Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Breast Cancer is not a problem for Women only!!

Men don't have breasts. How can they get breast cancer?
Even though men do not have breasts like women, they do have a small amount of breast tissue. In fact, the "breasts" of an adult man are similar to the breasts of a girl before puberty, and consist of a few ducts surrounded by breast and other tissue. In girls, this tissue grows and develops in response to female hormones, but in men -- who do not secrete the same amounts of these hormones -- this tissue does not develop.

However, because it is still breast tissue, men can develop breast cancer. In fact, men get the same types of breast cancers that women do, although cancers involving the milk-producing and storing regions of the breast are very rare.

Why do I not hear about breast cancer in men as much as I hear about breast cancer in women?
Breast cancer in men is a very rare disease. This is possibly due to their smaller amount of breast tissue and the fact that men produce smaller amounts of hormones like estrogen that are known to affect breast cancers in women.

There are 1,400 cases of male breast cancer per year. In fact, only about 1 in 100 breast cancers affect men and only about 10 men in a million will develop breast cancer.

Which men are more likely to get breast cancer?
It is very rare for a man under age 35 to get breast cancer, but the likelihood of developing the disease increases with age. Breast cancer is most commonly diagnosed in men between age 50 and 70. Beyond that, African-American men appear to be at greater risk than Caucasian men. In some places in Africa, breast cancer in men is much more common. Also, college-educated professionals appear to have a higher risk than the general male population.

The clearest risk for developing breast cancer seems to be in men who have had an abnormal enlargement of their breasts (called gynecomastia) in response to drug or hormone treatments, or even some infections and poisons. Individuals with a rare genetic disease called Klinefelter's syndrome, who often have gynecomastia as part of the syndrome, are especially prone to develop breast cancer.

How serious is breast cancer in men?
Doctors used to think that breast cancer in men was a more severe disease than it was in women, but it now seems that for comparably advanced breast cancers, men and women have similar outcomes.

The major problem is that breast cancer in men is often diagnosed later than breast cancer in women. This may be because men are less likely to be suspicious of an abnormality in that area.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer in men?
Symptoms are very similar to those in women. Most male breast cancers are diagnosed when a man discovers a lump on his chest. However, unlike women, men tend to go to the doctor with more severe symptoms that often include bleeding from the nipple and abnormalities in the skin above the cancer. The cancer has already spread to the lymph nodes in a large number of these men.

How is breast cancer diagnosed and treated in men?
The same techniques -- physical exams, mammograms and biopsies (examining small samples of the tissue under a microscope) -- that are used to diagnose breast cancer in women are also used in men.

The same four treatments that are used in treating breast cancer in women -- surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormones -- are also used to treat the disease in men. Mastectomy is the recommended surgery in men.

Many breast cancers in men have hormone receptors, that is, they have specific sites on the cancer cells where specific hormones like estrogen can act. Therefore, hormonal treatment in men is more likely to be effective.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Now let's turn our attention to the last member of our trifecta of defective tests — the polygraph, more commonly referred to as the lie detector. Invented by the same person who created Wonder Woman and her golden lasso that makes you tell the truth (I'm not kidding), the polygraph is said to detect deception based on subtle bodily signals, such as pulse rate and sweatiness. Its proponents like to claim that it has a success rate of 90 percent or more. This is pure hogwash.

While the evidence against lie detectors is way too voluminous to get into here, it will be very instructive to look at a statement from Dr. Drew Richardson. Richardson is a scientist who was an FBI agent for 25 years; in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he dealt with polygraphs. In fall 1997, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee held hearings regarding the FBI Crime Lab. Richardson gave scorching testimony about polygraphs. Referring specifically to the practice of

using lie detectors to question people in sensitive positions, he said under oath:

It is completely without any theoretical foundation and has absolutely no validity. Although there is disagreement amongst scientists about the use of polygraph testing in criminal matters, there is almost universal agreement that polygraph screening is completely invalid and should be stopped. As one of my colleagues frequently says, the diagnostic value of this type of testing is no more than that of astrology or tea-leaf reading. If this test had any validity (which it does not), both my own experience, and published scientific research has proven, that anyone can be taught to beat this type of polygraph exam in a few minutes. Because of the nature of this type of examination, it would normally be expected to produce large numbers of false positive results (falsely accusing an examinee of lying about some issue). As a result of the great consequences of doing this with large numbers of law enforcement and intelligence community officers, the test has now been manipulated to reduce false positive results, but consequently has no power to detect deception in espionage and other national security matters. Thus, I believe that there is virtually no probability of catching a spy with the use of polygraph screening techniques. I think a careful exam-ination of the Aldrich Ames case will reveal that any shortcomings in the use

of the polygraph were not simply errors on the part of the polygraph examiners involved, and would not have been eliminated if FBI instead of CIA polygraphers had conducted these examinations. Instead I believe this is largely a reflection of the complete lack of validity of this methodology. To the extent that we place any confidence in the results of polygraph screening, and as a consequence shortchange traditional security vetting techniques, I think our national security is severely jeopardized.

