Caution Urged On Cancer Screening – Expert

Published: Tue 4 Oct 2005 08:36 AM
Caution Urged On Cancer Screening – Australian Expert
A leading Australian screening expert today called for increased public understanding of not only the benefits of screening, but also the very real harms and risks associated with screening.
Associate Professor Alexandra Barratt, an epidemiologist and teacher of evidence-based medicine from the University of Sydney, made the comments as part of a plenary address to more than 200 people from across the screening sector, assembled for a two day screening symposium at Te Papa in Wellington.
It was very easy for the public to be “over-sold the benefits” of screening she said, and it was vital for patient decision aids to be used to ensure that didn’t occur.
Associate Professor Barratt advocates the provision of better information for consumers and the use of decision aids to assist people to decide whether they are prepared to accept both the benefits and the harms of screening.
Associate Professor Barratt, who is currently involved with research projects related to screening for breast, bowel, cervical and prostate cancer, described cancer screening as a “two-edged sword” because it is not always good to detect cancers early.
“Over-detection and over-treatment of cancers is the most important and the least understood downside of screening,” she said.
Barratt pointed to figures that illustrate “an enormous reservoir of cancer” in the population that wasn’t always good to detect.
This is because not all cancers behave the same and not all of them develop into potentially harmful cancers, she said.
“The challenge is to find cancers that matter, without dredging up all the cancers that don’t."
The two day Screening Symposium is being hosted by the National Screening Unit, a separate business unit of the Ministry of Health. The Symposium aims to enhance understanding around screening and discuss how screening can improve health.

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