Building and Buying In To Safer and Better Medical Tests

As accurate as a mammogram is in detecting early breast cancers, we know that the use of radiation to make the image is still of concern because it exposes a very sensitive part of a woman's body to radiation. Eventually enough radiation exposure can produce cancers of it's own. There has abeen an announcement of the newest use of a molecular technology for the detection of breast cancer. Using molecular technology to test many proteins at once researchers have perhaps found a way to detect early signs of breast cancer in a blood droplet thus paving the way for safer and better ways to discover early disease.  The technique has many potential medical applications. Specifically it uses the new field of nanotechnology to set up many probes in a very small area: the area that a droplet occupies. The probes can test for many types of bacteria, or many fragments of DNA, or many types of proteins. It is automating testing of a massive number of tests at once on such a small scale that it is both practical and safe to use this technology for many types of tests. Once all medical tests were supervised by pathologists who then advised physicians regarding their interpretation. Now much testing is done at home, with little or no physician input on when to do the test or what the test means. For many tests, like pregnancy testing, it is both reasonable to do yourself at home (most often!) and for the most part women can accurately interpret the meaning of the test. For instance if you feel well and pregnant, then you are early pregnant and can get around to lining up prenatal care, and if you do not feel well or have abnormal symptoms such as bleeding, then you ed to seek immediate care. That's an example of a test which women can easily handle the information. Now as some very sophisticated tests go this route there is a lot to think about. When we celebrate the ease and low costs of newer tests, we still have to ask ourselves (and our gynos), 'just how to use the information.' It is never worth doing a test if you are not going to use those results to change how your case is managed. Likely tests like this droplet test will not be able to be used ts own. A physician directed breast examination and probably a mammogram will have to back up the diagnosis before the condition can be treated. New tests have to be evaluated in the context of the medical care that should accompany the test. But none the less, very exciting, and lots of potential to change the way care is delivered, which is fulfilling our dreams of safer and better medical tests.


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