The prospect of developing cancer is a frightening one. Sadly, this fear is leading many to undergo dangerous and harmful cancer screenings that, ironically, can cause the very diseases patients hope to avoid.
Any procedure or action needs to be evaluated not just on its benefits, but also on its costs. If a test saves one life but costs two, it’s not a benefit. It is not the benefit but the ratio of benefit to cost that judges a test. It is the unbalanced exposure to the benefits of cancer screening that have placed the public in an uninformed and, therefore, overly trusting and optimistic position.
There are a number of ways cancer screening can have a greater ratio of costs to benefits even if the benefits are accurately reported. A screening method may sometimes detect an early cancer. But the huge majority of people who are screened are healthy and don’t have that cancer but are exposed to the hazards of the screening, and false positives and overdiagnosis can cause healthy people to undergo unhealthy treatments. So, while the benefit may be a saved life, the cost may be more people dying from the test or the treatment. The cancers aren’t real, but the dangerous treatments are. The false cancer causes no danger, but the real chemo and radiation do. And, actually, the false cancer causes danger too because of the very real stress caused by the belief that you are living with cancer.
A systematic review of meta-analyses of cancer screening found that only three of ten studies found that cancer screening reduces the risk of dying from the cancer it was screening for. Even worse, not one found that cancer screening reduces your actual risk of death (1).
The most recent reminder of the costs of cancer screening is the little discussed thyroid cancer. Careful scientific research has revealed the best approach for most thyroid cancers: don’t get screened; don’t get treatment.
The popularization of ultrasound screening, CT scanning and MRI’s has led to a dramatic increase in the diagnosis of thyroid cancer, especially among women. But a new report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has uncovered the shocking real reason for the increase in thyroid cancer diagnoses. The IARC is the specialized cancer agency for the World Health Organization (WHO). And their landmark report reveals that the increase in diagnosis of thyroid cancer is due, not to improved diagnosis, but to overdiagnosis. . . . .
Unfortunately, the problem with thyroid cancer screening is not an anomaly.
The purpose of having a mammogram is to detect and treat breast cancer, the most common cancer in women, early. However, research by The Nordic Cochrane Centre has produced the alarming conclusion that getting mammograms “does not reduce the overall risk of dying, or the overall risk of dying from cancer (including breast cancer).”
The Cochrane review of seven studies that included 600,000 women found that the studies on screening by mammography that are adequately randomized show there is no statistically significant reduction in breast cancer mortality with screening (4).
Regular mammograms reduce the rate of death from breast cancer by only 0.1% according to a review of research (5). And, more thorough systematic reviews, including a Cochrane review, found that the power of mammograms to prevent death from breast cancer was actually only half that, or 0.05% . . .
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