Cancer is a vicious disease and many people succumb to the consequences of it. The scientists claim that cancer screening is not as efficient as it is believed.
They argue that cancer screening fail to take into account the overall mortality rates, which are yet to be proven, and misinforming people of the benefits.
Additionally, they ignore that harmful effects of misdiagnosis.
A collaborative project from scientists in the US and Germany, led by Vinay Prasad, Assistant Professor at Oregon Health and Science University, claim that, in particular, prostate cancer screening provides many false positive results and over diagnosis of harmless cancers which never cause an issue to the host.
These misinformed results lead to over a million unnecessary prostate biopsies a year, which in turn create serious health problems.
Furthermore, men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer are more likely to have a heart attack, commit suicide in the ensuing year, or die following complications from treatment for harmless cancers.
Patients are also led to believe that cancer screening has benefits which have been inflated.
The research published in BMJ points to previous studies in which 68% of women thought that breast cancer screening would lower their risk of getting the ailment and 62 per cent thought it would half the risk of breast cancer.
However, the team write in their paper that “as long as we are unsure of the mortality benefits of screening we cannot provide people with the information they need to make an informed choice. We must be honest about this uncertainty.”
They urge authorities to invest more into large trials to see whether screening does save lives that will determine overall mortality is “worth the expense compared with the continued cost of supporting widespread screening campaigns without knowing whether they truly benefit society.”
They add that providers need “to be frank about the limitations of screening”.
Contrarily, Gerd Gigerenzer, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, argues in an accompanying editorial that “rather than pouring resources into ‘megatrials’ with a small chance of detecting a minimal overall mortality reduction, at the additional cost of harming large numbers of patients, we should invest in transparent information in the first place.”
Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information, said: “Spotting cancers early, before people have any symptoms, is an important way to reduce cancer deaths.
“The three UK programmes for breast, bowel and cervical cancers have been shown to reduce the number of people dying from these cancers.
“In the UK there’s no screening programme for prostate or lung cancer because there isn’t good evidence that overall, the benefits are likely to outweigh the harms.
“It’s vital that everyone is given clear, unbiased information on how the harms and benefits of screening stack up so they can make an informed choice about whether to accept their screening invitation.”