As a modern culture, we tend to put our faith wholeheartedly in doctors. They’re the experts, and more often than not we take their advice without question. But what we don’t take into account is that many of these doctors either don’t have a clue or actively withhold information that could be putting your life in jeopardy. And if you think that sounds sensationalist, take a look at these facts—facts that doctors know about but which they conveniently forget to mention as you sign the bill.
1. Cancer Isn’t Always Cancer
The worst possible outcome of a trip to the doctor is a diagnosis of the Big C. We’re so terrified of it that even the word is taboo in some places, and the medical community lives by one maxim: early diagnosis. The earlier you find the cancer, the more easily you can treat it. But such enthusiasm can easily lead to false positives, and treating something that isn’t there can be dangerous.
We’re not just making that up. Mammograms are famous for misdiagnosing breast cancer, since every little anomaly in the breast can look like a tumor. The most common misdiagnosis is with DCIS, or Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. Despite the “carcinoma” in there, DCIS isn’t really cancerous ; only rarely does it turn into cancer, and practically everyone with DCIS survives, no matter what kind of treatment they get.
But when doctors quote cancer statistics, they usually lump in DCIS, which now accounts for about 30 percent of breast cancer “cases” in the US. And when faced with that option, most people choose to undergo “needless and sometimes disfiguring and harmful treatments” to get rid of something that, statistically, will do less harm than the treatments themselves.
2. Some Vaccines Fail
In 2012, the US saw the worst outbreak of whooping cough since 1955. And that’s strange, considering that we’ve been vaccinating against it for over 50 years. Whooping cough is caused by two types of bacteria, Bordatella pertussis and Bortatella parapertussis, but the vaccine—the DTaP—is only designed to fight the first one, B. Pertussis. Which doesn’t seem too bad. Getting rid of half the problem is better than doing nothing, right?
Not quite. In all these years of exclusively pounding away at one of the causes, the second type of bacteria has been flourishing, to the point that receiving the vaccine causes B. parapertussis lung infections to grow 40 times as large as they would normally. And recently, the vaccine has also been less effective on the things it’s actually supposed to treat. In 2011, the CDC nearly doubled their recommendations for the vaccine, saying you need three initial shots of DTaP followed by three additional shots if you expect it to work.
That’s because vaccines can actually strengthen viruses. They can’t rewire the human genome (and you can dismiss links to autism as alarmist nonsense) but vaccines can stimulate mutations in the viruses they fight. China found that out in the worst possible way when their Hepatitis B vaccines caused the virus to begin mutating twice as fast as it normally would. We’ve been seeing the same thing happen with the flu virus—vaccines basically just fuel the virus’s instinct to survive.
3. Prescription Drugs Can Cause Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is caused when your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t effectively use all the insulin it makes. The result is a buildup of glucose, or sugar, in the bloodstream, which starts damaging nerves and blood vessels over time. About 2.3 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, and the numbers rise every year.
It turns out that some of the most commonly prescribed drugs, like antidepressants, might be causing it. In 2011, there were 46.7 million prescriptions given out to treat depression in the UK alone. When researchers at the University of Southampton looked at the numbers, they found that people who took two of the most common types of antidepressants, SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants, were twice as likely to develop diabetes. And sure, those findings were released in 2013, but we’ve known about the link since 2008 and yet millions more are prescribed on a monthly basis.
And it gets worse—some of the most common drugs used to treat ADHD in children can triple the risk of type 2 diabetes. More often than not, that’s a lifelong condition, and kids don’t even get the choice to refuse.
4. Some Medications Increase Cancer Risk
Now that we’ve assuaged some of your worries about cancer, let’s go ahead and kick everything back up again.
Blood pressure medications can almost triple your risk of aggressive breast cancer. In the US alone, about 58.6 million people take medication for high blood pressure, so you’d think the cancer link would be more well-known.
The study that discovered this relationship looked at 1,763 women with breast cancer. Those who used a particular type of blood pressure medicine—calcium channel blockers—were 2.5 times more likely to develop cancer. The risk is greater in elderly women over the age of 55, and it likely happens because calcium channel blockers prevent cells from dying. If cells can’t complete their normal life cycle, they go rogue and become cancerous.
But even that wouldn’t be a problem if the medication weren’t so grossly over-prescribed. In a review of one hospital, 150 out of 161 doctors prescribed calcium channel blockers to their patients. But how many of those doctors told their patients about the risks? Only eight. That’s a potentially deadly lapse in duty.
5. Aspirin Can Cause Internal Bleeding
One of the more common pieces of advice from doctors is that you should take a low dose of aspirin every day. The idea is that it serves as a maintenance treatment to prevent blood clots, which can cause heart attacks and strokes. But what they don’t tell you is the small fact that doing so can trigger massive internal bleeding.
Researchers found that, out of 10,000 people, a daily dose of aspirin prevented 46 people from dying over the course of 10 years. But they also found that 49 people out of the same 10,000 experienced major internal bleeding, and another 117 started bleeding in their gastrointestinal tract. So there may be some benefits, but there may be an even higher chance that something will go horribly wrong.
