We have talked before about the problems of interpreting blood and other tests. Yet in this land of defensive medicine, most wise physicians have to do an awful lot of screening that is not always in the patient’s best interests.
Here is a recent article from Forbes that looks at seven health screens about which we should, perhaps, think twice:
- Total body scans
- PSA screen for prostate cancer
- CT scan for lung cancer
- PlacTest to evaluate your chance of a heart attack or stroke
- Coronary calcium scans
- CA125 tests for ovarian cancer
- Vitamin D testing
Controversial stuff, and I can think of a number of other tests about which I have a great many reservations.
The problem is that every advocacy group has a slightly different set of recommendations on screenings. Doctors and patients are getting conflicting and confusing messages about which tests to use.
The second issue is false positives. Even recommended tests yield many false readings. According to research compiled by the United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the percentage of false-positive mammograms is between 7% and 8% for women aged 40 to 59 who took the test. The figure drops to around 4% for women 60 to 79, presumably because the chances of getting breast cancer rise as women age. The conclusion is that if every woman between 40 and 59 in the U.S. had a mammogram, a few million would be fretting unnecessarily over a wrong result.
My life’s work has centered on wellness and the prevention of illness, so I would never want to abandon screening. We just need to be very aware of the pros and cons of any tests that we do.