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Dr. Roach: Concern over measles breakout warranted

Keith Roach
To Your Health

Dear Dr. Roach: I do not understand the hysteria over the measles outbreak. In my day, every kid had the measles and other childhood diseases, and all survived with strengthened immune systems.

Today, young people have no natural defenses against diseases because their immune systems have been compromised by drugs.

B.W.

Dear B.W.: In the days before vaccines, pretty much every kid did get the measles, but unfortunately, not all of them survived. Although measles death rates were already dropping, before the vaccine was available there were still hundreds of thousands of cases every year, with hundreds of deaths and thousands of cases of severe complications, such as encephalitis, an extremely serious inflammation of the brain that can have long-term repercussions. The vaccine reduced the death rate to essentially zero and the case rate to a few cases per year, mostly from international travelers. Over the decades, the measles vaccine has prevented many thousands of children from death and disability.

People, including me, are worried about the measles outbreak because there are many more people now who, because of diseases like HIV and cancer, have immune systems that leave them susceptible to measles, a highly infectious disease.

The measles vaccine strengthens, not weakens, the immune system, and provides lifelong immunity for nearly everybody who gets two doses. There are risks of the vaccine, but serious adverse effects from it are rare.

Dear Dr. Roach: I would like to ask your opinion of organizations that offer “whole body” screening. I am 66 years old, and earlier this year I was diagnosed with cancer for the fifth time in the past 37 years (melanoma in 1978, a second melanoma in 1979, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1994, colon cancer in 1997 and most recently, bladder cancer). In my case, is it worthwhile to use one of these services to make sure I don’t have another tumor growing elsewhere within my body, and hopefully catch it before it causes symptoms?

Anon.

Dear Anon.: In general, I do not recommend whole-body CT scan as a screening test. Although it is possible to find something important early, it is far more likely to find something that looks like it might be abnormal that turns out — after much time, money and worry — to be nothing important.

You have been through a lot. In your case, only your cancer doctors can give you the best advice about obtaining scans to look for recurrences of one of your old cancers or a new one.

Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.