Experts: Benefits of cancer screenings overinflated


In Reader’s Digest, Shannon Brownlee reports that while the American Cancer Society and federal government still push regular cancer screenings, “a growing group of scientific heretics – published in highly respected medical journals, working at some of the most august institutions – strongly believe that it’s time to rethink our whole approach.”

(Some researchers) say that yearly mammograms are not nearly as effective at reducing the risk of dying of breast cancer as most women think, and that mammography leads many women to get unnecessary treatment – especially those diagnosed with DCIS [ductal carcinoma in situ]. The problem is bigger than just mammography: They say the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test may do men more harm than good if they don’t already have symptoms of prostate cancer. And they have similarly grim things to say about other widely used cancer screening tests.

Experts that Brownlee interviewed say that screening catches tumors that would never cause major problems but not so effective at catching the more deadly, fast-growing kinds of cancer. Only a small percentage of all cancers that occur are fatal, and some cancers disappear on their own, Brownlee reports.

Brownlee also answers reader questions directly and has talked to AHCJ about her book, Overtreated.

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