Is it possible to know too much about your health?

A key task force has recommended that men stop getting routine blood tests for prostate cancer. The panel says the test does not save lives and too often leads to harmful complications from cancer treatment. Today’s Question: Is it possible to know too much about your health?

  • Kurt

    Yes. After an incident involving my daughter, I now regard physicians as residing somewhere below lawyers and politicians. In many cases the reasons for performing a procedure are 1) It makes a lot of money for the hospital and/or physician, 2) They cover themselves against lawsuits in the event that you actualy do have something preposterously exotic, and 3) if they have Residents-to show them all the bells and whistles they have at their disposal. You’ll notice all three of these things are for the benefit of the hospital/physician. If the patient should happen to benifit, its a fortuitous happenstance. The creed used to be “Do no harm” and “Common things are Common”.

    Not anymore.

  • Kim Garretson

    In the case of prostate cancer, the answer is NO. Notice how the media kowtows to the heavily lobbied government agencies saying men should stay ignorant, hiding behind their facade of invincibility? The figures about side effects from prostate cancer treatments are expressed in numbers like 70,000 versus the percentage of the total procedures. I firmly believe that, unlike the first commenter, a large part of the issue here is the insurance industry does not want to pay for the relatively cheap PSA tests which lead to expensive biopsies and treatments because in the aggregate, their actuaries say that we should just go ahead and continue to let 30,000 med die each year of prostate cancer.

    But start with the individual. Yes, the most balanced advice is that men should discuss their cases and options with their doctors, versus blindly following the ‘stay ignorant’ advice of the agencies. But too many men are too cavalier to do that.

    That was my case. I complained to my doctor of symptoms for three years. I lied to my wife and father that I was getting an annual PSA test (I didn’t even know what it was). Not only was I not getting the test, my doctor was assuring me that my enlarged gland was normal for my age and his advice was to reduce my consumption of liquids. When I finally did get the test, at age 51 (probably based on the insurance companies telling my doc when to finally do it) my cancer was so advanced that initially I was told I might have two years to live. I am still alive today, 10 years later, but still have cancer, and get treatments every 4 months that cost my insurance company $3,000 each. Plus I know I am facing radiation or chemo in the next few years.

    It’s simple guys: You’re in charge. Don’t leave the decision in the hands of a doctor. Get the god damn test and then weigh all the facts. Don’t over react to the favorite words sprinkled in the news “incontinence” and “impotence” until you really know the odds. And when you know those odds, consider those against being dumb until you die.

  • Steve the Cynic

    The problem isn’t how much one knows about one’s health, but how much one obsesses about it. Face it: you’re gonna die some day, and “good health” just means you’re dying more slowly. In the mean time, do worthwhile things. Live, laugh, love, and eventually leave behind people who are sad you’re gone. Is there anything better than that?

  • Kay

    I ponder this question from time to time. On the one hand, I subscribe to the theory that the more you know, the better off you are. On the other hand, I know a couple people who spend way too much time looking up health information on the internet and walk away with a lot of misinformation. There is a lot of really bad information out there and a lot of fake diseases created by “earthy” companies looking to make a buck off you by appealing to your desire to be healthy the “natural” way. In the case of the friends I have that have bought into this misinformation, I would argue that they need to get off the internet and leave the diagnosing to someone that has been trained in the field of medicine. I’ve even taken my own advice. After watching them devolve into hypochondria, I’ve pretty much stopped looking up health information on the internet. I don’t have a background in medicine, so I’m going to leave the diagnosing up to someone who does.

  • Jim Shapiro

    The brain and the heart are the most vital and powerful gifts that we are given, and if we can get them working in sync, thinking and feeling in healthy ways, the rest of the body will cooperate.

    New research on meditation is now proving this. That said, as the old joke says, “What’s the greatest distance in the universe? Answer: about two feet – the distance between the head and the heart.”

    And eat right, exercise, laugh and love. And don’t get hit by a bus. :-)

    And to answer the question, knowledge is a tool like any other. What it produces depends on what you do with it.

  • Amy

    Yes and No. I think websites like WebMD were designed to cater to hypochondriacs; something as mundane as back pain and you might have a pulled muscle, kidney problems or cancer!? Ya, lets scare people.

    That said, I view medical care as a consumer based service. So educate yourselves. If you are experiencing something in your body that is out of the ordinary, do some research, go to your doctor, ask a lot of questions, involve someone close to you if you need support and make an informed decision about your health.