After he ripped polygraphs a new one, the FBI silenced Richardson, refusing to let him speak publicly about the subject again.


Speaking of tests that aren't all they're cracked up to be, let's look at DNA testing. This is supposed to be the absolute silver bullet of criminal justice, an incontrovertible way to pin guilt on someone. After all, the chances of a mismatch are one in a billion, a quadrillion, a jillion!

Some experts have testified under oath that a false match is literally impossible. Not quite. As he did with HIV testing, risk scholar Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute punches a hole in the matching of genetic material:

In the first blind test reported in the literature, three major commercial laboratories were each sent 50 DNA samples. Two of the three declared one false match; in a second test one year later, one of the same three laboratories declared a false match. From external tests conducted by the California Association of I Crime Laboratory Directors, the Collaborative Testing Services, and other agencies, the psychologist Jonathan Koehler and his colleagues estimated the false positive rate of DNA fingerprinting to be on the order of 1

in 100. Cellmark Diagnostics, one of the laboratories that found matches between O.J. Simpson's DNA and DNA extracted from a recovered blood stain at the murder scene, reported its own false positive rate to the Simpson defense as roughly 1 in 200.

It gets even worse. In 1999, the College of American Pathologists performed its own secret tests of 135 labs. Each lab was sent a DNA sample from the "victim," some semen from the "suspect," and a fake vaginal swab containing DNA from both parties. They were also sent a strand of the "victim's" hair. The object was to see how many of the labs would make the matches (ie, match the two sperm samples of the man, and match the hair and DNA sample of the woman). But

something unexpected happened: Three of the labs reported that the DNA from the suspect matched the victim's DNA! Obviously, they had mixed up the samples. Only fourteen labs tested the hair, but out of those, one screwed it up by declaring a match to the "suspect." These kind of switches don't happen only during artificial situations designed to gauge a lab's accuracy (which are usually performed under ideal conditions). During a 1995 rape trial, a lab reversed the labels on the DNA samples from the victim and the defendant. Their testing then

revealed a match between the defendant's alleged DNA (which was actually the victim's) and the DNA on the vaginal swab, which didn't contain any semen from the rapist. Luckily, this boneheaded move was caught during the trial, but not everyone is so lucky. The Journal of Forensic Science has reported an error that was discovered only after an innocent man had been convicted of raping an 11-year-old girl and sentenced to prison, where lie was undoubtedly brutalized in ways that would give you nightmares for the rest of your life, were you to hear them described in detail. After four years, he was released because the lab hadn't

completely separated the real rapist's DNA (extracted from his semen) from the victim's DNA. When the two were swirled together, they somehow matched that of the poor bastard whose eleven alibi witnesses failed to sway the jury. But when the semen DNA was checked properly, it was beyond doubt that a match didn't exist. While most false matches are the result of human error, other factors do come into play. Some testing techniques are more definitive than others. In the case of one innocent man — Josiah Sutton, found guilty of rape based primarily on DNA evidence — criminology professor William C. Thompson said: "If police picked any two black men off the street, the chances that one of them would have a DNA profile that 'matched' the semen sample as well as Sutton's profile is better than one in eight." Also, we mustn't forget about corruption. In some known cases, DNA analysts have misrepresented (ie, lied about) their findings in order to obtain convictions.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Although a lot of progress has been made in improving the length and quality of life for people with AIDS, getting a positive result from an HIV test must still rank as one of the worst pieces of news a person can get. It's not uncommon for people to kill themselves right after hearing the results, and those who don't commit suicide surely go through all kinds of mental anguish. But the accuracy of these tests is lower than generally believed. In fact, if you test positive but you're not a member of a high-risk group (such as non-monogamous gay men and intravenous drug users), the odds are 50-50 that you actually have the virus.

To be declared HIV-positive, your blood goes through three tests — two ELISA tests and one more sensitive and costly Western Blot test. Makers of the tests trumpet a 99.99 percent accuracy rate when all three are used. Many AIDS counselors even tell people that the tests never give a false positive (that is, the tests don't indicate that someone is HIV-positive when he or she really isn't). The test manufacturers' claim is misleading, and the counselors' claim is flat-out BS.

