Bzzt! Zaap! They’re falling faster than bugs around a bug light these days. I’m talking about overly aggressive annual cancer screenings.
First, we have the PSA test for prostate cancer. Since 1990 it has resulted in doubling newly diagnosed cases of prostate cancer. Yet during that same time frame deaths from prostate cancer have only dipped slightly. And, in fact, a major study published this year concludes that men who get regular screenings are no less likely to die from the cancer than those who don’t.
Then there are the painful mammograms that women are subjected to on an annual basis. These screenings end up with countless women who had harmless tumors that would resolve on their own instead being subjected to the same invasive and harsh treatments…chemotherapy, radiation, and disfiguring surgeries…as women who have dangerous tumors.
Oh, and, of course, just a couple of weeks ago I told you about the overuse of colonoscopies putting people at unnecessary risk and tying up limited resources and equipment that are needed for those who really are in need of screening.
Ovarian cancer screenings aren’t saving lives
Now, a long-term study—which was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago this month and will soon be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association—has found that ovarian-cancer screenings do not reduce a woman’s risk of dying from the disease.
In a randomized and controlled trial that involved 78,126 women, researchers at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center randomly assigned half of the women to undergo annual screening and the other half to have usual care.
Participants were tracked for up to 13 years. And when the scientists crunched the data, they found that the mortality rates were almost the same, with 2,924 deaths in the regular screening group and 2,914 deaths in the usual care group.
Ovarian cancer was diagnosed in 212 of the women who received screenings compared with 176 who did not. By the end of the study 118 women who had received screening died from the cancer compared to 100 who did not receive the screening.
Oh, and did I mention that the screenings resulted in 3,285 false positives and ultimately 1,080 unneeded surgeries!?
Over screening often does far more harm than good
So, in other words, ovarian-cancer screening doesn’t reduce the risk of dying from the disease. But instead, what it does do is increase the likelihood of having to suffer through unnecessary and invasive procedures. And over screening leads to over diagnosis.
Of course, not all screenings are completely useless. For example, someone who is in a particularly high-risk group or someone who has had some troubling symptoms might benefit from more regular screenings.
But one thing has become glaringly obvious, and that is that the standard across-the-board annual screenings are in many cases unnecessary and often result in doing more harm than good.
Heck, even a representative of the American Cancer Society, Dr. Otis Brawley, broke down in an New York Times interview a couple of years back and said, “I’m admitting that American medicine has overpromised when it comes to screening. The advantages to screening have been exaggerated.”
Remember, fairy tales, unlike clouds, often have gruesome linings.