Are those tests doing more harm than good?
When you're in grade school, the last thing you want to do is take a test. Study? No thanks! In adulthood, we take different kinds of tests-blood work, mammograms, colonoscopies and pregnancy tests. You don't have to cram, but they're generally not fun and the results can be real nail-biters.
Unlike your school-aged self, the grown-up you might think the more tests you get, the safer and healthier you'll be. (Though that voice in your head right now is the child inside you yelling, "More tests?! No way!"). That way if you need to lower your LDL cholesterol or get more vitamin D, or if you have a disease, you can start addressing the issue right away. Well, you might want to take it easy on the test-taking. Just as we said in our last column about vitamins and supplements, science is proving that too much of a good thing isn't always so good.
Before you start prepping for your next exam, take a look at these tests you might not need (at least not right now).
These famously uncomfortable breast x-rays (if you haven't had one yet, imagine putting your breast in a Panini press) are typically recommended once a year from the age of 40, unless there's a history of breast cancer in your family. But recently, physicians have argued that that's too much. A 2012 study concluded that many women undergo unnecessary surgery, radiation or hormone therapy because their mammograms turned up lumps that wouldn't have turned into cancer.
Our verdict: We still think these are good idea (along with MRIs) for women with dense breasts. New technology is improving accurate interpretation of test results, so we should see fewer falsely abnormal or questionable tests in the future. Select a mammography site that is on the cutting edge of new software and hardware.
2. Bone Density Tests
Many women worry about osteoporosis and get DEXA (dual-energy x-ray absorbtiometry) scans to find out if their bones are staying strong or getting weaker. The scan isn't likely to do any direct harm, but it can lead to overly aggressive action. There's a condition called osteopenia, which means there is mild bone loss. It's not as bad as osteoporosis and the chances of broken bones is small. Still, doctors may prescribe a drug like Boniva or Fosamax-even if you don't really need it. And each drug comes with risks and side effects.
Our verdict: We recommend these tests for women at the start of menopause. If your bone density seems low, we encourage you to increase exercise, add more calcium to your diet and take vitamin D3 to get the appropriate level. Get re-scanned annually and track your results for several years to see if you can increase your bone density without resorting to these high-powered drugs.
3. Pap Smears
A Pap smear can detect cervical cancer and signs of uterine and ovarian cancers. Last year, the medical community pulled back on the recommendation for yearly swabs because of a high number of "false positives"-results that indicate a problem when there isn't one. Those can lead to unnecessary further testing and removal of healthy tissue, as well as needless treatment that could create pregnancy complications down the road.
Our verdict: Get a Pap smear every other year between the ages of 21 and 29, then every three years until 80 years of age, or within 15 years of your life expectancy, whichever comes later.
If you're picturing a technician rubbing a sensor over a pregnant belly and revealing a wriggling baby inside, hang on a sec. The ultrasounds we're talking about here aren't targeting buns in the oven-they're looking for ovarian cysts. Cysts are small fluid-filled sacs that often form on the ovary as part of the menstrual cycle. They're usually harmless, but they seem worrisome, so if you find one you might get anxious and go in for repeated follow-up exams-or unnecessary surgery to remove something only as dangerous as a small water balloon.
Our verdict: It's a good idea to get one if you have two or more of the following risk factors: abdominal fat, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high triglycerides and are exercising and eating the YOU Diet (from our book "YOU On A Diet Revised") without benefit. If the test reveals that you do have cystic ovaries-and you still have risk factors-get another one two years later.
If you still feel like testing yourself… take one of our exclusive YouBeauty Quizzes!
- by Dr. Oz & Dr. Roizen