Can DIY Medical Tests Be Trusted?

"It's really a challenge. The American Cancer Society [ACS] has agonized with recommendations about breast self-examination in the past," said Dr. Patricia Hillard, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Massive campaigns championed self-breast exam in the 1980s and '90s, but once doctors began to question the practice and researchers compared the number of cancers caught at home to the huge uptick in false positives, costly testing and women's anxiety over "too many nothings" increased, Hillard said.

In the end, Hillard said the ACS was moved by the many anecdotes of lives saved by the exam.

"Almost all of us have had patients who felt their own lumps, came in and it was worrisome to us [doctors], and it turned out that they had a cancer," said Hillard. "Breast self-exam is too valuable to disregard."

Given that debate, Hillard said there's just too little information to make a recommendation about the at-home breast transillumination.

"There just aren't data to conclude this is a good thing to do, and so therefore most don't recommend it," said Hillard. "Whether this too would lead to more testing and greater anxiety, we have no idea."

But representatives from Breastlight insist that their test is not meant to act as a diagnosis tool and that studies haven't shown a mad rush to doctors for more testing.

"We would never say that this is a replacement or better than mammography," said Kate Freeman, a spokeswoman for Breastlight. "This is just another measure to reassure women, really."

Freeman said in a user study of 1,200 women in the United Kingdom, only 1.3 percent of women found something that then motivated them to consult with their doctor.

As of now, Breastlight is available in Canada, and is in the approval process by the U.S Food and Drug Administration.

Home HIV Test

The mailed-in HIV test is at once one of the most popular and most contested at-home medical tests around.

Current popular models run for $60, and come with instructions to collect blood, a return envelope and then retrieve anonymous results through codes. Most models are FDA approved and claim 99 percent accuracy.

But many doctors feel ambivalent about the tests.

"Here's the deal: We should be HIV testing almost everybody -- the current recommendation for CDC is the vast majority of people should be offered HIV testing," said Dr. Elizabeth Steiner, of the Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland.

"But some people don't get it because they think they're going to be grilled by the clinician about the behaviors and why they want the HIV testing," she said. "This has the potential to reduce that barrier."

Steiner insists most doctors do not ask questions about why a patient wants an HIV test, and while she hopes at-home HIV testing would inspire people to feel comfortable about the test and then come in to the doctor's office, she worries about those who test positive and stay at home.

According to Steiner, patients can miss essential information about HIV treatment and the six-month window of uncertainty after a possible exposure to HIV and possibility for a false negative.

"We know that people can be infected with HIV and not be antibody positive for up to six months," said Steiner.

"There's general screening and confirmatory screening that you're supposed to do if the test comes back positive," she said.

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