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Health Highlights: June 8, 2005

Genes Play Role in a Woman's Orgasm: Study Premiums Rise to Cover Uninsured: Study Portable DVD Players Recalled for Battery Hazard Erbitux/Radiation Combo Reduces Head and Neck Cancer Older Hair Dyes Linked to Lymphoma Ruling Limits Prosecutions of Medical Privacy Violations

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

Genes Play Role in a Woman's Orgasm: Study

Genes account for about 60 percent of a woman's ability to have an orgasm, says a British study of more than 4,000 pairs of twins.

The study found that 14 percent of women had an orgasm every time they had sex and that 14 percent never had an orgasm, the Scotsman reported.

In total, 32 percent of the women in the study never or infrequently had an orgasm during sexual intercourse. The findings were published in the journal Biology Letters.

The role played by genes in determining a woman's ability to orgasm may be the result of evolution, suggested the study authors, from St. Thomas's Hospital in London.

"There is a biological underlying influence that can't be attributed purely to upbringing, religion or race," Professor Tim Spector, director of the hospital's Twin Research Unit, told the Scotsman.

While genetics may play a role, there are a number of other factors that determine a woman's ability to have an orgasm, Dr. Cynthia McVey, a lecturer in psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University, told the Scotsman.

Those factors include mood, self-esteem, upbringing and anxiety levels.


Premiums Rise to Cover Uninsured: Study

The average American family pays $922 more for its health premiums to cover patients who don't have any health insurance, a new study finds.

The extra cost is expected to jump to an average of $1,502 within five years, according to the study by the consumer advocacy group Families USA. Insured families in six states -- Arkansas, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia -- already pay an extra premium of more than $1,500 to cover the uninsured, the group said.

The extra amount represents what health providers charge insured patients to cover expenses they incur in taking care of people who don't have insurance. Doctors and hospitals are hit with a total annual bill of more than $43 billion to cover people without health insurance, the Bloomberg news service reported.

Some 45 million Americans didn't have health insurance in 2003, the wire service said, citing U.S. Census Bureau statistics.


Portable DVD Players Recalled for Battery Hazard

Mintek Digital Inc. is recalling the battery packs of 116,000 portable DVD players, which could explode when being recharged, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Wednesday.

The company, which advises consumers to stop using the players immediately, has 10 reports of overheated batteries, one of which exploded.

The recall involves players with a 7-inch screen, model number DVD-1710. The silver battery pack has a nameplate marked RB-LiP01 or RB-LiP02.

The players, made in China, were sold at electronics and department stores nationwide from September 2002 to January 2005 for $200 to $300.

Contact Mintek at 866-709-9500 to learn how to obtain a free replacement battery.


Erbitux/Radiation Combo Reduces Head and Neck Cancer

The drug Erbitux, when used in combination with radiation therapy, prevents the spread of head and neck cancer more effectively than radiation therapy alone, according to data from a Phase III study released Wednesday by biotechnology company ImClone Systems Inc.

The international, randomized study of 424 head and neck cancer patients found that the use of Erbitux in combination with radiation therapy showed statistically significant improvement in overall survival and progression-free survival, the Associated Press reported.

"Head and neck cancer remains a disease with too few treatment options and no new therapeutic product approvals in over a decade. We look forward to discussing the next steps toward a regulatory filing with the FDA," Eric K. Rowinsky, ImClone's chief medical officer, told the AP.

Erbitux is already approved in the United States to treat colorectal Cancer, the news service said.


Older Hair Dyes Linked to Lymphoma

Women who regularly used hair dyes before 1980 have a 20 percent greater risk of developing lymphoma cancer than those who never dyed their hair before 1980, says a European study of 5,000 women.

The study authors noted that agents known to cause cancer were removed from hair dyes in the 1970s. They said that hairdressers and other people who were frequently exposed to these older hair dyes should be aware of the risk and check for abnormal lumps, BBC News reported.

The researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer in France presented their findings Wednesday at the International Conference on Malignant Lymphoma.

Lymphomas are cancers of the lymphatic system.

"It is reassuring to notice that dyes used in the last 25 years do not seem to carry an increased risk," Professor Paolo Boffetta told BBC News. "It might still be premature to conclude that older dyes are casually related to lymphoma, but this evidence is growing."

Last month, Spanish scientists presented research in the Journal of the American Medical Association that suggested hair dyes do not appear to increase the risk of cancer.


Ruling Limits Prosecution of Medical Privacy Violations

A recent U.S. Justice Department ruling limits the federal government's power to prosecute people for criminal violations of the law that guards the privacy of medical records.

The ruling states that the criminal penalties apply to insurers, hospitals, doctor and other health providers. However, the penalties don't necessarily apply to employees of insurers or health providers or to outsiders who steal personal health information, The New York Times reported.

The criminal penalties include a $250,000 fine and 10 years in prison for the most serious violations.

The opinion, dated June 1, was written by the Justice Department's office of legal counsel and was prepared over the last 16 months to answer questions from the criminal division of the Justice Department and the Health and Human Services Department, the Times reported.

Some experts were surprised by the ruling. It means that a hospital can be held criminally liable if it sells patients' names to a firm for marketing purposes. But a hospital employee who did the same thing, contrary to hospital policy, could not be prosecuted.

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