This summer I had the pleasure of speaking with a very intelligent journalist, who was working on an article about overtreatment in medical care. That article has just come out, and I thought I would give you a sample of it here:
A few months ago, I went to my gynecologist looking for help with a
menstrual problem. She put me in stirrups, and the next thing I knew, I was getting a Pap smear. That wasn’t what I’d come in for, but it had been a year since my last test for cervical cancer, so I went along. After all, catching cancer early is always the goal, right? To
my surprise, I later learned that, according to the most recent science, it’s actually possible to catch a cancer too early. And being tested frequently—i.e., every year—was not my best game plan.
Most cervical cancers progress very slowly, and high-quality research has shown that some of the precursors to cancer that a Pap test can detect will go away without medical treatment. Right
now, however, there’s no “wait and see” in the system. When the Pap reveals certain abnormalities, the immediate next steps are additional doctor visits, plus invasive and painful testing, says Russell Harris, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill. This cascade of events saves some lives, but it also needlessly inconveniences and even harms many who were never in danger.
Experts have learned that we can have the best of both worlds: Because cervical cancer is so slow to spread, the Pap test can be done less frequently while still identifying the women who are at risk well within the window of when they can be successfully treated.
At the same time, doctors can spare those who are not truly at risk from unnecessary callbacks and biopsies… (Read more here)