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Health Highlights: May 30, 2006

Antipsychotic Drug May Be Linked to Pituitary Tumors AIDS Crisis Shows No Signs of Ebbing, U.N. Says Pentagon Begins Anonymous Stress Screenings Fewer Strong Doses of Radiation Effective for Breast Cancer Mothers Who Eat Dairy Tend to Have Twins: Study Music Helps People Deal With Chronic Pain

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

Antipsychotic Drug May Be Linked to Pituitary Tumors

The antipsychotic drug Risperdal (risperidone) may be linked to 70 percent of pituitary tumors reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Adverse Events Reporting System, according to a joint study by the FDA and Duke University.

Risperdal is the most widely used medication within a class of drugs called atypical antipsychotics, which are used to treat schizophrenia, paranoia, and manic-depressive disorders, the researchers said in a statement. Risperdal is manufactured by Janssen Pharmacuetica.

The findings are published in the June 2 issue of Pharmacotherapy. The researchers cautioned that the study suggests, but doesn't prove, that the drug and similar medications actually cause pituitary tumors.

"Atypical antipsychotics are lifesaving medications for a lot of people. By no means are we advocating that people stop using them, especially risperidone," said study co-author Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a psychiatrist at Duke University Medical Center.

Risperdal is a dopamine D2 receptor antagonist that works by blocking the brain chemical dopamine. A key function of dopamine is to suppress the pituitary hormone prolactin. Increased cellular production of prolactin can cause enlargement of the pituitary gland and disrupt production of other hormones, the researchers said.

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AIDS Crisis Shows No Signs of Ebbing, U.N. Says

The 25-year-old AIDS epidemic has claimed 25 million lives and shows no signs of slowing down, a United Nations agency reported Tuesday.

India has 5.7 million cases of HIV/AIDS and has surpassed South Africa, with 5.5 million cases, as the country with the most cases, UNAIDS said. Nearly 40 million people worldwide are living with the infection, according to newly released agency data cited by the Associated Press.

The infection rate among women continues to rise, with an estimated 17 million females worldwide now HIV-positive, according to a 630-page UNAIDS report published Tuesday. More than three-quarters of infected women live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Fewer than half of the world's young people have adequate information to protect themselves from the deadly virus, UNAIDS said, a far cry from its 2005 target of 90 percent, the AP reported.

Nearly one in three pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa is HIV-positive, and the region is home to nearly 90 percent of the world's infected children, the agency said. Its report was released a week before the 25th anniversary of the first documented AIDS cases on June 5, 1981, the AP said.

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Pentagon Begins Anonymous Stress Screenings

The U.S. military has begun an online mental health screening program for service members and their families, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. The program is anonymous, a policy the Pentagon hopes will encourage stressed veterans and their families to participate.

The program went online four months ago, and several thousand people have since participated, a Pentagon spokeswoman told the wire service. The tool assesses answers to questions about recent behaviors and moods, and if necessary, suggests where participants can get help.

The program is open to members of all military branches and their families, regardless of whether the service members have spent time in a war zone, the AP reported. The program deals with mental health issues, including depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and alcohol abuse.

The tool is available 24 hours, seven days a week, "so you can do it at night when nobody's watching," Deborah Manning, an Army substance-abuse coordinator at Fort Benning, Ga., told the AP.

The program's Web address is: http://www.militarymentalhealth.org.

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Fewer Strong Doses of Radiation Effective for Breast Cancer

Fewer, stronger doses of radiation are just as effective as more frequent, weaker treatments for women with breast cancer, researchers found.

A 10-year trial sponsored by Cancer Research U.K. found that 13 bigger bursts of radiotherapy were as effective in preventing breast cancer recurrence as 25 smaller doses, the researchers wrote in the journal Lancet Oncology. Women who had the stronger doses also had no greater risk of side effects, the scientists said.

Fewer treatments would reduce the inconvenience of radiotherapy and probably would be more cost-effective, they said.

Among 1,410 women who participated in the study, those given 25 doses of radiation over five weeks had a breast-cancer recurrence rate of 12.1 percent, while women given 13 doses in larger amounts over the same span had a recurrence average of 12.2 percent, according to a report in the London Telegraph.

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Mothers Who Eat Dairy Tend to Have Twins: Study

Women who eat dairy products are up to five times as likely to have fraternal twins as those who don't, researchers at New York City's Albert Einstein College of Medicine said.

According to The New York Times, one theory holds that cows injected with synthetic growth hormone may be responsible for the trend. This explanation says eating these dairy products boosts women's levels of a blood hormone that raises their chances of multiple ovulation.

In the May issue of The Journal of Reproductive Medicine, the researchers wrote that women who ate a vegan diet had 13 percent lower levels of insulin-like growth hormone (IGF) in their blood than women who regularly ate dairy products.

"The more IGF, the more [a woman's] ovary is stimulated to release additional eggs at ovulation," said study lead author Dr. Gary Steinman, Einstein's assistant clinical professor of obstetrics. But he warned that further study was needed "before rigid recommendations can be made concerning health care."

Dairy farmers frequently inject cattle with a synthetic growth hormone to boost the animals' size and milk production, the Times said.

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Music Helps People Deal With Chronic Pain

People cut levels of chronic pain by up to 21 percent simply by listening to their favorite music, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found.

The study of 60 people who had endured years of pain also found that levels of depression fell by up to 25 percent among those who listened to music for an hour every day, the scientists wrote in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

Study participants had been diagnosed with conditions including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and spinal disc problems, BBC News Online reported.

Previous research published in the same journal found that listening to 45 minutes of soft music before bedtime improved sleep by more than one-third, the BBC said.

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