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Health Highlights: June 5, 2006

Calcium, Vitamin D Have Little Effect on Breast Cancer: Study New Procedure Could Boost Number of Heart Transplants Surgery Is Leading Treatment for Prostate Cancer Self-Cutting Practiced at Ivy League Schools: Survey Air Masks Could Have Protected Ground Zero Workers, Lawsuit Alleges

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

Calcium, Vitamin D Have Little Effect on Breast Cancer: Study

The combination of calcium and vitamin D supplements -- a longstanding weapon for women against osteoporosis -- appears to do little to reduce a woman's risk of breast cancer, a new Women's Health Initiative study reveals.

After seven years, about 3 percent of women who took supplements developed breast cancer, and about the same percentage of women who didn't take calcium and vitamin D developed the disease, study researchers at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center said in a statement. The research, involving 36,282 postmenopausal women at 40 centers across the United States, was presented Monday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Atlanta.

Among women who did develop the disease, however, tumor size was smaller in those who took the supplements.

While the supplements did not reduce the risk of breast cancer in the study's overall population, women who didn't take supplements until they entered the study did show some benefit once they began taking the supplements, the researchers noted. The scientists said additional research was needed before they could make recommendations based on their findings.

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New Procedure Could Boost Number of Heart Transplants

British surgeons kept a beating heart alive outside the human body for the first time in a procedure that promises to extend lifesaving heart transplants to more people in need, BBC News Online reported Monday.

The recipient of the first "beating heart" transplant is a 58-year-old unidentified man who continues to recover at a British hospital two weeks after the groundbreaking surgery. He's said to be doing "extremely well," the BBC reported.

Traditionally, there was only a four-to-six-hour window between the time a heart was harvested from its donor and packed in ice, and transplanted into the recipient, the network said. The new procedure involved hooking the organ up to a machine, keeping it pumping and feeding the heart with warm oxygenated blood.

The procedure gives surgeons more time to inspect the donor organ and keeps it in much better condition, experts told the BBC.

Prof. Bruce Rosengard, who led the transplant team at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, told the network he expected the procedure could boost the number of potential donors by 50 percent or more.

Doctors plan to measure the procedure's success on another 19 people in the United Kingdom and Germany, the BBC said.

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Surgery Is Leading Treatment for Prostate Cancer

Sixty percent of U.S. men with prostate cancer surveyed chose surgery to treat the disease, the National Prostate Cancer Coalition said Monday in announcing results of its annual national poll.

Hormone therapy was the second most frequent treatment, followed by radiation, the survey of 350 patients found. These treatments have topped the survey each year since 2004, the coalition said in a statement.

More than two-third of the men polled said they suffered from erectile dysfunction (ED) after being treated. Of those, 80 percent said they took medication to combat ED.

Besides prostate cancer, survey respondents battled other health woes including high blood pressure, sexually transmitted diseases, and high cholesterol.

The survey was conducted May 1-31, the coalition said.

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Self-Cutting Practiced at Ivy League Schools: Survey

Nearly one in five students who completed a mental-health survey at two Ivy League colleges said they deliberately injured themselves as a way to relieve stress or cry out for emotional help, the Associated Press reported.

Seventeen percent of 2,875 respondents at Cornell University and Princeton University said they purposely hurt themselves, the wire service reported. Of those, 70 percent said they had engaged in the practice more than once. Results of the survey are published in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Counselors cited by the AP said self-injury -- including self-cutting and self-burning -- is practiced at colleges, high schools, and middle schools across the United States. Separate research has found more than 400 Web sites devoted to the practice, the wire service said.

Repeat self-abusers are more likely to be female, to have an eating disorder, and to be suicidal, according to the study's main author, Cornell psychologist Janis Whitlock. She said she is among researchers who believe that people who self-abuse are fueled by the release of "feel-good" endorphin hormones that are produced in response to pain. But this "high" is frequently followed by deep shame and injuries that often require medical treatment.

School psychologists noted there is often one instigator who prompts other sympathetic, yet less troubled friends to self-abuse in tandem, the wire service said.

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Air Masks Could Have Protected Ground Zero Workers, Suit Alleges

Air-filtering masks that cost less than $50 each could have protected ground zero workers who were exposed to the toxic smoke and ash from the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, a federal lawsuit alleges.

More than 150,000 of the masks were distributed and 40,000 workers toiled at ground zero in the nine months after the attacks, yet most of the workers never received the masks or didn't use them, The New York Times reported Monday.

The federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of more than 8,000 firefighters, police officers, and private workers who say they were exposed to the toxic aftermath of 9/11, the newspaper said.

The suit alleges there was no organized distribution system for the masks, and no one to ensure that the masks were used properly, if at all. By contrast, the suit said, at the cleanup site at the Pentagon, workers who did not wear the proper protective equipment were not allowed to stay at the site, the Times reported.

New York City, the main defendant in the case, has tried to have the lawsuit dismissed, the newspaper said. The city has said it made every effort to get workers to use the equipment, but workers often refused to do so because of the intense heat that emanated from the site and the difficulty of communicating while wearing the masks.

A hearing to consider the city's motion for dismissal is scheduled for June 22, the Times said.

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