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Health Highlights: Oct. 24, 2006

Pumpkin Decoration Kits Pose Choking Hazard Smoking Doesn't Help Teen Girls Control Weight Study Suggests Link Between Fat and Cancer FDA Expands Alert on Counterfeit Glucose Test Strips Cell Phones May Affect Male Fertility Single Stent Effective in Treating Bifurcation Lesions

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

Pumpkin Decoration Kits Pose Choking Hazard

About 97,000 pumpkin decoration kits sold at Target stores in the United States are being recalled because they contain small pieces that pose a choking hazard to young children, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Tuesday.

The kits being recalled by Paper Magic Group Inc., of Scranton, Pa. are: Mr. Potato Head "Make a Monster Pumpkin"; Mr. Potato Head "Make a Fireman Pumpkin"; and Mrs. Potato Head "Make a Diva Pumpkin."

The kits contain small plastic pieces that are used to decorate pumpkins. The kits are labeled for children ages 2 and older. However, products with small pieces are not permitted to be sold for use by children under age 3.

No incidents or injuries have been reported. The kits were sold at Target stores across the U.S. from September through October for about $5. Consumers with the kits should return them to the nearest Target store for a full refund.

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Smoking Doesn't Help Teen Girls Control Weight

Smoking does not help prevent weight gain in teenage girls, says a Canadian study that found that smoking and non-smoking teenage girls gain weight at exactly the same rate, the Globe and Mail reported.

"Smoking is not associated with any difference in weight (or height) in girls," said Igor Karp, a researcher in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at McGill University in Montreal.

The study included 1,300 female and male students in Montreal who were 12 or 13 years old at the start of the study. They were followed for five years. The study found that 73 percent of the girls and 42 percent of the boys smoked.

The researchers also found that boys who smoke are thinner and shorter than those who don't smoke, which suggests that smoking actually stunts boys' growth, the Globe and Mail reported.

Smoking didn't seem to affect girls' height. This may be because girls reach puberty at an earlier age than boys and their growth spurt likely comes before they start smoking, Karp said.

The study was presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Vancouver.

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Study Suggests Link Between Fat and Cancer

Fatty tissue may hinder the body's ability to destroy cells that can cause cancer, suggests a Rutgers University study that found that using surgery or exercise to make mice leaner helped them combat skin tumors.

It has long been known that overweight people are at increased risk of certain types of cancer, but scientists have been trying to understand the reasons why and whether losing weight can help reduce cancer risk or offer any benefits after a tumor has formed, the Associated Press reported.

Based on their findings in mice, the Rutgers team suggested that fat cells may secrete substances that impair the programmed death of genetically damaged cells, which is one of the body's main defenses against cancer. If damaged cells survive, they can become cancerous.

The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Much more research is needed in order to determine if cutting fat really helps fight cancer in humans, Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told the AP.

But this study, "certainly provides a biologic rationale or explanation about why weight loss may be helpful," he said.

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FDA Expands Alert on Counterfeit Glucose Test Strips

Two additional lot numbers of counterfeit blood glucose test strips were announced Monday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This follows the initial alert issued on October 13 that counterfeit blood glucose strips were being sold for use with various models of One Touch blood glucose monitors sold by LifeScan, Inc.

The counterfeit test strip lot numbers are: One Touch Basic/Profile lot #272894A, 2619932, 2606340, and 2615211 (new); and One Touch Ultra lot #2691191 and 2691261 (new).

The counterfeit test strips could give incorrect blood glucose levels -- too high or too low -- which could result in a diabetes patient taking either too much or too little insulin and lead to serious injury or death, the FDA said.

For more information on how to identify the counterfeit test strips, go to Lifescan's Web site at www.lifescan.com/company/about/press/counterfeit.

Consumers with the counterfeit test strips should stop using them immediately and replace them, according to the FDA, which is still investigating the matter.

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Cell Phones May Affect Male Fertility

Heavy cell phone use can harm a man's sperm count and quality, says a study by researchers in the United States and India.

They tracked 364 men being evaluated for infertility. The men were divided into three groups, based on their sperm count, Bloomberg news reported.

Among men whose sperm counts were within the normal range, those who used a cell phone for more than four hours a day produced an average of 66 million sperm a day, 23 percent less than men in the same group who never used cell phones.

The study also found that the proportion of sperm that possessed "normal forms" was 21 percent among the heavy cell phone users, compared to 40 percent among the men who didn't use cell phones, Bloomberg reported.

The findings were presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

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Single Stent Effective in Treating Bifurcation Lesions

A single stent may be just as effective as multiple stents in treating life-threatening heart artery blockages called bifurcation lesions, researchers report in the journal Circulation.

In such cases, doctors commonly insert stents in the major artery and in the side branch. But for the new study, researchers in Latvia gave one group of patients received stents in the major artery only (with optional stenting for the side branch), while another group of patients received stents in the main artery and in the side branch artery. After six months, there were no significant differences between the two groups in terms of serious cardiovascular problems or deaths, the study found.

The single stent procedure takes less time to perform and requires less imaging time and a smaller amount of imaging agents, the researchers noted. Patients who have the single stent procedure also have lower levels of biomarkers that indicate heart muscle damage.

Bifurcation lesions occur in about 15 percent of patients who have balloon catheter procedures to restore blood flow to blocked or narrowed arteries.

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