Gina Davidson: Tests put us step ahead of illness

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SOMETIMES you have to face the brutal truth. I am getting to that age – like Jean Brodie, I’ll refer to it as my prime – when health matters suddenly become the major topic of conversation among friends.

Forget relationships, politics, movies, music, even cute things your kids say . . . nowadays the chat’s all peri-menopause, checking breasts for lumps and worrying about early onset of dementia because you forgot to take your purse to the petrol station.

I have never been to the dentist so often as I have in recent months for the sudden, apparently unfounded, fear that my teeth are slowly crumbling. I’ve even got my first podiatrist appointment lined up because if your feet aren’t up to the job then you might as well order the big slipper now.

Not that I’m a hypochondriac. Just one of the “worried well”. That’s the term that health professionals like to use about people – mostly women because men can barely make it to the GP when their leg is falling off – who read the horror health stories in newspapers and self-diagnose on the internet.

But apparently medical advances in screening and testing are a large part of the problem. They feed the worried well’s imaginations, stoking the embers of health concerns, because we know we can get a test to put our minds at rest, even if the wait is somewhat anxiety inducing.

In a BBC show last night, Should I Test My Health, Dr Michael Moseley underwent a battery of tests on his heart, blood, prostate and more, trying to discover which if any of them are really worth it. The one he didn’t take was a mammogram, but breast cancer screening was discussed because apparently there are doubts about its effectiveness.

I will admit to having had a mammogram two years after months of unexplained breast pain (lumps are not the only symptom). All was clear but that wait from screening to result was the longest week I’ve ever spent, though I was very glad I did it.

Women aged 50 to 70 qualify for regular screening – but there are many women younger than that who get the disease and sadly die. There are also women who are over-treated for breast cancer, given unnecessary surgery and drugs.

Yet there are still 11,500 women dying from the disease in Britain every year. There would be another 1300 to add to that tally without screening. Ask any of them if they’d rather not have been screened and I would think they’d be appalled at the idea.

And while it is true that for every breast cancer death prevented by screening, around three women will have treatment for a cancer which would not have caused them problems – the stumbling block is that doctors cannot tell which breast cancers are life threatening and which are not.

So would you gamble? Given the one-in-nine statistic, would you not be screened? And if you were one of the women who was screened and had treatment for a cancer which was later discovered to be less harmful than thought, would you have risked not having the surgery or the drugs? I can’t imagine the majority – especially if they are mothers – risking their lives on the off chance.

Breast cancer is a huge issue for women of a certain age – especially if it’s been in the family. Are we so wrong in being concerned about that, about our health in general?

The whole emphasis on health care – one which is supposed to be the salvation of the NHS and its financial troubles – is prevention rather than cure. Eat well, exercise, be healthy – including getting things checked when something appears wrong so it can be dealt with early and therefore more cost-effectively – is the way forward for health care. The worried well are just leading the charge.

Decision seems political to me

HOW bizarre to hear of the turmoil in certain Nationalist circles that Ruth Davidson has opted to stand in Edinburgh, rather than Glasgow, for the next Holyrood elections.

The Tories believe they’ll still return an MSP from the regional list in Glasgow, Davidson is based in the city and therefore would rather represent the Lothians – or even become a constituency MSP which she will also attempt. Given that Edinburgh has long been a more Tory-voting city it makes perfect sense if you’re leader of the Scottish Tories.

Quite why any of this should annoy her SNP opposition is baffling. It’s just politics.

Sexism sadly still on terraces

DESPITE the rise of women in Scottish football – Ann Budge, above, at Hearts, Leeann Dempster at Hibs – it sadly seems there are still unreconstructed sexist fans on the terraces.

So good on East Fife FC for condemning some of their own fans – the club’s security chief described them as “idiots” and “neds” – for their behaviour towards East Stirlingshire’s physio Anna Murray.

The abuse was so bad, no newspaper has been able to print it. Their mothers must be so proud.

Clear cut

THIEVES have stolen Craigour Park Primary’s new artifical pitch surface. Police need to be checking Gumtree for sudden increases in sales of lawnmowers.