DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I’m a 52-year-old man, and I believed I was the picture of health. I have never had a serious illness and have never had to be a patient in a hospital. I know what the inside of a hospital is like only because I was there for the births of our children. I was shocked when my doctor told me I had chronic lymphocytic leukemia. I still can’t wrap my brain around it. The doctor, who is a respected expert, isn’t treating me right now. I thought early treatment of cancer always gives the best chances of survival. Why isn’t it the case for this? – W.S.

ANSWER:
“Leukemia” is a word that provokes anxiety in everyone. It’s cancer of the white blood cells. Lymphocytes are one of the five varieties of white blood cells. They are involved in germ-fighting and antibody production.

Quite often, the diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia is made not from a person’s symptoms but from a routine blood count, where the number of lymphocytes is found to be quite high. At that stage, a number of people have no health issues. Some have swollen lymph nodes. A smaller number have a host of symptoms like fever, night sweats, fatigue, an enlarged liver and a big spleen, along with many big lymph nodes.

For people like you, who have no symptoms and whose white blood count isn’t astronomical, then no treatment is necessary. Early treatment of such people doesn’t increase life span and doesn’t slow the progression of this illness, which often follows a very indolent course.

Your doctor is doing a good job. Your illness is treatable if and when the situation calls for it.

READERS: A flood of varicose vein questions prompts me to say that answers are found in the booklet on that condition. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue, No. 108, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: The lashes on my right eye curl down and scratch my eye when I blink. It’s driving me crazy. I started to pull them out, but that hurt too much. Would using a curling iron on them work? – B.D.

ANSWER:
Don’t even think about using a curling iron on eyelashes. I don’t care if you have the steadiest hands in the world. You could too easily damage your eyelids or your eyes.

You can’t handle this on your own. You’re best off seeing an eye doctor.

One reason for inward curling of eyelashes is entroprion. It’s an inward turning of the eyelid. That turning causes to lashes to brush against the eye. This is a condition handled by eye doctors.

The second possibility is trichiasis. Here the lids are fine, but the lashes have developed an inward curve. Again, this is something for an eye doctor to handle.

You really should not delay. The lashes are irritating your eye, and you can develop an eye infection from the persistent rubbing of eyelashes on the eye.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Does breastfeeding protect against breast cancer or make it more likely? I have heard both sides. – C.N.

ANSWER:
Many studies have shown conclusively that breastfeeding lowers the risk for breast cancer. For every 12 months a woman has breastfed, her chances of breast cancer drop by 4.3 percent.

One explanation is that breastfeeding delays ovulation and the production of estrogen.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Since he lost his job, my husband has been very depressed and nervous. His doctor put him on an antidepressant. He has taken it for 10 days and says he feels no different. Should he ask for another medication? – S.S.

ANSWER:
It takes four to six weeks for an antidepressant to take hold. Ten days is not enough time to consider a medicine ineffective.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.


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