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Vast Overuse of Routine Cancer Screenings

By Lisa Collier Cool

A new study from iWatch News has revealed that about 40 percent of what Medicare spends on common preventive cancer screenings goes toward tests that may be medically unnecessary. This vast overuse has profound national implications. It affects millions of Americans and levies an enormous unnecessary financial burden on the entire healthcare system.

The investigation found that between 2003 and 2008, Medicare spent close to $2 billion on routine cancer screenings for patients who did not need to be tested because they were older than government-recommended age limits. iWatch Newsobtained the data from a six-year sample of Medicaid billing records.

An excerpt from the iWatch News article:

Terry Waddell knew that her 87-year-old mother did not have long to live. The woman’s organs were shutting down because of old age, she said, and her arthritic body had withered to 80 pounds.

So, when Waddell received a call about her mother’s health, it was not what she expected. A visiting nurse had noticed a bit of blood between the frail woman’s legs and wanted her screened for cervical cancer.

Waddell, of Houston, regrets that she took her mother for the test. She refused to let doctor’s aides weigh her, she said, protesting that getting her mother out of her wheelchair was too arduous a process. Then came the actual exam, which she said “was painful to watch.” Her mother struggled to open her legs wide enough for the procedure and then lay there, quietly crying.

“I blame myself for not stopping this,” said Waddell, whose mother died two months later.“It was totally unnecessary.” Unnecessary, perhaps, but surprisingly common.

Read the full on the iWatch News article.

Why are screenings overused?

Why do so many people receive tests more frequently than medically recommended or at times when the tests can’t lead to any proven medical benefit? A big reason is that patients ask their doctors for them. Many doctors administer the requested tests for financial gain or out of fear of malpractice suits, despite the fact that scientific guidelines suggest the patients should not be screened.

Who determines screening guidelines?

A panel of independent medical experts called the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (PSTF) provides detailed recommendations and guidelines about who should be screened and which tests offer more benefits than risks. However, theiWatch News study found that many doctors ignore the PSTF’s standards, which are not mandates.

Which screenings are the most overused?

Breast cancer screenings, with more than 22 million mammograms ordered for women who were at or over the PSTF’s recommended age limit. Other screenings that were overused include those for:

  • cervical cancer (more than 13 million claims over the upper age limit)
  • colon cancer (more than 10 million claims over the upper age limit)
  • prostate cancer (more than 6 million claims over the upper age limit)

What are the implications of unnecessary screenings?

It’s important to remember that along with the benefits of appropriate screenings, the tests also pose certain risks. In some cases, cancer screenings can cause more harm than good, as the screening process itself can cause injuries or even death. Furthermore, the high costs of unnecessary screenings drive up the cost of healthcare for everyone. Unnecessary screenings can lead to other expensive tests and treatments that can lead to additional waste of resources. Follow-up exams and procedures can be among the most expensive part of the screenings.

To help avoid unnecessary screenings, take these steps:

1. Discuss with your doctor what the PSTF’s recommendations are for various screening tests before requesting one.

2. Don’t assume that you need a screening based on medical advertising.

3. Work with your doctor to determine appropriate screenings based on your age and medical history.


My VBAC Success Story: I ignored my doctor to have the birth I wanted.

– By Jana Llewellyn

When I was pregnant with my son in 2007, I read articles, listened to radio broadcasts, and watched TV shows that all reported the alarming rate of C-sections. Since my pregnancy had been without complications up to that point, I assumed this wasn’t something I had to worry about. I was more interested in the increasing popularity of natural birth.

“Should I forego an epidural?” I asked my doctor.

He said, polite as always, that some women thought they’d decline an epidural, but once they hit active labor, “they realized why epidurals were invented.”

He tapped into one of my biggest fears: pain.

So after the obstetrician broke my water and told me I’d be in “excruciating pain,” I agreed to the epidural. She assured me that epidurals didn’t slow down labor as I had thought. Ten hours later, I was in the operating room. I had been given enough Pitocin to dilate, but the doctor suspected that my baby was positioned sideways and mandated a C-section.

When I got pregnant with my daughter almost two years later, I did not want another C-section. In fact, I was planning my VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) only hours after my son was born. After all, my body was well-equipped to carry other human beings — both of my children wanted to stay well past 40 weeks — and I knew that I could labor successfully if given the chance. But, my doctor warned me, due to my first C-section, I was now considered a high-risk delivery case.

