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Medical Diagnostic Testing: Necessary or a Racket?

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 
Ok, ladies, is this type of stuff happening to you? I am really beginning to wonder if the medical community has some type of racket going to generate funds.

1. Go for the annual PAP smear. For years it comes back a-ok. Hit 40, and suddenly, every year it comes back somewhere in the realm of questionable. Go for a 2nd test. Everything is fine. Breathe sigh of relief until next year.

2. Same routine is now going on with the annual mammogram. For 2 years, they have been just fine. This year, the van pulls up for the annual screening. (My school district has an agreement with the local cancer center where they bring their mobile van around to the schools for the faculty and staff). Three weeks later, you get the form letter in the mail that reads something along the lines of:
"Dear Potential Linda McCartney,
We want you to have further screening. Don't worry. 99.99999% of these occurrances are benign. Call immediately to schedule further testing.

The Fear Mongers at Cancer Central"

So, now you get to lose sleep until the 2nd round of tests.

I suppose I am the original skeptic. I am pretty wary of doctors. My father used to bring himself in for every test imaginable on the face of the earth, and what good did it do him? He still died of leukemia that was never properly diagnosed until it was too late. The man took so much medication that when we flushed it all down the toilet the day he died, the toilet didn't stop smiling for a week.

Sorry to be ranting, but what are your thoughts on the usefulness of all this medical testing?
post #2 of 30
In Canada, for the most part, we don't have to pay for any medical testing. Still, do to our system, it can be a long time for a test to be set up for you. I have a neurological condition that was an enigma to many doctors. It took 2 years to reach a diagnosis. I had 3 cat scans (2 wk long wait for each of those). I had 3 different types of IVPs (that is were they put die in your viens and take x-rays & pictures) - that was scheduled within a week. 2 Lumbar punctures (aka spinal tap - avoid these at all costs- very painful)) - those took about 2 months to schedule each time. Various blood tests (done right away). 1 MRI which even under a doctor'ss "rush" orders took 3 wks to schedule. After all of this they told me what I had & said sorry there is nothing we can do to help you - you'll have to live with it.

Yes Deb - I agree that all this medical testing is a waste of time, energy & can cause undo suffering!
post #3 of 30
I had a pap smear come back inconclusive back in my early 20's. They finally decided I had displaysia, which is a potentially cancerous condition, though it does sometimes clear up on its own. I had cryosurgery to remove the questionable tissue and it's been normal ever since. My mom died of cancer that was so far advanced by the time it was detected, that they didn't know where it started. So I'd rather have the test and get the treatment.

A word about mom. She probably had the cancer for years. It was abdominal, and I remember her making comments about getting old and fat and losing muscle tone in her stomach for at least 4 years before the diagnosis. She was living in Sept-Iles, Quebec (I was in the US finishing high school because of the language laws) and wouldn't go to a doctor because it was a small town and none of the local guys spoke English. Several times she came to the US to visit her family or me, she would make a doctor's appointment each time, and she would find a reason not to go. My step-dad got transferred to Cleveland, and she went to the hospital with really bad stomach pain one night. My step-dad liked really spicy food and they had just eaten, so she thought maybe it was an ulcer or a reaction to the spiciness. And that's how they found the cancer. She went back to Canada for a better diagnosis because they still had health care there, but they essentially told her that her choices were to have big treatment and live for 2 years but feel rotten, or to go home and live for 8 months but feel pretty good until the end. She chose the latter. I think she knew there was something wrong for a long time and didn't want to face it (maybe wanted to die?) so she made excuses not to see the doctor. But if she'd had the regular check-up earlier and if tests had been done in a more timely fashion, she might be with me today.

So I think it's important to talk to your doctor about the tests and why he's ordering them and whether he could get the information another way, but I sure wouldn't just dismiss them.
post #4 of 30
Sunlion - I am sorry about your mother. I feel in my case there was too much testing done. I do believe however, that regular medical checkups are a necessity. If you feel that something is wrong - definately check it out. I do feel however, that many doctors do unnecessary testing.
post #5 of 30
Thread Starter 

That's a sad story about your mom. The secretary at my school lost her dad in a similar fashion. He had colon cancer, and never let on a single word about any of the symptoms until it was just plain too late.

