Be Your Own Doctor In the 1720’s John Tennent wrote a volume entitled Every Man His Own Doctor, in which he espoused the values of certain remedies of the time. Today we would consider this work like that of the snake oil salesman of the old west. However, his larger point is that we all must take an ownership interest in our personal health and the health of those we know and love. Rather than looking for a “magic elixir” we need a correct diagnosis before starting any treatment. Often getting a definitive diagnosis of a condition or set of symptoms is very difficult. Treatment based on, “snake oil” or symptoms alone can be deadly. This topic is precipitated by the recent passing of a close friend, and of a family member. Both were the victims of undiagnosed pancreatic cancer. This is not to speak ill of the medical profession as pancreatic cancer is an insidious disease. It can mimic many other problems and have multiple nebulous symptoms. That is the point of this short post. In both cases I am familiar with; the persons were living normal lives and appeared happy and healthy well past the point, in retrospect, when the disease was clearly active. It is only retrospectively that one can see that symptoms were clearly present but were being ignored in favor of trying to treat erroneously diagnosed more common disease symptoms. We allow this approach because the disease is not familiar to most of us and we are not used to having to be aggressive advocates for a definitive diagnosis of our symptoms. My point is that if you or a loved one does NOT have a history of cancer, diabetes, gall bladder problems, digestive tract issues or urinary problems and one or more of these items start to appear, focus on a definitive diagnosis more than treatment of symptoms. In the health care system of today our providers are constantly pressed for time. As such it is often easier to treat symptoms. If the symptoms go away, then by default, they have defined the disease and cured the problem. The point of demanding that you have a definitive diagnosis in the face of what appear to be routine symptoms of a common problem takes great courage. You and your family or loved ones will need to be advocates for one another in seeking an answer. Let’s take Pete (a pseudonym) as an example. At age 73, active, mildly over weight and in good health. Over a period of about six months he noticed that he was getting really tired after his morning two mile walk. He was having bouts of diarrhea for no reason. He went to his MD who ran some blood tests and suggested that he might be pre-diabetic, suggested dietary changes and some medication. Over the next month and a half Pete lost weight but his other symptoms did not change. More and different medications were prescribed with no significant change. About a month later Pete began to show signs of Jaundice. Cancer screening was done and found pancreatic cancer. In three weeks Pete was dead. In Bob’s (a pseudonym) case there was a family history of cancer. He had been having digestive and urinary issues for some time. When he started losing weight his MD also ran blood tests and suggested pre-diabetes. Bob’s course of treatment and disease progress followed closely to Pete’s and he passed away shortly after his cancer diagnosis. At this time there are no reliable screening tests for pancreatic cancer. However, there are procedures that can be used for diagnosis. These include imaging tests like CT and MRI scans. Endoscopic ultrasound is possible as well as biopsy. Pancreatic cancer is not easy to diagnose in its early stages. In both cases the confluence of symptoms should alert the patient, loved ones and physicians that a definitive diagnosis that includes the possibility of cancer should be pursued. In both cases treatment recommended and followed did not resolve symptoms. As soon as that occurred additional more aggressive testing should have taken place. Would an earlier diagnosis have saved lives? Perhaps, perhaps not. It would, however, have given both our examples, and their loved ones, some time to consider their alternatives. For peace of mind and better outcomes, trust but verify. Be assertive and require that you are provided with a definitive diagnosis rather than accepting treatment based on symptoms alone.