Elsewhere in the section, two Web sites were incorrectly identified. The site for the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra should have been given as www.viagra.com. In Quick Study, the site for the Annals of Internal Medicine should have been listed as www.annals.org. (Published 5/26/04)

COLON CANCER

Few differences found between laparoscopic and open surgery.

* THE QUESTION Laparoscopic surgery emerged in the early 1990s as an option for treating colon cancer. Its less-invasive technique made it appealing, but some have questioned whether it is as effective as traditional open surgery. How do the two techniques compare?

* THIS STUDY randomly assigned 872 adults with colon cancer to have either laparoscopic or open colectomy. The surgeries were performed by one of 66 participating surgeons at 48 different institutions. After about 41/2 years, recurrence rates were less than 1 percent in both groups, and survival rates were similar as well: 86 percent among those who had laparoscopic surgery and 85 percent among those had traditional operations. Laparoscopic patients stayed in the hospital less time (five rather than six days, on average) and used pain medication for one less day than the others. However, laparoscopic surgery took an average of 150 minutes, while traditional surgery lasted about 95 minutes.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Anyone with colon cancer, the third most common cancer in the United States. About 107,000 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed this year.

* CAVEATS In the study, highly experienced surgeons performed the laparoscopic operations; different outcomes could result with less-experienced doctors.

* BOTTOM LINE People with colon cancer may want to discuss surgical options with their doctor.

* FIND THIS STUDY May 13 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine; abstract available online at www.nejm.org.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT colon cancer at www.cancer.org and at www.mayoclinic.com.

WEIGHT LOSS

Low-carb diet produces similar results to standard low-fat diet.

* THE QUESTION Picking a diet plan has befuddled many people. Some opt to cut calories; others, carbohydrates or fat. Does one method have advantages over the other?

* THIS STUDY randomly assigned 132 obese adults to follow either a low-fat or a low-carb diet for one year. Of the participants, 83 percent had diabetes, a common problem among severely overweight people. One group was to consume fewer than 30 grams of carbohydrates a day. The others were to reduce calories consumed by 500 a day, with less than 30 percent of them coming from fat. Both got weekly and then monthly counseling about their diets. After a year, weight loss was similar between the two groups, ranging from 11 to 19 pounds for the low-carb dieters and seven to 19 pounds for the low-fat group. The rate of loss, however, was different, with low-carb participants losing more pounds in the first six months and then maintaining most of the loss, and the low-fat eaters continuing to lose steadily for 12 months. Levels of triglyceride, a blood fat that contributes to heart disease, decreased more in the low-carb group, and high-density lipoprotein (the "good") cholesterol decreased less. Among diabetics, glucose levels dropped more in those on the low-carb than the low-fat diet.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Anyone who is overweight or obese.

* CAVEATS The study had a 34 percent dropout rate, which suggests the difficulty of adhering to a strict diet over time. Also, an individual's response to either eating plan might vary from the results achieved by study participants.

* BOTTOM LINE People considering weight loss may want to discuss the benefits of various plans with their doctors.

* FIND THIS STUDY May 18 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine; abstract available online at www.anals.org.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT selecting a diet plan at www.niddk.nih.gov (search for "weight loss program") and at www.mayoclinic.com.

BREAST CANCER

Heavier women appear to have an increased risk of disease.

* THE QUESTION After menopause, women frequently gain weight, often in the abdominal area. Does this make them more likely to develop breast cancer?

* THIS STUDY examined the medical records of 73,542 pre-menopausal and 103,344 post-menopausal women participating in an international study on nutrition and cancer. About five years after starting the study, 1,879 women were diagnosed with breast cancer. Analysis showed that abdominal fat was not related to breast cancer development, regardless of menopausal status. However, overall weight did affect the risk among post-menopausal women. For instance, among those not using hormone therapy, women who were obese had a 31 percent greater risk of breast cancer than their thinner counterparts.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? All women. More than 2 million women living in the United States have been treated for breast cancer. An estimated 216,000 new cases will be discovered this year.

* CAVEATS The study did not account for other possible risk factors, which could include diet and family history of breast cancer.

* BOTTOM LINE Overweight women may want to talk with their doctor about how their weight might affect their breast cancer risk.

* FIND THIS STUDY May 17 online edition of the International Journal of Cancer; abstract available online at www.interscience.wiley.com/journal/ijc.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT risks of developing breast cancer at www.cancer.org and at www.cancer.gov.

-- Linda Searing