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Health Highlights: June 1, 2004

U.S. Judge Strikes Down Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Smoking Poses Same Cancer Risk to Women, Men FDA Approves Overactive Bladder Drug Study: Mental Illness Underdiagnosed, Undertreated Something in NYC's Water May Not Be Kosher

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

U.S. Judge Strikes Down Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

A federal judge in San Francisco ruled Tuesday that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was unconstitutional, saying the law infringed on a woman's freedom of choice, according to the Associated Press.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton came in one of three lawsuits challenging the legislation that President Bush signed last year. Federal judges in New York and Nebraska also heard arguments against the law earlier this year, but have yet to issue a decision, the AP said.

Hamilton's decision applies to Planned Parenthood clinics and their doctors, who perform roughly half the nation's 1.3 million abortions annually, the news service said.

"The act poses an undue burden on a woman's right to choose an abortion," Hamilton wrote in her decision.

In this type of procedure, a fetus is partially removed from the womb, and its skull is punctured or crushed. Doctors refer to the surgery as "intact dilation and extraction"; opponents call it "partial-birth abortion," the AP said.

Justice Department attorneys had argued that the procedure is inhumane, causes pain to the fetus, and is never medically justified. Abortion-rights advocates countered that a woman's health during an abortion is more important than how a fetus is terminated, and that the procedure is often safer than a conventional abortion, the AP said.

Pro-choice advocates also view the law as a significant shift away from the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized abortion.

Rulings in the Nebraska and New York cases are expected within weeks. All three decisions will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the AP said.

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Smoking Poses Same Cancer Risk to Women, Men

A Harvard University research team has found new evidence that women and men who have similar smoking histories share the same risk of developing lung cancer, HealthDay reports.

Results of the research, which included 85,000 men and women, appear in the June 2 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Using data from 1986 through 2000, study co-author Diane Feskanich, an assistant professor of medicine, and her team identified 955 cases of lung cancer among 60,296 women and 311 cases among 25,397 men.

This translates into lung cancer rates for current smokers of 253 cases per 100,000 for women and 232 cases per 100,000 for men. Among former smokers, the lung cancer rates were 81 per 100,000 for women and 73 per 100,000 for men, according to the study.

Feskanich believes that the myth that women are more susceptible to lung cancer started as more women began to smoke and their rates of lung cancer also rose. Basically, the increase in women's lung cancer rates reflected a statistical trend, not biology, she said.

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FDA Approves Overactive Bladder Drug

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Indevus Pharmaceuticals drug Sanctura (trospium chloride) for overactive bladder, a condition that affects some 33 million Americans.

The medication belongs to a class of compounds known as muscarinic receptor antagonists, which relax muscle tissue in the bladder and lessen bladder contractions. Approval was granted following clinical trials in the United States and Europe involving about 3,000 people, Indevus said in a statement.

The most frequently reported side effects include dry mouth and constipation. Most people who have overactive bladder are over age 60, and Sanctura appears to have fewer drug-to-drug interactions than previously approved medications that are common to this age group, the company statement said.

The drug is expected to be available in the United States in the third quarter of this year, Indevus said.

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Study: Mental Illness Underdiagnosed, Undertreated

A sizeable percentage of people around the world suffer from mental illness and many people with the most serious cases aren't getting needed treatment, according to HealthDay.

The new study's authors, writing in the June 2 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, said that they were less surprised by the prevalence of mental illness than by the burden of the disease.

"I was amazed at how in many other countries people said 30 or 60 days a year they were totally unable to function," said Ronald Kessler, lead author of the study and professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "There really are just no other illnesses that have effects like this."

Kessler, together with co-authors from the World Health Organization's World Mental Health Survey Consortium, analyzed data from 60,643 face-to-face interviews that had been conducted in 14 countries, six less developed and eight developed. The countries were: Colombia, Mexico, the U.S., Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Ukraine, Lebanon, Nigeria, Japan, and separate surveys in Beijing, China, and Shanghai, China.

Shanghai had the lowest prevalence of having any mental disorder in the prior year (4.3 percent of the population), while the United States seemed to have the highest, with 26.4 percent. Anxiety disorders were the most common in all countries except the Ukraine.

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Something in NYC's Water May Not Be Kosher

Despite the seemingly endless number of kosher restaurants and food stores in New York City, it may be difficult to keep strictly kosher there after all -- if you believe some resident ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

They've just discovered that city's water supply -- long heralded as the gold standard for drinking water among any of the world's major cities -- contains tiny crustaceans that they say may well violate kosher standards, according to The New York Times.

The microscopic creatures, called copepods, are harmless. But they've spurred an intense religious debate because crustaceans aren't considered kosher, the newspaper reported.

Some stores in religious neighborhoods have started brandishing water filtration supplies at their cash registers. And one religious elementary school has installed expensive filtration equipment behind its walls, the newspaper reported.

Others among the faithful tell the Times that they're still drinking the water right from the tap, noting the old adage that what they can't see won't hurt them.

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