Candor on Cancer Screening

One of today’s most contentious medical debates centers on cancer screening, the benefits of which seem anything but debatable. In fact, the evidence does not always support the assumption that earlier detection logically must give patients an advantage in fighting the disease.

BOSTON – One of today’s most contentious medical debates centers on cancer screening, the benefits of which seem anything but debatable. Indeed, earlier detection, many believe, logically must give patients an advantage in fighting the disease. In fact, the evidence does not always support this assumption. Prostate cancer is a case in point.

Screening entails the mass testing of individuals of a certain age and gender, regardless of family history or personal health, to identify a potential disease state. For screening to be useful, the test or procedure must readily identify the disease in question, and the subsequent treatment must result in some measurable benefit. In other words, the screened population must be better off than the non-screened population.

For some health issues – such as elevated cholesterol – screening yields positive results: a simple blood test measures the amounts of good and bad cholesterol in the blood, making it easier to detect related cardiovascular disease, which could lead to heart attacks or strokes. Those who are screened, diagnosed, and treated experience a lower rate of cardiovascular events.

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