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Eyeglass wearers who go to individual practitioners are generally more satisfied than those who deal with optical chain stores, according to a nationwide survey of its readers by Consumer Reports.

Many of the 71,000 readers surveyed in 1992 about their purchases of prescription glasses during the previous two years said they felt independent eye doctors generally give more thorough exams. Nonetheless, the large optical chains received strong support because of advantages independents can't always offer: a choice of convenient locations, ample frame selection, speedy service and special discounts.The three top-rated chains were Price Club Optical (part of a warehouse store), For Eyes, and Frame-n-Lens (a California chain). They were also distinguishes by their emphasis on low prices.

The survey results appear in an article titled "Buying Glasses" in the August issue of Consumer Reports. Also included in the article: general buying advice; an explanation of the differences between optometrists, ophthalmologists and opticians; and a discussion of distinctions between various types of frames, eyeglass lenses and lens coatings.

The most important step in buying glasses is the eye exam. For an eyeglass prescription and an eye disease check-up, you must see an optometrist or ophthalmologist, either at a chian store or at an independent office. While many big chains offer one-stop shopping with an eye test included, an independent eye doctor is likely to be more objective about your needs.

With today's choice of designer frames and special lenses, glasses are a significant purchase. About one in six respondents had spent $250 or more on a pair of glasses. Although prices at independent stores were found to be competitive with the chains, some chains were far less expensive than others. The average price in chain stores ranged from $88 to $192. Markups in the industry are often triple the wholesale price or higher, says the magazine.

In addition to the survey, Consumer Reports sent three people to price their own prescription glasses in similar frames at New York-area branches of five major chains. The price spread was considerable: $176 versus $310 for the first person; $142 versus $229 for the second; and $149 versus $195 for the third. Moreover, some chains proved to be minefields of confusing charges with separate prices quoted for the frame, lenses, tints, coatings and for especially high-power lenses.

If you're in a hurry to have glasses made, some of the quickest chains, according to the results of the survey, were Eyemasters, LensCrafters and Opti-World. All were significantly more expensive than the top-rated chains.

If you're more interested in bargains, you may want to look for a "warehouse" store, a relatively new competitor in the eyeglass market. They offer a limited selection of frames, and you have to wait for your order to be filled, but they often carry designer labels at prices cut to the bone.

Wherever you buy your glasses, don't leave the store until you're sure you're happy with them, says the magazine. Almost half of those who bought glasses from a big chain had to return at least once because of a problem - often because the frames needed adjusting, and occasionally because a lens had come loose. Consumer Reports advises you to discuss any problems you discover in the store right away, and don't hesitate to return at any time if the glasses need adjusting.

Kidney cancer

Two experimental treatments have increased the odds of surviving cancers that have spread from the kidneys.

Approximately 33 percent of kidney cancer patients who have received the therapies at UCLA School of Medicine have experienced complete or partial remission of tumors that spread to other areas, UCLA's Dr. Arie Belldegrun announced during the annual meeting of the American Urological Association.

In one treatment, the body's defense system is stimulated several weeks before the cancerous kidney is surgically removed. Cancer-killing white blood cells are then harvested from the excised kidney, laced with the drug interleukin-2 and reintroduced into the body.

The invigorated white cells then chase down and kill cancer cells in the lungs, bone, adrenal glands, lymph nodes and other areas.

In the second treatment, another family of white blood cells is obtained from the surgically removed kidney, strengthened and reinfused into the patient. These cells also are eradicating cancers at other sites.

Ten of 31 patients have benefited from the treatment, Belldegrun said.

- Don Kirkman, Scripps Howard News Service.