Few things are worse than having an unnecessary surgical procedure. Yet every year, I millions of Americans have operations that they do not need. In fact, the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce reports that 20% of all surgeries performed in the US are unnecessary. Surgeries you may not need...

Prostate removal. The most common treatment for prostate cancer is removal of the prostate gland, but clinical studies show that the operation is of little benefit to men who have a life expectancy of 10 years or less because the cancer grows very slowly. This means that most men older than 75 have nothing to gain and may have side effects after surgery, such as incontinence and infection. Regardless of a man's age, he should seek several medical opinions (including that of a urologist who does not perform surgery).

Cataract removal. More than a decade ago, the Agency for Healthcare Policy and Research warned that many of the operations performed to remove a cataract were not necessary. The National Institutes for Health suggests that cataract removal is best performed if your vision has been reduced to at least 20/150-even with glasses. Yet each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans whose eyesight is far better than 20/150 have the surgery. In many cases, surgery will not improve sight and can cause infection. For a more impartial view, get a second opinion from an optometrist (a health-care provider licensed to provide abroad range of eye-care services), rather than a surgical ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in eye disease).

Gallbladder removal. Since the late 1980s, the number of gallbladder surgeries has increased by 40%. The reason is the advent of minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery. This procedure can be done in an outpatient setting -conventional surgery typically requires three days in the hospital-is more convenient and more profitable for doctors. But it is often not necessary. Before agreeing to gallbladder removal, consult an experienced internist about nonsurgical options, such as a special diet or the gallstone-dissolving medication ursodiol (Actigall).

Wisdom tooth extraction. This one is the granddaddy of all unnecessary surgeries-approximately half of all wisdom tooth extractions are unnecessary. For decades, major dental organizations and journals have criticized the removal of wisdom teeth that are symptom-free. To protect yourself, any time a dentist recommends having your wisdom teeth removed, get a second opinion from another dentist. If wisdom teeth are impacted, infected or are causing other teeth to shift, surgery may be necessary. But many times they will not cause any problems, and you can save yourself a lot of time, money and pain.

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