FDA OKs 3-D for breast cancer screening

WASHINGTON -- The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first X-ray mammography device that provides three-dimensional images of the breast for cancer screening and diagnosis.

The equipment, the Selenia Dimensions System, "could significantly enhance existing diagnosis and treatment approaches" to breast cancer, Jeffrey Shuren, head of FDA's office of medical devices, said in a statement. About 10 percent of women who receive a mammogram require additional testing for issues that ultimately turn out to be noncancerous. Regulators say the 3-D system may reduce the number of women requiring a second round of testing.

In evaluating the equipment, the FDA reviewed results from two studies in which radiologists were asked to review 2-D and 3-D images from more than 300 mammography exams. In both studies, radiologists viewing both the 2-D and 3-D images obtained a 7 percent improvement in their ability to distinguish between cancerous and noncancerous cases compared with viewing 2-D images alone, the FDA said in a statement.

Surgery in womb for spina bifida 'promising'

Performing surgery on babies with the most severe form of spina bifida when they are still in the womb doubles the chance that they will be able to walk, according to a federally funded study.

The study, which involved 158 mothers carrying babies with spina bifida, found that sealing up the defective spinal cords before they were born also significantly reduced the chances they would need a tube known as a shunt surgically implanted to drain fluid from their brains.

"This is a very promising and quite an exciting result," said Diana Farmer of the University of California at San Francisco, one of three centers that conducted the study.

Based on the findings, published in a paper released online by the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers said expectant parents who find out their babies have spina bifida should consider the operation.

Spina bifida is the most common birth defect of the central nervous system. About 1,500 babies are born each year with the most severe form of the condition, known as myelomeningocele. It occurs when part of the spinal column does not close around the spinal cord.

When babies with spina bifida are born, surgeons have been inserting the spinal cord back into the spinal column and then sealing the column. In the new study, surgeons painstakingly performed the two-hour procedure while the babies were still in the womb, about 19 to 26 weeks into the pregnancies.

Judge delays decision in sterilization case

LONDON -- A British judge ruled this week that more evidence is needed before deciding whether to grant a mother's wish to have her mentally disabled daughter sterilized in a case that is troubling medical ethicists.

The 21-year-old woman, who has a significant learning disability and has been identified only as P, already has one child who is being cared for by her mother, Mrs. P. The woman is scheduled to give birth via cesarean section this week, and her mother had proposed that doctors could sterilize her daughter at the same time.

"From my point of view, I want the best for my daughter," Mrs. P told the court. "Obviously, we can't carry on supporting more and more children."

Some critics questioned whether the radical step was necessary and worried about the precedent it would set.

"This is eugenics if they are doing this because she's mentally disabled," said George Annas, chairman of the department of health law and bioethics at Boston University. "This decision needs to be made based on the person's best interests, not the best interests of society or her caregivers."

Other experts said sterilizing a woman who is mentally incompetent could be warranted in exceptional cases, such as if the woman isn't able to take care of a baby.

"The issue is also whether or not you're being kind or being cruel by repeatedly exposing her to the dangers of pregnancy and the risk of a C-section without having the opportunity to keep the child," said John Harris, a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester.

The case is scheduled to be heard in April.

Veterans who were abused sue Pentagon

WASHINGTON -- More than a dozen U.S. veterans who say they were raped or assaulted by comrades filed a class-action suit in federal court this week attempting to force the Pentagon to change how it handles such cases.

The current and former service members,15 women and two men, describe circumstances in which servicemen allegedly got away with rape and other sexual abuse while their victims were ordered to continue to serve with them.

The suit names Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. The plaintiffs say individual commanders have too much say in how allegations are handled and that they want reforms in the system.

"The problem of rape in the military is not only service members getting raped, but it's the entire way that the military as a whole is dealing with it," said Panayiota Bertzikis, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit and claims she was raped in 2006. "From survivors having to be involuntarily discharged from service, the constant verbal abuse, once a survivor does come forward, your entire unit is known to turn their back on you."

The military already had planned to roll out a new hotline victims can call in April, said Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith. It has another initiative that encourages service members to help those who are assaulted or raped. In 2005, the military created an office charged with preventing sexual assault. Victims can opt to file a "restricted" or confidential report that allows them to get medical attention without an investigation being triggered.