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Study: Public Supports Cancer Screening

Posted - Jan. 9, 2004 at 9:36 a.m.



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When it comes to pap smears, mammograms, psa blood tests, and even colonoscopy, it seems the general public is for screening.

But that's not to say it's a good idea to get every cancer test that's available.

Donald Donoghue is all in favor of cancer screening.

Donald Donoghue/ Patient: "I'm always open to any type of examination that might produce information that might help."

And he's not alone. A national telephone survey of 500 adults found most people are enthusiastic about testing for cancer.

Dr. Steven Woloshin/ Researcher: "They think it is almost always a good idea. Most would overrule a physician who recommended against screening. And most people could not think of a time when they would want to stop screening."

According to the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 87-percent believe routine cancer screening is almost always a good idea. 74-percent say finding cancer early saves lives most or all of the time, and 53-percent of those surveyed believe screening usually reduces the amount of treatment needed when cancer is found.

But cancer screening is a double-edged sword. While there are clear benefits to early detection, screening also leads to false postive test results, which mean further testing and greater anxiety.

What's more, cutting edge technology increases the risk of overtesting and overtreatment.

Take for example screening with a total body ct scan.

Dr. Woloshin: "The evidence in favor of full body scanning is just insufficient to recommend doing it. There is simply no evidence that it does more good than harm."

To date, no medical professional organizations recommend full body scans. Even so, nearly 75-percent of adults surveyed would rather have full body scan than $1,000 cash.

To make good decisions you need balanced information. The challenge is to make sure patients understand the potential benefits of screening, as well as the potential harm.

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