Articles Posted in Testing

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Breast cancer patients may get a welcome respite from one of the disease’s dreaded aspects — its aggressive and costly treatments. New research suggests that thousands of women with early-stage breast cancer who now are told to get chemotherapy don’t need it, while a larger, significant number of patients can benefit by halving the time they’re told to take an expensive drug with harsh side-effects, especially for the heart.

Although this information should be taken in a positive light, patients should consult with their doctors about appropriate treatment for their individual case.

The prospective shifts in breast cancer treatment, based on new findings, may add to rumblings and criticisms about over-treatment and whether doctors have taken too lightly the toll — physically, mentally, and financially — that this and other forms of cancer inflict on patients.

banyan-300x173Federal officials offer a glimmer of hope in caring for head injuries, especially the sharp, repeated, and often damaging blows that  afflict athletes and which millions worldwide are witnessing, yes, as part of the Winter Olympic Games.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has announced that it has approved a long-awaited blood test that can help doctors determine the severity of traumatic brain injuries. This test will provide a cheaper, easier, more convenient, and likely faster way to handle the rising health bane of concussions, rather than relying on computed tomography or CT scans using big machines and a form of X-rays.

As the New York Times reported:

oprah1-go-225x300Oprah Winfrey’s recent rousing broadcast speech — both in accepting an entertainment industry group’s lifetime achievement award and denouncing sexism and sexual harassment in Hollywood — also opened the door to a reconsideration of how this talented, smart, accomplished, powerful, and wealthy celebrity icon long has helped to foster a barrage of health and medical humbug, spreading it far and wide in popular culture.

As Stat, a health and information site, recapped about Winfrey:

She connected a cancer patient to ‘junk science,’ a Washington Post analysis says. She promoted charlatans on her show, according to Slate. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee put out a statement … attacking Winfrey for ‘giving a platform to anti-vaccination campaigners and other dangerous health quackery.’

medtest-300x169Medical over-screening and over-testing not only adds hundreds of billions of dollars in unnecessary costs to U.S. health care, it also may be skewing researchers’ understanding of what causes disease and imposing harsh burdens on older Americans.

Stat, an online health and medical news service, has highlighted an intriguing study from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, whose researchers are well-respected for their work on their Atlas Project, which “documents glaring variations in how medical resources are distributed and used in the United States.”

Dartmouth researchers recently examined screening, especially for breast, prostate, and thyroid cancers, and found that over-testing, as Stat reported, may be “misleading doctors and the public about what increases people’s risk of developing cancers,” especially “the types of cancer that matter.”

precise-223x300Although billions of dollars and lots of positive public attention have been lavished on the promise of genetic-based “precision medicine,” this therapeutic approach to treating cancer and other serious diseases may need more scrutiny for basics of quality control.

National Public Radio deserves credit for airing some less-heard experts’ worries about the roles of at least two groups of little-seen and often-ignored medical specialists — pathologists and med techs — and how their common practices may undercut the potential of efforts to target disease treatments to individual patients based on maps of their genes.

Despite its powerful and progress-promising name, precision medicine relies on some old-fashioned, unchanged, and possibly problematic medical techniques, experts told NPR. Blood and tissue samples, which later will be analyzed with costly and supposedly state-of-the-art equipment, still get taken by med techs with limited training. Little attention typically gets paid to how they collect samples and how carefully they get handled before arriving in labs. They may sit on carts for hours, and they may be dragged through different parts of hospitals where temperatures vary widely and can hit extremes.

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The new year is bubbling with numerous reports about  “raw water.” Enthusiasts are flocking to outlets — in Oregon, Maine, San Diego, San Francisco, and the Silicon Valley — for unfiltered, untreated, and unsterilized H2O from springs. They’re paying dearly, for example $36.99 for a 2.5-gallon glass orb of “off the grid” Live Water from a West Coast vendor.

Devotees insist “raw water” tastes better. They contend it’s healthier when free of chemicals, like purifying chlorine and tooth- and bone-protecting fluoride, and replete with “probiotics,” bacteria and microscopic life such as algae that they claim are beneficial.

Such claims fly in the face of at least a century of public health experience and progress, a period in which science-based hygiene has helped to rid the nation of epidemics due to water-borne bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and hepatitis A no longer flourish in water supplies, killing thousands annually as these banes once did. It goes without a thought for most Americans that they can turn the spigot at home or the office, drink freely and deeply and not end up getting deathly ill — risks that may be posed by “raw” water.

bp-300x169Did you feel yourself just get less well? U.S. heart experts have just issued new guidelines on what Americans’ optimal blood pressure should be—effectively and suddenly shifting just under half of the adults in the nation younger than 45 into an unhealthful status as hypertensive.

Doctors say there’s no doubting data that shows that blood pressure readings exceeding 130 over 80 can be detrimental to patients’ health. That’s down from the previous warning level of 140 over 90.

But what exactly has the medical establishment wrought with this sweeping metric? Have they deemed so many of us unwell in this way that we’re about to see public doubt and confusion—even profiteering—as has surrounded the description of tens of millions of Americans as “prediabetic?”

urine-sample-cup-263x300With opioid drugs now the leading cause of death for Americans 50 and younger and killing more than 64,000 people last year, was it inevitable that some shady characters are profiteering off the miseries of those struggling to get off potent painkillers?

And is it predictable that key politicians keep talking big but still haven’t backed up their boasts with the money and means to attack a public health crisis that is claiming more lives than cars or guns and at a faster pace than HIV-AIDS did at the peak of that epidemic?

Americans have plenty cause to be — forgive the vulgar word play — pissed off at the doctors and labs that are raking in profits on urine testing for drugs. This business has exploded but with little or no oversight. As reporters Fred Schulte and Elizabeth Lucas have written:

heart-300x190Hospitals and heart doctors may need to rethink their common test to determine if their patients have suffered a heart attack, and whether a newer alternative open-heart procedure carries with it more risks than benefits.

Health News Review, a health information watchdog site, has raised interesting questions as to why mainstream media outlets haven’t paid much attention to the recommendation by the High Value Practice Academic Alliance (HVPAA), a blue-chip group of medical scientists and institutions (including Johns Hopkins), for the phase out of the creatine kinase-myocardial band. CK-MB is the “go-to blood test doctors used to determine if a patient’s heart muscle had been damaged by a heart attack (or myocardial infarction).”

To the tune of $400 million or so annually, doctors turn to CK-MB tests millions of times each year to distinguish, along with patient symptoms and EKGs, if the person before them has suffered a heart attack, HVPAA members write in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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