Perhaps one of the most insidious dangers in modern technology is medical testing. Although it would be nice to be able to visit our doctor and get all hooked up with electrodes, inflatable cuffs, probes, needles and catheters and have a read-out telling us exactly how we are working and where there is a problem, that is a myth, not the reality.
Such testing creates false confidence and the illusion for people that they are being wise and practicing “preventive medicine.” But prevention is not detecting existing disease. Diagnosis is not to be confused with cause or cure. Not only do patients have these misconceptions, the entire medical industry does as well. Modern medicine is focused on naming diseases and treating symptoms, not preventing disease and addressing causes.
Medical tests (done on yourself or by others) give a false sense of control and knowledge. The better choice is to take every step we can to modify life-style and nutritional habits to actually create health, not simply live life with gusto and have yearly stress tests and mammograms. Waiting for disease (reacting to injury, which disease is) to strike and then taking action is certainly not an intelligent approach.
None of this speaks to the waste in much of the $200+ billion a year that is spent on laboratory and clinical tests. Not only do they drain our economy and not create health, they are often inaccurate and unnecessary. Some 75% of doctors surveyed admitted to performing more tests than necessary. In one study of 25,000 tests, only 20% of them reproduced the same result 90% of the time. In another study, 197 out of 200 were “cured” by simply repeating the same tests. (Wysong, RL. Laboratory self-testing. Wysong Health Letter. March 1992.)
This brings me to a serious danger of laboratory testing: a false positive or false negative. If the test is falsely positive, the emotional trauma from believing you may have a serious disease can be enough to create a disease. Thus a test can make a well person sick. A false negative could send you on your way happily believing that everything is fine and that no life modifications are necessary. Meanwhile, the disease continues to incubate and spread.
Medical tests have inherent dangers like any other medical procedure and should be submitted to only with that understanding. Even entering a hospital or doctor’s office poses the risk of exposure to infectious disease (nosocomial infection). A “sterile” needle to draw blood could result in a fatal (albeit rare) systemic infection. Squeezing breasts for a mammogram can activate dormant cancerous tissue and increase the spread of cancerous cells (metastases) by 80%. (Greenburg, DS. NCI blasted for mammography confusion. The Lancet. 345(8942): 129.) Pap smears are performed millions of times a year yet have never been proven to change morbidity or mortality. (McCormick, JS. Cervical smears: a questionable practice? The Lancet. 2: 207-209. 1989.) Ultrasound may influence fetal growth. (Newnham, JP, et al. Effects of frequent ultrasound during pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. The Lancet. 342(8876): 887-91.) X-rays are always dangerous (carcinogenic) and their effects are cumulative over a lifetime. Vaginal and rectal exams can introduce infection. Cancers penetrated with biopsy needles may increase the spread of cancer to sentinel lymph nodes by as much as 50% over lump excision. It is estimated 1 in 20 liver biopsies result in new tumors. (Evans, GH, et al. Safety of and necessity for needle biopsy of liver tumours. The Lancet. 1: 620. 1987.) Let the buyer (patient) beware.
Health is something you do to yourself, not something others do to you with machines or analysis. Health “by the numbers” of cholesterol, blood pressure, prostate antigens, white cell count and the like is a fantasy. Subscribing to this idea will start you on a slippery slope of medications, medications to treat the side effects of medications, surgeries and other interventions that destroy health, not build it.
This is not to suggest that diagnostic tests are not important for refractory diseases or those to which no reasonable cause can be assigned. But as a “preventive” measure for healthy individuals the benefits of the practice are dubious at best. (See article on medicine as the greatest threat to health http://www.wysong.net/health/post_77_061902.shtml by the author.)
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