More than just mammograms

Dr. Angelica Robinson

Dr. Angelica Robinson

As the director of breast imaging at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, I am often asked to give public talks during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Invariably, during the question and answer period, someone in the crowd timidly asks me to explain what exactly I do as a radiologist.

Radiologists are doctors who interpret images from X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, PET scans, MRI scans and mammograms. We have many years of specialized training – four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, five years of residency training in diagnostic radiology and a final year of subspecialized fellowship training for those of us who choose to focus on a specific aspect of radiology (such as breast imaging).

Radiologists do not “take” the actual images. Radiology technologists are the health professionals who do that. Our job is to review the final images, interpret the findings in the context of the patient’s clinical history and provide a written report that details the findings and provides an impression of those findings. Continue reading

Breast cancer treatment continues to evolve

Dr. Colleen Silva

Dr. Colleen Silva

Breast cancer treatment has changed dramatically in the past 25 years.

When I entered the field of breast surgery in the late 1980s, modified radical mastectomy was still the standard treatment.

We removed the entire breast, all the lymph nodes under the arm, the nipple and much of the breast skin.

Breast reconstruction was rare.

Today, however, we offer breast-conserving surgery to two out of three women with early-stage breast cancer. The partial mastectomy or lumpectomy has replaced the total mastectomy as the treatment of choice whenever possible.

When mastectomy is required, we now perform a skin-sparing version of the procedure, sometimes even saving the nipple.

We also offer immediate breast reconstruction — a procedure that has been fully reimbursable by insurance since the federal government mandated coverage in 1998. Patients can choose saline or silicone implants or they can choose tissue transfers from their own lower abdomen, back or buttocks. Even if a woman had her mastectomy many years before the coverage mandate went into effect, she can still undergo breast reconstruction now and receive full reimbursement. Continue reading

Start reading with your children when they are very young

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

Nothing is more important to success than learning to read. Those who can’t read have fewer advantages than those who can. Reading is just as important for babies as it is for adults. Early exposure to reading increases the chances of success in school, and children who share books with their caregivers at an early age have less difficulty mastering reading once they enter school.

Sharing books with children at an early age helps them to develop their vocabulary, communication skills and imagination. The U.S. Department of Education suggests that you begin reading to your baby at 6 weeks of age because babies pick up the rhythm of the language spoken around them. Though 6-week-old babies may not know the difference between reading and talking, as they grow they will begin to focus on the reader’s expressions and later on the books themselves. Continue reading

Physical and emotional scars can heal with breast reconstructive surgery

Dr. Karen Powers

Dr. Karen Powers

Few things are more frightening for a woman than receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. The nightmare doesn’t end quickly. Often, women must undergo a mastectomy or lumpectomy in addition to chemotherapy or radiation. Although these procedures can be life saving, they’re also potentially devastating to a woman’s self-esteem and sense of femininity. It can be an isolating, depressing experience.

In years past, women who underwent mastectomies had no choice but to wear breast prostheses to look “normal” in clothing. Removing the prostheses while dressing and undressing often triggers anxiety and stress. Today, the emotional and physical results after surgery are much more positive. New insight about breast cancer, new treatments and improved reconstructive surgery options mean that women need not feel disfigured or less attractive after surgery. Continue reading

Incontinence is no laughing matter

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

A guaranteed laugh in any movie? Bladder control. But when you’re the person experiencing an inability to “hold it,” jokes can be embarrassing and isolating.

Fear of ridicule can lead many women to avoid activities that may cause bladder leakage. First you stop jumping on the trampoline with your kids and soon you’re avoiding many activities you once enjoyed.

Urinary incontinence is actually quite common — affecting 45 percent of women. Risk factors associated with urinary incontinence include obesity, depression, childbirth, hysterectomy and medical problems such as diabetes and stroke.

While leakage of urine can have a variety of causes, there are two common types of incontinence.

“Stress incontinence” is caused by a weakening of the support muscles of the urethra. Sometimes coughing, sneezing, laughing or exercising can cause enough abdominal pressure to push a small amount of urine through a weak urethra. Continue reading

A Vaccine Hero

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Despite the value of their work, scientists’ accomplishments don’t make them rich, and their talents generally don’t make them famous. For example, ever hear of Maurice R. Hilleman? Probably not, but most people are familiar with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine he invented.

Hilleman may have saved more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century – he created or contributed to the development of more than 25 vaccines! Vaccines are designed to safely stimulate the immune system to develop resistance to diseases caused by viruses and bacteria.

About 0.1 to 0.2 percent of children with measles, a highly contagious respiratory infection, die and an estimated 15 to 30 percent suffer complications such as pneumonia. Although the Food and Drug Administration approved a measles vaccine in 1963, hundreds of children were still dying. So Hilleman and a pediatrician named Joseph Stokes worked to minimize the significant side effects of the measles vaccine, which included fever and rash. Continue reading

Abstinence, but does it apply to football?

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Some years ago, I came across the concept of abstaining from the news for a week to help reduce my overall health and reduce my stress level. This included not reading the paper, watching news on TV, on the Internet or other media.

While it sounds challenging, “fasting” from news can be enormously relaxing. It also can leave us time for multiple other healthy pursuits during that time out from the usually bad news.

And as author Tom Robbins noted in his book “Another Roadside Attraction” back in the 1970s, “the international situation was desperate, as always.” Don’t worry about missing a week of news. When you come back, the situation will still be scary and critical. You’ve just given yourself a reprieve from it for a week!

But this is just the lead in to my main theme, which is abstinence from watching football on TV this year. Now this might seem downright unpatriotic, especially in Texas where football is akin to a religion. Continue reading

Yes, there is a weight-loss microbe living on and in us

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.” Scientists would agree — man is more like a forest.

And just like the flora and fauna that call the forest home, each human body houses tons of other species in the form of microbes. In fact, most people have 10 times more microbes in and on them than their own cells!

These microscopic organisms live on skin, within the gastrointestinal tract, and inside mouths, helping the human body function and keeping it healthy. Now, new research shows that a certain microbe has huge influence on a person’s weight.

Science is just beginning to understand how the relationship between microbes and human cells, tissues, and organs contributes to good health. The key here is mutualism — the cooperation that benefits both the microbes and the human. Continue reading

Mercury rising

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

As a kid, I used to love to play with mercury. It is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature, and as a junior chemist I enjoyed chasing little balls of glistening silver as they split into bits and then gathering them into a larger mass. This was more fun than any 10-year-old could imagine — at least any 10-year-old nerd chemist.

Mercury was used in those days in thermometers, blood pressure machines, vaccines and for a variety of industrial uses. It currently gets into the ocean from power plants and volcanic activity.

If you read “Alice in Wonderland,” you cannot help but remember the Mad Hatter. His madness, or neurological insanity, was based on an archetype of that era. Hatters used mercury to cure skins and make felt for hats. Over time, they inhaled or ingested enough mercury vapors to cause neurological damage creating a kind of dementia. Continue reading

Life-saving printers

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

3-D printers have proven capable of creating guns that actually fire bullets, pizza (although there’s no assurance of its taste), and now, livers. 3-D printing technology or stereolithography has been used to create miniature human livers, the first step toward producing full-sized livers and eliminating the long wait for a liver transplant.

3-D printing originated with the invention of the inkjet printer in 1976, which was then adapted to print with materials other than inks in 1984. The first machine to print in 3-D was created in 1992 to make objects by applying layer after layer of material governed by computer. By 2002, engineers and scientists developed methods to print biomaterials and make functional miniature kidneys. Since then, 3-D printers have been used to make cars, robotic aircraft, blood vessels, jewelry and even prosthetics. Continue reading