Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mammography controversy a reminder of screening risks

Canada's finest health writer, Andre Picard, weighs in with his usual information-laden, clear-eyed view on the fuss about mammographies.
Women are accustomed to cancer screening as a good thing from lifetimes of Pap smears. But as Picard and the larger scientific community points out, screening can have a serious downside when false positives - more common than you'd hope in both mammograms and PSA tests for prostate cancer - lead people to have serious medical procedures and treatments that they didn't need.
Cancer is such an emotionally loaded word. We all know someone who has had it and we're all terrified to get it ourselves, but the truth is that the science of cancer is still something of a mystery. You'd think that highly developed screening tools that can catch the earliest signs of cancer would be a good thing. But now we're learning that some cancers never really get past the starting gate in our bodies, and that there's such a thing as "bad" screening when you end up getting chemotherapy, radiation or surgery you didn't need.

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