How to Find Out – Access to the Medical Literature

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Veteran Member

Date Joined Apr 2009
Total Posts : 990
   Posted 4/26/2009 12:55 PM (GMT -6)   
At first, the thought of reading medical journals without any medical training may seem pointless or worse. But this is not completely true. Every article begins with a summary and these summaries are mostly aimed at non-specialist practitioners. That is, they are designed to be read by doctors who are not particularly familiar with the specific topic of the article. You may have to look up medical terms, and especially abbreviations, but, if you have already read about your condition on general websites you may have some of that vocabulary.

What follows is not for everyone because you will have to put in some time and study to learn how to search the literature.

The federal government, through the National Library of Medicine, Has built PubMed, a searchable database of over 18 million medical articles. This resource was built for professionals but is available free to everyone.

The greatest difficulty in searching PubMed is that the articles are indexed using a specialized medical vocabulary called MeSH (Medical Subject Headings.) Even doctors have some learning to do if they want to search successfully. So what do you do?

a) Just try searching. If you find interesting articles look at the terms used to describe them and use those terms in new searches.
b) Look at the PubMed tutorials which are at: or try
c) Ask at your public library. Librarians are trained in searching but their experience will vary. If you live in a large city you may have better results in the reference section of the main public library.

How to get the actual articles. You may be in for some frustration here, but there are possibilities.

a) Some organizations which fund medical research require that any publications based on funded research must be made available at no charge. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest source of funding from the American government, has this requirement. Links to these will appear in your PubMed search.
b) More and more universities maintain free online collections of faculty publications. These can generally be found by a Google search. Hint will work best.
c) Ask your local public library about inter-library loan. Some may be able to obtain copies for you for free or for only a copying charge. Or they may be able to recommend other resources.
d) Network. Someone you know may have access through their work or other affiliations.
Age at diagnosis 67, PSA 5.5
Biopsy 12/08 12 cores, 8 positive
Gleason 3 + 4 = 7
CAT scan 1/09 negative, Bone scan 1/09 negative

Robotic surgery 03/03/09 Catheter Removed 03/08/09
Post surgical pathology report. Lymph nodes negative, Seminal vesicles negative
Surgical margins positive, Capsular penetration extensive Gleason 4 + 3 = 7

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