Cognitive scientist Gerd Gigerenzer — who specializes in risk and uncertainty — explains the reality in plain English:

Imagine 10,000 men who are not in any known risk category. One is infected (base rate) and will test positive with practical certainty (sensitivity). Of the 9,999 men who are not infected, another one will also test positive (false positive rate). So we can expect that two men will test positive.

Out of these two men, only one actually carries the virus. So, if you're a low-risk man who tests positive, the chances are even — the same as a coin flip — that the result is right. It's highly advisable that you take the tests again (and again). The results are even less reliable for women in low-risk groups, since they have a still lower rate of HIV. Of course, this doesn't apply to an HIV-negative result. If you test negative, the odds are overwhelmingly good (9,998 out of 9,999) that this is correct. It also doesn't hold for people in high-risk categories. For example, if we accept the estimate that 1.5 percent of gay men are HIVpositive, this means that out of every 10,000, an average of 150 are infected. An HIV test will almost surely pick up on all 150, and out of the remaining 9,850 uninfected men, one will incorrectly be labeled positive. This means that only one out of 151 gay men will be falsely diagnosed as having HIV. A false positive is thus still possible but much more unlikely.


The United Nations' International Labor Organization has revealed some horrifying stats:

The ILO estimates that approximately two million workers lose their lives annually due to occupational injuries and illnesses, with accidents causing at least 350,000 deaths a year. For every fatal accident, there are an estimated 1,000 non-fatal injuries, many of which result in lost earnings, permanent disability and poverty. The death toll at work, much of which is attributable to unsafe working practices, is the equivalent of 5,000 workers dying each day, three persons every minute. This is more than double the figure for deaths from warfare (650,000 death* per year). According to the ILO's SafeWork programme, work kills more people than alcohol and drugs together and the resulting loss in Gross Domestic Product is 20 times greater than all official development assistance to the developing countries.

Each year, 6,570 US workers die because of injuries at work, while 60,225 meet their maker due to occupational diseases. (Meanwhile, 13.2 million get hurt, and 1.1 million develop illnesses that don't kill them.) On an average day, two or three workers are fatally shot, two fall to their deaths, one is killed after being smashed by a vehicle, and one is electrocuted. Each year, around 30 workers die of heat stroke, and another 30 expire from carbon monoxide. Although blue collar workers face a lot of the most obvious dangers, those slaving in offices or stores must contend with toxic air, workplace violence, driving accidents, and (especially for the health-care workers) transmissible diseases. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns that poisonous indoor air in nonindustrial workplaces causes "[t]housands of heart disease deaths [and] hundreds of lung cancer deaths" each year. But hey, everybody has to go sometime, right? And since we spend so much of our lives in the workplace, it's only logical that a lot of deaths happen — or at least are set into motion — on the job. This explanation certainly is true to an extent, but it doesn't excuse all such deaths. The International Labor Organization says that half of workplace fatalities are avoidable. In A Job to

Die For, Lisa Cullen writes:

In the workplace, few real accidents occur because the surroundings and operations are known; therefore, hazards can be identified. When harm from those hazards can be foreseen, accidents can be prevented....

Most jobs have expected, known hazards. Working in and near excavations, for example, poses the obvious risks of death or injury from cave-in.... When trenches or excavations collapse because soil was piled right up to the edge, there is little room to claim it was an accident.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Charas business in The “Land of The Gods” Himachal Pradesh, India

About Himachal

The Land of Himachal

Popularly known as the Devbhumi ­– "Land of the Gods", Himachal Pradesh is a beautiful hill state in northern India nestled in western Himalayas. The state is landlocked with the Tibetan plateau to the east, Jammu and Kashmir to the north, and the Punjab to the west. However the state stands apart from its neighbours in terms of its sheer topographic diversity and breathtaking pristine natural beauty. From vast tracts of high-altitude Trans-Himalayan desert to dense green deodar forests, from apple orchards to cultivated terraces, from snow capped high Himalayan mountain ranges to snow fed lakes and gushing rivers.

Brief Socio-Political History of the State

The earliest known inhabitants of the region were tribals called Dasas. Later, Aryans came and they assimilated in the tribes. In the later centuries, the hill chieftains accepted suzerainty of the Mauryan empire, the Kaushans, the Guptas and Kanuaj rulers. During the Mughal period, the Rajas of the hill states made some mutually agreed arrangements which governed their relations. In the 19th century, Ranjit Singh annexed/subjugated many of the states. When the British came, they defeated Gorkhas and entered into treaties with some Rajas and annexed the kingdoms of the others. The situation largely remained the same untill 1947. After Independence, 30 princely states of the area were united and Himachal Pradesh was formed on 15th April, 1948. On 1st November, 1966, certain areas belonging to Punjab were included in Himachal Pradesh. On 25th January, 1971, Himachal Pradesh was made a full-fledged State.