The biggest fear doctors and patients have with VBAC is a uterine rupture, where the scar tissue of the uterus opens, necessitating an immediate C-section to save the mother’s and/or baby’s life. This, of course, is to be taken quite seriously. But since the risk of uterine rupture is less than 1 percent, which means only 7 or 8 women in 1,000 will experience it, I thought I’d take my chances. After all, there are plenty of fatal complications that can occur in labor, like placental abruption, which affects women who have not had C-sections. Even women who have never had previous abdominal surgery are vulnerable to uterine ruptures. Furthermore, there are risks with C-sections, too — hemorrhaging, blood cots, bowel issues, and breathing problems for the baby — and I knew that having a second one could make those more likely should I get pregnant again. I also knew that a vaginal birth would come with a shorter recovery time and therefore allow me to be more attentive to my son during a transitional time.

For weeks I carried the weight of my decision in my chest, fretting about whether I was succumbing to unnecessary risks, whether I was being selfish in wanting to avoid surgery and somehow putting my life before my baby’s. The only way to face this labor, I decided, was to hire a doula, someone who would personally assist me before, during, and after delivery. I emailed one who was recommended by a friend and meanwhile continued to read more about the benefits of vaginal delivery as opposed to C-sections.

When I posed more questions to my doctors though, I became confused and overwhelmed. The male doctor who performed my C-section the first time around seemed eager to use this opportunity to convince me that a C-section was a better option, even though for my first two trimesters, I had told him I wanted a VBAC. He explained that many female obstetricians prefer to schedule Cesareans for their own births rather than endure the pain of vaginal labor. He also went into a story about women in third-world countries who labor for so many hours, their bladders collapse and urine shoots out of their vaginas. On my next visit, the female OB (the one who convinced me to have an early epidural) recounted how the doctors and nurses on call gulp down bottles of Pepto-Bismol when they have a VBAC patient in labor because they’re so afraid that something will go wrong. And when I told her I was considering avoiding the epidural, she told me that was not an option. It would be mandatory once I was three or four centimeters dilated.

Feeling discouraged, I wrote to my doula, Ellen, to tell her I didn’t think it would be worth it for her to be part of my labor. If I had to get an epidural that early, there wouldn’t be much pain management she could help me with. She called me before I even closed my laptop, angry for what she thought was my doctor’s dishonesty. I did not need an epidural, she said, and I had as much chance of succeeding at a VBAC as I did at a regular birth. In the more than 500 births she had attended, she had only seen a uterine rupture once, and it was for a first-time delivery. To my surprise, she told me I needed to leave my practice, or I’d end up in the same situation I did the first time around, with a stalled labor and a baby who hadn’t moved into position because of a premature epidural.

Who could I trust? And why did it seem that natural birthing advocates were on such opposing sides from the obstetricians I had entrusted to deliver my baby? This time I listened to my gut and took down the names of three practices that my doula felt would support my VBAC. But when I called, no one would schedule an initial consultation. Instead, they would only see me if I officially switched from my current practice. Not wanting my maternal health to be in limbo 10 weeks before my due date, I looked at the bottom of Ellen’s list, at the only name I hadn’t yet considered: the midwife who worked out of a hospital a half hour away.

I never thought I’d choose a midwife. I didn’t know they existed beyond history books and the birth center a few miles from my home. But from the first minute I talked to Ronni, I knew I was in good hands. She was willing to meet with me for a consultation so she could answer all of my questions. She explained the slight differences of treating a VBAC patient and a regular patient. She was honest with me, and she fully supported my decision without ever skirting around the reality of the risks involved. (It also helped that in all her years as a midwife, she had never seen a uterine rupture.)

When I expressed concern over my obstetricians’ feelings about the switch, Ronni told me that they probably wouldn’t know I was gone. She was right. The office charged me an arm and a leg for select photocopies of my record, but I never received a phone call from a doctor asking me why I left. At my new prenatal appointments, in a cozy apartment with warm, green walls and a counter lined with tea, my two-year-old was welcomed with a box of toys and the title of “midwife’s helper” as he squeezed my blood pressure pump. In our half-hour appointments, Ronni did all the things my doctors did, but we also compared iPhones and talked about our lives and her recent deliveries.

