Dr. Murray Feingold: Conventional wisdom put to the test
In order to maintain good health, you try to follow the recommendations promulgated by various prestigious health organizations. At times, though, the recommendations espoused yesterday change and are no longer recommended today.
Here are two examples:
For years, women have been told it is important to examine their breasts on a monthly basis, checking for any lumps or suspicious changes. Now, a recent study concluded that such monthly exams may cause more harm than good.
The results of the study showed that the breast biopsies done on women who performed self-examinations were twice as likely not to find cancer when compared to the breast biopsies done on women who did not do self-exams.
More than 388,000 women were in the study. Women who practiced self-examination had 3,406 biopsies performed compared to 1,856 biopsies done on the non-self-exam group.
However, although more biopsies were done on the self-exam group, there were no differences in breast cancer deaths between the two groups.
My view is, if you feel more comfortable doing self breast exams, continue to do so. If a potential problem is detected, share this information with your doctor, discuss the pros and cons of management, and then make a decision that is best for you.
Men are also faced with conflicting information.
In the past, they have been advised to have a yearly prostate-specific antigen examination to detect prostate cancer. Now there is controversy concerning this advice.
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force now recommends that men 75 years or older should not have PSAs because it is unlikely their life expectancy will be extended by treatment.
And, if they do undergo treatment, there is a good chance they may experience disturbing side effects.
What about younger men? The task force concluded that, thus far, there are not enough data to indicate PSA screening improves prostate cancer survival rates.
But controversy still remains regarding what is the best approach and, therefore, it is a subject you should discuss with your doctor.
Should you follow today's health recommendations? These recommendations usually represent the best available knowledge at the time. In my opinion, the best approach is to follow the most up-to-date reliable advice, even though next year, it may change.
Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of the National Birth Defects Center, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.