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Health Highlights: Oct. 12, 2006

Farming Linked to Increased Breast Cancer Risk NYC Subway a Threat to Hearing: Report Major Study to Examine Hispanic Americans' Health FDA Approves Avastin to Treat Lung Cancer Most Decaf Coffee Has Caffeine: Study Drug-Coated Stents Cause 2,000 Deaths a Year: Experts

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

Farming Linked to Increased Breast Cancer Risk

Women who've worked on farms are almost three times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who've never worked in agriculture, says a Canadian study published Thursday in the journal Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

The 2 1/2-year study included 564 breast cancer patients, 154 of whom had worked on farms, and all were treated at the Windsor Regional Cancer Center in Ontario, the Toronto Star reported.

The breast cancer patients were compared to a group of women who did not have any kind of cancer. And after the researchers accounted for a number of known breast cancer factors -- including age, smoking, genetics, hormone replacement therapies, and number of children -- the association between agriculture and breast cancer became evident.

Exposure to pesticides and other substances commonly found on farms may explain the link, the study said.

"We also found that if she went on to work in healthcare or in auto (manufacturing) her breast cancer risk continued, and in the case of the auto industry, it actually slightly increased," study author James Brophy, an occupational and environmental health scientist, told the Star.

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NYC Subway a Threat to Hearing: Report

Just 30 minutes a day of riding on the New York City subway can cause permanent hearing loss, says a Columbia University study just published in the Journal of Urban Health.

The findings were immediately criticized by the New York City Transit Authority, which called the study "fundamentally flawed due to inadequate research," United Press International reported.

The Columbia researchers found that regular subway noise averaged about 94 decibels to 95 decibels, but reached 106 decibels at some of the subway platforms. By comparison, a lawn mower produces about 107 decibels.

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and World Health Organization guidelines, people should not be subjected to levels of 106 decibels for more than 30 seconds, UPI reported.

"By itself, riding (the subway) long enough could definitely put your hearing at risk," said study lead author Robyn Gershon, a professor at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health. "Once the damage starts, it passes a threshold and keeps adding and keeps adding, and pushes you over the edge."

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Major Study to Examine Hispanic Americans' Health

Hispanics in four cities -- New York, Chicago, Miami and San Diego -- will be the focus of the largest long-term government study of health and disease in that group of Americans.

The 6 1/2-year, $61-million study will include about 16,000 people (4,000 per city) who will undergo a series of physical examinations and interviews to help researchers identify the prevalence and risk factors for a wide number of diseases, disorders, and conditions. The study volunteers will range in age from 18 to 74 years.

The Hispanic Community Health Study, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), will also examine the role of cultural adaptation and disparities in the prevalence and development of disease among Hispanic Americans.

"The Hispanic population is the largest minority population in the United States, and it is expected to triple in growth by 2050," Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, NIH director, said in a prepared statement. "The knowledge gained from this study will benefit not only Hispanic populations but will also enhance understanding of health and disease in other ethnic groups."

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FDA Approves Avastin to Treat Lung Cancer

The colon cancer drug Avastin was approved Wednesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to also treat the most common form of lung cancer.

The FDA said Avastin can be used in combination with carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy as a first-line treatment for unresectable, locally advanced, recurrent or metastatic, non squamous, non-small cell lung cancer, the Associated Press reported.

This is the most common form of lung cancer in the United States and accounts for 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the nation.

Drug maker Genentech Inc. of California said it will cap the cost of the drug at $55,000 per year for eligible patients in any FDA approved indication, which means the cap program will exclude off-label use, the AP reported.

"The approval of Avastin represents an important new option for patients with the most common type of lung cancer," Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, said in a prepared statement.

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Most Decaf Coffee Has Caffeine: Study

Nearly all decaffeinated coffee contains some caffeine, says a University of Florida study.

The researchers said this information could be important for people with certain medical conditions -- such as kidney disease, hypertension or anxiety disorders -- who've been told to avoid caffeine, the Associated Press reported.

"If someone drinks five to 10 cups of decaffeinated coffee a day, the dose of caffeine could easily reach the level in a cup or two of caffeinated coffee," said study co-author Dr. Bruce Goldberger, a professor and director of the university's William R. Maples Center for Forensic Medicine.

Goldberger and his colleagues found that some brands of drip-brewed decaffeinated coffee had caffeine levels ranging from 8.6 milligrams to 13.9 milligrams in a 16-ounce cup. A typical 16-oz. cup of caffeinated coffee contains about 170 milligrams of caffeine, the AP reported.

The findings appear in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology.

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Drug-Coated Stents Cause 2,000 Deaths a Year: Experts

Each year, drug-coated stents cause the deaths of more than 2,000 Americans, says a guest editorial published Wednesday on the Web site of the American College of Cardiology.

Stents are tiny metal devices used to prop open previously narrowed or blocked arteries. Drug-coated stents are meant to reduce inflammation at the site where they're placed, to prevent a recurrence of arterial blockage.

But the editorial said that patients face a lower risk of fatal blood clots and serious heart attacks if they're treated with older, bare-metal stents that, in many cases, work as well as drug-coated stents, The New York Times reported.

Editorial authors Drs. Sanjay Kaul and George A. Diamond of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said research suggests that patients who receive drug-coated stents have a 0.6 percent annual increased risk of blood clot, compared with patients who receive bare metal stents.

More than a million Americans receive stents each year and at least 80 percent of those patients receive drug-coated stents. Based on the increased risk associated with drug-coated stents and assuming a 45 percent death rate among stent patients who suffer blood clots, the editorial authors calculated that drug-coated stents cause at least an additional 2,160 deaths each year in the United States, the Times reported.

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