, which could make it easier to criminalize abortion.

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Kidney Created From Cow Embryo Clone

The same research firm that outraged many last November with the news that it had embarked on human cloning reports that it has constructed miniature working kidneys from cloned cow embryos, the Washington Post reports.

Advanced Cell Technology, of Worcester, Mass., says the kidneys appear to function similar to genuine kidneys, and even work well enough to produce urine. However, there's still no evidence on whether they can perform all of the functions of healthy human kidneys.

The researchers say their goal is to use test-tube embryos that are identically matched to a patient in order to create new organs for those that have worn out.

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U.S. Infant Mortality Drops 20 Percent

Infant mortality in the United States dropped 20 percent in the 1990s, health officials said today, crediting a push for prenatal care and new technology that helps keep low-birthweight babies alive.

Almost 28,000 infants died in 1999, or seven for every 1,000 live births, the National Center for Health Statistics said. The rate in 1990 was 8.9 deaths for every 1,000 live births, the Associated Press reports.

U.S. infant mortality rate is still higher than that of many other developed countries. In Sweden, the rate is roughly three deaths for every 1,000 live births, according to UNICEF. Health officials want to see the U.S. figure down to 4.5 by the end of this decade.

The study found that babies born to women who smoke died at a 59 percent higher rate in 1999. And seeking care in the first trimester of pregnancy appeared to cut the risk of infant mortality by nearly one-third.

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'Polyp Man' to Take On Cancer-Test Avoiders

First, NBC's "Today" show anchor Katy Couric underwent a colonoscopy before television cameras, and now comes the latest in bold efforts to encourage colon cancer testing - - Polyp Man.

It's no joke, although the villain starring in a series of public announcements is designed to put a somewhat lighthearted angle on the very serious issue of preventing colon cancer.

CNN reports that the campaign announcements, which will be sent to television stations this week, feature Polyp Man being chased by doctors in scenes similar to the TV dramas "Cops" and "NYPD Blue."

The American Cancer Society is working with the Advertising Council in sponsoring the campaign.

The ACS reports that although everyone over the age of 50 should receive colon cancer testing, only about 44 percent of people actually do so.

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Anthrax Maker Gets Go-Ahead to Ship Shots

The nation's sole maker of the anthrax vaccine got the government green light today to begin shipping the shots after four years of factory violations that had stalled efforts to protect the military from the bioterrorism bacteria.

The Food and Drug Administration said BioPort's factory had met all federal requirements to resume production and shipments of anthrax vaccine to the Defense Department, which owns all of the shots the Lansing, Mich., company makes, according to the Associated Press.

Also, three batches of previously produced vaccine have passed quality checks and can be shipped immediately, the FDA said.

The anthrax vaccine itself has been approved by the FDA since the 1970s, and used regularly to protect veterinarians and scientists working with anthrax. Pressure to approve BioPort Corp.'s factory has grown since last fall's anthrax outbreak killed five people on the East Coast.

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