Cancer screenings not all they're cracked up to be

A recent New York Times story is chilling enough to certainly turn the health care world upside down.

The message: Cancer screenings might not save lives. In a shocking and polarizing move, the American Cancer Society is backpedaling on cancer screenings, amending its previous stance that screenings are invaluable.

By definition, screenings are meant to detect potentially life-threatening tumors. But experts say there's no proof that's happening. Fighting words, some might say, to many cancer patients and survivors.

Record numbers of cancer cases caught early are attributed to mammograms and PSA tests. But experts argue despite that, the number of advanced cancers are not trending downward.

This, doctors say, creates the notion that the screenings are finding scores and scores of non life-threatening tumors. And the theory that if left undetected until there's a lump (or other symptom) these tumors might never progress to life-threatening stage.

Jumping on the bandwagon, are The Journal of the American Medical Association authors who recently penned, "screening may be increasing the burden of low-risk cancers without significantly reducing the burden of more aggressively growing cancers and therefore not resulting in the anticipated reduction in cancer mortality."

Co-author of that statement, Laura Esserman of the University of California, San Francisco, Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center said "The benefit (of cancer screening) is not nearly as much as we hoped and comes at the cost of overdiagnosis and overtreatment."

Translation: screenings definitely find lots and lots of tumors that turn out to be cancerous, but we shouldn't waste our time treating them.

Personally, the notion that cancer could ever be "overdiagnosed" seems absurd. I for one, am not willing to take the chance that I could one day have it, but not treat it. Hear that Suzanne Somers.

I've already got my yearly mammogram scheduled for December, and would schedule next year's right now, too, if I could. I like the peace of mind knowing that someone is looking deep into my breast's tissue, just to make sure no tumors -- life-threatening or otherwise -- have taken up residence.

The ACS official stance is blurry. In an official statement, it said "the advantages of screening for some cancers have been overstated," but it continues to endorse screening for breast, colon and cervical cancers. Sorry prostates. Guess you're not worth saving.

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