Medical Tests & Procedures Archive


Stop leg wounds that don't heal

The easy fix that millions of people may be ignoring.

Each year millions of people struggle with painful, debilitating venous leg ulcers and the stages leading up to the condition. But prevention is simple. That's why doctors are now campaigning to reduce venous ulcers by 50%. "This is a longstanding problem that needs our attention," says Dr. Sherry Scovell, a vascular surgeon and instructor in surgery at Harvard Medical School.

Repairing the heart with stem cells

Could this experimental treatment reverse damage caused by a heart attack?

The heart muscle relies on a steady flow of oxygen-rich blood to nourish it and keep it pumping. During a heart attack, that blood flow is interrupted by a blockage in an artery. Without blood, the area of heart fed by the affected artery begins to die and scar tissue forms in the area. Over time, this damage can lead to heart failure, especially when one heart attack comes after another.

Preventive mastectomy

Worry is driving some women to unnecessarily have both breasts removed.

Living through the physical and emotional toll of breast cancer is so traumatic that some women can't bear the thought of doing it again. That's why a growing number of women who have already been diagnosed with cancer in one breast are taking drastic measures to avoid getting cancer in the other, by having both breasts surgically removed (a procedure called prophylactic mastectomy).

Brain plaque vs. Alzheimer's gene

Which is a better predictor of memory loss?

Two tests are available to determine if you are at increased risk for getting Alzheimer's disease: a test for a gene known as APOE4 and a brain imaging test called a PET scan. A recent study in the journal Neurology finds the brain scan is a better predictor.

The PET scan can detect a protein called beta-amyloid that is found in the plaques observed in the brains of people who are later diagnosed to have Alzheimer's disease. The recent study performed both tests in 141 older people who had no cognitive impairment and then followed them for 18 months. Those with high levels of beta-amyloid in the brain were more likely to have a deterioration in mental function than those with the APOE4 gene.

What we need: geriatric cardiology









Photo: Thinkstock

Older people with heart disease often have other conditions and specific concerns that their cardiologist must take into consideration.

Treating seniors requires attention to more than heart disease.

Can we detect cancer earlier?

A Harvard team's breakthrough may make it possible.

A fundamental strategy in the war against cancer is to catch it early—before it has spread, when it's easiest to remove. Unfortunately, some cancers, such as brain cancer and ovarian cancer, remain difficult to detect until the end stages. But that's changing. A Harvard team has discovered a simple, noninvasive way of catching cancer early—by looking at a blood component that's been ignored by the medical community for decades.

Bad backs: Are you happy with your treatment?

Harvard researchers develop a tool to improve decision-making.

Treatment for a herniated disc—the rupture of one of the cushions between the bones of your spine—can range from physical therapy to pain-relieving injections to surgery. But when you and your physician decide on a treatment plan, are you well informed about its possible effect on your quality of life down the road? "It's a big problem if patients don't know what the disease is and what their options are. Research shows that if we did a better job of informing and engaging patients, there would likely be fewer major surgeries," says Dr. Karen Sepucha, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Advances in eye surgery

Finally, lasers for cataracts, thanks to 3D imaging.

We often think of three-dimensional (3D) images and lasers in terms of science fiction movies. But these two technologies are now being used in the very real realm of cataract surgery. "They both already exist, and we are just now bringing them together for novel use," says Dr. Roberto Pineda, director of refractive surgery at the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Normal vs. Cataract Lens

Cataract surgery

When the natural lens of your eye becomes cloudy—often with age—it's called a cataract. It can be removed and replaced with an artificial lens implant. This is a common outpatient procedure. An ophthalmologist uses surgical instruments and ultrasound power to break up, remove, and replace the eye's cloudy lens.

Latest Mohs skin cancer surgery guidelines

Zeroing in on who might be eligible for this first-line treatment.

For the first time, dermatologists now have official guidelines for Mohs surgery, a procedure that removes skin cancer while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue. The new Appropriate Use Criteria (AUC) for Mohs surgery, approved by a number of dermatologic associations, will help doctors better select patients for the procedure. "There can be a slight bias toward using it for almost all nonmelanoma skin cancers, since Mohs surgery offers the highest cure rate of any surgical procedure for skin cancer," says Dr. Tom Rohrer, a Mohs surgeon at Harvard-affiliated New England Baptist Hospital.

Combination therapy may be better for one common lung cancer

For people with non-small cell lung cancer that carries a mutation in the gene KRAS, a combination of the drug selumetinib and the chemotherapy drug docetaxel may be more effective than chemotherapy alone.

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