My dad, on the other hand, went to the doctor religiously. He had difficulty recovering from bypass surgery 2 years ago. The platelet levels in his blood were low. They kept giving him drugs to stimulate red blood cell production and many, many platelet transfusions. He was diagnosed with myelodysplasia. When I finally got fed up with the lack of action that 2 doctors were taking, he was finally given the proper testing that indicated his leukemia. By that time he was so weakened, chemo was not even a viable option. I firmly believe that the doctor "treating" him had the offhand attitude of "Well, he's old. He's gonna die anyway." A Hospice nurse told me that many of the doctors in the community take that attitude because they deal mostly with retirees. I'd sue the guy if I thought for one second that any amount of money would be sufficient, but as we all know, that's not the case.
post #6 of 30
If I could prove it, I wouldn't sue for the money, I'd sue to punish the doctor and bring attention to his behavior so other people wouldn't be treated that way. But that takes a kind of anger that I can't sustain, so I probably wouldn't do it in the end.

BTW, thank you for your sympathy. Sometimes I miss her terribly. But it has been 18 years now (she was very young, only 47) so I've pretty much come to terms with it. An important thing for me to remember is, she chose it. She chose not to see the doctor and she chose not to have chemo / radiation. I might not always agree with her choices, but she lived and died on her own terms, and I guess you can't ask for more than that.

I knew a woman who just died Dec 22 of complications from breast cancer. Sharon was not yet 35, recently married and with a new baby. She actually got pregnant and had the baby while on chemo! And the baby, Grace, was perfectly healthy the whole time along. Sharon fought the good fight and did not choose this. To me, that is the bigger tragedy.
post #7 of 30
Thread Starter 
A teacher I knew who worked at my school died from breast cancer last year. Same thing; her baby was only 6 months old. So sad.
post #8 of 30
Grace is a beautiful name and an honor to her mother
post #9 of 30
Yes. They felt she was really a gift from God and it was by his grace that she was conceived at all, let alone being as healthy as she is.

Anyway, I didn't mean to sidetrack the discussion about the necessity of medical testing. I had an experience that ran to one extreme, but other people have had different ones. Overworked or short sighted doctors, medical decisions dictated by HMO's, surcharges on procedures to cover all those uninsured people who can't pay, padding the bill in other ways, it COULD be a racket. I think it's an important thing to talk about.
post #10 of 30
Thread Starter 
Hey sun, don't apologize for sidetracking the thread. What you wrote was worth reading. Honestly, I'd like to think that they really do order all these tests with justification. Maybe they are afraid of malpractice.

I guess I'll know better after my 2nd go-round, with ultrasound included, on Monday.

I'm no Pamela Anderson, so it's a little unsettling for me to have so much attention directed at that portion of the anatomy.
post #11 of 30
Deb, my thoughts will be with you to have a successful (and negative) test. It is always better to be safe then sorry. I don't know if you have to pay for the test, but for breast issues early detection is the key.
post #12 of 30
I've had 2 surgical breast biopsies and one needle biopsy. I now have a heafty (noncancerous) lump that just hangs out in my boob ...but even though the lump is big enough to need its own bra, it still doesn't show up on the mammogram. I have "dense" tissue that the x-ray can't see through. I have found the ultra-sound to be much more comfortable and reliable than the mammogram.

If they do find a lump, I STRONGLY suggest getting a needle biopsy. Mine took only about an hour and I went back to work afterward with only a bandaid over the puncture. Research finds that the needle biopsy is just as good at detecting cancer as the traditional surgical biopsy. The only bad thing is that the lump is still there after the needle biopsy. But, as long as its not cancer, who cares!

Good luck with the ultra-sound.
post #13 of 30
Thread Starter 
Yeah, I think dense tissue was the term they flipped at me. Oh well, there are worse places to be dense. :confused2
post #14 of 30

These stories are so sad for the young and old. I am at the doc's quite a bit myself and feel like I'm treated as a true "patient" instead of a person. I hope everything goes well for you Deb. Like Adrienne said...early detection is what counts.

post #15 of 30
If I get a mommogram as simply a part of my annual check-up, it is 100% covered by insurance, but since I got the last one to see how the lump in my breast was doing, I had to pay the whole thing myself...and I had to pay for the ultra-sound as well! It also made me mad because I told all of the various MDs that the mammogram is a waste of time with my breasts and asked for just the ultra-sound, but they refused to do the ultra-sound without the initial mammogram! Grrrrrr.

