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Health: News In Brief

Friday, May 21, 1999 Published at 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK

Fertility treatment linked to `problem births'

Women who have suffered infertility problems have a significantly increased risk of giving birth to a premature baby, and of losing their child in the first weeks of life, scientists have claimed.

Doctors from Leicester University, writing in The Lancet medical journal, report a study of more than 1,400 women which showed that those who had difficulty becoming pregnant had nearly treble the risk of losing their child soon after birth.

Women who became pregnant through high tech fertility techniques such as in vitro fertilisation were nearly five times as likely as women with normal fertility to lose their baby.

In the general population, the risk of a child dying within weeks of its birth is nine per 1,000 births.

Women with cysts more likely to develop cancer

Women with cysts on their breasts are more likely to develop breast cancer, scientists have claimed.

Seven percent of women in the world's most developed countries have breast cysts, which are made up of liquid caught in small abcesses under the skin.

The Lancet medical journal reports a study by researchers at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh of 1,374 women with breast cysts who attended the hospital's specialist breast unit as new referrals from 1981 to 1987.

The researchers found that these women were more likely to suffer from cancer than the general population.

The risk of breast cancer was highest in women younger than 45.

Marijuana-like chemical linked to schizophrenia

Schizophrenics' brains have high levels of a chemical which resembles an active element in marijuana, says a study.

The presence of large quantities of the chemical anandamide may show that the patients' brains are not responding properly to it, say the researchers from the University of California in the journal Neuroreport.

Schizophrenics also have a high level of another chemical called dopamine, which is thought to be kept in check by anandamide.

The researchers studied 10 patients who had double the normal levels of anandamide.

They said their work could form the basis of further studies into how chemicals affect the brains of schizophrenics.

They added that some schizophrenics claimed that smoking marijuana helped alleviate their symptoms.

'Give cancer drug to healthy women'

One in five women should be offered an anti-cancer drug, even though they have no sign of the disease, say leading US specialists.

Tamoxifen is already widely-used worldwide to treat breast cancer, but evidence suggests that, if given to certain women, it could reduce their overall risk of developing the disease.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology said on Tuesday that women with at least a 1.7 per cent risk of getting breast cancer in the next five years should be given the opportunity to have the drug.

This would mean about 29 million US women - including all those over 60 years old, would be eligible.

Brittle bones breakthrough

A gene that could help revolutionise treatments for the bone disease osteoporosis has been discovered.

Scientists in Seattle working for Chiroscience, a commercial company, say the gene appears to be linked to a protein that may control bone density.

Osteoporosis occurs bone matter is lost faster than it is grown. But current treatments can only slow the disease but cannot substantially reverse its effects.

Dr John Latham, who led the research, said: "This is an exciting discovery - for those suffering from osteoporosis, this is the best news in years."

Military hardware gives clear shot of baby

Military technology is being used to give expectant mothers clearer ultrasound pictures of their child every time they visit the doctor.

A new all-digital, hand-held device was unveiled in Philadelphia on Monday.

Originally developed for use in military engagements and disaster areas, the device was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for medical use last month.

Ultrasounds can - among other things - be used to assess the development of a foetus, to diagnose cancerous tumours and to measure blood flow.

Dr John Hobbins, chief obstetrician at University of Colorado Health Sciences Centre in Denver said: "With the convenience of this portable ultrasound system, a scan can be done every time a patient comes in."

Double whammy for prostate cancer

Gene therapy and boosts to the immune system can help destroy prostate cancer, researchers have said.

The team, led by Dr Nicholas James of Birmingham University in the UK, reported their findings at American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Atlanta.

The gene therapy involves replacing mutated genes, while special antibodies mark out cancerous cells for the immune system to destroy. The technique worked, Dr James told the meeting.

In another study, Dr James' team used a drug that stimulates the development of immune cells to suppress the growth of prostate tumours by up to 50%.

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Internet Links

National Osteoporosis Foundation

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The Lancet

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