What would you do if you knew…

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture presented by Mayo Clinic Physicians about the use of new technologies in the medical field, specifically ultrasounds in the emergency room, to better diagnose patients and save more lives.  For some reason, this presentation brought to mind a study I recently read, Scientists Find Spinal Clue to Detecting Dementia, which detailed new medical technologies that can potentially detect Dementia, and eventually Alzheimer’s, ten years before it sets in.  The scientists conducting the study examined the spinal fluid of patients who had mild thought and memory issues, and a decreased amount of a specific protein, beta-amyloid, in their cerebro-spinal fluid.  These study participants’ memory and thought processes were tracked for ten years, and the end result for nearly all of them was a prognosis of Dementia/Alzheimer’s in the near future.

While reading this article, it reminded me of a study done a few years ago about new medical technology that can detect the genes which can potentially result in Breast Cancer.  Women who tested positive for these genes, who had no history of breast cancer in their family, and no other indicators of possibly developing the disease other than this particular gene, went to extreme measures, a total mastectomywith reconstructive surgery, to give themselves the peace of mind that they will not develop breast cancer.  It was also noted that women with all the indicators: family history, one or many of the identified Breast Cancer genes, etc., never developed breast cancer, while those without any indicators did.

So this begs the question, are we better off not knowing if we are “predisposed” for certain medical conditions? Are these medical technologies for identifying certain illnesses reliable? Are the results, positive or negative, useful in creating a better quality of life?  Does the knowledge of knowing you test “positive” for, in the case of these articles, a certain gene or protein deficiency cause you to live in fear of the disease? What measures will we take to prevent these diseases if we test positive? 

Medical technology is not a bad thing, it just needs to be used in beneficial, lifesaving ways, and I’m not sure if testing someone for Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Breast Cancer genes, or other life-threatening diseases is really a good use of technology.  These tests are informative, but are they necessarily beneficial or lifesaving?

Personally, I am not in favor of these medical technologies that will indicate if you are susceptible (or not) for a certain medical condition.  If women who test positive for a Breast cancer gene are getting mastectomies, then what extremes will potential Dementia/Alzheimer’s patients go to to prevent this condition?  Suicide?  This has yet to be determined.  I feel like if I tested positive for a condition that I would live in fear of developing it, and that is certainly no way to live a happy, healthy life.  These medical technologies are not 100% accurate, and as a result, they may give you false information—either a false sense of security, or false alarm for something you will not develop.

As far as preventing certain diseases, regardless of personal medical history, I believe in preventative care.  It has worked for decades, and continues to work now, in the midst of medical technological advances.  Obviously, certain people are more likely to get certain diseases than others, and there is simply no way to avoid some medical conditions.  For someone like me with fair skin, I am already at a greater risk for skin cancer and melanoma than others, and living in Arizona only increases my chances of getting it.  I don’t live in fear of skin cancer, I just use ridiculous amounts of sun protection to hopefully prevent it.  Medical technology has advanced in a way that there are now apps for your smartphone and tablet.  These apps can help you track medications, exercise, diabetes, heart disease, and even “diagnose” your condition–WedMD in an attempt to reduce doctor visits.  I like the fact that they can help track certain things like medications, and especially diabetic’s blood sugar and diet, but I’m not sure if they are really all that beneficial in the medicine and diagnosis aspect, and many doctors aren’t either.  The WebMD app is a useful tool if you simply want to know about certain medical issues, but as far as actually diagnosing yourself, I have found that WedMD has caused me more harm than good.  It tends to take simple things like a cold and blow them completely out of proportion to the point of some incurable disease.  So, are these medical apps really a good thing? For tracking diabetic blood sugar and diet, I would say yes, but as far as self-diagnoses, I would say no. So, go to the doctor for regular exams, use sunscreen, eat right, and exercise regularly.  This will be your best bet in warding off these dreaded diagnoses.