Current Weather
The Spy FM

Redefining Cancer To Reduce Unnecessary Treatment

Filed by KOSU News in Health.
August 7, 2013

A cancer diagnosis can be downright frightening. And after the initial shock, there can be gruelling rounds of treatment.

But sometimes treatment can be a waste, because the condition a doctor labels as cancer isn’t really much of a health threat.

The National Cancer Institute convened a group of specialists last year to look at the problem of overdiagnosis and overtreatment of cancer. One idea: redefine what gets called cancer.

A new definition would be much narrower. The institute hopes to keep the word “cancer” out of some diagnoses to help calm patients’ fears and minimize unnecessary treatments.

Three doctors who headed the group recently published a roundup of the group’s ideas in JAMA, a journal of the American Medical Association. “Use of the term ‘cancer’ should be reserved for describing lesions with a reasonable likelihood of lethal progression if left untreated,” they wrote.

Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, talked with Tell Me More host Michel Martin about the problems and the possible solutions.

How did it come to this? Brawley says:

“Essentially what has happened is our technologies have gotten so good that we can find some early cancers or things that look like cancer that we now know, if left alone, would never grow, spread, and harm the patient. So we’re actually treating some lesions that look like cancer unnecessarily”

How does this work in the real world? Brawley describes a case:

“I personally in my own practice have had a gentlemen who had a … a low-grade prostate cancer with very low volume. And given his age, which was in his 70s, it’s something that almost all doctors agree should be watched as opposed to treated. This gentleman had tremendous difficulty with the fact that he has cancer and we’re going to watch it as opposed to cut it out… Perhaps we shouldn’t be calling it prostate cancer, we should call it something else. Because it actually rarely causes any harm.”

Why go to all this trouble. Brawley explains:

“What we’re trying to do is spare some people the harms associated with unnecessary treatment. And there’s a lot of people who are demanding unnecessary treatment. There’s a lot of doctors who don’t understand that every cancer is not highly aggressive and there’s a wide spectrum of cancers. Helping those doctors understand, helping the patients understand.”

[Copyright 2013 NPR]

Leave a Reply

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

Listen Live Now!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center