The State is bordered by Jammu & Kashmir on North, Punjab on West and South-West, Haryana on South, Uttar Pradesh on South-East and China on the East.

Himachal's illegal Charas farms

Kullu valley: CNN-IBN's Special Investigation Team brings you this first ever look at over 3,000 acres of Charas (Cannabis) fields that make Himachal Pradesh a key supplier of the drug to the world drug mafia.

Local drug dealers say that entire villages are employed in producing Charas - villages that don't even exist on the map!

These 'drug villages' are often given names that are the same as other villages so as to confuse the police.

CNN-IBN SIT: So you are saying where these fields are, there are villages as well?

Local drug dealer: Yes. Mallana has a village called Kutla. There is a new village called Kutla too.

The police on their part concede that these remote fields are hard to find. The fields are manned at a height where it's difficult for the enforcement agencies to operate and safe from the police, the local drug mafia is thriving.

And it's not just the locals who own fields. Even foreign drug dealers have their own illegal Charas fields. This was confirmed to the SIT by a local drug dealer.

CNN-IBN SIT: Do foreigners have fields up there?

Local drug dealer: Yes, they have their own fields and not one but tens of them. They have everything up there in their fields.

CNN-IBN SIT: Really? But how can foreigners buy land up there? They cannot buy land?

Local drug dealer: They come here every year, they pay a lot of money to the workers and so the owners of the field rent their fields out to foriegners.

CNN-IBN SIT: If I want to buy a field up there, how much should I pay?

Local drug dealer: For one acre that yields 40 kg, you pay Rs 10,000.

Filming undercover with drug tourists at a rave party, the SIT was even told that the police is hand in glove with them.

CNN-IBN SIT: Isn't there any police trouble?

Israeli tourist: No. The military police sometimes comes and burns one field. That doesn't matter for there are 20,000 fields out there. Malana produces 800 kg of Charas per season. Out of that, 80 kg comes to Israel.

Clearly the risk is worth the return. A gram of Charas worth Rs 25 in Kullu, fetches Rs 3,000 in Holland, which essentially means that the Hebrew and Italian signboards in Kullu are probably there to stay.

Sniffing danger on charas trail

Kullu valley: Over 3,000 acre of fertile land is being used to cultivate cannabis in the upper reaches of the Parvati Valley in Himachal Pradesh.

A CNN-IBN special investigation team went undercover to the valley and found that villages which don’t even exist on the map are controlled, to a large extent, by the foreign drug mafia.

It’s these cannabis – commonly known as charas - fields that make Himachal a key supplier of the drug to the world drug mafia.

Local drug dealers say that entire villages are employed in producing charas including villages that don't even exist on the map.

The villages in the drug are often given familiar names to confuse the police.

“Mallana has a village called Kutla, a lot of other villages are called Kutla,” says a middleman Sheru.

For people living in these unmapped villages on the fringes of the drug fields, rubbing charas for middlemen like Sheru is a way of life.

Apart from local villagers, the drug mafia also uses cheap Nepali labor to rub and process charas all day.

CNN-IBN: So you make it all day?

Nepali Labour: Yes.

CNN-IBN: How much do you get in a day?

Nepali Labour: Rs 120 per day.

CNN-IBN: So how much you make in a day.

Nepali Labour: Two tolas, 20 grams.

Posing as foreign drug dealers, the CNN-IBN Special Investigation Team filmed charas fields in the upper Parvati Valley, the police concede that these remote fields are hard to find.

These people are manning the fields at a height where it’s difficult for the enforcement agencies to operate. Safe from the police, the local drug mafia is thriving.

SIT: Charas trail in the Himachal

The Parvati Valley in Himachal Pradesh is called Lord Shiva's own country. It also may be called the charas smuggler’s paradise. CNN-IBN Correspondent Iram Mirza went on a trek through this beautiful valley and found charas farms, smugglers and a massive drugs racket.

Here is Mirza’s first person account.

My first step is to trace the charas hubs in the Parvati Valley. The first stop is a village called Tosh. I wire up a hidden camera and pose as an Australian tourist. I chat with fellow backpackers and soon one of them agrees to guide me to a village that supplies the best charas. Not a few posh restaurants or houses, but an entire village involved in the drug trade! Somewhere, up in the mountains.

