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Showing posts from March, 2009

CAT Scans - Lighting the Fuse!

The superscan in the prior posting, which showed a ‘freckle’ in the right lung, has now created an anxious patient and family. This patient’s worry will be heightened when he is sent to a pulmonologist, or lung expert, to evaluate the ‘abnormality’, which was found entirely by accident. The lung specialist will then advise the patient to have periodic CAT scans over the next 2 years to assure that they lesion does not enlarge. Obviously, this exercise diminishes quality of life and costs plenty of money that could be used to help truly sick people. And, if the nodule does increase in size – which even benign lesions can do – then the doctor may recommend surgery just in case it is cancerous. Consider what tens of thousands of Americans endure evaluating abnormalities that should never have been discovered or investigated. Millions of us are walking around with innocent imperfections in our internal organs. In other words, if any of us were to undergo a CAT scan, many of us would have a

CAT Scans - Friend or Foe?

I am astonished at the diagnostic accuracy of today’s radiologic technology. CAT scanners today, for example, can detect lesions that were invisible 5 or 10 years ago. As a gastroenterologist, I am routinely referred patients with subtle abnormalities seen in their livers, pancreases and digestive tract. Indeed, every medical specialty has been similarly affected. Pulmonary specialists see patients with tiny lung nodules that would not have been seen with older technology. Oncologists see patients with borderline abnormalities that can only be detected with the latest generation of scanners. Shouldn’t we celebrate this futuristic diagnostic accuracy? I’m not so sure. I believe that these phenomenal technologies harm many more patients than they save. Follow my reasoning. Most of the abnormalities that scans detect today are innocent lesions that will never make a patient sick. Our internal organs are not smooth and perfect. New scanners, like the satellites in space mentioned in the pr

Trapped in the Medical Labyrinth

We’ve all seen satellite photographs of the earth that show a portion of the globe from afar without any details of the earth’s surface. Google Earth allows even a computer neophyte like me to zoom in from space to image my own backyard. I’ve even been seen a satellite image of our red family car parked in our driveway! Using this technology, major rivers and mountain ranges, invisible from space, can be brought into view. The closer you zoom in, the more details you will visualize. Look at the skin on your own hand. Now, bring your hand closer and closer to your eyes. With closer inspection, the topography of your skin comes into sharper focus. From a distance, your skin seems smooth and unblemished, but with closer examination, surface irregularities, small scars, pigmented spots, freckles and veins will come into view. Don’t rush off to see a dermatologist STAT! These are the normal imperfections that every physical object has if it is studied at high magnification. What do mountain

Abnormal CAT Scans - Not Always Bad News

One of the most vexing events for patients is when they are told that there is an abnormality on a radiology study. These discussions in doctors’ offices create palpable anxiety for patients and their families, even when physicians try to reassure them that the abnormalities are likely to be trivial. Patients today are frightened that they have cancer. They all know anecdotes of individuals who were falsely reassured and were ultimately diagnosed with a malignancy. I have heard fears of cancer related to me by teenagers who have seen me as a gastroenterologist to evaluate a few drops of blood they observed on the toilet tissue. Their fear is not rationale, but it is real. A few weekends ago, I was asked to see 2 patients on my hospital rounds to offer an opinion on abnormal CAT scans. The first patient’s scan showed an abdominal mass the size of a grapefruit that the radiologist suspected was related to the patient’s prior diagnosis of colon cancer. The second patient’s scan sh

Finding the Good Doctor!

Here are some pointers in how to choose a good physician. Remember, while these tips offer guidance, there is no guaranteed method to rely upon. Ask friends and coworkers who their doctors are and why they like them. Keep in mind that they may like their doctors for the wrong reasons. If a neighbor recommends his doctor, because “he prescribes antibiotics over the phone whenever I want them”, then you may have learned something important – choose another physician. Conversely, a person may be dissatisfied with a doctor who truly performed well. For example, a patient may complain because his doctor wouldn’t give him a refill on addictive sleeping pills. While I encourage canvassing opinions about local physicians, use these recommendations cautiously. Ask hospital nurses for their advice. They see physicians working when doctors don’t know they’re being watched. They are an unrivaled source for obtaining a candid review of medical professionals. They know who is caring and co