Thursday, January 07, 2010
Being an informed consumer

By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Recently there has been a lot of news about the radiation danger from CT scans. The media makes it sound like it is something very new. In May of 2004, I wrote an article on this subject. This is not a new issue. For the last five years, I have counseled every patient that I have sent for a CT scan about these dangers. My article was based upon a study in the May 2004 issue of Radiology. There were several facts that the article brought up. The first of those compared the radiation in a CT scan to the amount that we get from a typical X-ray. The radiation dose associated with one abdominal CT scan has been estimated to be equivalent to 100 to 250 chest X-rays. The article also pointed out that most patients who had a CT scan were not counseled about the potential risks. That should be as much a part of ordering a CT scan as giving informed consent for any other medical procedure. At that time almost half of radiologists knew about the increased cancer risk from CT scans. However less than 10% of the ordering physicians were aware of that. The risks are of more concern in children who have years to live with the potential for getting cancer. The good news is that the increased risk of cancer is still relatively low. It is a statistically significant risk when doing the calculations but it is not a huge difference. There are two important take away lessons in this debate. The first is that the risks associated with CT scans should be explained each time a CT scan is planned. The second is that patients need to inquire if a CT scan is really necessary. A good example of this is head trauma in children. Most children will have a significant blow to the head. The chances of them having damage from that is relatively low. It is even lower if they have no symptoms after the blow. In the old days, we would monitor the child for the development of symptoms by watching them in the ER and then watching them when they went home. Now we do a CT scan of the head. It shows no injury and we send the patient home. Some of those CT scans are warranted. Some of them are not. All of them are associated with potential risks. We need to ask ourselves if the risks outweigh the benefits for each test. Another example of this is the total body scan. There is a perception that if you get a total body CT scan, it will find abnormalities early enough to treat them. Actually, most "abnormalities" are just normal findings for that person. He/she may undergo a series of tests to prove that. In addition, there is the useless radiation and the increased risk of cancer. Most of the time the need for a CT scan far outweighs the slight increased risk of cancer. However, that is not always the case. We need to be informed consumers.

H1N1 vaccine is readily available

Delaware healthcare providers can now expand H1N1 flu vaccinations from high-risk persons only to any Delawarean over six months of age. This is possible due to an increase in 2009 H1N1 vaccine supply and because 75 percent of the vaccine that was requested by providers for high-risk populations has been shipped. Until now, vaccine was not as readily available and high-risk groups had priority due to their susceptibility to complications caused by the flu or flu-like illness. Flu level in Delaware For the period of Dec. 20-26, there were 37 reports of influenza-like illness from the Division of Public Health's (DPH) network of sentinel providers, compared to 40 in the previous week. No cases of H1N1 virus were confirmed by the DPH lab, compared to three the previous week.The total number of confirmed H1N1 cases since Oct. 4is 1,970. There were no hospitalizations from H1N1 during the week of Dec. 20-26.One case from a previous week remains hospitalized. Vaccine distribution At this time, it is expected that Delaware will receive about 46,330 doses of H1N1 vaccine in early January. 5,000 doses will be sent to the Dover Air Force Base for dependents of enlisted personnel as well as civilians who work at the base. The remaining doses will be ordered for schools, pharmacies, hospitals, healthcare providers, long term care facilities, police and emergency workers. To date,it is estimated that 286,700 doses of vaccine have been administered by DPH or made available to the medical community in Delaware since Nov. 2. Major pharmacy chains in Delaware have already begun to receive the vaccine under an agreement with the federal government. DPH will also be sending vaccine to pharmacies in Delaware that are not participating in this program. DPH is working on an agreement with pharmacies in Delaware that should enable them to offer vaccination to the public at no cost. By law, pharmacists in Delaware cannot vaccinate persons younger than 18 years.

National Blood Donor Month January is National Blood Donor Month, a time to thank donors for saving lives and remind the public about the importance of winter blood donations. There were 56,234 blood donors on Delmarva who gave blood over the past year, helping the Blood Bank avoid blood shortages, even during the most challenging times of year. Blood Bank of Delmarva operates four blood donor centers throughout Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, as well as 29 established mobile donation locations. Local blood donors contributed 76,560 blood donations in 2009 keeping the blood supply stable all year. More than 20,000 patients benefitted and no surgeries were cancelled because blood was not available. "This national donor recognition comes at a time when blood centers across the U.S. struggle to fill blood donation schedules. Holidays, busy travel schedules, inclement weather and illness all combine to make the winter months a time when blood is often in short supply," said Travis."Because of this, the Blood Bank asks local residents to make a New Year's resolution in 2009 that is easy to keep: to donate blood." There is no better time to make that resolution a reality than during National Blood Donor Month.For more information about the Blood Bank or to schedule an appointment to give blood, call 1-888-8-BLOOD-8 or visit