We trek to our first destination, a remote village called Kutla, not far from Manikaran in the Parvati Valley. I am with an Israeli tourist who like many others is looking for quality charas. The police is rarely seen at Kutla, which makes it a favourite haunt for foreign drug tourists.

We soon make contact with Sheru, a local drug peddler, at a charas party. Sheru also arranges cheap labour for ‘rubbing’ charas leaves to get extract. We decided to tap Sheru for more critical information.

Mirza: So, there are no huge fields here?

Israeli: The fields are very far.

Sheru: Yeah, only mountain people go there

Mirza: Then how do they bring big quantities?

Israeli: Little, little (in small amounts).

The Village

Kutla looks like any other village. But inside, is a very different world. For those living in these unmapped villages, on the fringes of charas fields, rubbing charas is a way of life.

Sheru says foreign drug traffickers grow charas in Himachal. “Foreigners have fields up there. They have fields; they have tents, they have everything up there,” says Sheru.

Mirza: Really? But how can foreigners buy land up there? They cannot buy land.

Charas flowing freely in Himachal

Kullu Valley (Himachal Pradesh): Forest lands, which is known as wastelands, in Kullu Valley often used for Charas (Cannabis) cultivation. But on paper the land belongs to no one. So even the police find the fields, they don't have anyone to prosecute.

So who really grows Charas in Himachal’s Parvati Valley? According to intelligence report available with CNN-IBN’s Special Investigation Team, it's a foreign drug mafia, from Europe to Israel that now runs India's Charas trade by remote control.

Himachal Pradesh Narcotics Officer O P Sharma says, “Communication is so advanced, they are remote controlling it.”

They have taught the locals so their presence is not required on how to pack etc.

To find out how these deals are struck, CNN-IBN Special Investigation Team posed as foreign drug tourists and met one such local drug trafficker named Santosh.

Drug dealer Santosh: Tell her that she will not have any complaint about the maal (product).

Drug dealer Madan: You will not get any complaints about the maal.

The drug dealers showed the Charas samples to the Special Investigation Team and promised delivery anywhere in India or abroad.

Drug dealer Madan: Next time you want in Delhi, Goa or Mumbai, we will provide you there.

It was clear that local dealers had plenty of experience in striking deals.

Drug dealer Madan: Nobody will give you without advance here.

CNN-IBN SIT: I can show you the money if you want.

Drug dealer Sudesh: You want to pay some advance?

CNN-IBN SIT: I will pay the entire money after I see the entire stuff, that’s my only deal.

Finally, with the covert help of enforcement agencies, CNN-IBN Special Investigation Team showed the dealers Rs 18 lakh to strike a deal for 40 kilos of Charas.

Drug dealer Madan: Ok, we trust you and we will take the risk.

However, the drug dealers soon figured that they were dealing with journalists.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The first discoveries of natural gas seeps were made in Iran between 6000 and 2000 bc. Many early writers described the natural petroleum seeps in the Middle East, especially in the Baku region of what is now Azerbaijan. The gas seeps, probably first ignited by lightning, provided the fuel for the “eternal fires” of the fire-worshiping religion of the ancient Persians.

However still the Natural gas is believed to have been first discovered and used by the Chinese, perhaps as early as 1000 B.C. Shallow stores of natural gas were released from just beneath the ground and piped short distances to be used as a fuel source. Natural gas provided a continuous source of energy for flames. These "eternal fires" were found in temples and also used as attractions for visitors.

Around 2300 years ago, when no one in Europe or the Middle East could melt even one ounce of iron the Chinese were casting multi-ton iron objects. It was not until the mid-1700's in Europe that such feats of metallurgy were achieved in Britain, the technically most advanced country of Europe. The early success in iron-casting in China was due to a superior form of bellows that delivered a continuous stream of air to a furnace instead of an interrupted stream as from the type of bellows used in the West. No one beforehand would have given much thought or attention to such a seemingly unimportant device as the Chinese bellows, but it turned out to be a crucial technological development.

In the search for salt wells the ancient Chinese developed a technology of driving bamboo poles deep into the earth. Depths up to a kilometer were achieved through this technique. In addition to brine this drilling also often tapped into reservoirs of natural gas. This natural gas was captured in barrels and used as fuel to evaporate the water from brine to produce salt.

The use of natural gas was mentioned in China about 900 bc. It was in China in 211 bc that the first known well was drilled for natural gas to reported depths of 150 metres (500 feet). The Chinese drilled their wells with bamboo poles and primitive percussion bits for the express purpose of searching for gas in Late Triassic limestones (more than 208,000,000 years old) in an anticline west of modern Chungking. The gas was burned to dry the rock salt found interbedded in the limestone. Eventually wells were drilled to depths approaching 1,000 metres, and more than 1,100 wells had been drilled into the anticline by 1900.

