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After cancer, more women are having healthy breasts removed

For decades, advocates have fought to protect women from disfiguring breast cancer surgery, arguing that it was just as effective to remove only the cancerous tissue rather than the whole breast.

But today, a growing number of women with breast cancer are pushing surgeons in a startling new direction. Not only do they want the cancerous breast removed, but they want the healthy breast cut off, too.

“I just didn’t want to worry about it,” said Liliana Holtzman, 50, of Ann Arbor, Mich., who had both breasts removed after a cancer diagnosis five years ago. “It was for my own peace of mind.”

The percentage of women asking to remove both breasts after a cancer diagnosis has more than doubled in recent years. Overall, about 6 percent of women undergoing surgery for breast cancer in 2006 opted for the procedure, formally known as contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. Among women in their 40s who underwent breast cancer surgery, one in 10 opted to have both breasts removed, according to a University of Minnesota study presented last week at the annual meeting of the Society of Surgical Oncology.

Surprisingly, the practice is also growing more popular among women with the most curable cancers. Among women in the earliest stage, the rate of double mastectomy rose to 5.2 percent in 2005, from 2.1 percent in 1998, according to a 2009 study.

Three drugmakers compete to buy Ratiopharm

A three-way bidding war has broken out for Ratiopharm, a leading generic drugmaker with headquarters in Ulm, Germany, analysts said.

The auction is riveting drugmakers and analysts because it pits the world’s biggest maker of brand-name drugs, the American company Pfizer, against the global leader in generics, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, with headquarters in Israel. Pfizer is said to have bid as much as three billion euros — or about $4.1 billion — for Ratiopharm, Bloomberg reported last week, citing two people with knowledge of the talks. Besides Teva, analysts say, the other bidder is Actavis, a generic maker based in Iceland.

Actavis has 10,000 employees worldwide and operations in 40 countries. But with global sales of roughly the same level as Ratiopharm and a heavy debt load, Actavis may have the biggest challenge convincing Ratiopharm, which is family-owned, that it would not seek to shrink the company, analysts said.

Using computing might, Google improves its translation tool

The free Google Translate service handles 52 languages, more than any similar system, and people use it hundreds of millions of times a week to translate Web pages and other text.

Google’s efforts to expand beyond searching the Web have met with mixed success. Its digital books project has been hung up in court, and the introduction of its social network, Buzz, raised privacy fears. The pattern suggests that it can sometimes misstep when it tries to challenge business traditions and cultural conventions.

But Google’s quick rise to the top echelons of the translation business is a reminder of what can happen when Google unleashes its brute-force computing power on complex problems.

The network of data centers that it built for Web searches may now be, when lashed together, the world’s largest computer. Google is using that machine to push the limits on translation technology. Last month, for example, it said it was working to combine its translation tool with image analysis, allowing a person to, say, take a cell phone photo of a menu in German and get an instant English translation.

Creating a translation machine has long been seen as one of the toughest challenges in artificial intelligence. For decades, computer scientists tried using a rules-based approach — teaching the computer the linguistic rules of two languages and giving it the necessary dictionaries.

But in the mid-1990s, researchers began favoring a so-called statistical approach. They found that if they fed the computer thousands or millions of passages and their human-generated translations, it could learn to make accurate guesses about how to translate new texts.

Next for ‘Cove’ Oscar winners: keeping whale off sushi plates

It is sport among black belt sushi eaters here to see just how daring one’s palate can be. But even among the squid-chomping, roe-eating and uni-nibbling fans, whale is almost unheard of on the plate. It also happens to be illegal.

Yet with video cameras and tiny microphones, the team behind Sunday’s Oscar-winning documentary film “The Cove” has orchestrated a Hollywood-meets-Greenpeace-style covert operation to ferret out what the authorities say is illegal whale meat at one of this town’s most highly regarded sushi destinations.

Their work was coordinated with law enforcement officials, who said on Monday that they were likely to bring charges against the restaurant, the Hump, for violating federal laws against selling marine mammals.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California declined to say what charges could be brought against the restaurant, but said they could come as early as this week.

In the clash of two Southern California cultures — sushi aficionados and hard-core animal lovers — the animal lovers have thrown a hard punch.