Survey: Docs Not Discussing Cancer Screening Risks with Patients

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Patients are not getting enough information from their physicians regarding overdiagnosis and overtreatment risks associated with cancer screening, reported investigators in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Odette Wegwarth, PhD, and Gerd Gigerenzer, PhD, both of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany, conducted an online survey of 317 U.S. men and women aged 50-69 years. The survey was designed to determine how many patients had been told about the cancer-screening-related risks of overdiagnosis and overtreatment by their physician.

The researchers defined these risks as the possibility that screening would detect abnormalities that met the pathologic definition of cancer but would never progress to cause symptoms, and the possibility that they would then undergo unnecessary surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation, which would not benefit the patient but would cause adverse effects.

The researchers also wanted to ascertain how much overdiagnosis patients would tolerate when deciding whether to start or continue cancer screenings.

According to the survey results, only 9.5% of the study participants were told about the possibilities of overdiagnosis and overtreatment by their physicians. In addition, just over half of the respondents (51%) stated that they were unprepared to begin a screening that resulted in more than one overtreated person per one life saved from cancer death. However, nearly 59% reported that they would continue the cancer screening they undergo regularly even if they learned that a given test was associated with 10 cases of overtreatment per one life saved from cancer death.

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