Cancer Tests: Docs Divided on Pros and Cons of Screening

Cancer tests have been a hot topic lately, with panels of doctors examining the routine screenings determining in a few instances that Americans may actually be overscreening for certain cancers, like cervical cancer.

News that perhaps we need fewer cancer tests and not more couldn’t come at a more politically fraught time, as many Americans fear healthcare rationing in the wake of reforms made to the system meant to make care accessible to more people. But recommendations made by panels of experts indicate that cancer tests done very frequently could lead to unnecessary and painful interventions like biopsies that cause more net harm to patients and- the rub- that they don’t actually catch more cancer.

Meaning that even if you screen frequently, cancer tests are not always the best way forward at regular intervals. And the recommendations were made in the presence of some significant data about diagnosis and death rates- but still, not all experts agree which conclusions should be drawn when it comes to cancer tests and best practices.

Craig Pollack is an assistant professor of general internal medicine at Johns Hopkins, and Pollack authored a recent study on prostate cancer tests. He explains to USAToday:

“Many of the doctors agreed we should not be ordering routine PSA screenings on everyone… But there is still some degree of uncertainty.”

Benjamin Davies is a professor of urology at the University of Pittsburgh, and Davies says that the recommendations on prostate cancer tests won’t change his practice:

“This helps people talk about the problem. Maybe the recommendations will help us get away from screening people inappropriately. Maybe this will help primary care doctors feel more confident in educating people who don’t need to be screened.”

A consensus on cancer tests will probably take some time to be reached, as the issue only became a mainstream one in recent months.