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Do ‘preventative’ cancer screenings save lives?

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We’ve all been regaled — doctors, the public, everyone — with advice about getting tested to “prevent cancer,” also known as cancer screening. The most commonplace such tests are mammograms and the PSA test for breast and prostate cancer, respectively.

We’ve seen the anecdotes, about how her life was saved by a timely mammogram, or his by an only-slightly-elevated PSA level. Now they are “cancer survivors.” But what is the evidence to show that those (and other) screening tests actually save lives — a far different metric from reducing deaths due to the specific cancer being screened for. (And by the way, there has never been a test to “prevent cancer.” At best, screening detects earlier or smaller cancers but does nothing to prevent their occurrence.)

Spoiler alert: the evidence is flawed or absent for most types of cancer. An article in the recent edition of BMJ calls for a mini-revolution in how physicians and the public think of screening tests for cancer. The article is entitled, “Why cancer screening has never been shown to ‘save lives’ — and what we can do about it,” by Dr. Vinay Prasad of the Knight Cancer Institute, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR, and two co-authors.

Read full, original post: Screening Works for Some Cancers, While Overall Mortality Up

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