Natural gas was unknown in Europe until its discovery in England in 1659, and even then it did not come into wide use. Instead, gas obtained from carbonized coal (known as town gas) became the primary fuel for illuminating streets and houses throughout much of Europe from 1790 on.

One of the earliest attempts to harness it for economic use occurred in 1824 in Fredonia, New York and led to the formation of the first natural gas company in the United States, the Fredonia Gas Light Company, in 1859. Toward the latter part of the nineteenth century large industrial cities began to use natural gas. Pipelines were constructed to conduct the gas to these areas. Steady growth in the use of gas marked the early and mid-twentieth century. However, it was the shortages of crude oil in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that forced major industrial nations to seek energy alternatives. Since those events, gas has become a central fossil fuel energy source

Even higher than the number of people who die from medication errors is the number of people who die from medication, period. Even when a prescription drug is dispensed properly, there's no guarantee it won't end up killing you. A remarkable study in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that

prescription drugs kill around 106,000 people in the US every year, which ranks prescription drugs as the fourth leading cause of death. Furthermore, each years sees 2,216,000 serious adverse drug reactions (defined as "those that required hospitalization, were permanently disabling, or resulted in death").

The authors of this 1998 study performed a meta-analysis on 39 previous studies covering 32 years. They factored out such things as medication errors, abuse of prescription drugs, and adverse reactions not considered serious. Plus, the study

involved only people who had either been hospitalized due to drug reactions or who experienced reactions while in the hospital. People who died immediately (and, thus, never went to the hospital) and those whose deaths weren't realized to be due to prescription drugs were not included, so the true figure is probably higher. Four years later, another study in the JAMA warned:

Patient exposure to new drugs with unknown toxic effects may be extensive. Nearly 20 million patients in the United States took at least 1 of the 5 drugs withdrawn from the market between September 1997 and September 1998. Three of these 5 drugs were new, having been on the market for less than 2 years. Seven drugs approved since 1993 and subsequently withdrawn from the market have been reported as possibly contributing to 1002 deaths.

Examining warnings added to drug labels through the years, the study's authors found that of the new chemical entities approved from 1975 to 1999, 10 percent "acquired a new black box warning or were withdrawn from the market" by 2000. Using some kind of high-falutin' statistical process, they estimate that the "probability of a new drug acquiring black box warnings or being withdrawn from the market over 25 years was 20%." A statement released by one of the study's coauthors — Sidney Wolfe, MD, Director of Public Citizen's Health Studies Group — warned:

In 1997, 39 new drugs were approved by the FDA. As of now [May 2002], five of them (Rezulin, Posicor, Duract, Raxar and Baycol) have been taken off the market and an additional two (Trovan, an antibiotic and Orgaran, an anticoagulant) have had new box warnings. Thus, seven drugs approved that year (18% of the 39 drugs approved) have already been withdrawn or had a black box warning in just four years after approval. Based on our study, 20% of drugs will be withdrawn or have a black box warning within 25 years of coming on the market. The drugs approved in 1997 have already almost "achieved" this in only four years — with 21 years to go.

How does this happen? Before the FDA approves a new drug, it must undergo clinical trials. These trials aren't performed by the FDA, though — they're done by the drug companies themselves. These trials often use relatively few patients, and they usually select patients most likely to react well to the drug. On top of that, the trials are often for a short period of time (weeks), even though real-world users may be on a drug for months or years at a time. Dr. Wolfe points out that even when adverse effects show up during clinical trials, the drugs are sometimes

released anyway, and they end up being taken off the market because of those same adverse effects. Postmarketing reporting of adverse effects isn't much better. The FDA runs a program to collect reports of problems with drugs, but compliance is voluntary. The generally accepted estimate in the medical community is that a scant 10 percent of individual instances of adverse effects are

reported to the FDA, which would mean that the problem is ten times worse than we currently believe. Drugs aren't released when they've been proven safe; they're released when enough FDA bureaucrats — many of whom have worked for the pharmaceutical companies or will work for them in the future — can be convinced that it's kinda safe. Basically, the use of prescription drugs by the general public can be seen as widespread, long-term clinical trials to determine their

true safety. We are all guinea pigs.

