Virtual Colonoscopy Not

Preferred Over Traditional

Virtual colonoscopy, which uses a computerized X-ray scan to check for colon cancer, shows promise but is not ready to replace traditional colonoscopies, experts said yesterday.

Virtual scans are still not as good at spotting smaller precancerous growths and polyps, said a task force of gastroenterologists, radiologists and epidemiologists assembled by the American Gastroenterological Association.

"CT colonography is currently not the most accurate or convenient test, but may in the future be included in the mix of colorectal cancer screening options," Emmet B. Keeffe, president of the association, said in a statement. "While the virtual aspect of the test sounds appealing, it isn't a panacea."

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. It killed more than 57,000 people last year.

Some With Breast Cancer

May Be Able to Skip Radiation

Many older women with early breast cancer can safely skip radiation after having a lump removed, two studies suggest.

Most women should still undergo radiation, because it helps prevent a recurrence of cancer within the same breast, the researchers said. But breast cancer grows so slowly in older women -- at least those older than 70 -- that many could forgo radiation with little risk of recurrence.

"This is a very reasonable option for these women," said Kevin S. Hughes, a cancer surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and lead researcher in one of the two studies reported in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

In their five-year studies, research teams compared early-cancer lumpectomy patients on tamoxifen with and without radiation. A Canadian team looked at 769 women 50 and older. The American group, led by Hughes and backed by the National Cancer Institute, focused on 636 women 70 and older.

Virus May Be Responsible

For Two Crib Deaths in U.S.

A virus recently discovered in Japan is suspected in two crib deaths in Wisconsin, raising new questions about how many cases might be caused by germs.

The cases mark the first time the virus has been identified in the United States. Whether it killed the babies is not clear, but both were sick before they died and had signs of disease in their lungs.

Sudden infant death syndrome -- also called "crib death" -- is a catch-all term for unexplained deaths in children less than a year old. Brain or breathing abnormalities, genetic mutations and birth defects are all possible causes. The risk increases if babies live with smokers, are put to sleep on their stomachs, or are bundled in too many clothes or covers. Infections also have long been implicated, but many SIDS victims are not tested for viruses.

The Wisconsin cases should prompt research into whether SIDS is often caused by the newly discovered virus, said Mark Pallansch, who identified it at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after a Milwaukee virologist detected it.

Separately, a study in today's New England Journal of Medicine suggests that a protein long linked to stillbirths and some birth defects may play a role in SIDS.

-- From News Services