On top of that, aspirin doesn’t actually work for everyone. Some people have aspirin-resistant platelets, which negates any positive effect you might get from the aspirin. But since we have no way to test for that, doctors never know if they’re recommending a dud treatment or not.
6. Heartburn Drugs Have Deadly Side Effects
One of the main problems with medications is that, while they usually do a decent job of treating what they’re supposed to treat, they often cause horrible side effects. And even though it’s the doctor’s job to tell people about those side effects, sometimes that just doesn’t happen. For example, proton pump inhibitors, a type of heartburn drug marketed under the brand names Nexium and Prilosec, have been linked to bone decay, birth defects, and an inability to absorb vitamin B12, which can lead to permanent neurological damage.
Despite that, Nexium was the single most prescribed drug in 2012, and in many cases it doesn’t even work. It’s usually prescribed to treat Barrett’s esophagus, which is when excess stomach acid burns the lining of the esophagus, but the pills don’t do a thing for the condition. Pediatricians have even started prescribing these meds to infants, even though it’s been proven that doing so can actually cause permanent intestinal disorders.
7. “Safe” X-Rays Still Cause Cancer
It’s a well-known fact that gamma radiation and X-rays carry the risk of kickstarting cancer. Now, we’re constantly exposed to radiation just by being alive, so there’s a general guideline for “safe exposure” to X-rays, which the medical profession sticks to when they look for broken bones or give you a mammogram. Radiation is measured in units called sieverts, and every year you’re exposed to about 2.4 millisieverts, just from general background radiation; by contrast, a mammogram only gives you about 0.7 millisieverts.
The difference, though, is that medical X-rays pop that radiation into you in the space of minutes, whereas it takes a whole year to absorb your typical background radiation. And it’s a huge difference, even with low-radiation “safe” X-rays. In the UK, diagnostic X-rays cause about 700 cases of cancer each year. And it could be even worse than that—some researchers claim that the majority of cancer cases were either caused or aggravated by medical X-rays.
And to top it all off, women who get X-rays when pregnant have been found more likely to give birth to children with cancer. And a CT scan is the go-to diagnostic tool for young children, which, you guessed it, is just another type of X-ray.
8. Doctors Get Paid When You Buy Certain Drugs
Conspiracy theorists aren’t shy about proclaiming the evils of Big Pharma. But conspiracy theory is one thing, and documented proof is a whole different beast. When the Harvard Law School took a closer look, they realized that they didn’t have to dig very deep at all to discover that doctors are paid handsomely to prescribe certain drugs, even when those drugs turn out to be harmful.
One of the most publicized recent cases was Dr. Joseph L. Biederman, who began diagnosing two-year-old toddlers with bipolar disorder and prescribing strong antipsychotics that were never approved by the FDA for children under 10. The manufacturer of the antipsychotics paid him $1.6 million. Then there’s Dr. Alan F. Schatzberg, who began prescribing an abortion drug to treat depression—he owned $4.8 million of stock in the company that produced the drug.
And then you have Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, who received $500,000 to advertise as safe a drug that can cause seizures and paralysis The fact is, doctors are allowed to prescribe any drug for any illness, no matter what the drug was originally intended to treat. We’re not making a blanket statement saying all doctors take money to prescribe questionable treatments—but how do you know which ones do?
9. Pandemic Scares Are Over-Hyped
Who can forget the swine flu pandemic in 2009 and 2010? When the World Health Organization called for a state of global emergency, the world went haywire. Lines for the vaccine stretched for blocks, and doctors everywhere told people to seek immediate treatment.
Over the course of about 10 months, pharmaceutical companies raked in £6.5 billion (about $10.5 billion in 2010) from vaccine sales. Doctors tied to the vaccine’s manufacturers were 8.4 times more likely to recommend the vaccine to their patients. And not only recommend—they were more likely to publicly hype the dangers of the flu in the media, which immeasurably contributed to the state of panic.
And strangely, doctors who were being paid by pharmaceutical companies were also more likely to volunteer information to the press. That doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but it’s these quoted experts that we tend to believe in a news article. In the end, about 17,000 people died from swine flu, as opposed to the 46,000 that die every year from the normal flu. Surely the low numbers were due to the mass vaccinations—rather than, say, the fact that the disease was just a common mutation artificially inflated to terror-inducing proportions.
10. Registered Sex Offenders And Violent Criminals
Your doctor doesn’t have to disclose his criminal history, and usually that wouldn’t be considered a problem. Between the strict admission policies of most medical schools and the vague notion that hospitals probably screen their employees, who would even think to ask? Well, maybe you should.
In November 2013, the UK’s General Medical Council, or GMC, released a database with the criminal histories of physicians in the United Kingdom. It turned out that almost 800 practicing doctors held criminal records, including 31 who were arrested for assault and 330 arrested for drunk driving. The rest of them? Crimes range from theft to drug trafficking, and they’re under zero legal obligation to let their patients know about it.
And it’s not exactly rare. There’s the rapist surgeon working in Miami, and the New York doctor who was caught trying to meet a young boy for sex, and a Scottish physician who had reams of child pornography stored on his computer.
Who’s really taking care of you?