Few patients who are eligible for cancer screening are aware of the risks of overdiagnosis and overtreatment, according to a research letter published online in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Odette Wegwarth, Ph.D., and Gerd Gigerenzer, Ph.D., from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, conducted a national cross-sectional survey involving 317 U.S. men and women, aged 50 to 69 years, to examine whether patients are informed by their physicians about overdiagnosis when discussing cancer screening.
The researchers found that only 9.5 percent of participants said that their physician had informed them about the possibility of overdiagnosis and overtreatment. Most participants (80 percent) wanted to be told about screening harm before undergoing testing. Thirty-four percent of the 27 participants who had not received cancer screening, but had heard about overtreatment, indicated that overtreatment was an argument against screening.
About half of participants (51 percent) would not start screening that resulted in more than one overtreated person per life saved due to cancer. Nearly sixty percent (58.9 percent) reported that they would continue with screening they were regularly receiving if the test resulted in 10 overtreated persons per life saved from cancer.
“Our results should prompt medical educators to improve the quality of teaching about screening and encourage medical journal editors to enforce clear reporting about overtreatment when publishing results on the effectiveness of cancer screening,” the authors write.