Deb...I agree...I'd reather have dense boobs than a dense mind!
post #16 of 30
This is what I can add.
I was diagnosed this Fall with MS. A debilitating disease that will cause me to become incapacitated totally at some point. I had a 'problem' with coordination, etc this summer and that was what brought me to the Dr. He in turn sent me to a Neurologist, as they thought I had a stroke. After the MRI's EP tests and the spinal tap -the Dr. came back with the MS. Can they cure it? No! Can they help me have a longer time before I get really worse? Hopefully Yes! Did I want this, No! BUT....thanks to the early testing and results, I am on injectable IM medication that will help me. Mom mom suffered with and died from breast cancer after a long and couragous battle. Deb - get the testing. It can save your life.
With all my best
Deb M.
post #17 of 30
Originally posted by lotsocats
If I get a mommogram as simply a part of my annual check-up, it is 100% covered by insurance, but since I got the last one to see how the lump in my breast was doing, I had to pay the whole thing myself...and I had to pay for the ultra-sound as well! It also made me mad because I told all of the various MDs that the mammogram is a waste of time with my breasts and asked for just the ultra-sound, but they refused to do the ultra-sound without the initial mammogram! Grrrrrr.

I recently saw a program ( I think it was 60 minutes) that stated if you can get a docter to certify you have "dense breasts" then most insurance companies will cover the cost of the ultra sound.
post #18 of 30
Well guys, I've got what they call Fibrocystic Disease, which I will get into in a minute.

Let me tell you the horror story of my daughter. At the age of 16, she had complaints of headaches and vomiting. Having a medical background, my first thought was something neurological. But because the "doctor" we took her to was a SPECIALIST (specializing in screwing up people's lives permanently) I didn't question his diagnosis of "Sinusitis". Afterall, he had a medical degree, I only had a EMT certificate. She went to Florida on X-mas vacation with her father and stepmother. The doctor told her the problem with probably clear up with the Florida weather and he would take a CT Scan of her sinuses when she returned in two weeks. Well, Christmas Day evening, she went into seizures in Florida. After rushing her to the hospital and having an emergency CT scan done, it was discovered she had a malignant brain tumor (Pineal Blastoma) on her brain stem. 9 hours of surgery later, they got 70% of it. The other 30% they zapped with radiation and chemotherapy. The doctor's f*** up changed my daughter's life totally. She was paralyzed on her right side and had to learn all over again how to eat, talk, walk, etc. Everything that we all take for granted on a day to day basis. To make matters worse, she was in a Florida hospital and the insurance company wouldn't pay for an air-ambulance to get her back to Connecticut. Their reasoning was because she was in a perfectly capable hospital in Florida and there was no need for the expense ($13,000).

So now when a doctor tells me something, I do my homework. Even though I know doctors are not invinceable and do make mistakes, I make sure read up on stuff that pertains to me and my health, as well as my kid's health. By the way, she has been in remission for over 9 years now, which in the medical field means she is cured. She was very lucky in some respects. I wanted to sue the specialist for malpractice but a lawyer told me I'd have a case only if I could prove that the outcome would've been different had it been diagnosed earlier.

As far as mammograms and stuff are concerned, because of my Fibrocystic disease, I have them done every two years. Whenever I find a lump in my boob (which seems to be my right one for over 10 years now) I have it removed. I am having a right bust reduction by the teaspoonful at the rate I'm going. It seems that a lump pops up in the same place as the last ones did every couple of years.

Sorry this is so long, but that's my story.

Deb, hang in there. I've had "irregular" mammograms as well and they've always turned out to be nothing. You've got my number toots, call me. I'm here for you.

Hugs from "the pest".
post #19 of 30
Donna - that is a remarkable story about your daaghter. You're right - we have to be active consumers and read up on what the Dr's think. Our physician missed my husband's bad heart for over 15 years, and he finally only got attention when he threw a major heart attack. I am thankful for you that your daughter appears to be fine now. Have her keep up the good work!
post #20 of 30
What irritates me is they never call you with the results, even if evertyhing came back a-ok! The last 2 PAP's I had, they didn't bother to call & tell me everything was fine .... Last year (2000), they gave me an automated # to call about the results of some blood tests & annual test. It said to call back within a certain time, and I called everyday, but no, results weren't in! I finally ended up calling the dr's, and they said everything was fine.... Doctor's offices are so uncoordinated anymore.
post #21 of 30
Thread Starter 

I'll certainly agree with that one. I always ask, "Am I to assume that no news is good news?"
post #22 of 30
When I moved to Alaska, my new neighbor's wife and I became really good friends. Kathy was a fiesty gal, very intelligent and articulate. In 1992 she confessed to me over coffee that she had done her shower exam that morning and found a small lump in one of her breasts. She went to the doctor the next day and was told that she "shouldn't have worried" because he wasn't. Instead, he diagnosed her with Fibrocystic Disease, or as she called it lumpy breasts. Kathy was 38 years old and told me "lumps were coming and going as regularly as her menses, so it was no big deal." Well one month, the lumps stayed. So as a precaution, Kathy got her lump tested and went in to have a mammogram. The doctors told her "Everything looks fine" She was really small-breasted and for her, the problem was the lack of fatty tissue which did not show the cancer, instead her film just showed all white with no contrasts. She knew the lump was still there but not even the doctor could see it, he could however feel it. So nothing was done. Later, she told me she wished she had insisted for a needle biopsy, but she trusted the doctor. As the weeks passed she noticed the lump wasn't tender anymore, just getting bigger and harder. Again, she went back, the doctor assured her she was fine, but to be safe, she should be checked every 6 months for this non-cancerous lump. Six months later, though the lump was noticeably bigger, she was told "everything is fine." But she wasn't fine, she had noticed other changes and insisted they do a needle biopsy. He told her she was being foolish, but went ahead and referred her to a surgeon.

