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Health Highlights: Dec. 17 2009

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Survey Reveals Prescription Drug Abuse in U.S. Military

Prescription drug abuse is a major problem in the U.S. military, suggests a Pentagon health study that surveyed more than 28,500 troops in 2008.

It found that about one in four soldiers and about 20 percent of Marines admitted abusing prescription drugs, mainly pain killers, USA Today reported. Illicit use of pain killers was triple that of marijuana or amphetamines, the next most widely abused drugs.

About 15 percent of soldiers and about 10 percent of Marines said they'd abused prescription drugs in the 30 days before they were interviewed for the survey, which was released Wednesday.

"We are aware that more prescription drugs are being used today for pain management and behavioral health issues," said Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force, USA Today reported. "These areas of substance abuse along with increased use of alcohol concern us."


State's Smoking Cessation Program for Poor Highly Effective

A Massachusetts program that offers free treatment to help poor people stop smoking has yielded quick and impressive results.

When the program was launched in 2006, about 38 percent of the state's poor residents smoked. By 2008, that rate was 28 percent, a decrease of about 30,000 people, according to new data, The New York Times reported.

There are indications that this steep reduction has led to lower rates of hospitalization for heart attacks and emergency room visits for asthma attacks, said Lois Keithly, director of the state's Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program.

The striking results have attracted national attention and are being used by antismoking advocates and some U.S. senators to push for similar Medicaid coverage for tobacco addiction in new national health care legislation, The Times reported.


City Women's Happiness Linked to Appearance: Study

Physical appearance is an important part of happiness for city women, but not for country girls, suggests a new study that included 257 urban dwellers and 330 rural residents.

The women were interviewed about their satisfaction with life, general level of happiness and sense of connection with friends and community, reported.

The researchers found no connection between physical appearance and happiness among women who live in the country. In fact, rural women who were slightly chubbier appeared to be somewhat happier.

"City women who were the most attractive got a lot of bang for their appearance buck," said study lead author Victoria Plaut, a visiting assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, and an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, reported. "And if you were even slightly below average, you were very clearly worse off."

The study appears in the journal Personal Relationships.


Scientists Crack Genetic Codes of Lung, Skin Cancer

The complete genetic codes of skin and lung cancers have been deciphered, an achievement that will lead to earlier detection and improved treatments for two of the most common cancers, scientists report.

The researchers found that the DNA code for melanoma skin cancer contains more than 30,000 errors and that almost all those errors are caused by too much sun exposure, BBC News reported.

The DNA code of lung cancer has more than 23,000 errors, most of which are caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. The researchers estimated that a typical smoker develops one new mutation for every 15 cigarettes smoked. While most of these mutations are harmless, some will cause cancer.

The research appears in the journal Nature.

Researchers worldwide are investigating the genomes of many types of human cancers -- including breast, stomach, brain, ovary, pancreas, liver and mouth tumors -- to catalogue all the genes that go wrong in these cancers, BBC News reported.

"These catalogues are going to change the way we think about individual cancers," said Professor Michael Stratton, of the Wellcome Trust in Great Britain.

"By identifying all the cancer genes we will be able to develop new drugs that target the specific mutated genes and work out which patients will benefit from these novel treatments," he said. "We can envisage a time when following the removal of a cancer, cataloguing it will become routine."

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Posted: December 2009