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Health Highlights: March 23, 2002

Birth Control Pill Can Increase Breast Cancer Risk Nursing Shortage Prompts Appeal to Males, Despite Stigma PCB Polluters to Pay for Cleanup, Research in Settlement Drug Application for Mother-Child HIV Prevention Withdrawn 'Pill Mill' Doc Gets 63 Years in OxyContin Deaths British Court Grants Woman Her Right to Die 'Mystery Rash' Reappears in Philadelphia

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

Birth Control Pill Can Increase Breast Cancer Risk

For women who use oral contraceptives comes a new word of caution today: using the Pill marginally increases your risk of breast cancer, and the longer you use it, the higher your risk of disease, reports HealthDay.

The finding, which echoes the much-debated historical link between the Pill and breast cancer, was reported on the final day of the week-long Third Annual European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona.

The study on Pill use was a collaboration among Norwegian, Swedish and French doctors. They analyzed data from the large Norwegian-Swedish "Women's Lifestyle and Health Study," which began in 1991 and tracked lifestyles, including Pill use, of women between the ages of 30 and 49.

The researchers followed the women for almost 10 years, during which time 1,008 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed. For those women who reported any Pill use, the risk of breast cancer was about 26 percent higher than for those who didn't use oral contraceptives.

But for women who used the pill throughout the 10-year study, the risk shot up to 58 percent higher than non-Pill users, the doctors report. The group at highest risk appeared to be those still using the Pill after age 45. Their risk was almost one and half times -- or 144 percent - that of non-Pill users.


Nursing Shortage Prompts Appeal to Males, Despite Stigma

Despite advancements in gender equality in many professions, the notion of a male nurse is as snickered about as ever, as was demonstrated in countless jokes about actor Ben Stiller's male nurse character in last year's hit movie "Meet the Parents."

But with the nursing field badly in need of qualified recruits, a new campaign is out to change that perception by depicting male nurses in ads and featuring the profiles of male nurses on a website.

The campaign, being conducted by the New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson, includes recruitment videos, posters and brochures that will be provided to 25,000 high schools and 1,500 nursing schools and organizations with the hopes of attracting both genders to the profession as a career choice, reports the Associated Press.

Men make up only about 6 percent of the nation's 2.7 million nurses, and only about one in 10 considers nursing as a career choice.

Meanwhile, about 126,000 full-time nursing positions are unfilled at hospitals in the United States, and experts say the number should triple by the year 2020.


PCB Polluters to Pay for Cleanup, Research in Settlement

Two Alabama companies that have been found liable for leaking dangerous levels of PCB contamination into the environment must conduct long-term health-risk and environmental-impact studies of the area under a settlement announced by the Justice Department yesterday.

The settlement requires Solutia Inc. and Pharmacia Corp. to conduct extensive research on the landfills, creeks, rivers, businesses, homes and farms around the Monsanto Co. plant, in western Anniston, Ala., reports the Associated Press.

The plant operated for about four decades, and leaked PCBs into the surrounding community, says the Justice Department. PCBs are classified by the EPA as a probable carcinogen that can cause neurological and other health problems.

The agreement calls for the EPA to oversee the entire study, and the companies will have to foot the bills for hiring EPA-approved contractors to evaluate the damage.

About two dozen homes in the area have yards that need immediate cleanup, and EPA officials say many more may need to be dug up and replaced with clean soil.


Drug Application for Mother-Child HIV Prevention Withdrawn

The makers of nevirapine, a drug currently used in the United States to treat adults and young children with HIV, have withdrawn their application seeking FDA approval for the drug's use by women and their newborns.

Inconsistent records on research, which federal officials called "potentially quite serious," prompted the withdrawal by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Ridgefield, Conn., the Associated Press reports.

The problems reportedly involve document and record-keeping issues pertaining to clinical trials of the drug conducted in Uganda by Johns Hopkins University.

The university was conducting the research for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Officials say the Ugandan hospital standards on various issues did not match FDA standards and there was some disagreement on certain definitions, such as what constituted a "serious adverse event."

Nevirapine, sold commercially as Viramune, is already used in dozens of other countries to treat women and newborns for HIV, but is approved in the United States only for treatment of adults and children over the age of 2.


'Pill Mill' Doc Gets 63 Years in OxyContin Deaths

A Florida doctor was sentenced yesterday to 63 years in prison on a manslaughter conviction he received in the overdose deaths of four patients who had been prescribed the painkiller OxyContin.

Prosecutors had described Dr. James Graves, 55, as running a so-called "pill mill," where drug addicts and dealers could easily get prescriptions of the powerful drug, reports the Associated Press.

Graves had testified that his patients lied about their symptoms and said the patients would not have died had they taken the drugs as he had instructed.

He is the first doctor in the nation to receive a guilty verdict in an Oxycontin death.


British Court Grants Woman Her Right to Die

A paralyzed woman has been granted a right to die by Britain's High Court, making her apparently the first mentally competent person in that country to terminate life-sustaining treatment.

The Associated Press reports that the woman, identified only as "B," had explained to a family court official from her hospital bed why she wished to die. The testimony was broadcast through closed-circuit television to the High Court.

The woman was paralyzed from the neck down due to a ruptured blood vessel in her neck. She has been unable to breath on her own since the rupture, a year ago.

The court ruled that B was mentally competent to make the decision and conceded that "life in that condition may be worse than death."


'Mystery Rash' Reappears in Philadelphia

About 60 Philadelphia school children were sent home from school this week with what's appearing to becoming the mystery rash that won't go away.

The students at Mast Community Charter School, in northeast Philadelphia, were sent home with itchy pink blotches on their arms and necks, according to wire service reports.

Similar unexplained rashes have been reported among school children in 14 states since last October. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed the cases but says it found no common cause linking the rashes.


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