August 11, 2017 – Screening or Not?
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Anchor lead: Who should really be screened for a host of common cancers? Elizabeth Tracey reports
If you’re a woman, should you have screening mammography? If you’re a man, how about screening for prostate cancer? Increasingly, people are told, especially as they age, that having screening may not result in a benefit and very well may result in harm. Yet a recent study shows that older people are reluctant to abandon the practice. William Nelson, director of the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, says it really comes down to whether a cancer is likely to be harmful.
Nelson: As you are able to detect cancers when they’re smaller and smaller and smaller, what you begin to find is cancers that are small and were never going to become big. Were never going to threaten one’s life, the survival for them is of course very long because they were never going to threaten you life to begin with. So a second consequence of screening when you can detect things when they’re very small is you start to detect things that were of no threat. And thus the only threat that you posed is the threat of trying to treat them, and whatever the treatment consequences were. :29
Nelson says research is increasingly identifying potential ways to discern harmful cancers from those that aren’t likely to be a problem. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.