Lately I’ve begun to wonder if it’s worth it to go to the doctor at all. Don’t get me wrong. I love my doc. He’s one of the finest internists in Dallas. But over the years, I’ve learned that the annual round of poking and sticking he puts me through in the name of preventive medicine hardly tells me what I really want to know. Take cholesterol testing. If my numbers come back elevated, he might prescribe Lipitor. What he doesn’t say is that close to half of all heart attacks occur among people with normal cholesterol. Or consider the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test we guys have to take for cancer. According to some studies, it’s practically useless except for detecting an enlarged prostate. Even fancy-schmancy full-body scans have their limitations: They may show a mass on your lungs but not if or when it might kill you. Can we really have an accurate picture of our health? An Austin biotech company, Biophysical Corporation, may have an answer. In 2004 the company launched an innovative test by developing a new variation on an old theme: Whatever’s wrong with you will show up in your blood.
Roll up your sleeve.
Any health condition will generally betray itself in the form of biomarkers—proteins, enzymes, hormones, and other substances—which, when elevated or depressed in the blood, can indicate the presence of certain diseases. Biomarker analysis has been around for fifty years (the most common biomarker is glucose, which in high levels can signal diabetes), and the average yearly physical may include tests that measure as many as 40 of them. What Biophysical has figured out is how to test for an unprecedented 250 without literally bleeding you to death—physically or financially. A couple of tablespoons of your blood and $3,400, and you’ll know if you have signs of anything from heart disease and colon cancer to rheumatoid arthritis and mono. This user-friendly assessment, called Biophysical250, essentially combines all the biomarker tests you could take individually and gives you the most accurate and comprehensive picture of your health possible. Three thousand bucks to get a reading on your blood may not sound that user-friendly, but as Biophysical CEO Mark Chandler points out, “Before this technology, if you took all these tests separately, you’d spend $40,000 and use up to a quart of your blood.”
What you see is not necessarily what you have.
And why trust these supposed markers any more than a full-body scan (for an actual picture of what’s going on) or genetic testing (for clues in your DNA)? First off, scans may reveal a lot, but they don’t detect what’s on the move in your body in the present tense. “A scan of your coronary arteries can show if you have some plaque or not,” says Chandler. “It can’t really tell you whether it’s stable or likely to rupture. We have five or six biomarkers that specifically address inflammation, which is the essence of a heart attack.” Case in point: Recently a 55-year-old client decided to take the test because he was not feeling well despite perfectly normal physical exam results. The Biophysical250 revealed that five other markers for heart disease were off the charts. “The guy could have had a problem right away,” says Chandler, “and we were able to lead him to the right treatments.”
As for genetic testing? Certainly you should consider it if your family history includes heart disease, cancer, or other conditions. But, as Chandler points out, it’s merely a foundation for you and your doc to speculate on your odds. (You can test positive for both known breast cancer gene mutations, say, and still not necessarily get the disease.) By looking at multiple components in your bloodstream, advanced biomarker testing improves your chances of knowing something’s wrong. For example, if you’re getting tested for ovarian cancer, usually only a biomarker called CA 125 is checked, which indicates the cancer—you guessed it—a mere half the time. With an omnibus test that adds six other potential biomarkers, the detection rate rises to 98 percent.
Do you really want to know?
“If we’ve learned anything over the past couple of decades,” says Chandler, “it’s that patients are going to have to take more responsibility for monitoring their health. This test gives them an important new tool.” Indeed: After only two years of operation, Biophysical has discovered serious conditions in 7 percent of its clients and emerging diseases in another 15 percent. Not to mention the solace it’s given the other 78 percent whose tests came back negative. Adds Chandler: “It’s not perfect yet—we could track up to five hundred markers one day—but you can be sure this is the clearest picture of your health you can get.”
Renee Lewis, a Houston marketing consultant, can vouch for this. For years, she went from specialist to specialist for a variety of symptoms—joint pain, inflammation in the eyes—and was told she could have lupus or a rare form of arthritis or maybe even brain cancer. Finally, her rheumatologist recommended the Biophysical250 so she could get off the specialist treadmill and explore specific treatments. Using the test, her doctor was able to diagnose ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis. “With this test, my fear of the unknown was eradicated,” she says. “When you’re undergoing tests for one malady or another, eliminating the big, bad, and the ugly is important.”
Biophysical250: Getting your blood work.
It may sound complicated, but a biomarker blood panel is way easier than a full-body scan—and it brings you better peace of mind. Here’s what you do:
1) Get in touch with Biophysical (call 800-532-7092 or go to biophysicalcorp.com) and fill out its brief medical questionnaire. In Texas you don’t need a doctor’s order, but do be prepared to pay your own tab, as most health insurance companies don’t yet cover the test.
2) Give blood. Biophysical will send someone to your house or office to draw a sample and deliver it to the lab for testing.
3) In a couple weeks, look for a detailed narrative of your blood chemistry to arrive in the mail and expect a follow-up phone consultation with a Biophysical physician (who, at your request, will also discuss the results with your personal physician).
4) Consult your doctor to determine your next steps.