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Health Highlights: June 20, 2006

Faulty Gene Combination Linked to Breast Cancer World's Women Ignorant About Fertility: Survey Acupuncture Won't Help Hot Flashes: Report Military Cemeteries May Be Closed in Bird Flu Outbreak Pentagon: Homosexuality a Mental Disorder Having a Boy May Raise Risk of Later Miscarriage

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

Faulty Gene Combination Linked to Breast Cancer

Icelandic women who had a pair of faulty genes were almost certain to develop breast cancer, researchers in Reykjavik found.

It's not clear to what degree that finding applies to women from other countries, the Associated Press reported.

Defects on two genes discovered in the 1990s -- BRCA1 and BRCA2 -- have been linked to inherited forms of breast cancer. But since they account for only 10 percent to 15 percent of total breast cancer cases, scientists have long searched for a genetic accomplice, the wire service said.

The BARD1 gene may be just that, according to the AP.

Women's risk of developing breast cancer roughly doubled when they were found to have mutations in both the BARD1 and BRCA2 genes, the Icelandic scientists said. In the United States, however, the genetic mutation in the BRCA1 gene is more common than the BRCA2 anomaly, according to the wire service.

The research, led by the company deCode Genetics Inc., included 1,090 Icelandic women with breast cancer, comparing them to 703 women who were free of the disease. Results are published in the journal PLoS Medicine.


World's Women Ignorant About Fertility: Survey

Most women who participated in a global survey of fertility issues didn't know many of the basic facts about reproductive health, including the age at which female fertility begins to decline, the survey's sponsor said Tuesday.

Other questions dealt with the impact of sexually transmitted disease on reproductive health, the effects of contraception, and the percentage of couples who are infertile. None of the more than 17,000 respondents from 10 countries was able to answer all 15 survey questions correctly, the American Fertility Association (AFA) said in a statement.

Respondents with a college education were more knowledgeable about fertility issues than those with a high school background, the association said. The general lack of knowledge was especially prevalent in Uganda, where surveyors interviewed some 6,500 people, often traveling by bicycle from village to village, the AFA said.

Other participants were from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Slovak Republic, Argentina, Turkey, and Belgium. Survey results were announced Tuesday at a meeting of the European Society of Human Reproductive Endocrinology in Prague.


Acupuncture Won't Help Hot Flashes: Report

Acupuncture was no better at preventing hot flashes associated with menopause than sham treatments, Mayo Clinic researchers found.

Four years ago, U.S. Women's Health Initiative scientists reported landmark findings that the female hormone estrogen -- once routinely prescribed to calm hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms -- raised women's risk of breast cancer and heart problems. This drove millions of women to seek alternative treatments.

Experts tell the Washington Post that women with hot flashes frequently respond to non-medicinal placebos, thinking their symptoms are actually being treated.

The Mayo researchers evaluated 103 women between the ages 45 and 59 who said they had at least five hot flashes daily. Half of the women who thought they were receiving acupuncture actually had the needles placed superficially where they would have no proven value. The women who had actual acupuncture had no better response to hot flashes than those who received the sham treatments, the researchers said.

Study results were presented at a recent meeting of the North American Conference on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and are to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Menopause, the Post said.


Military Cemeteries May Be Closed in Bird Flu Outbreak

U.S. military veterans who die during a bird flu pandemic may not be immediately interred in one of the nation's 120 military cemeteries, which could be closed during such an outbreak, according to contingency plans by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA buries about 93,000 veterans and eligible family members a year, and might not have the staff available during a bird flu pandemic to continue the burials, according to VA plans cited by the Associated Press.

The federal government is preparing for a worst-case scenario of some 2 million deaths in the United States during an avian flu pandemic, the wire service said.

Instead of immediate burial, the VA said bodies of bird flu victims may have to be stored in refrigerated warehouses or specially outfitted trucks until staffing shortages ease, the AP said.


Pentagon: Homosexuality a Mental Disorder

Decades after mental health experts abandoned the notion that homosexuality was a mental disorder, a newly uncovered Pentagon document lists being gay alongside retardation and other mental problems, the Associated Press reported.

The document was found by the Center for Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, at the University of California at Santa Barbara. A Pentagon spokesman told the wire service that the document was under review.

The U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy bars the Pentagon from asking about a service member's sexual preference but orders discharge for those who are openly gay. Last year, 726 military members were discharged under the policy, the first time that number had increased since 2001, the AP said.

The newly uncovered document, called a Defense Department Instruction, was criticized by the American Psychiatric Association, which in a recent letter to the Pentagon's top doctor noted that the APA backed off the notion that homosexuality was a mental disorder in 1973, the wire service reported.

Nine members of Congress wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Monday asking that the Pentagon review its policies, the AP said. It did not identify the lawmakers nor the specific contents of their letter.


Having a Boy May Raise Risk of Later Miscarriage

Having a first-born male child seems to raise some women's risk of subsequent miscarriage, Danish researchers found.

The scientists at University Hospital in Copenhagen hypothesize that male genes can trigger an immune reaction in some women that endangers later pregnancies, Britain's Daily Mail newspaper reported Tuesday.

Vulnerable first-time mothers who gave birth to a boy were almost two-thirds less likely to have a second child. Of 305 study participants who had unexplained recurring miscarriages, 60 percent had first-born boys, the newspaper said.

"We think there is an immune response against genes from the male Y chromosome," study leader Dr. Henrietta Svarre Nielsen told the paper.

The research was presented Tuesday at a meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Prague.

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