Though my prenatal care was great, my labor was not as fun. Seven days past my due date, my daughter still hadn’t arrived, and it was the hospital’s procedure to induce before she got too big. I could receive only a small amount of Pitocin (large doses increase the chances of uterine rupture) through an IV to help things along, and as I sat on a hospital bed that morning, I lamented that the labor was already not going as I had hoped. Would I ever have this baby?

After seven hours, contractions were intense enough that I knew my baby was on her way. Surrounded by my midwife, doula, a hospital nurse, and my husband, I breathed, moaned, and visualized the clouds of Paris to get through particularly painful contractions. My husband stood by my side, rubbing my back as I rocked, sat, and walked, trying to get the baby to move into position. When I finally started pushing, I tried as much movement as possible. I squatted, I stood, I rocked. When the pain got so bad, I did what most women do: I asked for drugs. Ronni told me I was 9 centimeters dilated, and it was too late for drugs. Knowing I had come that far along gave me the boost I needed to get through the rest of my labor. A little after 9 p.m., I started feeling the urge to push, but after an hour and a half, the baby had barely moved. I got a thigh cramp that was worse than the contractions, and that’s when I started to curse at my midwife. I wanted her to DO something.

But within minutes I realized that no one could do anything. It was up to me, and solely me, to push this baby out. I closed my eyes and reached into the darkness, into reserves I never knew I had, in order to bring my daughter into the world. At 12:34 a.m., three hours after I started, I felt her body leave mine, and Madeleine, my nine-pound, one-ounce baby girl, was laid on my stomach. She and I locked eyes, and I can still remember the new warmth of her, those chubby hands.

That night, despite my exhaustion, I couldn’t sleep. I relived the whole surreal experience over and over in my head, still in disbelief that a baby with a head that big could come out a five-foot two-inch body. All the adrenaline convinced me I was the most amazing person alive, practically a superhero. The memory of my painful labor didn’t go away for a long time, but neither did my amazement at what I was actually capable of.

Related: The case for VBAC — what you should know before having a repeat C-section

If I had stayed with my obstetrics practice, there were a few things they would have done differently. First, I would have had an ultrasound in the last trimester to see whether my second baby was bigger than the first, and therefore not suitable for a vaginal delivery. Considering my first baby was 7.5 oz. and the second was 9.1, they would have probably forced me to have a C-section. Second, the practice would most likely not have induced me seven days after my due date. Instead, they would have wanted to perform a scheduled Cesarean if I didn’t go into labor soon enough. Lastly, most doctors are not willing to let a woman push for three hours. Even though the average pushing time for a first-time delivery is two hours, most doctors start mentioning the dreaded “C” word after much less time, which is not helpful for a woman’s mental and emotional state. Believe me, I wish I didn’t have to push for three hours, but I am glad I had a caregiver who let me finish what I started. In essence, I am convinced that my doctors would have looked for ways to encourage surgery, rather than allowing my body to perform its natural functions.

I look back on the birth of my daughter as the most difficult physical exercise I may ever undergo, as something that taught me the utmost limits of what a body — my body — can do. I was exhausted in the days and months after her birth, as all mothers are, but I was also triumphant, with a new inner confidence.

What better way to enter the next stage of motherhood?


If prescription drugs are so good, where are all the healthy drug takers?

by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger

When observing the state of modern medicine and the unprecedented influence of pharmaceuticals, an interesting paradox arises. The drug companies claim that pharmaceuticals can do wonders for people: lower their cholesterol, end clinical depression, reverse osteoporosis, eliminate allergies, calm your children and many other similar promises. But if prescription drugs are so good for people, where are all the healthy medicated customers?

There aren’t any to speak of. There’s nobody taking twelve prescriptions who has a clean bill of health. In fact, the more prescriptions a person takes, the worse their overall health. And if you approach the healthiest people you can find in a local fitness center and ask what prescription drugs they’re taking in order to be so healthy, they’ll give you a rather confused look: they don’t take prescription drugs!.

So how is it that the pharmaceutical industry can be claiming to make people healthier in the first place? And what happened to common sense here? A rigorous scientific view of the whole situation can only conclude that prescription drugs are, in fact, making people sicker. It’s like a massive clinical trial, and the results of the trial are rather obvious: we’re swallowing more drugs than ever, and we’re getting sicker. In fact, the more drugs a person takes, and the longer they take them, the more rapidly their overall health deteriorates.

