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Study shows cancer screening of little value

Posted Jun 24 2009 2:05pm

Perhaps it is time to go back to understanding patients and relying less on screening.

The European data involved a consortium of studies with different designs. Taken together, the studies found that screening was associated with a 20 percent relative reduction in the prostate cancer death rate. But the number of lives saved was small — seven fewer prostate cancer deaths for every 10,000 men screened and followed for nine years.

The American study, led by Dr. Gerald L. Andriole of Washington University, had a single design. It found no reduction in deaths from prostate cancer after most of the men had been followed for 10 years. Every man has been followed for at least seven years, said Dr. Barnett Kramer, a study co-author at the National Institutes of Health. By seven years, the death rate was 13 percent lower for the unscreened group.

The European study saw no benefit of screening in the first seven years of follow-up.

Screening is not only an issue in prostate cancer. If the European study is correct, mammography has about the same benefit as the PSA test, said Dr. Michael B. Barry, a prostate cancer researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital who wrote an editorial accompanying the papers. But prostate cancers often are less dangerous than breast cancers, so screening and subsequent therapy can result in more harm. With mammography, about 10 women receive a diagnosis and needless treatment for breast cancer to prevent one death. With both cancers, researchers say they badly need a way to distinguish tumors that would be deadly without treatment from those that would not.

Full Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/health/19cancer.html?_r=1&hp


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