Hello, Dr. Zorba: On your show you often recommend cooking with Teflon cookware to cut down on fat. You never talk about the toxic nature of the stuff. I’m a veterinarian — Teflon fumes are toxic to birds. I tell my bird-owner friends to toss the stuff; you should, too. — Worried Vet
Dear Worried Vet: Teflon has been used in cookware since the 1950s. I remember when my mom got her first Teflon pan. She was amazed that the sunny-side-up eggs she cooked for my father every day didn’t stick. She was a Teflon convert for life.
In the process of manufacturing Teflon, a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, is released, which worries the Environmental Protection Agency. Studies have shown that nearly everyone in the United States has some PFOA in their bloodstream, whether they’ve cooked with Teflon at home or not (if you’ve ever gone to a restaurant, you may have had your food cooked in Teflon).
Research shows that Teflon begins to disintegrate and release PFOA when it’s heated to 500 degrees. So never cook with Teflon in a hot oven and never put it on super-high temperatures to stir fry.
Whether this chemical is related to cancer in humans remains to be seen. It has shown some risk in laboratory animals exposed to very high levels. And because birds are especially sensitive to Teflon fumes, I would do as you do and advise bird owners not to use it. Also, when that Teflon fry pan begins to flake, go out and spend the money for a new one.
On to another topic: Are we overtesting for cancer in seniors? According to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, we definitely are.
Lots of people with a reduced life expectancy get screened for cancer that will never affect them. How can that be? (I can see your eyes rolling.)
The study looked at 30,000 people, 65 and older, from 2000 through 2010. In people with a very high mortality risk — defined as a 75 percent risk of dying within just a few years — nearly 60 percent received cancer screening.
A deeper dive into the statistics showed as many as 55 percent of these men were screened for prostate cancer, a test that got a flunking grade several years ago from federal health officials. More than 50 percent of the women had a Pap smear, which the Food and Drug Administration says is worthless for most women over age 65 who have had normal Paps in the past.
I remember when I first started practice and we would have patients from our local nursing home come over by bus every year to receive Pap tests because that was considered good medicine. Imagine being 85 years old, physically or mentally disabled, and having to come to a doctor’s office for a pelvic exam when you’ve had normal Pap tests year after year.
I still shudder to think about what we put these poor women through in the name of good medical care.
The JAMA study showed that even 35 percent to 50 percent of the women who’d had their cervix removed with a hysterectomy were getting Pap tests. Why? A Pap test screens for cancer of the cervix; I just can’t figure out why this testing is happening in these cases.
And that’s just what the researchers asked, too. Why?
My spin: If you get screened for any cancer test, ask your doctor why. What’s the benefit? Longevity? Quality of life? And what’s the data?
The more you know about screening, the better off you will be — except for one more thing the study showed: Patients who were educated and had better insurance were the ones who usually got overscreened. Maybe education isn’t always the “magic pill.” Stay well.