On his Schwitzer health news blog, University of Minnesota journalism professor, HealthNewsReview.org editor and AHCJ member Gary Schwitzer reminds journalists – in particular, CNN’s Howard Kurtz and Larry King – that even when you’re talking to prostate cancer survivors about screening for the disease, it’s “wrong to use a network television platform to give one-sided advice to an entire population of men without giving balancing information on harms.”
Reminding journalists that PSA screening might not always be a good thing, Schwitzer quotes the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force:
Potential harms from PSA screening include additional medical visits, adverse effects of prostate biopsies, anxiety, and overdiagnosis (the identification of prostate cancer that would never have caused symptoms in the patient’s lifetime, leading to unnecessary treatment and associated adverse effects). Much uncertainty surrounds which cases of prostate cancer require treatment and whether earlier detection leads to improvements in duration or quality of life.
Jeff Baillon of KMSP in Minnesota’s Twin Cities reports that the National Breast Cancer Coalition (a nonprofit grassroots advocacy and fundraising organization) opposes Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s proposed education program pushing for breast cancer screening in girls as young as 15.
The coalition’s president called the bill a “waste of taxpayer dollars,” saying that it could actually “harm young women,” Baillon reported.
In the piece, oncologist Barry Kramer, who leads the Office of Disease Prevention at the National Institutes of Health, sayys there is no evidence that early screening is beneficial to young women, and some that it may even harm them through unnecessary biopsies that may then impede detection later in life when the risks are much higher.
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.