Mammogram Access

Threatened, Group Says

A worsening shortage of providers is threatening women's access to mammograms, says a major new report that found long waits for the breast X-rays in parts of the country. The scans, while imperfect, remain the best method for detecting breast cancer when it is most treatable, the Institute of Medicine said yesterday, but too many women skip them.

The prestigious scientific group said improving access, through such steps as allowing specially trained non-doctors to help radiologists do the scans, is crucial to getting more women checked.

Only about 60 percent of the women old enough for routine mammograms get them -- and every year, 1.2 million more women turn 40, the age when most should begin getting the tests.

The American College of Radiology immediately denounced the idea of letting non-doctors, specially trained or not, play any role in reading mammograms.

The report said the number of mammography facilities has dropped more than 8 percent since 2000, to 8,600. Fewer radiologists are specializing in breast imaging because of long hours, low reimbursement, heavy regulation and fear of lawsuits.

Suffocation Suicides

Increase Among Young

Hanging and other forms of suffocation have overtaken guns as the chief means of suicide among American youngsters 10 to 14 years old, the government said.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were surprised by the switch and said they first noticed the trend in the early 1990s. By the end of the decade, suffocations had surpassed self-inflected shootings. Health officials said they do not know why the switch occurred and whether it had anything to do with the use of trigger locks, lock boxes and other measures for keeping guns out of youngsters' hands.

Suffocations are often carried out with common household items such as belts, ropes or plastic bags.

In 1992, there were 96 suicides by suffocation among Americans 10 to 14 years old, the CDC said. That rose to 163 in 2001. Firearm suicides dropped from 172 to 90 during the same period.

Overall, the suicide rate for youths age 10 to 19 fell by about a quarter, from 6.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 1992 to 4.6 per 100,000 in 2001, the CDC said.

In China, Human Trials

Begin on SARS Vaccine

The first human clinical trials of a SARS vaccine are underway in China, where four volunteers have been injected with a prototype, the World Health Organization said.

The first phase, being conducted by the Chinese company Sinovac Biotech, will be expanded soon to include another 32 volunteers in Beijing, said Marie-Paule Kieny, director of WHO's initiative for vaccine research.

She made the announcement during a news conference after 150 leading scientists, researchers and public health experts from 30 countries held four days of talks on global vaccine research.

In the trials, healthy volunteers have been injected with the vaccine, which had been successfully tried on rhesus monkeys, to check for side effects.

But a SARS vaccine still might not be available for years unless regulatory authorities accelerate production and distribution, said Stanley Plotkin, scientific adviser to pharmaceutical maker Aventis Pasteur.

-- From News Services