“Cancer tests you need – and those you don’t.” By Gary Schwitzer, Health News Review

The cover story of the March edition of Consumer Reports is “The cancer tests you need – and those you don’t.“  You need a subscription to access the full content, but Schwitzer shares the article headings as well as key take-home messages such as:

  • “The message that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain from being screened for cancer—that is, to be tested for a cancer before you have any symptoms of it—simply isn’t true.”
  • “The medical and public-health community has systematically exaggerated the benefits of screening for years and downplayed the harms,” says H. Gilbert Welch, M.D., a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Lebanon, N.H.
  • “When it comes to screening, most people see only the positives,” says Otis Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. “They don’t just underestimate the negatives, they don’t even know they exist.”
  • And, five questions to ask before undergoing any cancer screening: (1) If the test results are positive, will it save my life? (2) Am I at higher risk for cancer than the average person, and if so, why? (3) How often does the test give false alarms? How often does it provide falsely reassuring results? (4) Are any other tests just as good? (5) If the results are positive, what’s next?

Consumer Reports writes: “For this investigation, we pored over reams of research, consulted medical experts, surveyed more than 10,000 readers, and talked with patients. We found that too many people are getting tests they don’t need or understand, and too few are getting those that could save their lives. Many patients, and even some doctors, can be confused by cancer screening.”

The article affirms that the conflict of interest between advocacy and industry is an ethical dilemma with very real effects on public health.

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