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Health Highlights: May 5, 2006

No Aspartame-Cancer Link, Says Expert Panel FDA Issues Warning on Bowel-Cleansing Products California Bill Targets Personal Use of Ultrasound Machines Kaiser Permanente Bungled Kidney Patient Transfers: Report U.S. Women's Contraceptive Use Declines: Study Poor Response to Iowa Mumps Immunization Clinics

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

No Aspartame-Cancer Link, Says Expert Panel

The popular artificial sweetener Aspartame does not increase the risk of cancer, an independent panel of European food-safety experts said Friday.

They reviewed an Italian study released last year that concluded that aspartame was linked to higher rates of lymphoma and leukemia in rats. But the expert panel for the European Food Safety Authority said the number of tumors did not increase in relation to the amount of aspartame given to the rats, the Associated Press reported.

Many of the rats used in the Italian study had suffered from chronic respiratory disease, which was the most likely cause of the tumors, the panel concluded.

"There is no reason ... to undertake any further extensive review of the safety of aspartame," said toxicologist Iona Pratt, who headed the panel.

The findings come a month after the release of a study of half a million Americans that found no link between aspartame and cancer, the AP reported.

Aspartame is used in thousands of products, including chewing gum, sodas, and many medicines.

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FDA Issues Warning on Bowel-Cleansing Products

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Friday of potential kidney failure associated with certain products used to clean the bowel before colonoscopies and other procedures, the Associated Press reported.

Agency officials, in an alert to doctors and patients, said they had documented 22 cases of acute phosphate nephropathy, a rare but serious form of kidney failure linked to the use of oral sodium phosphates. The products cleanse the bowel by causing patients to loose large amounts of fluid through bowel movements, the AP said.

Twenty-one of the cases involved patients given products such as Fleet Phospho-soda or Fleet Accu-Prep. One patient had taken Visicol tablets. None had taken OsmoPrep tablets, a recently approved oral sodium phosphate product, the FDA said.

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California Bill Targets Personal Use of Ultrasound Machines

Call it Cruise Control: The California Assembly voted 55-7 in favor of a bill to restrict the sale of ultrasound machines only to licensed professionals, a move meant to prevent personal use of the medical devices.

The bill, which now moves to the Senate, was introduced after movie star Tom Cruise bought an ultrasound machine to see images of his unborn daughter, who was born last month in Los Angeles, the Associated Press reported.

Doctors criticized Cruise for his actions, noting that improper use of ultrasound can harm a fetus. Technologists and doctors typically receive years of training to conduct ultrasound exams.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says laboratory tests have shown that certain diagnostic levels of ultrasound can affect human tissue, the AP reported.

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Kaiser Permanente Bungled Kidney Patient Transfers: Report

U.S. regulators were overwhelmed and some patients lost out on new kidneys after Kaiser Permanente launched a massive, new kidney-transplant program in 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The HMO started the program without first discussing with regulators how to safely transfer up to 1,500 of Kaiser Permanente's patients to its San Francisco center from two medical centers -- UC San Francisco and UC Davis -- where they were receiving care paid for by Kaiser.

Officials with the United Network for Organ Sharing told the Times that they weren't informed about the need to move hundreds of kidney patients until September 2004, after Kaiser had already opened its new kidney-transplant program. The United Network is the federal contractor that oversees the U.S. transplant system.

The poor planning and paperwork led to long delays in hundreds of patient transfers. Many patients weren't informed that their transfers had not been processed, which effectively put a new kidney out of reach, the Times reported.

Earlier this week, the newspaper reported that 56 transplants had been performed at Kaiser's transplant center, but about twice as many patients on the waiting list had died.

Kaiser has launched an investigation and will not comment until it's complete, a spokesman said.

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U.S. Women's Contraceptive Use Declines: Study

There's been a decline in the use of contraceptives by women in the United States, especially among poor women, which puts them at greater risk for unintentional pregnancies and abortions, says a Guttmacher Institute report released Thursday.

From 1994 to 2001, the percentage of sexually active women who were not trying to get pregnant and did not use contraceptives increased from 7 percent to 11 percent, The New York Times reported.

The increase was even greater among women living below the poverty line -- from 8 percent to 14 percent. Among women who earned more than twice the poverty rate, there was an increase from 7 percent to 10 percent.

The number of black women not using contraception increased from 10 percent to 15 percent; among Hispanic women, from 9 percent to 12 percent; and among white women, from 7 percent to 9 percent, the Times reported.

This decline in contraceptive use seems to have slowed the reduction in the U.S. national abortion rate that began in the early 1980s, the report said.

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Poor Response to Iowa Mumps Immunization Clinics

Free mumps immunization clinics for young adults in Iowa attracted a low turnout, as the number of confirmed, probable and suspected cases of the disease in the state reached 1,552 as of Wednesday.

The outbreak began earlier this year and mumps have been reported in 74 counties in Iowa, the Associated Press reported.

In an effort to halt the spread of the disease, state health officials last week distributed 25,000 doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine for free to immunization clinics in 35 counties with colleges and universities, to target people ages18 to 22.

The goal is to immunize young adults who may not have received the recommended two doses of MMR. However, there was a poor response to the clinics.

"You have a population that may, very honestly, not be taking this mumps situation very seriously," Kevin Teale, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Health, told the AP. "We need to do our best to convince them how serious this is and get them out to get the shots."

The state plans an expanded series of clinics this week, for people ages 18 to 25 in all 99 counties.

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