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A TV Physician Is Not Your “Doctor” Or “Coach”

A German physician wrote me about this, so while CNN may have an international reach, it’s not always with an adoring audience.

The physician was reacting to the weekend “Paging Dr. Gupta” program, which Dr. Gupta referred to once as “SG, MD.” The first thing that struck me was his introduction, in which he said:

“I’m your doctor. I’m also your coach.”

Later in the program he said:

“Think of this as your appointment. No waiting. No insurance necessary.”

I find this very troubling. He’s not my doctor. He’s not my coach. When I watch a “news” program, it’s NOT my medical appointment. It’s supposed to be news, not medical advice.

But that’s not what the German physician wrote to me about, so I kept watching (the segment in question appears about 5 minutes and 30 seconds deep, and after the 30-second commercial you have to watch to get there):

Gupta reacted to a viewer’s message on Twitter in which the tweep asked: “Does anyone know a ‘miracle’ treatment for ovarian cancer?” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Dr. LaPook’s Colonoscopy: Screening Tests Save Lives

Last night, President Obama made a pitch for preventive care in his address to a joint session of Congress on health care:

“And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies – because there’s no reason we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.”

As a doctor who has held the hands of patients dying from totally preventable illnesses, I couldn’t agree more. The largest number of deaths in the United States are caused by two preventable causes – tobacco smoking and
high blood pressure – killing an estimated 467,000 and 395,000 people respectively in 2005. The list goes on and on, including obesity, physical inactivity, and poor diet.

When I was working in the emergency room as a medical resident, it was heartbreaking to see a patient with poor routine medical care roll into the emergency room with a devastating stroke that could have easily been averted with regular office visits and blood pressure medication – both relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of caring for the stricken patient.

We’re not preventing enough deaths by the types of cancer screening tests mentioned by President Obama. One reason is the technology is still not good enough. We need to develop better screening tests that pick up problems early but don’t lead to an unacceptable number of unnecessary biopsies, procedures, and further tests. And
not enough patients are screened. Only about about 60 percent of women get mammograms and about 50 percent of men and women get routine colonoscopies.

Lack of insurance coverage is certainly a big reason why some patients don’t undergo screening. Another reason is patient fear and misunderstanding. In order to educate the public about the risks of colon cancer and the benefits of screening exams, Katie Couric underwent a colonoscopy on national television in March, 2000. Three years later, researchers at the University of Michigan found that colonoscopy rates jumped by 20 percent across the country following Katie’s procedure, calling the rise the
“Katie Couric Effect.”

It’s almost 10 years later and we’re still not screening enough patients. Although the death rate from colon cancer has dropped in recent years – likely mostly because of screening efforts – colorectal cancer still strikes almost 150,000 Americans every year and kills about 50,000.

As a gastroenterologist, I have seen patients’ lives saved by the removal of polyps and early cancers found by colonoscopy. I have also taken care of patients whose colon cancers were found too late to save them. Over the years, I must have heard every excuse for ducking a colonoscopy. The top four (and my answers):

  • I have no symptoms (most colon cancers start small and have no symptoms until they grow larger.)
  • I have no family history of colon cancer (that’s true in about 70 percent of patients with colon cancer.)
  • I’m afraid it will hurt (that’s why we use sedation and, if needed, anesthesia.)
  • I can’t do the prep (we’ll figure out a way to clean out your colon that you can tolerate.
  • And even if you have a tough night, it sure beats chemotherapy.)For this week’s CBS Doc Dot Com, I follow Katie’s lead and undergo a colonoscopy with cameras rolling in an attempt to remind people that a screening colonoscopy can save your life. I had the benefit of a house call the night before by my office nurse, Debbie Fitzpatrick, who held the video camera and offered advice and encouragement as I had a taste of my own medicine: the colon cleanout solution. The colonoscopy was performed expertly by Dr. Mark B. Pochapin, director of The Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

    For more information about the Jay Monahan Center,click here.

  • For more information about screening for colon cancer, click here.To watch my colonoscopy, click below:

    Watch CBSNews Videos Online

  • One Lucky Canadian

    Today an elderly physician friend of mine woke up with some very mild abdominal pain. He is a stoic man, and never complains about anything – not even the pain associated with a dislocated/shattered hip and multiple bone fractures from a car accident (he was very nonchalant about that event 2 years ago).

    So when I heard that he was going to see a doctor about his belly pain – I knew that something serious was afoot. His doctor ordered an abdominal x-ray series, noted a tumor, and sent him to the O.R. within the hour.

    In the O.R. the surgeons found a perforated colon (it must have ruptured minutes to an hour or two prior) without signs of peritonitis. There was a cancerous mass (without metastases) that they were able to remove completely. They washed his peritoneal cavity extensively to remove all fecal matter and potential cancer cells and transferred him to the ICU for observation overnight and IV antibiotics.

    So far it seems that my friend will make a full recovery – and there is no evidence of remaining cancer, though we’ll need to be vigilant with follow up.

    I can’t get over how lucky he was to have discovered the perforated colon within hours of it occurring, that the surgeons took care of him immediately, and that the cancer seems to have been contained and removed. I don’t know if his “luck” was partially due to his physician’s intuition about his own body, professional courtesy extended to him by peers, or that the Canadian healthcare system is not as burdened in his part of the country (Nova Scotia) as it is in others where there may be longer wait times.

    All I can say is that my friend is one lucky Canadian!

    Sad News About My Friend With Colon Cancer

    My dear friend Seton Holt passed away on Christmas eve. She was 42 years old, and surrounded by family at home. I wrote about Seton’s battle with cancer – and how she faced adversity with an inspirational courage.*

    When you lose someone you immediately wish you’d had the chance for one last conversation – to make sure they knew how much you loved them, and what they meant in your life. I didn’t have that final conversation with Seton, but I suspect that she knew how I felt.

    Seton was a devout Catholic. She leaves behind a nearly two-year-old son, Damian, her husband David, and a large loving extended family.

    I’ll be attending her wake tomorrow. May she rest in peace.

    *These are some of my previous posts about Seton:

    Cancer Isn’t Fair

    Unencumbered By Prognosis

    Strawberry Shortcake In Central Park

    The Lucky One

    The Undy 5000: A Brief Run To Fight Colon Cancer

    I recently met with Tim Turnham, CEO for the Colon Cancer Alliance, to find out what’s been going on in his neck of the woods. He presented me with one of the best non-profit marketing pitches I’ve seen in a long time. His team is organizing a series of races designed to raise support and awareness for colon cancer. The theme? Running the race in your boxer shorts. The title:

    The UNDY 5000: A Brief Run To Fight Colon Cancer (see image of Indy 5000 flags made of boxer shorts)

    Become an UNDY 5000 sponsor today… because time is short.

    I love it.

    If you or your organization would like to sponsor a race, check out this website or contact Fran Campion Watson, Director of Events at the Colon Cancer Alliance. Phone: 202-731-0122.

    I hope that proceeds will go towards research that will help friends like mine who are battling colon cancer.

    For more information about colon cancer (from one of the nation’s prominent researchers) check out Dr. Heinz Josef Lenz’s colon cancer curriculum at Revolution Health.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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