What’s The Best Prevention Of Disease?

November 8, 2011

Result X-RayModern medicine is heading into a valley. Antibiotic resistance is rising while disease like tuberculosis return, and more and more government health panels are concluding that tests designed for prevention of disease by catching problems early are doing more harm than good.

It’s been a few years since the recommended age to begin mammograms was moved from 40 to 50, but for those paying attention the advice is the same: don’t follow general public guidelines; work out a plan with your doctor based on your personal and family medical history.

New evaluations on the effects of cancer screenings—mammograms for women and the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test (mainly) for men—are showing even less promising results. It’s estimated that mammograms save the lives of 13% of women in their fifties diagnosed with breast cancer, but that older figure is now being weighed against the fact that there have been advancements in the treatment of cancer that may be making a bigger difference.

What’s particularly of concern is the number of false positives tests designed for prevention of disease turn up: smoker’s & ex-smoker’s lungs can be scarred, but the expensive test that screens for lung cancer can’t tell the difference between those scars and a potentially malignant growth.

PSA tests are being slammed even harder: there’s very little to no evidence that they save lives, while slow growing tumors that wouldn’t otherwise affect health have treatment options that can lead to incontinence, impotence, or death.

Prevention of disease tests are getting more advanced and more expensive faster than health care professionals can keep up, and cases of false positives and unnecessary treatment are rising. The best solution is for each individual to schedule a meeting with their doctor to discuss which tests they’ll need, and at what age.

Did your father die of prostate cancer? Schedule a PSA. Did your aunt have breast cancer? Start screening at 40. For individuals with a cleaner family and personal history, doctors will likely recommend a more cautious approach to prevention of disease that reduces the risk of unnecessary treatment.

Finally, make sure that you pay attention to your own body, and the changes within it. Mindfulness may be one of the most important tools in prevention of disease.

For example, some advocates recommend knowing what your breasts look and feel like well so that if there’s a change (a hard lump or one suddenly getting bigger) you’ll be able to report it to your doctor. (Studies find that women who do monthly breast “exams” don’t know what they’re looking for, and generally get more unnecessary screenings that other women without being more likely to catch cancer).

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