  • Chris Thompson

    The other side of the coin is actually thinking through the Bayesian mechanics of any “result” you receive. Any medical test, by design, is skewed against false negatives—if you can avoid it, you’d rather not have someone with cancer fall through the cracks in your screening process.

    From the sound of it, the PSA tests have a large enough false positive rate to require further examination. Those are exactly the kinds of details that doctors need to be acutely aware of. So the statement in the question of “PSA tests … too often leads to harmful complications from cancer treatment” seems iffy. I’d hope that my doctor would do more thorough tests to make sure I really do have cancer before I enter a treatment program!

  • Claudia Egelhoff

    The real question is: how much does the MD and/or health system know about you and what are the financial incentives that encourage expensive, unnecessary or dangerous treatment. In the case of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and historically, many other conditions, there are too many incentives in medicine in the United States to over-treat.

  • kimMN

    Is it possible to know too much about our health status?

    Gosh, that sounds like former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who said, ” We have to PASS the Health Care reform bill so____ we can see what’s in it.”

    Can you imagine your doctor saying, ” we have to do surgery to see what’s in your prostate because the Obama health care reform bill has the panel of ‘ experts’ telling us which tests we can do and for which people.” ??? Do we need that government regulation to minimize your rights?

    Everyone should remember that it was Obama’s appointee of Cass Sunstein as the head of the Office of Regulatory Affairs that gave him nearly unlimited power to effect commerce including the health care industry. Cass also wanted censorship on the internet and advocated the Fairness Doctrine , a truly government controlling function which Cass said ” worked well..” for Hugo Chavez to control the media.”

  • kimMN

    Fact check from Mayo Clinic_

    218,000 get prostate cancer each year. The same group that is advocating for abolishing the PSA test also worked to abolish the mammograms in 2009, thus cutting costs for Medicare and some private insurance companies. Once again, we have the government liberals being hypocrits by advocating who is treated and who is too old to warrant the benefits. The US Preventative Task Force responsible for the mammogram and now PSA testing cuts says a man who has an expected life span age of ten years or less, shouldn’t bother with prostate cancer treatment since he would likely die anyways within ten years even if he didn’t have prostate cancer. Sounds like the Cass Sunstein approach to controlling our country.

  • T

    Your relationship with a physician should be open and communicative. Weigh all risks versus benefits of information, procedures, tests based on your needs. Be an informed consumer of medical care. As a pediatrician, that is my goal for families. As for PSA testing, obviously a pt population I do not work with!

    And it appears KimMN is not only an expert on gov’t, finance, war, economics, education, and history, but medical care as well. And it’s persistenly all the fault of one group of people over and over. Man I wish I was that well informed and all-knowing.

  • Cassie

    Yes.

    Thought #1: twenty-five years ago, our 15-year-old Siberian Husky died –dramatically and unexpectedly – in our living room one evening during Magnum P.I. The autopsy urged by the vet revealed an undiagnosed tumor on his kidney. My husband said “all he knew was that he didn’t feel very good.” That stayed with me…

    Thought #2: When I Was A Girl…people didn’t obsess about their health. They didn’t have time. Also they mostly didn’t have to worry about spending their declining years in a nursing home. They worked hard and passed on “with dignity”.

    Thought #3: Know thyself. I know myself well enough to realize that for me a little knowledge (or too much knowledge) is a dangerous thing, leading to twinges turning into Symptoms, and panic attacks.

    I’m Pushin’ Eighty. By the grace of God and the good genes of my ancestors, I enjoy good health. At least I think I’m in good health, because I ignore it, as well as my physician’s increasingly discouraged reminders that I need this test or that test done. I have no intention of spending my Golden Years traipsing from this specialist to that testing facility land being given meds that cancel each other out, and watching my insurance premiums rise. So I live in denial…so be it. I keep up a big house, a big yard, a big dog (another one) do Yoga and weight training, and am still gainfully employed caring for “the elderly” All of which I give thanks for on a daily basis.

  • GaryF

    Ever notice that once Obamacare got passed we have had these “studies” that say we don’t need to have certain screenings?

    First mammograms, now prostate checks, tomorrow colon checks, then blood sugar, etc.

    I have a friend who is from the USA, when he went to work in London, they told him to buy supplemental health insurance, because as an American, he wouldn’t like the NHS.

  • DNA

    For me, that depends. I think knowing health goes beyond momentary invasive clinical testing and knowing health refers to the whole involvement the individual engages in including their subjective experience.

  • Philip

    Shouldn’t the question be – Is it possible for the government or insurance company to know too much about your health?

