In a new report, the authors say that not all cancer screening tests are helpful. In fact, they added that some of them may be harmful.
Consumer Reports emphasizes that its advice regarding avoiding eight cancer screenings is directed at those who are not at high risk and do not have signs and symptoms of cancer.
The full report is available in the March issue of Consumer Reports.
The most effective testsThe following cancer screening tests, according to the authors of the new report, are the most effective and received the highest ratings:
- Cervical cancer - received the highest score. It is recommended for females aged from 21 to 65 years. Females younger than 21 should skip the Pap smear (cervical cancer screening), because this type of cancer is extremely rare and the tests are not accurate for this age group. In March 2012, the United States Preventative Services Task Force issued its guidelines for cervical cancer screening.
- Breast cancer - received the second highest score for females aged from 50 to 74 years. However, women in their forties and 75+ should consult with a health care profesional to determine whether screening is advisable, based on their risk factors.
- Colon cancer - received the highest score for men and women aged from 50 to 75 years. Lower scores were attributed for patients aged 76 to 85. A low score was given for people aged 86+. The lowest score went to patients up to the age of 49. Younger patients should only consider testing for colon cancer if they are deemed to be high risk. The disease is extremely rare among those younger than 50.
In March 2012, the American College of Physicians published a new guidance statement in the Annals of Internal Medicine, concerning colorectal cancer screenings.
Do not waste your time on the following testsThe majority of people are advised to avoid the following cancer screening tests:
- Bladder cancer - consists of a urine test, which looks for blood or cancer cells
- Lung cancer - the patient undergoes a low-dose CT scan. American Cancer Society guidelines advise doctors to only recommend lung cancer screening for older people who have smoked for many years.
- Oral cancer - a health care professional, such as a dentist, carries out a routine visual exam of the mouth. The American Cancer Society recommends this be done as part of a patient's normal routine oral care.
- Ovarian cancer - received the lowest rating for females of all ages because it is not very effective. Only high-risk women need to be tested. In September 2012, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against routine ovarian cancer screening because the risks are greater than the benefits.
- Prostate cancer - consists of a blood test. Levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) are measured. According to the American Cancer Society, patients should discuss with their doctors whether they should undergo this test. In May 2012, the US Preventive Services Task Force concluded that the PSA blood test "may benefit a small number of men but will result in harm to many others".
- Pancreatic cancer - received the lowest score for men and women of all ages. Only those at high risk should consider pancreatic cancer screening, which consists of image tests of the abdomen or genetic tests. There is no current test that is able to detect the disease in its early stage (curable stage).
- Skin cancer - a dermatologist carries out a visual exam of the patient's skin and looks out for signs of melanoma (deadly skin cancer). According to the American Cancer Society, this should be part of a routine check-up done by doctors.
- Testicular cancer - received the lowest score for men of all ages. Only men at high risk should be considered for testicular cancer screening. The majority of testicular cancers that are detected without screening are curable.
A more detailed analysis was done on evidence-based reviews from the US Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group which is supported by the HHS (Department of Health and Human Services).
John Santa, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, said:
"We know from our surveys that consumers approach screenings with an 'I have nothing to lose' attitude, which couldn't be further from the truth. Unfortunately some health organizations have promulgated this belief, inflating the benefits of cancer screenings while minimizing the harm they can do.
To help clarify when most consumers should use cancer screenings and when they should skip them, we rate each screening and whether it is useful for a specific age group. We also try to identify some high risk factors that may make screening a reasonable choice."
Not even doctors can always agree on which screening should be classed as necessary, Dr. Santa explained.
Consumer Reports found that the proportion of patients who undergo screenings for colon-cancer varied widely within the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Massachusetts, from 47% to 95%, depending on which medical groups were investigated.
Patients should ask their doctors the following questionsThe authors of the report advise patients to ask their health care professional a series of questions before agreeing to undergo any kind of cancer screening test.
Below are some possible questions:
- Will a positive test result save my life?
- Am I at a higher risk of developing this cancer than the rest of the population? If so, why?
- How often do patients get false-positive results for this type of screening?
- Are there any other tests available which are equally good?
- If my results come back positive, what happens next?
Overall, preventive cancer screening rates have dropped in the United StatesOver the last ten years, the number of Americans seeking preventive cancer screening has dropped, researchers from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine reported in Frontiers in Cancer Epidemiology in December 2012.
The authors believe that reductions in workers' insurance cover, plus the failure of leading bodies to agree on screening guidelines have contributed to the fall.
Cancer killed over 570,000 people in the USA in 2011.
While there has been a drop in advance cancer diagnoses in America over the last decade, the number of cancer survivors returning to work has risen. The researchers believe that "keeping to a cancer screening schedule could be an important factor, as this helps detect secondary tumors early."
Written by Christian Nordqvist