Next time you get a prescription filled, look at the label very carefully. Getting the wrong drug or the wrong dosage kills hundreds or thousands of people each year, with many times that number getting injured. Renegade health reporter Nicholas Regush — a self-imposed exile from ABC News — provides ii long list of specific problems:

Poor handwriting. Verbal orders. Ambiguous orders. Prescribing errors. Failure to write orders. Unapproved uses. When the order is not modified or cancelled. Look-alike and sound-alike drug names. Dangerous abbreviations. Faulty drug distribution systems in hospital. Failure to read the label or poor labeling. Lack of knowledge about drugs. Lack of knowledge concerning proper dose. Lack of knowledge concerning route of administration. Ad nauseam. After pouring over death certificates, sociology professor David Philips — an expert in mortality

statistics — determined that drug errors kill 7,000 people each year in the US. His study was published in The Lancet, probably the most prestigious medical journal in the world. The Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academies of Science, also estimated 7,000. Interestingly, the Food and Drug Administration published the lowball figure of 365 annually (one per day). But even the FDA admits that such bungling injures 1.3 million people each year. New York Newsday cited several specific cases, such as: "In 1995, a Texas doctor wrote an illegible prescription causing the patient to receive not only the wrong medication, but at eight times the drug's usually recommended strength. The patient, Ramon Vasquez, died. In 1999, a court ordered the doctor and pharmacy to pay the patient's family a total of $450,000, the largest amount ever awarded in an illegible prescription case." Besides doctors' indecipherable chicken scratch, similar-sounding drug names are another big culprit. Pharmaceutical companies have even started warning medical professionals to be careful with the cookie-cutter names of their products. In a typical example, Celebrex, Cerebyx, Celexa,

and Zyprexa sometimes get confused. (Respectively, they're used to treat arthritis, seizures, depression, and psychosis.) According to WebMD: "Bruce Lambert, an assistant professor of pharmacy administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says there are 100,000 potential pairings of drug names that could be confused."

Using extended doses of encircling X-rays, CAT scans give a detailed look inside your body, revealing not only bones but soft tissue and blood vessels, as well. According to the health site tumors, heart disease, osteoporosis, blood clots, spinal fractures, nerve damage, and lots of other problems. Because it can uncover so much, its use has become widespread and continues to rise. In fact, healthy people are getting scans just to see if anything might be wrong, kind of like a

routine check-up. The downside, and it's a doozy, is that a CAT scan jolts you with 100 to 250 times the dose of radiation that you get from a chest X-ray. What's even more alarming is that most doctors apparently don't know this. An emergency physician from the Yale School of Medicine surveyed 45 of his colleagues about the pros and cons of CAT scans. A mere nine of them said that they tell patients about the radiation. This might be just as well, in a weird way, since most of them had absolutely no clue about how much radiation CAT scans give off. When asked to compare the blast from a chest Xray to the blast from a CAT scan, only 22 percent of the docs got it right. As for the other threequarters,

The Medical Post relates:

Three of the doctors said the dose was either less than or equal to a chest X-ray.

Twenty (44%) of the doctors said the dose was greater than a chest X-ray, but less than 10 times the dose. Just over one-fifth of the doctors (22%) said the radiation dose from a CT was more than 10 times that of an X-ray but less than 100 times the dose.

Only ten of them knew that a single CAT scan equals 100 to 250 chest X-rays, while two thought that the scans were even worse than that. Feel free to give your doc a pop quiz during your next office visit.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bovine leukemia virus is a cancer-causing microbe in cattle. Just how many cows have it? The US Department of Agriculture reports that nationwide, 89 percent of herds contain cows with BLV. The most infected region is the Southeast, where 99 percent of herds have the tumor-causing bug. In some herds across the country, almost every single animal is infected. A 1980 study across Canada uncovered a

lower but none-too-reassuring rate of 40 percent. BLV is transmitted through milk. Since the milk from all cows in a herd is mixed before processing, if even a single

cow is infected, all milk from that herd will have BLV swimming in it. Citing an article in Science, oncologist Robert Kradjian, MD, warns that 90 to 95 percent of milk starts out tainted. Of course, pasteurization — when done the right way — kills BLV, but the process isn't perfect. And if you drink raw milk, odds are you're gulping down bovine leukemia virus. Between dairy cows and their cousins that are used for meat (who tend to be infected at lower rates), it appears that a whole lot of BLV is getting inside us. A 2001 study in Breast Cancer Research detected antibodies to the bovine leukemia virus in blood samples from 77 out of 100

volunteers. Furthermore, BLV showed up more often in breast tissue from women with breast cancer than in the tissue from healthy women. Several medical studies have found positive correlations between higher intake of milk/beef and increased incidence of leukemia or lymphoma in humans, although other studies haven't found a correlation. No hard evidence has yet linked BLV to diseases in humans, but do you feel comfortable knowing that cow cancer cells are in your body?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The fact that smoking causes lung disease and oral cancer isn't exactly news, and only tobacco industry executives would express (feigned) shock at being told. But cigarettes can lead to a whole slew of problems involving every system of your tar-filled body, and most people aren'l aware of this. The American Council on Science and Health's book Cigarettes: What the Warning Label Doesn't Tell You is the first comprehensive look at the medical evidence of all types of harm triggered by smoking. Referencing over 450 articles from medical journals and reviewed by 45

experts — mainly medical doctors and PhDs — if this book doesn't convince you to quit, nothing will.

