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Today's Health Highlights: Jan. 15, 2002

Study Says Laparoscopic Surgery Still Risky for Colon Cancer Metabolic Syndrome a Burgeoning Problem First Pacemaker Recipient Dies States Misusing Tobacco Settlement Funds: Study Gay Men Carry Kaposi's Sarcoma for Decades Taking the High Road in Idaho Upheld by Court Urinary Infections Treatable by Phone Prozac Maker Loses Patent Fight

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

Laparoscopic Surgery Still Risky for Colon Cancer: Study

Given the choice between abdominal surgery requiring a foot-long incision and a week-long hospital stay and an operation using a few narrow incisions and only a few days in the hospital, a patient's choice might seem clear.

But a new study suggests that the benefits of the latter type of surgery -- which uses a camera called a laparoscope -- to remove colon cancer are not dramatic enough to replace the standard open procedure. The researchers say that until laparoscopic-assisted colectomy is proven to be as safe and effective as conventional colon cancer surgery, it should be viewed as experimental and offered only as part of clinical trials, according to HealthDay.

Colon cancer affects approximately 107,300 Americans every year and 48,100 people will die of the disease.

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Metabolic Syndrome a Burgeoning Problem

It's called metabolic syndrome and it's characterized by such known health risks as a pot belly, high blood pressure, poor cholesterol readings and high blood sugar. And a staggering 47 million American adults -- or more than one in five -- suffer from the syndrome, a new study says.

Despite its name, the condition doesn't mean a person has a faulty metabolism. And though experts suspect the syndrome may be caused by a combination of genes and lifestyle factors, unhealthy lifestyle choices are probably the major culprits, says Dr. Earl Ford, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who led the study, the Associated Press reported today. Those unhealthy choices include overeating and not enough exercise.

Metabolic syndrome greatly increases the risk of diabetes, heart attacks and stroke.

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First Pacemaker Recipient Dies

A Swede who became the world's first recipient of an implanted pacemaker 42 years ago has died. Arne Larsson was 86 when he died Dec. 28 of skin cancer at his suburban Stockholm home, his wife said today, according to the Associated Press.

"He knew that without the pacemaker, he would have died when he was 43 years old," Mrs. Larsson told the news agency.

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Tobacco Settlement Funding State Budgets, Not Health Issues

States are using the funds from the $246 billion national tobacco settlement to plug budget holes rather than combat smoking, a study released today says.

The study, the latest in a series by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, blasted states for failing to use the 1998 legal settlement funds to pay for anti-smoking programs.

Some of the states cited included Michigan, North Carolina and Tennessee, as well as the District of Columbia, all of whom failed to spend any of the settlement money on prevention. Florida and Tennessee were pinpointed as particular extremes: funding for a highly successful $37.3 million anti-smoking program in Florida was slashed 20 percent in December, and Tennessee legislators in August voted to use all available tobacco money to cover annual expenses.

Only five states -- Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Minnesota -- were funding tobacco-prevention programs at the minimum level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reports by CBS News and the Associated Press said.

"These are penny-wise, pound-foolish decisions that ignore the conclusive evidence that tobacco-prevention programs not only reduce smoking and save lives but also save far more than they cost by reducing smoking-caused health care expenditures," the report said, citing an annual cost of treating tobacco-related diseases at more than $89 billion.

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Gay Men Carry Kaposi's Sarcoma for Decades

Three decades of blood samples suggest that at least one out of every four gay men living in San Francisco has Kaposi's sarcoma and doesn't know it, HealthDay reported today.

The rare skin cancer, which is caused by a virus similar to genital herpes and can lie dormant for decades, doesn't seem to need AIDS to awaken and wreak havoc, researchers say. The new findings raise the disquieting possibility that the disease could still cause problems for countless gay men, even those who remain HIV-negative throughout their lives.

Of 235 gay men who had blood tests in 1978 and 1979, more than 26 percent were infected with Kaposi's sarcoma, while only about 7 percent were HIV-positive, the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found. None of 200 heterosexual men tested was infected. The researchers found the incidence of Kaposi's sarcoma in the gay male population remained steady over the next two decades, even though many gay men adopted safe-sex practices and HIV levels rose dramatically through the '80s, and then fell off in the '90s.

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Taking the High Road in Idaho Upheld by Court

If you can't see the potholes in Idaho because you're driving while on pot, no problem.

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that marijuana users can drive legally in the state as long as their driving isn't erratic and they can pass a field sobriety test, according to the Associated Press. That's because Idaho law doesn't list marijuana as a narcotic, the three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote.

The ruling overturned an impaired driving conviction against Matthew Patzer, 21, who was stopped for a broken tailgate light in 1998 and admitted to police he'd smoked marijuana at a party. The appeals court said Patzer could not automatically be presumed impaired; he wasn't driving erratically and passed two field sobriety tests.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Fica in Idaho said the government may ask the court to review its decision or request that the U.S. Supreme Court hear the case.

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Urinary Infections Treatable by Phone

Bladder infections that send millions of women to their doctors each year can safely be treated with a phone call and a prescription, The New York Times reports.

A Michigan study found that women who were treated over the phone by nurses or doctors who prescribed antibiotics based on symptoms and medical histories are just as likely to recover and be satisfied with their care as those who go for an in-office check.

"The findings of this study can be generalized to most office practices where generally healthy women show up with urinary infections," said Dr. Henry C. Barry, the lead researcher in the study, which was published in The Journal of Family Practice.

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Prozac Maker Loses Patent Fight

The makers of Prozac were disappointed, but not depressed, after reaching the end of a six-year legal fight to keep the patent on the popular antidepressant.

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday refused to consider reinstating Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co.'s rights to the drug, according to the Associated Press.

Company officials said they were disappointed but not surprised.

Generic versions of Prozac went on the market last year, shortly after a federal appeals court invalidated Lilly's patent, which would have protected the drug maker's monopoly until December 2003.

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