So why are drugs approved in the first place?

During development, prescription drugs are designed to target a single measurable marker, such as cholesterol levels or bone density. There are thousands of such markers to target in the world of modern medicine, and if a specific drug can alter any measurable marker in a positive direction — without killing too many people during the clinical trials– the FDA eventually declares it to be “safe and effective” and the drug is unleashed for public consumption.

Indeed, the drug may effectively impact that one marker. But here’s where the problem starts: every drug has a systemic effect, and these systemic effects are not accurately measured (or admitted) in clinical trials. For example, statin drugs do, in fact, lower bad cholesterol levels. But they do this by compromising the ability of the liver to create all types of cholesterol, including the “good” cholesterol and important hormones that the body manufactures from cholesterol. Statins may have one measurable, positive effect according to the medical charts, but they simultaneously throw off the body’s healthy physiology in a hundred other ways such as blocking your sex drive.

Clinical trials don’t pay much attention to these other effects; they’re just looking to prove one particular thing and get FDA approval to market the drug as a miracle cholesterol fighter. What other effects the drug has on the human body are largely ignored. And when clinical trial participants start showing these severe effects, they are typically “dismissed” from the trial in order to ensure that trial results look positive. In this way, extremely toxic drugs are actually approved by the FDA as “safe.”

Prescription drugs represent a war on the American people

This situation means that, right now, prescription drugs are killing 100,000 Americans each year and injuring more than two million. Those are the statistics from the Journal of the American Medical Association, and that figure doesn’t include the 40,000 or so who are killed each year by over-the-counter pain medications. These are staggering figures: it’s like having twenty-five 9/11 attacks each year, but instead of terrorists flying the airplanes, it’s pharmaceutical company CEOs. There are more deaths and injuries caused each year by pharmaceuticals than in any U.S. war or conflict since World War II.

And yet pharmaceuticals continue to be marketed as miracle drugs that can help people be healthy. But as I’ve mentioned, there are no extremely healthy people taking lots of prescription drugs!

The counter argument

The obvious counter to this argument is that people only start taking prescription drugs after they’re already sick. But that’s not true: statins are now being pushed onto perfectly healthy people who have cholesterol levels of 115, for example. They’re supposed to start taking statins as a preventative measure, even though there’s nothing wrong with them. With a similar lack of wisdom, the American Diabetes Association has recommended that all diabetics start taking statin drugs even though there is no scientifically proven benefit to doing so just in case some benefits are someday discovered!

And statin drugs are already known to cause an alarming number of dangerous side effects. After being consumed for just a few days, statin drugs start interfering with normal liver function. Within a matter of weeks or months, the patient often shows new symptoms or disorders. Upon visiting a western medical doctor, they are diagnosed with another disease or condition and — guess what? — given another prescription drug to take in combination with the statins. In the business world, this is called “upselling the customer” — getting the same customers to buy more stuff, thereby greatly increasing your profit margin.

And so it goes: one prescription after another, like boxcars on a train, until the patient is: 1) financially depleted, and 2) suffering the ravages of extreme chemical toxicity from prescription drugs. By the time a typical patient finally dies from complications caused by the prescription drugs, they may have spent $100,00 or more on drugs alone. And that number can be multiplied even further if “heroic drugs” are prescribed during the patient’s last surviving days.

Dangerous drug interactions are rarely tested

There’s another factor to consider here, too: prescription drugs are rarely tested for dangerous interactions with other drugs.In other words, even though the FDA might have approved drug A for one thing, and drug B for another, nobody ever tested what happens in human beings when both drug A and drug B are taken together. Far too often, the combination is toxic, and many prescription drug combinations are fatal. Those that are not fatal may cause other injuries, meaning they will destroy the patient’s liver or pancreas, which will of course create demand for even more prescription drugs to deal with those issues.

In this way, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you visit a western medical doctor and take even a single prescription, you’re caught in the spiral of pharmaceutical dependence. The only way to escape this trap and actually restore your health is to give up all prescription drugs and, instead, make radical changes to your diet and lifestyle– and seek out naturopathic or holistic treatments — to restore your health. This is the only way to create lasting health.