Among some of the things that cancer sticks do:

��Besides cancers of the head, neck, and lungs, ciggies are especially connected to cancers of the bladder, kidney, pancreas, and cervix. Newer evidence is adding leukemia and colorectal cancer to the list. Recent studies have also found at least a doubling of risk among smokers for cancers of the vulva and penis, as well as an eight-fold risk of anal cancer for men and a nine-fold risk for women.

��Smoking trashes the ability of blood to flow, which results in a sixteen-fold greater risk of peripheral vascular disease. This triggers pain in the legs and arms, which often leads to an inability to walk and, in some instances, gangrene and/or amputation. Seventy-six percent of all cases are caused by smoking, more than for any other factor, including diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

��Smokers are at least two to three times more likely to develop the heartbreak of psoriasis. Even if that doesn't happen, they'll look old before their time. The American Council tells us, "Smokers in their 40s have facial wrinkles similar to those of nonsmokers in their 60s."

��Smokers require more anesthesia for surgery, and they recover much more slowly. In fact, wounds of all kinds take longer to heal for smokers.

��Puffing helps to weaken bones, soft tissue, and spinal discs, causing all kinds of musculoskeletal pain, more broken bones and ruptured discs, and longer healing time. "A non-smoker's leg heals an average of 80 percent faster than a smoker's broken leg."

��Smoking is heavily related to osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass, which results in brittle bones and more breaks.

��Cigarettes interfere with your ability to have kids. "The fertility rates of women who smoke are about 30 percent lower than those of nonsmokers." If you're an idiot who continues to smoke while you're expecting — even in this day and age, some people, including stars Catherine Zeta Jones and Courtney Love, do this — you increase the risks of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, underdevelopment, and cleft pallet. If your child is able to survive outside the womb, it will have a heavily elevated risk of crib death (SIDS), allergies, and

intellectual impairment.

��Smoking also does a serious number on sperm, resulting in more deformed cells, less ability of them to swim, smaller loads, and a drastic decrease in overall number of the little fellas. The larger population of misshapen sperm probably increases the risk of miscarriages and birth defects, so even if mommy doesn't smoke, daddy could still cause problems. What's more, because smoking hurts blood flow, male smokers are at least twice as likely to be unable to get it up.

��Besides shutting down blood flow to the little head, smoking interferes with the blood going to the big head in both sexes. This causes one quarter of all strokes. It also makes these strokes more likely to occur earlier in life and more likely to be fatal.

��"Depression — whether viewed as a trait, a symptom or a diagnosable disorder — is overrepresented among smokers." Unfortunately, it's unclear how the two are related. Does smoking cause depression, or does depression lead to smoking? Or, most likely, do the two feed on each other in a vicious cycle?

��"Smokers experience sudden hearing loss an average of 16 years earlier than do never smokers."

��Smokers and former smokers have an increased risk of developing cataracts, abnormal eye movements, inflammation of the optic nerve, permanent blindness from lack of blood flow, and the most severe form of macular degeneration.

��Lighting up increases plaque, gum disease, and tooth loss.

��It also makes it likelier that you'll develop diabetes, stomach ulcers, colon polyps, and Crohn's disease.

��Smoking trashes the immune system in myriad ways, with the overall result being that you're more susceptible to disease and allergies.

��And let's not forget that second-hand smoke has horrible effects on the estimated 42 percent of toddlers and infants who are forced to inhale it in their homes:

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), children's "passive smoking," as it is called, results in hundreds of thousands of cases of bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections, and worsened asthma. Worse yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 702 children younger than one year die each year as a result of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), worsened asthma and serious respiratory infections.

IIt's very surprising to note that smoking can have a few health benefits. Because they zap women's estrogen levels, cigarettes can lead to less endometriosis and other conditions related to the hormone. Smoking also decreases the risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knees, perhaps because the pliability of thin bones takes some pressure off of the cartilage. And because it jacks up dopamine levels, it helps ward off Parkinson's disease. Of course, these benefits seem to be side effects of the hazards of smoking, so the trade-off hardly seems worth it.


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