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Health Highlights: Oct. 15, 2003

FDA Panel Votes to Lift Silicone Implant Ban Tremor Drug Forces Ozzy Osbourne to Postpone Tour More Americans Aware of GM Foods Comatose Woman's Feeding Tube Removed Tanning Booths Raise Skin Cancer Risk Supreme Court Says Docs Can Recommend Marijuana

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

FDA Panel Votes to Lift Silicone Implant Ban

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted late Wednesday to recommend approval of the controversial silicone gel breast implants for cosmetic use.

The committee's recommendation, if adopted by the FDA, would reverse a 1992 ban on the implants for cosmetic use and would give the go-ahead to Inamed Corporation to sell the gel breast enhancement devices for aesthetic use, HealthDay reports. The company already sells the implants for medical use, largely for breast reconstruction after cancer.

"There were lots of facts to consider and this has been controversial for many years, so we are absolutely thrilled with the end result," said Joann Kuhne, senior director for regulatory and clinical affairs for the Santa Barbara, Calif., company and one of those who testified at two days of hearings that culminated with the vote.

The agency approval is conditional upon Inamed providing approximately a half dozen more pieces of information. Those include supplying an "informed decision" brochure for women contemplating the surgery, providing an 800 number for women to call for information and training physicians in surgical techniques for the devices, Kuhne said.


Tremor Drug Forces Ozzy Osbourne to Postpone Tour

Bad-boy rocker Ozzy Osbourne has postponed a European tour because of the side effects of a drug he's taking to control tremors.

The Associated Press reports that Osbourne is following the advice of his doctor and putting off the tour until next year. It was supposed to have begun Oct. 22 in Dublin.

"I was no longer comfortable being around people, which, as you can imagine, is not the best trait for a performer,'' the AP quotes the singer as saying.

His doctor, Allan Ropper, told reporters that a side effect of the medication is dry mouth, which is clearly a liability for a singer. He also said the problem would subside in a month or so, the AP reports.

The 54-year-old Osbourne, whose career has been rejuvenated by an MTV reality show, apologized to fans. "I feel like I keep letting you all down, which breaks my heart, but you have my word that I will be over in the new year to complete my European tour," he said.


More Americans Aware of GM Foods

Americans' awareness of genetically modified foods is growing, but most still don't know they're eating it, a new survey finds.

The survey, conducted by the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers University, finds that 52 percent of Americans were aware that genetically modified food products are on the shelves of American supermarkets. Moreover, only 26 percent believe they have ever eaten GM foods.

The results are an improvement over two years ago, when the institute found that only 41 percent knew stores sold foods and 20 percent thought they had ever eaten them.

Estimates have shown that perhaps 80 percent of processed food in the United States contains something from a genetically modified crop. These foods include corn syrup, corn starch, corn oil, and canola oil.

"Most Americans have no idea that foods with genetically modified ingredients are already for sale in the United States," Dr. William Hallman, the study's lead author, said in a statement. "But bottom line, if you eat processed foods, you're probably eating GM ingredients."


Comatose Woman's Feeding Tube Removed

One day after a judge sided with the husband of a comatose Florida woman, doctors at a Tampa Bay-area hospice removed the feeding tube that has kept the 39-year-old woman alive for 13 years.

The procedure took place Wednesday afternoon against the wishes of Terri Schiavo's parents and despite last-minute intervention from Gov. Jeb Bush. Hours before the tube was removed, Bush had vowed to pursue any legal means to keep the woman alive, reports the Associated Press.

Pinellas Circuit Judge George Greer ruled Tuesday that Michael Schiavo could have the tube removed from his wife, who has been in a vegetative state since suffering a heart attack in 1990.

Her husband has sought to have the tube removed for the past six years, noting the opinion of court-appointed neurologists who say his wife's brain is all but gone and that she has no hope of recovery.

Now that the tube has been removed, doctors expect her to die within two weeks.

Schiavo says his wife, who never wrote a living will, nonetheless deplored the notion of being kept alive by artificial means. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have launched countless appeals hoping to keep their daughter alive.

While Terri Schiavo can still open her eyes and may make certain sounds and facial expressions, court-appointed doctors say the Schindlers are mistaking common involuntary responses for cognition, the Orlando Sentinel reports.


Tanning Booths Raise Skin Cancer Risk

Women who visit tanning salons more than once a month, particularly women in their 20s, are more likely to contract a deadly form of skin cancer, new research concludes.

The eight-year study of more than 100,000 Scandinavian women found that frequent tanning booth users were 55 percent more likely to develop malignant melanoma, the Associated Press reports. And the risk more than doubles for those in their 20s, an international group of researchers found.

Fair-skinned people are particularly prone to skin cancer from the sun and artificial tanning sources, the researchers note in this week's Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Their study found that the risk of melanoma from sun exposure was about two times higher for blondes than for women with black or brown hair. And for women with red hair, the risk was about four times greater, the AP reports.

Some 45,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year in the United States, and about 7,300 of those people die.


Supreme Court Says Docs Can Recommend Marijuana

The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a serious blow to the Bush Administration's policy on medical marijuana, by letting stand a lower court ruling that doctors can't be investigated or punished for recommending marijuana to their patients for medical purposes.

Last October's ruling by 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals found that federal attempts to bar doctors from discussing the medical use of marijuana with patients violated the doctors' free-speech rights. The Supreme Court on Tuesday let the ruling stand without comment.

The unexpected ruling means that doctors in seven Western states where medical marijuana initiatives have been approved may now discuss the option freely with patients without jeopardizing their medical licenses, The New York Times reports.

Affected states within the 9th Circuit include Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Three other states outside the 9th Circuit -- Colorado, Maine, and Maryland -- also allow marijuana for such medical uses as pain relief, the newspaper says.

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