January 20, 2009 in Features

Simple blood test saves lives

Peter H. Gott, M.D.
 

Dear Dr. Gott: Awhile ago, you printed a letter from a 62-year-old woman who was likely suffering from menopause. Your answers were not complete in that you (and all other physicians) should also include the simple blood test CA 125. A marker for cancer in women, this simple test can show abnormalities that will not be apparent on PAP smears.

In 2002, as a 47-year-old, otherwise healthy woman, I was diagnosed with not only an ovarian tumor the size of a six-month-old fetus, but also a totally unrelated cancerous polyp in my uterus that was found during the hysterectomy.

Imagine my shock when my OB/GYN told me that PAP smears do not indicate either type of the cancers I had. I had thought I was fine since all my PAPs came back clear.

I beg you at least to mention this in your column, as many thousands of women are still unaware and think they are totally safe by only having annual PAP smears.

I realize that no test is foolproof, but this is a very important tool in diagnosing and taking care of a silent but deadly killer of women of all ages. Men are given PSA tests at annual exams to be sure their prostates are healthy, but, in this still-sexist society, women are not afforded the same right. A lot of insurance companies still do not recognize it as the life-saving tool it can be.

In the long run, having this simple blood draw done would save not only lives, but millions of dollars. If patients are diagnosed with cancer earlier, they may not have to go through extensive surgery, chemo, radiation and lifelong follow-ups may be kept to a minimum.

Dear Reader: I am printing your letter because you make a valid and important point. Ladies, please ask your physicians to order this blood test during your annual PAP smears as part of a comprehensive and preventive step toward reducing the risk of cancer-related death.

Dear Dr. Gott: My husband is 81 years old. He has pain in his arm and up into the shoulder area.

Our family doctor said the tendon has broken off the shoulder blade and the bicep muscle has dropped. We were told there is nothing that can be done to fix it. I want to know if there is anything that can be done to relieve the constant ache my husband has as a result of it.

Dear Reader: I urge your husband to be seen by an orthopedic specialist. This type of specialist can test your husband for a proper diagnosis and offer treatment options. If the tendon has truly broken off, surgical repair may be beneficial. While family physicians are knowledgeable in a wide variety of disorders, in this instance, your husband really needs to see the specialist.

As for pain relief while awaiting an appointment, I suggest your husband try anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen. Applying hot or cold compresses may also help.

To give you related information, I am sending you a copy of my Health Report “Managing Chronic Pain.” Other readers who would like a copy should send a self-addressed, stamped No. 10 envelope and $2 to Newsletter, P.O. Box 167, Wickliffe, OH 44092. Be sure to mention the title.

Dr. Gott is a retired physician.


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