  • CJ

    This is cracking me up. All these folks who want to politicize a simple question by saying, let me tell you the answer to the question I wanted you to ask instead of the one you did ask. Oh for pete’s sake, folks, give it a rest for once.

    My answer, dear MPR is simple:

    Knowledge is power. Knowing unpleasant facts about my current health has caused me to change my lifestyle for the better. It’s caused me to rethink some things I was doing that over stressed my body and soul. If it ever turns up it’s something that’s a one way trip I gotta ride out, I’d rather know and have a shot at tying up any loose ends that might be laying around. And I’d have some time to think about how I want that final ride to look, and when I get to get off.

    But if you won’t want to know, if ignorance is bliss, don’t ask. Tell your doc to shut up already and pass the ice cream.

  • CJ

    This is cracking me up. All these folks who want to politicize a simple question by saying, let me tell you the answer to the question I wanted you to ask instead of the one you did ask. Oh for pete’s sake, folks, give it a rest for once.

    My answer, dear MPR is simple:

    Knowledge is power. Knowing unpleasant facts about my current health has caused me to change my lifestyle for the better. It’s caused me to rethink some things I was doing that over stressed my body and soul. If it ever turns up it’s something that’s a one way trip I gotta ride out, I’d rather know and have a shot at tying up any loose ends that might be laying around. And I’d have some time to think about how I want that final ride to look, and when I get to get off.

    But if you won’t want to know, if ignorance is bliss, don’t ask. Tell your doc to shut up already and pass the ice cream.

  • Jim Shapiro

    CJ -

    While your conclusion is interesting (and I agree with it),

    It’s rather ironic that your rambling preamble accusing others of being overly political is just as off point, and clearly shows your own prejudices, albeit indirectly. :-)

  • Steve the Cynic

    Regarding the digression into politics (as I asked a few days ago, and no one responded), can we all agree on the following propositions?

    1. Liberal is not a synonym for evil.

    2. Neither is conservative.

    3. Thinking of the world as being divided between “us” and “them” is a mistake.

    4. Not everyone who disagrees with you is an extremist on the other side. (And why are we taking sides, anyway? And why do we think there are only two sides?)

    5. Not everyone who disagrees with you is part of a sinister movement to undermine what you value.

    6. Skepticism is good, not just about official sources of information, but also about alternative sources, and one’s own ideas and motives.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Steve the c -

    Interesting manifesto. Also interesting is the fact that all of the points are either connotatively or denotatively liberal.

    You must be one of them extreme liberals trying to undermine our solid God-given values system. :-)

  • James

    There is no such thing as knowing too much about your health.

    However, there is such a thing as spending too much to learn about your health (and spending too much to improve your health.)

    Prostate cancer is a tricky one. Lots of false positives that you should ignore. Lots of true positives that you should also ignore, because the cure is far worse than the disease. And a handful of true postives, that you really wish you had kown about last year.

    Personally, I go to doctors infequently and rarely stay current on the recommended tests. So far so good. Wish me continued good luck!

  • Steve the Cynic

    I suppose that depends on what you mean by “liberal,” Jim. If by “liberal” you mean open-minded and willing to consider new ideas, then I’m a liberal. If by “conservative” you mean skeptical and cautious about adopting new ideas too quickly, then I’m a conservative. But neither of those definitions are what those labels are typically taken to mean in American politics these days, where “liberal” means pro-government, anti-business, and morally licentious, while “conservative” means pro-business, anti-government, and prudish.

  • JDubow

    This whole study is a crock playing on the naivete of people and reporters. The premise is that men will demand too aggressive a treatment regimen if they are found to have prostate cancer and may suffer serious side effects.

    The obvious answer to anyone who isn’t numbed into a media-induced trance is to develop treatment regimens that minimize side effects. Things like less aggressive radiation and chemotherapy which can arrest growth of prostate cancer while not killing it. Or develop new treatments with new technologies like targeted delivery systems that are less aggressive and more effective, just as we do with other diseases.

    Doing the research and development may mean less money to bail out bankers and pay them bonuses, but we all have to sacrifice something, or should, for the common good. This whole recommendation is a way to shorten the lifespan of men so as to reduce medical expenditures. How long until they start producing Soylent Green to recycle the dead and save money on school lunches?

  • Steve the Cynic

    “This whole recommendation is a way to shorten the lifespan of men so as to reduce medical expenditures.”

    See? Folks on the left can come up with ridiculous conspiracy theories, too.