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Health Highlights: Oct. 11, 2003

Silicone Breast Implant Proponents Trying Again Quarantined Cattle Don't Have Foot-and-Mouth Disease Massachusetts Ranked as Smartest State New Treatment for Hot Flashes Approved Breast Cancer Drug Cuts Risk of Relapse San Diego E. coli Outbreak Traced to Lettuce

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

Silicone Breast Implant Proponents Trying Again

Cosmetic surgery has never been bigger business than it is right now.

And with that in mind, Inamed Corporation, a firm that the New York Times says deals in asthetics, wants the federal government to reconsider the 10-year ban on silicone breast implants. It has filed a large amount of documentation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in preparation for arguments next week over whether the government should lift its ban.

According to the Times, the files "include laboratory reports, animal studies, data from a decade of large epidemiological studies conducted after implants were removed from the market in 1992 and the company's own studies, over several years, following women who had had its implants."

The primary argument silicone proponents will make, the Times says, is that the damage that comes from leakage or rupturing does not lead to disease like lupus or cancer, as originally had been claimed.

The information being submitted doesn?t deny that the silicone implants can rupture, but it maintains that silicone breast implants are generally safe, The Times reports.

Lawsuits caused Dow Corning to declare bankruptcy and forced it and other companies to set up a multibillion-dollar fund pay for claims made by women who claimed the implants had damaged them.

The FDA hearings will be day-long events next Tuesday and Wednesday. Both sides in this controversial issue are expected to testify, and then an expert advisory committee will examine the company data, the pleadings of implant supporters and critics. No exact date is given for a decision.

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Quarantined Cattle Don't Have Foot-and-Mouth Disease

The good news is that 40 cattle quarantined earlier in the week because they had blisters in their mouths don't have the contagious foot-and-mouth disease.

But the rest of the news is that scientists still don't know what caused the blisters.

The Associated Press reports that Peter Fernandez, associate administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, made the announcement late Friday after the quarantine led Mexico to close the United States-border to livestock. Scientists at the department's laboratory in Plum Island, N.Y., were still checking for other diseases, and the results were to be released Saturday, Fernandez said.

Foot-and-mouth disease's virus has been identified in livestock since the late 1800s. It is an epidemic, contagious, viral disease of cloven-hoofed animals.

The cattle "are not sick with any foreign animal disease that would stop trade," Mr. Fernandez told the A.P.

Mexico closed its borders to livestock trade with the United States on Friday morning, after United States officials isolated 40 cows for testing.

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Massachusetts Declared the Smartest State

Home to renowned schools of higher learning including Harvard and MIT, Massachusetts has been ranked as the smartest state in the United States by the editors of Morgan Quitno Press in their annual reference book, Education State Rankings.

At the other end of the scale, New Mexico came in last for the second-straight year.

The list is based on 21 factors, including per pupil spending; public high school graduation rates; average class size; student reading, writing and math proficiency; and pupil/teacher ratios.

Rounding out the top five states are: Vermont, Connecticut (last year's winner), Montana and New Jersey. For the complete list, visit http://www.morganquitno.com/edrank03.htm.

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New Treatment for Hot Flashes Approved

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved new estrogen-based skin lotion to treat hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause.

Estrasorb, manufactured by Novavax, should only be applied to the legs, thighs or calves, the agency says. The product is absorbed through the skin into the blood stream, and therefore should not be used with sunscreens, which may limit the medicine's effects.

The FDA says the product will contain the same warning labels as other forms of menopausal Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Earlier this year, the government began warning women and their doctors that such therapies containing estrogen and progestin may be associated with increased risks of heart disease, stroke, and breast cancer.

The agency recommends that Estrasorb and similar products "be used in the lowest dose and for the least duration required to provide relief." Users are strongly urged to discuss the benefits and risks of these medications with their doctors.

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Breast Cancer Drug Cuts Risk of Relapse

Breast cancer patients taking a new type of drug called letrozole had about half the rate of relapses as women taking a non-medicinal placebo, HealthDay reports.

Because the results were so promising, investigators report in the Nov. 6 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, they halted a major international trial of the new drug early.

Up to now, an older drug called Tamoxifen has been a great boon to women who have estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer, meaning cancer that is fueled by the hormone estrogen. The drug reduces the risk of recurrence by 47 percent and the risk of death by 26 percent for five years after surgery. Unfortunately, tamoxifen stops working after that time and may even reverse its action, promoting the growth of cancer cells.

The new Novartis medication is one of a novel class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors. While tamoxifen works by occupying the estrogen receptor and preventing the hormone from binding, letrozole goes further and actually blocks production of estrogen.

The letrozole trial began in 1998 and ended up with 5,187 women in Canada, the United States and Europe who were postmenopausal, had hormone-receptor-positive tumors and had been on tamoxifen for about five years. It was coordinated by the National Cancer Institute of Canada.

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San Diego E. coli Outbreak Traced to Lettuce

California health officials say a commercial salad mix appears responsible for an outbreak of E. coli food poisoning among at least 27 people in San Diego and Orange counties, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

Most of those infected are children. The product was shipped to at least two San Diego County school districts -- Alpine Union and San Marcos Unified -- and a state health official says other districts may also have received supplies of the mix. He wouldn't name those other districts or where they are located, the newspaper reports.

The suspect mix was also distributed to a number of restaurants among the Pat & Oscar's chain. Twenty-two probable infections from the potentially lethal bacteria have been reported in San Diego County and five in Orange County. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and nausea.

Federal and state health officials are analyzing samples of the salad mix, produced by Gold Coast Produce Co. of Oxnard. Experts tell the newspaper the outbreak is somewhat unusual, since the strain of bacteria normally is linked to underecooked beef, not lettuce.

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