Ever woken up feeling ‘off’, Googled it and spent the rest of the day panicking?
You are not alone.
Cyberchondria is the sprawling anxiety caused by looking up medical symptoms on the internet, and the resulting stress can cause our immune system to function worse.
Sanjay warns against panic
Breast cancer surgeon Professor Sanjay Warrier has noticed this practice increasing over the past few years, as the internet has become an ingrained part of all our lives.
“It’s important to remember not to panic. Google shows us the very worst-case scenario, the very worst outcomes. It even displays images that instill further fear and terror.”
“In the absolute majority of cases patients have something either benign or totally treatable. The most important thing is to get your concerns checked out by a qualified health professional, as soon as possible,” Associate Professor Warrier said.
Ironically, studies show that many of us hit up ‘Doctor Google’ in order to seek reassurance that everything is fine and end up feeling much worse than before.
The experience can thereby easily spiral into an individual spending many hours on the internet every day, and with every click, the pit of worry gets even more deeper.
However, there is a balance that needs to be struck, and the outcome of those actions can be life-saving, especially in his specialist field of breast cancer surgery.
Sanjay speaks from a point of expertise
As a leader in this field he has facilitated and guided many patients through their worries and fears to get outcomes at the other side, but he emphasises we need to find a balance between obsessively Googling and completely ignoring our own bodies.
“Vigilance in looking out for warning signs is incredibly important. Early detection is the best way to find breast cancer early. This means treatment can start as early as possible.”
“Utilising my easy to follow ‘three step’ process, LOOK, LIFT, FEEL, which is a simple breast examination you can undertake yourself at home in front of the mirror, is the ideal, simple and comfortable way to check the health of your breasts on a regular basis.”
The process is not meant to replace regular checkups, but rather supplement them in between checkups and annual scans. If you find anything concerning during the exercise, you can make an appointment with your GP who will determine the next best steps.
“Google contributes to the worry being felt and impacts our overall health and wellness.”
“The upshot is that the worry caused by the information found on Google can make you more anxious. My advice is, if you are worried about something, speak to your GP.”
Listen to your general practitioner
Associate Professor Warrier has an excellent list of further links on his website, as well as articles on what to expect if you are referred to a breast cancer surgeon.
“Remember that your GP and surgeons like me have had many years of education and experience in this. They can see you and speak to you whereas Google can’t.”
“There is no point in being worried about the worst-case scenario when in the vast majority of times, it is nothing to worry about. The only person who can provide a diagnosis or suggest a suitable treatment is a qualified medical professional.”
“Even if you don’t notice any physical signs of lumps and bumps in your breasts, it is important for women aged 50 to 75 to have a breast screen every two years as breast screening can detect cancerous tissue that is invisible to the hand or naked eye.”
“Even if a lump is not cancerous, they can be important indications of other conditions such as mastitis or cysts,” concludes Associate Professor Sanjay Warrier.
Associate Professor Sanjay Warrier is the immediate past President and current committee member of Breast Surgeons of Australia and New Zealand.
His views are those of his own, not BreastSurgANZ. Associate Professor Warrier’s surgery is located at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. He is published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and won the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s Patron’s Prize for best scientific research.