Science briefs: Rise in optional mastectomies

  • Updated: January 26, 2013 - 4:29 PM
In the 1970s, women's health advocates were highly suspicious of mastectomies. They argued that surgeons -- in those days, pretty much an all-male club -- were far too quick to remove a breast after a diagnosis of cancer, with disfiguring results.

But today, a new generation of women want doctors to take a more aggressive approach, and more and more are asking that even healthy breasts be removed to ward off cancer before it can strike.

Researchers estimate that as many as 15 percent of women with breast cancer -- 30,000 a year -- opt to have both breasts removed, up from less than 3 percent in the late 1990s. Notably, it appears that the vast majority of these women have never received genetic testing or counseling and are basing the decision on exaggerated fears about their risk of recurrence.

In addition, doctors say an increasing number of women who have never had a cancer diagnosis are demanding mastectomies based on genetic risk. (Cancer databases don't track these women, so their numbers are unknown.)

"I think the medical community has taken notice. We don't have data that say oncologically this is a necessity, so why are women making this choice?" said Dr. Isabelle Bedrosian, a surgical oncologist at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Improvements in breast reconstruction may be a factor, along with celebrities who decide to undergo preventive mastectomy.

NEW YORK TIMES

OPPORTUNITY IS MARS' OLDSTER

Opportunity, NASA's other Mars rover, has tooled around the red planet for so long it's easy to forget it's still alive.

Some 5,000 miles away from the limelight surrounding Curiosity's every move, Opportunity this week quietly embarks on its 10th year of exploration -- a sweet milestone since it was only tasked to work for three months.

"Opportunity is still going. Go figure," said mission deputy principal investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis.

True, it's not as snazzy as Curiosity, the most high-tech interplanetary rover ever designed. And after so many years crater-hopping, Opportunity is showing its age: It has an arthritic joint in its robotic arm and it drives mostly backward due to a balky front wheel, but those are more annoyances than show-stoppers.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Melamine seeps into hot food

Serving hot food on melamine tableware could increase your exposure to melamine, a study released in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggests.

Melamine, an industrial chemical used in everyday items such as cooking utensils, plates, paperboard and industrial coatings, can apparently seep into food when it's heated, the study said.

In two separate tests, researchers in Taiwan served a dozen participants about two cups of hot noodle soup in melamine bowls and ceramic bowls. After participants ate out of the melamine bowls, the levels of melamine in their urine peaked six hours later, up to about 8 parts per billion, before tapering off.

A person can have up to 2,500 parts per billion of melamine in their blood before it poses a health risk, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA considers the amount of melamine the public is typically exposed to from tableware as safe. Still, the agency cautions consumers not to heat food or drinks in melamine-based dinnerware in a microwave.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

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