Where are all the healthy, happy, athletic prescription drug takers?

Getting back to the main point here, doesn’t it make sense that if prescription drugs made people healthy, there would be all sorts of healthy, happy, athletic people walking around touting the benefits of all the drugs they’re taking? If drugs were good for you, there should be hundreds of thousands of such people right now. They should be mentally sharp, have low body fat, high bone density, healthy digestive tracts, healthy blood chemistry, vibrant skin, high energy, excellent moods, and so on. And yet this is not at all the case.

Typically, when you meet a person who is taking multiple prescription drugs, they are overweight or obese, chronically fatigued, mentally depressed, sickly in appearance, mentally clouded, suffering from several blood chemistry problems, burdened with weak immune systems, suffering from low bone density, and emotionally unstable. Sadly, this is not only the typical prescription drug patient I’m describing here, this also describes many doctors and health care workers who dole out the drugs in the first place.

Given this reality, it takes a great leap of imagination to believe that prescription drugs are somehow good for you. 

The promise of drugs is seductive

It’s seductive, of course, to imagine that perhaps your state of mental anguish is simply a “brain chemistry imbalance” that can be corrected with antidepressant drugs. It’s tempting to treat your osteoporosis with a doctor-recommend pill rather than getting into the habit of daily walking. It’s convenient to live on heartburn medications instead of having to make healthy food choices for a change. Popping pills is always easier than changing your life, but popping pills is like making a deal with the Devil: you always end up losing.

When you take prescription drugs on a long-term basis, you’re sure to come out worse than when you started. Prescription drugs are only appropriate for short-term interventions that save a patient’s life while they make radical changes to their diet, nutrition and lifestyle that correct the underlying imbalances. For example, an obese middle-aged man suffering from extremely high cholesterol is obviously at risk of a sudden heart attack. Statin drugs might be legitimately used for a few weeks or months just to keep the guy alive while he makes radical lifestyle changes that will ultimately bring his cholesterol (and his body weight) down to reasonable levels.

The legitimate uses for prescription drugs

That’s a reasonable, legitimate use of prescription drugs. But that’s not the way they’re being promoted today. Thanks to the culture of greed and widespread lack of ethics at pharmaceutical companies, statins and other drugs are being pushed as lifetime medications while any mention of diet, nutrition or exercise is either completely avoided or, at best, glossed over. The result is that patients are told drugs are the only answer.

Doctors are culpable in this as well: most don’t even understand nutrition 101, and few bother to take the time to work with patients on lifestyle changes in the first place. Of course, most doctors would say that it’s the patients who aren’t interested in making changes, and they’re right about that, but there’s also something rather negligent about the fact that the vast majority of doctor visits result in a 90-second conversation and a prescription for the latest brand-name drug. (If you’re a medical doctor and don’t fit this description, good for you! But make no mistake: your colleagues are miserable healers…)

So why are prescription drugs so popular?

The only reason prescription drugs are so popular today is not because they work, but because they are extremely profitable. It’s profitable for the drug companies who mark them up as much as 500,000% over the cost of the raw ingredients, it’s profitable for retailers like Walgreens who mark them up even further (and whose business relies primarily on drug profits), it’s profitable for newspapers and magazines who gladly cash checks for millions of dollars in drug advertising, and it’s even profitable for doctors who receive all sorts of free vacations, “consulting fees,” and other not-so-subtle bribes in exchange for writing prescriptions for brand-name drugs.

The system is extremely profitable to everyone… everyone except you, that is. You suffer devastating health consequences when you participate. You get stuck with the medical debt. Your insurance rates go sky-high. And to add insult to injury,you’re sicker now than before you started taking the drugs!

Our system of modern medicine is a sham, folks. It’s primarily a drug racket that’s dominated by Big Pharma. The science is largely distorted (and often outright fraudulent), the ethics have all but disappeared, and the long-term price of all this is going to be enormous. We have an unprecedented problem on our hands that’s sickening an entire generation and creating stratospheric long-term health care costs for the next round of working taxpayers unlucky enough to stumble onto all this.

But don’t worry: when everybody’s sicker than ever, the drug companies will promise they have the next big cure. All you have to do is pop daily pills at $200 each, and all your health problems will be solved!