Avoiding Unnecessary Testing

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I won't take it personally - but I know the truth. No one likes going to the doctor's office. But it's necessary especially if you are recovering from a disease. Follow up visits can help doctors monitor your progress and make sure your ailment doesn't return.

Here's a question about follow up testing from Susan_

Dear Dr. Coomer,

I am a five year triple negative breast cancer survivor. My doctor told me I should have chest X-ray, and that it was "standard." Upon questioning, I was told that there was no particular reason for the testing -- just that "they always do it."

My understanding was that X-rays and blood tests are not appropriate means of detecting recurrences. I just would like straight answers for my situation, and I don't want to overpay for unnecessary treatment.

Thank you for your time, Susan W

Avoiding Recurrence

Sometimes doctors will order tests that seem unnecessary, but they could save your life. Most of the time, you can give us the benefit of the doubt. But as a patient advocate, I don't want patients going through testing that is superfluous. In the case of breast cancer - it's difficult to give a firm statistic on whether or not it will return because there are so many factors that go into the recurrence risk. Some women have surgery, others have chemotherapy or radiation and still others have a slew of other treatments. But one thing is for sure, once you've had breast cancer you are at a higher risk for getting cancer again. That's why it's important to stay vigilant, and be your own health advocate and be sure you're getting proper care.


X-rays are an inexpensive screening for all cancers and to check for lung cancer. I agree with your doctor- it should be done annually. But a better test to check for breast cancer recurrence is a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. This allows doctors to pinpoint cancer in the body. This is a highly sensitive detection tool and it finds actively growing cancer cells in the body. Ask your doctor about ordering this one for you.

Blood Tests

Blood tests can also help to find recurrence markers all over your body. These tests look for proteins and tumor cells. Often times blood marker tests are also done before treatment to see if the cancer has traveled to other parts of the body. CA15-3 will test for the presence of breast and ovarian cancers, CA125 may mark ovarian cancer, ovarian cancer or breast cancer recurrence, and CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) checks for the presence of colon, lung and liver cancers. These tests can be fairly expensive.

Remember these types of blood tests aren't the end all and be all though. Even if a test comes back negative that doesn't mean that you are free and clear. Doctors will want to keep up with mammograms and other tests to be sure that your cancer doesn't come back.

Dr. Cynara Coomer is the Chief of Breast Surgery & Director of The Comprehensive Breast Center at Staten Island University Hospital. She is also an assistant clinical professor of surgery specializing in breast health and breast cancer surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. She is a FOX News Health contributor providing medical expertise on a variety of topics in cancer research with a focus on women's health, breast diseases and tips for healthy breasts at any age. If you have a question email her at DrCoomer@foxnews.com