My sister had a breast biopsy and said it was worse than her follow-up surgery. Then my husband had a lump on this neck biopsied and said it was nothing to write home about. So why the difference? (Both are fine.) — Judith L., Shreveport, Louisiana
We’re glad everyone’s healthy! Without knowing more about each of your loved ones’ procedures and health, we can’t explain the difference in their reaction to a biopsy, but we can tell you about biopsy basics.
A biopsy is the removal and examination of live tissue in order to determine the presence, cause or extent of a disease. When a needle is used to extract cells from the tissue in question, it’s called a needle aspiration biopsy; and when tissue is removed with a larger surgical tool, it’s called an excisional biopsy. Advances in X-ray, CT, MRI, endoscopy and ultrasound technology mean that doctors can biopsy pretty much anything, anywhere in your body. It’s often the only way to confirm a suspected diagnosis, and it can be life-saving.
Hitting the Spot: Minimally invasive needle biopsies can be done in a doctor’s office using ultrasound as a guide. A heart, lung, liver, brain or kidney biopsy is done in a surgical center. The removed tissue usually is sent to a pathologist for review; you get the results in a few days.
Smart Steps: For all the good biopsies do, sometimes they are unnecessary — especially breast and prostate biopsies. A 2011 study in the American Journal of Surgery found that many of the 1.6 million breast biopsies done in the U.S. annually were unnecessary; and a 2015 study in JAMA found that results are not always interpreted accurately. Fortunately, prostate biopsies have declined significantly as newer approaches to diagnosis and disease management have emerged.
So these are wonderful tools, but no matter how much you like the result, always get a second opinion on the pathology slides — no excuses. Most insurance companies, plus Medicare and Medicaid, pay for these second opinions.
I went to my optometrist because I’ve been getting headaches and blurry vision. He told me I have computer vision syndrome. Is this a joke, or is there really a new syndrome to deal with? — Dave D., New York
It’s no joke, Dave. Computer vision syndrome, or digital eyestrain, comes from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cellphone viewing. Its symptoms are eyestrain, neck and shoulder pain, dry eyes, blurred vision and headaches.
You see, digital type is made up of tiny pixels (not filled-in lines, like print), and your eyes strain to connect those dots. Plus, most digital devices have very harsh, blue-light emissions.
On top of that, the typical working American — and we bet that’s you — spends seven hours a day in front of a computer or electronic device, TV time not included! When you stare at a digital screen, your blink rate goes from a normal 15 times a minute to as low as seven to five times a minute. That dries out your eyes and causes blurred vision. And if a screen is too close or too far away, it strains your upper body and eyes.
To minimize eyestrain, the American Optometric Association suggests the 20-20-20 rule: Take a 20-second break, every 20 minutes, to look at something 20 feet away. We also suggest using saline eyedrops.
Also, make sure your computer screen is 2 feet — a full arm’s length — away from your eyes and that your eyes are even with the top of your screen. That way, your gaze to the center of the screen is angled a bit downward. And hold your phone screen a foot away from your face. If the type is too small, make it larger!
Fortunately, it’s likely that your vision will improve, along with your overall health, if you put down your digital devices, get outside, look at the scenery and walk 10,000 steps a day.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of the WellnessInstitute at the Cleveland Clinic. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.