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Health Highlights: Aug. 9, 2005

Groups Ask for Probe of FDA Breast Implant Decision Christopher Reeve's Widow Has Lung Cancer U.S. Asks Pfizer for Celebrex, Bextra Documents Motorcycle Deaths Rise Since Florida Helmet Law's Repeal Arsenic in Drinking Water Promotes Tumor Growth Cosmic Rays May Harm Pilots' Eyes: Study National Organ System Finds Liver for N.Y. PR Exec

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

Groups Ask for Probe of FDA Breast Implant Decision

A number of consumer advocate groups are asking Congress to investigate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's decision to allow the return of silicone gel breast implants, the Associated Press reported.

The National Organization for Women and a dozen other women's and health groups contend that the agency is violating its own safety standards in allowing the implants back on the market. The devices were withdrawn 13 years ago over concerns that they could leak and cause chronic illness.

Last year, the FDA told implant makers to provide long-term data on the implants' durability, and on the consequences of silicone leaking into women's bodies, the wire service said. But when the agency last month OK'd Mentor Corp.'s petition to return the devices to the market, it based its decision on a company study that tracked implant recipients for only three years, the AP added.

The consumer groups also are urging the FDA to release details of its criminal investigation of Mentor in the late 1990s. The FDA closed the probe without taking any action against the company, which has denied that it underreported problems with the implants. An agency spokeswoman said the FDA is working on releasing details of the investigation, the wire service reported.

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Christopher Reeve's Widow Has Lung Cancer

Dana Reeve, who spent nine years caring for her paralyzed husband, Christopher Reeve, announced Tuesday that she has lung cancer.

Reeve, 44, said she decided to disclose her illness following rumors about her health in the media, the Associated Press reported. Her announcement came two days after the death of ABC anchorman Peter Jennings from lung cancer.

"I have recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, and am currently undergoing treatment," Reeve, a singer and reportedly a nonsmoker, said in a statement. "I have an excellent team of physicians, and we are optimistic about my prognosis."

"Now, more than ever, I feel Chris with me as I face this challenge," she added. "As always, I look to him as the ultimate example of defying the odds with strength, courage and hope in the face of life's adversities."

Reeve, who starred in the Superman films, was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident in 1995. He died Oct. 10, 2004. Dana Reeve was a constant companion and supporter of her husband during his nine-year ordeal and is chairwoman of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, which funds research on paralysis.

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U.S. Asks Pfizer for Celebrex, Bextra Documents

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has asked Pfizer Inc. for information about two of its painkillers, Celebrex and Bextra, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The company wouldn't elaborate, except to say it is cooperating with the request, which was made in the second quarter of this year, the wire service said. Both drugs belong to a class of painkillers called cox-2 inhibitors, which also includes the Merck & Co. drug Vioxx. Bextra and Vioxx have been withdrawn from U.S. markets after research linked them to higher rates of heart attack and stroke in long-term users.

Merck withdrew Vioxx last September, and Pfizer pulled Bextra from pharmacy shelves in April.

Celebrex remains on the market but includes new warnings required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about possible cardiovascular risks.

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Motorcycle Deaths Rise Since Florida Helmet Law's Repeal

Motorcycle deaths have risen sharply in Florida since the state repealed its mandatory helmet law five years ago, new research shows.

Some 933 motorcyclists died on the state's roads in the three years after the law's repeal, an 81 percent jump from the 515 bikers killed between 1997 and 1999, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

Hospital costs for motorcycle-related injuries soared to $44 million in the 30 months after the law was reversed, versus $21 million over a similar span while the law was in effect, the Associated Press reported.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia now require motorcycle helmet use, down from 47 states in 1975, the wire service said, citing a report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Nationally, motorcycle deaths rose about 8 percent to 4,008 in 2004, the first time the figure has topped 4,000 since 1987, the AP said.

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Arsenic in Drinking Water Promotes Tumor Growth

Environmental arsenic in drinking water can promote the growth and spread of tumors in people with pre-existing tumors, says a University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center study.

The study on mice found that levels of arsenic as low as four parts per billion in water stimulated blood vessel growth in tumors. Arsenic levels as low as 10 ppb resulted in tumor expansion, the Associated Press reported.

"What we can say pretty definitely that if you have a pre-existing tumor, and you're drinking water with arsenic in it, it could very well increase the growth of that tumor," research team leader Michael Ihnat, assistant professor of cell biology, told the AP.

He added that it's still not clear whether arsenic in drinking water increases overall tumor risk.

Currently, the U.S. federal arsenic standard for drinking water is 50 ppb. However, that standard is scheduled to be lowered to 10 ppb on Jan. 23, 2006.

Oklahoma has some of the highest levels of natural arsenic in drinking water in the United States.

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Cosmic Rays May Harm Pilots' Eyes: Study

Exposure to cosmic radiation may increase the risk of eye damage among airline pilots, who are three times more likely than normal to develop cataracts, says a study by researchers in Iceland.

The study, published in the journal Archives of Ophthalmology, included 445 men aged 50 and over. The study volunteers included 79 commercial pilots and 366 men who'd never been pilots. When the researchers compared the rates of cataracts with the men's occupations, they found that the pilots had a far greater risk of cataracts, BBC News reported.

Previous research found a link between cosmic rays and cataracts in astronauts. Cosmic rays are energetic particles and radiation from outer space. One expert suggested that cosmic rays may damage proteins in the lens of the eye.

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National Organ System Finds Liver for N.Y. PR Exec

It was the U.S. national organ donation system -- not a media blitz launched by family and friends -- that led to a lifesaving liver transplant for a 31-year-old Manhattan public relations executive over the weekend.

Shari Kurzrok received her liver through the national system, which ranks patients solely by need, location and tissue type.

Kurzrok was hit last month by a mystery illness that damaged her liver. In response, her family and friends launched a controversial campaign to find her a new liver. The effort included a Web site, a rally in Union Square and attempts to track down critically injured trauma victims, the New York Daily News reported.

That campaign sparked complaints that Kurzrok's friends were trying to do an end run around other patients in the United Network for Organ Sharing's national organ matching program.

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