Early Cancer Detection Is Not Always Better For The Patient

July 14, 2011
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With better medial equipment early signs of potential diseases are readily seen. But does that mean that more lives will be save? Maybe, maybe not. As with most advancements there are unforeseen consequences.

Time magazine in a recent cover piece looked at this interesting issue. Its worth your read. The following are two graphs from the article written by Kate Pickert.

These days, we no longer have to wait for tumors to make themselves evident. We don’t even have to wait for symptoms. Now doctors look for abnormal cells in healthy people, hoping to catch and remove them before they cause sickness, a strategy that has had remarkable results. Along with treatment advances, mammography has reduced the U.S. breast-cancer mortality rate by some 30% since 1989. Pap smears have helped lower the cervical-cancer mortality rate by 60% since 1975. The rate of death from colorectal cancer is also steadily dropping, thanks largely to screening.

It seems that we should be better off finding all cancer early. But this logic may be flawed. Virchow never imagined that modern medicine would have the tools to find tiny cancers at such early stages. The field now includes highly sophisticated blood tests, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and fine-needle biopsy. Paradoxically, we’ve become so adept at finding abnormal cells early that there are more cancer patients than ever before. About 4% of the U.S. population are “cancer survivors.” “If we had a 100% sensitive test that could pick up everything a pathologist would call cancer, it’s conceivable that most of us, if not all of us, would be found to have cancer,” says Dr. Barnett Kramer, a medical oncologist and former associate director for disease prevention for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2075133_2075127_2075108,00.html #ixzz1S7vZg2g5

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