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Health: News In Brief

Thursday, May 6, 1999 Published at 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK

Cervical screening 'saved 1,300 lives'

The national cervical cancer screening programme is saving lives, a study has shown.

It is the latest report to suggest the programme is effective at cutting deaths.

The programme has been criticised by some as a waste of resources.

The researchers, from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, estimate that screening in previous years saved 1,300 lives in 1997.

Their study was published in the British Medical Journal.

Ecstasy link to Parkinson's

Repeated use of the drug MDMA - Ecstasy - could lead to Parkinson's disease, doctors have suggested.

The three doctors, from Michigan University, described the case of a 29-year-old man who took the drug nine times in 1997 and once in May 1998.

Three months later he developed symptoms of the degenerative brain disorder.

The doctors said: "Although we have no firm evidence of a causal relation between this patient's drug use and his parkinsonism, there are no other tenable explanations."

A 1995 Johns Hopkins University study linked ecstasy with brain damage in animals.

Gene hope in lung cancer

Gene therapy against lung cancer, one of the disease's most incurable forms, could prove successful, researchers have said.

Dr Stephen Swisher and colleagues at three US cancer centres have described their early results of the technique as "hopeful". They were writing in the Journal of the (US) National Cancer Institute.

They tested the method, which involves introducing new genes to diseased tissue, on patients with non-small cell lung cancer.

Their intention was to test the method to see if it was safe - they said it was - but also found good results in several patients. One has seen the cancer disappear for 18 months.

The team described this finding as "remarkable".

Capsules without cattle

A UK company has developed an alternative to the beef-based pill capsules in use for the last 65 years.

Gelatin, a by-product of waste in the beef industry, has been used in the production of dietary supplements and medicinal capsules since 1935.

The substance is offensive to vegetarians, and some fear it could carry the cattle brain disease BSE. But until now, there has been no viable alternative.

However, Cambridge-based BioProgress Technology has developed Xgel, which uses a non-animal based water-soluble film to encapsulate oils and powders.

Initially it is being used to make toiletries, such as bath beads, as well as paint balls, but a health supplement variety is currently undergoing trials.

Kidneys' role in diabetes

Kidneys play a key role in maintaining blood-sugar levels, which could lead to new treatments for diabetes that reduce the risk of comas, researchers have said.

It had been thought that only the liver controlled the release of glucose into the bloodstream.

But, publishing his findings in the journal Diabetes, Dr John Gerich said kidneys play a separate role.

His team found that the kidneys increase the release of glucose into the blood when blood sugars fall too low.

Dr Gerich, of Rochester University, New York, said drugs that affect the liver but not the kidneys might be easier to control and could reduce the danger of overdose.

"That way, we reduce the amount of glucose in the blood, but the kidneys are still there as a back-up system in case glucose levels suddenly become too low."

Sex effects of cancer treatment

One in four patients with cervical cancer experience sexual problems after treatment, regardless of what that treatment is, a study has found.

In the first study to look at the impact of cancer treatments on sex, researchers also found that the treatments do not harm the nerve centre that triggers an orgasm.

The study looked at 256 Swedish women who had received surgery, radiation therapy or both for cervical cancer.

Their experiences were compared with those of 350 women who showed no signs of the cancer.

The researchers said 26% of the women treated for cancer "reported moderate or much distress due to vaginal changes, as compared with 8% of the women in the control group."

They published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Ice cream or condoms?

An advertisement where a man opts for an ice cream treat rather than safe sex has been branded "an attack on public health".

The advertisement, for Magnum ice creams, shows a man locked in a passionate embrace with his girlfriend. He heads for a condom dispenser but decides to buy a Magnum instead.

It has been broadcast in Portugal, where the AIDS charity Abraco has called for it to be banned.

Spokeswoman Maria Jose Campos said the advertisement discouraged young people from practising safe sex.

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