After her first visit with this new doctor, Kathy was visibly shaken. The man had done a routine breast exam on her and found other undiscovered lumps under her arms. She had never checked there, just her breasts. Ten days later, she had a needle biopsy. She told me she wasn't afraid then, she was young, she had children, she was healthy, there was no history of breast cancer in her family. The next day she was diagnosed iwth invasive ductal breast cancer, the most common type. But because it had gone unnoticed by her doctors for so long, she was told that the cancer had spread through out her body down the middle of her back and would eventually paralyze her! In December she had a modified mastectomy, was in surgery for 6 hours. She followed that up with chemo and radiation, she was also advised a bone marrow transplant would help her, but she refused because it was so high risk. Her husband went into deep denial and her kids shut down around her trying to deal with all of this.

Kathy started doing research, found a cancer support group, lost all her hair, eyelashes included, she set small recovery goals for herself and tried to keep a positive attitude. She would joke that this was not the way to stop having your menses and on the other practical side, she made a will, planned her funeral, started journaling for her kids who were 9 and 13 by then. She started speaking out in woman groups about following your instincts and not listening to the advice of doctors when it doesn't feel right. When she lost the movement of her left side, she started using a cane, when her right side left, she used a wheelchair. On Feb 14 Valentine's day, an ambulance rushed up our street and carried Kathy out to the hospital. She never came home again.

She told me once that she wished that the doctors would at least remember that there were people attached to the illnesses. That she felt more like a lab rat in their presence than a human being. I miss her today more than ever, she was a wonderful lady, and had she followed her gut instinct and had further tests, she would be alive today.
post #23 of 30
Oh Hissy, what a story. Cancer is such a scary thing, and it's even worse when the doctors make it worse by ignoring it. I'm sorry to hear about your friend. Sounds like she was a great lady.
post #24 of 30
is that although sometimes tests are unneccesary, other times, it could save lives. In Deb's case, at least they are on top of it and not telling her that further tests are not required because she is "fine." Today there is more breast cancer awareness than back when Kath was diagnosed.
post #25 of 30

What a story! I agree with you that sometimes the unnecessary tests ARE necessary and coul save lives. It's always better to be safe than sorry. I'm so sorry about your friend. One of those unnecessary tests could've possibly saved her life.
post #26 of 30
My uncle was 45 when he died of lung cancer. He had been unwell for 2 years before, but the cancer remained undiagnosised. His illness manifested as severely swollen legs. The doctors used a hit & miss method of diagnosising him. They did tests for one thing, then when it wasn't that they would test for something else. The man had a history of smoking 2 packs a day since he was 14 yrs old. He had a hacking cough. How could you not test for cancer? By the time they diagnosised him they told him that he only had 3-4 wks to live. He died exactly 4 wks later, leaving a wife and 2 young sons behind.
post #27 of 30
This reminds me of the story of a lady I used to work with about 5 years ago. We were pretty good friends, and she was about my age (about 27 at the time). She came down with a nagging cough and went to the doctor. He diagnosed asthma and gave her medicine. She didn't get better, so she went back. He said it was still asthma and wanted to refer her to an allergist. She wanted him to take chest xrays and he said they were unnecessary. Well, she finally went to a different doctor (this took a few months), and they did an xray. They found two tumors in her lungs, one the size of a grapefruit. She went through about 2 years of treatment and died on Christmas day 3 years ago. It was very, very sad. In this case, tests in the beginning could have probably have saved her life. She was a great lady and left a husband and two children under 5.
post #28 of 30
Mike has had a nagging cough for over 2 years now. They keep telling him it is asthma or "nothing!"
post #29 of 30
M.A. That was a beautiful tribute to your friend. I am sorry about her loss. She sounded like a great frined.
post #30 of 30
Originally posted by adymarie

I recently saw a program ( I think it was 60 minutes) that stated if you can get a docter to certify you have "dense breasts" then most insurance companies will cover the cost of the ultra sound.
Wow! Thanks for the information!
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