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News Briefs I

Study Finds Controversial Cancer Treatment Yields No Clear Benefit THE WASHINGTON POST -- A controversial treatment for breast cancer advocated by many patients and questioned by many insurance companies opposed to paying for it appears to be no better than conventional therapy for the disease, according to the results of the first large studies testing it.

The treatment involves giving near-lethal doses of chemotherapy drugs and then “rescuing” patients with transplants of bone marrow to restore their immune systems. Although rare compared to other breast cancer treatments, this one has become a major rallying point for advocacy groups and critics of the newfound power of health insurance companies to determine what constitutes appropriate care.

In five studies whose preliminary results were unveiled Thursday, women getting the treatment showed no clear benefit when compared to women receiving more standard doses of cancer-killing drugs.

While few people expected the studies would settle the issue, the results were intensely anticipated by cancer patients, physicians, advocacy groups and insurance executives. Results will be presented at a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology next month.

Many Algerian Voters Stay Home THE WASHINGTON POST -- ALGIERS, Algeria

Algerian voters stayed home in droves Thursday as lone presidential candidate Abdelaziz Bouteflika coasted toward what one Algiers newspaper headline called “victory by default.”

Algeria’s first presidential election in four years lay in tatters following Wednesday’s last-minute decision by all six of Bouteflika’s opponents to end their candidacies.

Just days ago, the election had been seen both here and abroad as a promising democratic opening in the authoritarian North African state -- and a possible turning point in the bloody civil war between Islamic militants and government security forces that has killed an estimated 75,000 people since 1992.

The six candidates quit the race charging fraud by the military-backed government of outgoing President Liamine Zeroual. They accused the government of ballot-stuffing and other irregularities designed to plump Bouteflika’s totals enough to preclude a runoff election he couldn’t be sure of winning.

FCC Requires Phone Companies to Clarify Monthly Billing Statements LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Moving to unravel phone bills that have confused and -- some critics say -- misled consumers for decades, federal regulators on Thursday issued rules requiring telephone companies to clarify their monthly charges. The adoption of so-called “Truth-in-Billing” rules by the Federal Communications Commission is aimed at helping consumers spot fraudulent charges.

With long-distance carriers battling for customers, and with the rise of calling cards and other services submitted directly to carriers for collection rather than customers, there has been an explosion of complaints about charges for phone services that were never ordered. The FCC said it received about 30,000 such consumer complaints last year. Another 60,000 telephone subscribers contacted the FCC last year with questions about their phone bills.

The consumer uproar over having long-distance service switched or being charged for an unrequested service has focused new attention on how poorly organized phone bills have remained for consumers, while competition has forced phone companies to give businesses their bills in formats -- ranging from elaborate printouts to CD-ROMs or computer floppy disks.