Here's a 'great opportunity' most likely best to miss


On May 23, a letter was delivered to my home letting me know of a "great opportunity."

This letter was from a company called Life Line Screening. They do screening for several diseases and conditions and are scheduled to offer these to the public June 12 in College Place.

There are five types of screening: stroke/carotid artery; heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation); abdominal aortic aneurysm; peripheral arterial disease; and osteoporosis risk.

The letter describes different things that can be prevented if you have these tests done and how you could escape disaster by identifying disease early.

The letter was signed by Peggy Fleming, who was an Olympic champion ice skater in the 1960s. As written it could certainly make people fearful, and in my opinion, unnecessarily so.

The brochure stated that the cost if you had each of these separately would be $275 but if you get them all it will only cost $159.

Does this sound like a good deal? Unfortunately, it is not.

The U.S. government has a department called the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force -- USPSTF -- formed for the sole purpose of determining what type of screening is worthwhile and what is not.

Screens such as colonoscopies, mammograms and pap smears have all been shown to be of significant value under proper circumstances.

There is nothing actually wrong with each of these tests. They are often ordered by health care personnel after a person has been carefully evaluated and it has been determined they are needed.

But the USPSTF recommends that none of these tests be done as proposed by Life Line Screening .

Why is that? There are several problems with screening of this nature.

First, there will be no careful evaluation to see whether you even need to have the screening done.

Also, in the brochure there is a question-and-answer section. The first question is: "Who needs to be screened?" The brochure's answer is: anyone over 50, but if there is a bad family history or you have high risk factors it may be advisable even if you are 40.

There is no mention made that, when it comes to abdominal aortic aneurysms, the government only recommends those tests for men who are between the ages of 65-75 and who have a history of smoking at some time in their life. There is no hint in the brochure that women would not even need to have that screening, especially someone as young as 40.

Neither Medicare nor Medicaid will pay for it. And unless a person was already having symptoms no private insurance company will pay for it.

Of course, some folks will say that it is worth their peace of mind to have it done. But there are other problems.

There is no one in that company who can treat you for any abnormal condition found. So you will have to go to a licensed health care provider and will most likely have to have the test repeated.

Furthermore, often abnormalities are discovered but they may be of such a nature that no one knows for sure whether they are serious.

There could be an increase of anxiety over something that is not that important. And it may call for operative procedures such as biopsies, which in themselves can be life-threatening. For example, people can have abnormal reactions to anesthesia or could be exposed to antibiotic-resistant germs.

In surfing the Internet in regard to this issue I came across information from Dr. Kenneth Lin, a board-certified family practice doctor who practices in the Washington, D.C., area.

He is on the faculty of the Georgetown University School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health. He is also an associate editor of the Journal of Family Medicine, which is the official journal of the American Academy of Family Practice.

He tells of what he described as a deceptive advertisement that was in his church's bulletin for Life Line Screening services in the church's cafeteria.

He proceeds to tell why it would not be worthwhile. His reasons are basically the same as mine.

Some of the readers of this article may find edifying what Dr. Lin has to say about other controversial issues. Just Google "common sense family doctor."

Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent four years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 21/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.


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