Is some treatment harmful?

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Posted: Thursday, August 9, 2012 2:36 pm | Updated: 4:43 pm, Wed Jul 3, 2013.

High blood pressure, diabetes, cancer. We are taught to catch diseases early get screened and get tested, but is it always the right thing to do? Could we be doing more harm than good?

“No family history, no symptoms." but when Michele Stapleton went in for a mammogram at 41. "No pain, no lumps, nothing." Nothing but a suspicious spot.

Turns out it was cancer. Michele opted to have both breasts removed but a later test predicting recurrence still put the mother of two in the gray zone. So she opted for 12 weeks of chemo anyway, raising her chance of survival from 85 to 91-percent. "So anything more that I can do to insure that I'm going to be here for my children is worth it."

Worth it for her, but maybe not you. Dartmouth's Doctor Gilbert Welch says we all have abnormalities in our bodies but most are harmless. "And thereby some people are being treated for things that will never bother them. And yet they can be harmed by treatment."

A recent study out of Norway estimates between 15 and 25-percent of breast cancers found by mammograms would not have caused any problems during a woman's lifetime, but were treated anyway. "maybe not starting mammograms at age 40 and starting them at age 50 and maybe not doing them every year but doing them every other year might actually be in their interest."

He also believes there's too much testing for prostate cancer. "Twenty years ago a simple blood test was introduced called the prostate specific antigen and twenty years later about a million men have been diagnosed with a cancer that was never going to bother them."

Ultimately, doctor welch says it comes down to finding the right balance. "We need to tell them about both sides of the story."

Allowing patients like Michelle to make better decisions. "I have young girls. I've got to be here."

In a recent medical survey, 42-percent of primary care physicians thought their patients were over-treated. The reasons include malpractice concerns and not enough one-on-one time with patients, and 28-percent of the doctors in the survey admitted to practicing too aggressively.

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