When I was a child and I heard grown-ups talking about their medical conditions, I groaned. What could possibly be more boring? Now, it’s my generation, the Baby Boomers doing the “organ recitals”: my hips, my knees, my liver!
People spend more time with their doctors as they age. They spend more money on both testing and treatment. Sometimes they spend so much time and money, it feels as if they’ve donated their bodies to science while they’re still alive.
How much testing do we need? How much treatment do we need? How can we tell?
New kinds of testing–for men
Here are a couple of reports I read in the news recently:
The AARP Bulletin (May 2015) reports on a new type of testing for prostate cancer. “By analyzing genetic information in a biopsy, the test distinguishes between slow-growing tumors that warrant regular monitoring and faster-growing tumors that require immediate treatment.”
That’s an important distinction! Removing the prostate gland can lead to trouble with urination and even to impotence–a high cost to pay if you’re not sure it’s necessary. “This test allows us to avoid aggressive treatment when it’s not needed and save lives when it is,” said Dr. Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic.
New advice on testing–for women
That’s the male side of the ledger. Let’s look at the female side.
For many years, women were told to get yearly mammograms beginning at age 40. The American Cancer Society still gives that advice. But as the Boston Globe reports:
“A government advisory group — the US Preventive Services Task Force— recommends that regular screen begin later, at age 50. The study found that women ages 40 to 49 were more likely to have a false-positive mammogram, compared with women in their 50s”.
Why does this matter? The Globe article says, “The United States spends $4 billion a year on unnecessary medical costs due to mammograms that generate false alarms, and on treatment of certain breast tumors unlikely to cause problems.”
That’s a lot of money. It’s also a lot of chemical, radiological, and surgical tampering with women’s bodies. Women wouldn’t put up with it if they were sure it wasn’t needed.
How much is enough?
Ideally, we would avoid both over-testing and over-treatment. If we live in the best of all possible worlds, we would know the difference between what’s necessary (and potentially life-saving) and what’s unnecessary (and a waste of the time we have left to live).
But I don’t live in that ideal world. Do you? How do you make intelligent choices about when to test, and for what? How you get the right treatment and not too much?
If you have the answers, I’d love to hear them. It would save a lot of time in the waiting room as I get older.
By Dennis Fischman : Dennis is a Cause & Effective Associate who helps not for profits and small business discover better ways to communicate and, in the process, win friends and get the support they need. He is also the author of The No-Nonsense Nonprofit Guide to Social Media