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Health Highlights: Oct. 8, 2006

Cosmetic Outcome of Lumpectomy Creates Some DissatisfactionSecurity Flaws Found in Medicare-Medicaid Computer SystemU.S. Government Launches 'Largest Ever' Autism Research ProjectThird Death Reported From Spinach E. coli Outbreak Deal Limits Fat and Sugar in School Snacks Perchlorate Affects Women's Thyroid Function

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

Cosmetic Outcome of Lumpectomy Creates Some Dissatisfaction

About one-third of all women who have a lumpectomy as part of their breast cancer treatment are unhappy with how their breasts look, a new survey says.

A lumpectomy is a procedure usually performed in concert with radiation when malignant breast tumors are detected at an early stage, and doctors don't believe it's necessary to perform the much more radical mastectomy, which involves removal of most of the breast tissue.

The survey, presented at the annual American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) Plastic Surgery 2006 conference in San Francisco, said that many of those unhappy with the outcome of a lumpectomy would consider reconstructive breast surgery.

According to an ASPS news release, of the 28 percent of the patients who said they were unhappy with how the lumpectomy made their breasts look, 46 percent said their physical appearance was worse or much worse after the surgery and were considering reconstruction. By contrast, only nine percent of patients who were satisfied with the outcome would consider reconstruction.

"Patients should know their options and understand that just because they undergo a lumpectomy to save their breast does not mean they will be happy with the cosmetic outcome," said Dr. Howard Wang, co-author of the study, in the news release.

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Security Flaws Found in Medicare-Medicaid Computer System

The giant network containing Medicare and Medicaid information on millions of beneficiaries has serious computer flaws, the New York Times reports.

The data is particularly vulnerable, the newspaper says, because the computer network connects the central databank of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services with a variety of organizations in the government's medical network -- hospitals and nursing homes. The network also links financial information on Medicare and Medicaid patients with banks, insurance companies, health plans and private institutions.

According to the Times, the investigation was conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which concluded that "key information security controls were missing," including lack of strict password controls; no coding of Medicare and Medicaid data; complete records of network use not being kept.

The newspaper quotes Dr. Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as saying no "actual security breaches" had occurred, but he said the network flaws would be fixed.

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U.S. Government Launches 'Largest Ever' Autism Research Project

The U.S. government is going to launch a major study into the causes of autism, a decision not universally accepted by some who whose children have the condition.

According to the Associated Press the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Oct. 6 that it would undertake its largest study to date -- involving 2,700 patients -- into what causes autism, which affects an estimated 300,000 children nationwide.

The CDC and five other organizations will conduct the study over a five year period, the A.P. reports. The goal is to find genetic and environmental factors that may contribute to autism.

But, the wire service reports, at least one parents' group whose children are autistic doesn't believe the CDC is the right agency to conduct the research. "We don't want the CDC to do anything. We don't trust them," the wire service quotes Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association, as saying.

The primary reason is because the government has discounted the autism association's belief that vaccinations containing a mercury-based preservative are a potential cause. So far, no published research has indicated a cause-and-effect, although the preservative, thimerosal, no longer is used in childhood vaccinations.

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Third Death Reported From Spinach E. coli Outbreak

A third death has been confirmed from tainted spinach that caused an outbreak of illness across the United States.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Oct. 6 that an elderly Nebraska woman died from complications caused by E. coli O157, the bacterial infection that health officials believe was spread nationwide through the consumption of fresh spinach distributed by a California processor.

The first death was an elderly woman in Wisconsin, and the second was a two-year-old Idaho boy, the CDC said. The agency announced it was also investigating another fatality in Maryland that may have been spinach-related.

In all, 26 states have reported cases of E. coli, with 102 hospitalizations.

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Deal Limits Fat and Sugar in School Snacks

Under a deal announced Friday, several major food companies will limit the amount of fat, sugar, and salt in snacks sold in U.S. schools as part of the effort to fight the childhood obesity epidemic.

The agreement -- which comes about five months after a deal to restrict soda sales in schools -- was signed by Kraft Foods, Inc., Mars Inc., Campbell Soup Co., Groupe Danone SA, and PepsiCo Inc. It was negotiated by the American Heart Association and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the Associated Press reported.

The companies agreed to a set of fat, sugar, sodium and calorie guidelines for snacks sold in school vending machines, stores and snack bars. Under the guidelines, most snack foods will be limited to a maximum of 35 percent of calories from fat and 35 percent of sugar content by weight.

The guidelines are based on the recommendations of leading experts, the AP reported

"By working with schools and industry to implement these guidelines, we are helping to give parents peace of mind that their kids will be able to make healthier choices at school," said Dr. Raymond Gibbons, president of the American Heart Association.

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Perchlorate Affects Women's Thyroid Function

Exposure to perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel, road flares and pyrotechnics, may cause reduced thyroid function in women, particularly those with low iodine intake, says a U.S. study. This effect was not found in men.

Perchlorate has been detected in milk, fruits, vegetables, grains, and drinking water across the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study included nearly 2,300 females and males ages 12 and older, United Press International reported.

The researchers analyzed blood and urine samples from the study participants and concluded that perchlorate exposure was a significant predictor or thyroid home levels in women with low iodine levels.

The thyroid gland uses iodine to produce hormones which help control energy, temperature, weight and mood. The thyroid is located at the front of the neck.

These findings indicate "that even small increases in perchlorate exposure may inhibit the thyroid's ability to absorb iodine from the bloodstream," the CDC said.

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