Ask Dr. K

May 8, 2012

Giving medical advice is sometimes a matter of perspective

DEAR READERS: Since I began this column last September, I've received a lot of mail -- both emails and "snail mail." Mostly it's been health questions. I can't answer them all, but I try to answer as many as I can.

You've also sent comments. Many of you have said you like the column, and I thank you for that. However, I've also received complaints. Sometimes they represent an honest difference of perspective. On occasion, they reflect the fact that I'm a man.

How does it feel to have a mammogram? In describing a mammogram I said: "For some X-ray views, your breast is compressed briefly between two plastic plates. This is somewhat uncomfortable, and many of my patients tell me these plates feel very cold. But the test should not be painful."

Wrong! Quite a number of you wrote to say that in your experience the breast compression was painful, not just uncomfortable. You said you still were going to get regular mammograms, despite the pain, because they can be life-saving. You just objected to my saying they were not painful.

Indeed, when I read my words to my wife, she replied, "You said that?" So I guess I know where she stands.

My lesson? Be very careful about describing experiences that you haven't had yourself.

In another column, replying to a reader seeking advice for her daughter about tanning salons, I wrote: "But as healthy as a tan may make you look, it's not healthy. In fact, tanning can be downright dangerous. That's why you should talk to your daughter and urge her to stop now." I said regular use of tanning beds raised the risk of skin cancer, including potentially lethal melanoma skin cancers.

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