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Asbestos Stocks Rise As Deal Approaches
WASHINGTON - April 12, 2005 - Business - AP - Asbestos-related stocks rose sharply Tuesday as key Senate Democrats appeared ready to accept major concessions in an asbestos injury trust-fund bill circulated Tuesday.
"I think we are very close to a deal," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "I still do not have the final results until senators take a look at it," Specter said, "But ... I am optimistic."
Shares of Armstrong Holdings Inc. shot up 93 cents, or 49 percent, to $2.83; W.R. Grace & Co. rose $1.01, or 13 percent, to $9.05; USG Corp. was up $3.94, or 11 percent, at $39.21; and McDermott International Inc. rose $1.85, or 9.8 percent, to $20.65.
The Senate legislation would end asbestos liability lawsuits against companies such as these in exchange for a $140 billion industry-funded trust fund out of which workers with asbestos-related injuries would be compensated.
Key Democrats have agreed to bar from the fund workers who had been exposed to asbestos and developed lung cancer but who had no other signs of asbestos-related injuries. Benefits for these workers are categorized in the original version of the bill as "Level VII" awards.
Insurers and defendant corporations had objected to providing Level VII awards to these workers, many of whom were smokers or ex-smokers, because they may not have contracted their disease strictly from asbestos.
Specter said as a general rule, the legislation excludes from awards those who cannot demonstrate that "their cancer was caused by asbestos."
Money saved by excluding those workers industry groups estimate as much as $30 billion will be plowed back into the trust fund to provide higher awards to those with greater injuries from asbestos, Specter said.
For example, the original version of the bill would have provided an award of $1.075 million for those suffering from mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer. Specter noted that mesothelioma is a deadly disease and juries have been awarding victims more than had previously been proposed by the bill.
"What we are trying to do is take care of people who are sick," Specter said.
Sen. John Cornyn (news, bio, voting record), R-Texas, praised the decision to drop Level VII awards from the bill. He and other conservative Republicans had sought the changes.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), D-Vt., plans a meeting with fellow Judiciary Committee Democrats on Tuesday to discuss the proposal.
Asbestos is linked to a number of lung diseases, including cancer and asbestosis. Legal claims against employers have driven many companies into bankruptcy, and the legislative effort to create a trust fund has been closely watched by insurers, labor groups and defendant corporations.
Specter has struggled for months to secure an agreement on the bill that would satisfy conservative Republicans on his committee while still winning enough Democrats to avoid a filibuster when the bill hits the Senate floor. A filibuster takes 60 of 100 votes and there are only 55 Republican senators.
"If we get out of the Judiciary Committee then I think there are enough people interested (in the bill) on both sides of the aisle to give it a good prospect for passage" by the full Senate, Cornyn said Tuesday morning.
But, he warned, "there are still a lot of things up in the air."
He said Republicans on the committee plan to meet Tuesday afternoon "to look at some of the mechanics to make sure this thing will work the way it is intended to work."
Specter also plans a meeting later in the day with Senate GOP leaders
Reeve's Death Puts Focus on Women's Lung Cancer Risk
WEDNESDAY, March 8 (HealthDay News) -- Experts say it may take the illness and death of Dana Reeve, widow of actor Christopher Reeve, to finally swing attention to lung cancer's grim toll on women -- even women who, like Reeves, never smoked.
In fact, 20 percent of the thousands of American women diagnosed with lung cancer each year never used tobacco. And for reasons that remain unclear, nonsmoking women are more likely to develop a lung malignancy than nonsmoking men.
"We need to understand why younger women are more likely to get the disease, why there are molecular differences in lung cancer between men and women, and why there are treatment differences between men and women," said Regina Vidaver, executive director of Women Against Lung Cancer, which lobbies on behalf of more research into lung cancer.
Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death for both genders, killing 72,000 women each year in the United States -- about 30,000 more than succumb to breast cancer annually, Vidaver pointed out.
"It's a sad thing that it takes a celebrity's death to highlight that this is the leading cancer killer of both men and women," Vidaver said.
Reeve's death also highlights the fact that people don't have to smoke to get this disease. "In fact, one in five women who develop lung cancer have never smoked -- the figure is about half that for men," she said.
Dr. Sharon I.S. Rounds, the immediate past president of the American Thoracic Society and chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Brown Medical School, agreed with Vidaver. "The problem of lung cancer among women is not well-recognized by the public," she said. "Lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths in women in 1987."
Lung cancer remains the leading cancer killer of both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society. This year, there will be an estimated 162,460 deaths from lung cancer -- 90,330 among men and 72,130 among women -- which accounts for about 28 percent of all cancer deaths, the society notes.
"For women, that's more than breast, ovarian and uterine cancer deaths combined," Rounds said. "And lung cancer kills more people than the three next most common cancers combined -- that's colon, breast and prostate cancer," she added.
Other factors besides smoking can predispose individuals to lung cancer, such as radiation exposure, asbestos exposure and exposure to secondhand smoke or other environmental causes. In addition, scientists suspect that lung cancer has a genetic component, too, Rounds noted.
While lung malignancies do differ between men and women, the disease is generally not more aggressive in women than it is in men, Vidaver said. "Every tumor in every single individual is different, and so you cannot make a blanket assessment about aggressiveness," she said.
But Rounds said we still know far too little about the disease. "There needs to be a better understanding of how lung cancer is caused, how to prevent it and how to diagnosis it and how to treat it more effectively," she said.
Both experts said there's no effective, accepted screening test for lung cancer. The result: Most cancer is diagnosed in an advanced stage when it is exceedingly tough to treat. An accurate early detection test would mean earlier diagnosis and, for many patients, a more optimistic prognosis.
"To me the fact that we don't have a screening test for the biggest cancer killer in the nation is the best indicator of how little resources have been put toward this disease," Vidaver said. "It is absolutely abhorrent to me that we don't have a screening test for this disease."
Trials into a promising new screening method are currently under way, Rounds said. "But there are no conclusive results yet," she added.
Vidaver believes much of the blame for the paucity of research into lung cancer belongs with the U.S. government.
"We don't understand very much about this at all," Vidaver said. "It's primarily due to the federal government not providing funding commensurate with this disease's death toll. We need to have more research done. That's the only way that we are going to end up saving lives."