Breast Center earns designation The Breast Diagnostic Center at Peninsula Regional Medical Center has been awarded designation as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology (ACR). By awarding this designation, the ACR recognizes the Breast Diagnostic Center as having earned full accreditation in mammography, stereotactic breast biopsy, breast ultrasound and ultrasound-guided biopsy. This designation signifies that the Breast Diagnostic Center meets the highest standards of the radiology profession. The ACR is recognized as a leader in accreditation of medical imaging and radiation oncology. The Breast Diagnostic Center offers a complete range of breast health services in a convenient, private and friendly atmosphere. In addition to being accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR), the Breast Diagnostic Center is certified by the FDA, is a member of the National Consortium of Breast Centers and is a participant in the National Quality of Measures for Breast Centers Program. For more information, call 1-866-9-CANCER.

Handmade caps needed Delaware Head Huggers requests handmade hats, caps and headbands to donate to patients throughout Delaware who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment or recuperating from brain surgery or burns. We are asking for volunteers to crochet, knit, or sew any type of hat for distribution. Hats must be handmade and new. Otherwise, use your imagination! All sizes, styles and weights are needed. For more information, visit or call Robin Agar at 302-284-8141.

Uniform and shoe sale The Look-In Glass Gift Shoppe at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital is holding a uniform and shoe sale. All of the latest in uniforms, scrubs and shoes for the medical professional will be available. The sale will be held in the lobby of Nanticoke Hospital on Thursday, Jan. 7, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday, Jan. 8, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Payroll deductions for purchases are available for eligible Nanticoke Health Services employees. All proceeds from The Look-In Glass Shoppe benefit the hospital.

Man to Man support group Nanticoke Memorial Hospital offers a Man to Man support group meeting on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Man to Man helps men cope with prostate cancer by receiving information and peer support. Pre-registration is not required for this free support group. For more information, contact Larry Skala (337-3678) or Grafton Adams (628-8311).

Depression Support Group There is a free bimonthly Depression Support Group meeting in Laurel on the second and fourth Wednesday evenings from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Any person who has signs and symptoms of depression and is under the care of a professional counselor/MD is welcome to attend. To register, call Life Matters Counseling and Consulting at 302-465-6612.

Breast cancer support group Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, Inc. (DBCC) has expanded its Beginning Your Pink Ribbon Journey, a program for women newly-diagnosed with breast cancer, by partnering with Nanticoke Memorial Hospital Cancer Center in Seaford. The free, monthly program is offered at the Cancer Center located at 801 Middleford Road, Seaford, the third Thursday of each month from 3 to 4 p.m. To learn more about Beginning Your Pink Ribbon Journey at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital Cancer Center, call Lois Wilkinson at 672-6435. Registration is required and light refreshments and small gifts are provided.

Monthly support group Compassionate Care Hospice, The Wellness Community-DE and Nanticoke Memorial Hospital will collaborate to present a monthly bereavement group, The Next Step. The group focuses on issues of loss that continue beyond the early stages of grief. Mary Van House, bereavement coordinator, will facilitate the group at 10 a.m. on the third Tuesday of each month, at the Nanticoke Cancer Care Center, second floor conference room. To register, call Lisa at 629-6611, ext. 2378.

Pharmacy tech information session Enter the rapidly expanding field of health care with the pharmacy technician certificate training program at Delaware Technical & Community College, Owens Campus. Pharmacy technicians help pharmacists package or mix prescriptions, maintain client records, refer clients to the pharmacist for counseling, as well as payment collection and billing coordination. A free session on this program will be held on Monday, Jan. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the college. The 189-hour classroom course will be held at Delaware Tech on Monday and Wednesday, 6 to 9:30 p.m., from Feb. 22 to Aug. 30. A 120-hour externship also is necessary to complete the program. Graduates will receive a certificate of completion and be prepared to take the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) exam to become a nationally certified pharmacy technician. Funding through the Department of Labor and a payment plan through Delaware Tech's Corporate and Community Programs are available for this course. For more information, contact Corporate & Community Programs at 854-6966.

Family caregiver training The Alzheimer's Association Delaware Valley Chapter sponsors The Family Caregiver Education Series four times a year in each of Delaware's three counties. Methodist Manor House in Seaford will host the training on Friday, Jan. 29, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This program includes a medical overview, legal and financial issues, challenging symptoms, daily care issues and information on getting the help you need. Training is free and lunch will be provided by Methodist Manor House, therefore pre-registration is required by Jan. 22. For more information or to register, call Jamie Magee at 854-9788.