Found this while scanning my many e-mail newsletters.
Beating Cancer: Does Early Detection Help?
For more than 30 years, government health organizations and the cancer societies have pushed the idea that early detection and treatment increases your odds of surviving cancer. The messages are everywhere. They urge us to check for prostate, breast, colon, skin cancer and more.
Logically, it makes sense that the earlier you discover a cancer, the more likely you will be alive in five years. This has driven millions of people to their doctors’ offices for screening and it has poured billions of dollars into the coffers of the cancer industry.
But does it save lives? And do the risks outweigh the benefits? Apparently, the answer to both of those questions is no.
While the statistics do show that, on average, people are living longer after their diagnosis, that is only because we are diagnosing the disease much earlier. For the majority of cancers, there is little or no evidence that early detection is helping people to live longer. In fact, the age-adjusted mortality rates for all forms of cancer combined have steadily increased over several decades. Orthodox medicine is losing the war on cancer.
The Cancer Organizations Have Overstated the Benefits (and Hidden the Risks)
In the last month, the British government’s National Health Service (NHS) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) both have stated that they are updating their public health messages regarding cancer screening.
For decades, these organizations were among the staunchest defenders of screening. The organizations now admit that they overstated the benefits of screening. Even worse, they intentionally downplayed the risks.
In a New York Times article, Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society states that, “American medicine has overpromised when it comes to screening. The advantages to screening have been exaggerated.”
In the U.K., Dr. Joan Austoker is the person who writes the advice the National Health Service provides to women about breast cancer screening. She recently told The Sunday Times that it was “a mistake to withhold information from women” that treatment for a particular type of cancer might be unnecessary. You think?
These organizations are softening their stance because the facts have become too blatant to ignore. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published an analysis showing that early stage breast cancer diagnoses have doubled. Yet, the number of cancers that have spread elsewhere in the body has barely budged.
The cancer organizations are also finally beginning to acknowledge the risks of cancer screening. You might wonder the “risks” could be. After all, isn’t it a good idea to know if there is a health concern you should worry about?
The Risks of Cancer Screening
First, there is the risk of “false positives.” Take breast cancer, for example. For every 1,000 healthy women who undergo annual mammograms for 10 years, half of them will receive a false positive result.
Being told that you could have only months or a few years to live can be devastating. It can cause family distress and deep depression. Desperate for a solution, many women opt for treatment. Conventional treatment – like chemotherapy and radiation – is costly and debilitating. In the case of mastectomies, it can be also be painful and disfiguring – and all of that for a problem which did not exist in the first place.
The other major risk is over-diagnosis. This is when doctors treat small lesions or innocuous tumors as if they could be imminently deadly. In most cases, these “cancers” would not spread and are too slow-growing to cause harm within the patients normal lifespan.
For Every Life Saved… 10 Healthy Women are Treated Unnecessarily
Breast cancer screening, in particular, is rife with over-diagnosis. Research shows that for every life saved by breast cancer screening, 10 healthy women receive unnecessary treatment.
And while the American Cancer Society continues to state that a mammogram is “one of the best things a woman can do to protect her health,” the facts suggest otherwise. To avert just one death from breast cancer, doctors must screen 1,000 women ages 50 and older for 10 years.
The statistics are similar for prostate cancer. For every 100 men that are diagnosed with the disease, as many as 70 have cancers that would never have harmed them, if untreated. The Agency for Healthcare Policy Research produced evidence showing that men who had their prostate gland removed had an average survival of 14 years after surgery. That sounds great – until you consider that the men who chose “watchful waiting” instead of surgery, also lived an average of 14 years after diagnosis.
Despite these statistics, hundreds of thousands of men each year are subjected to aggressive treatments that often leave them with impotence, urinary incontinence and depression.
The same trends are evident with skin cancer. According to a Dartmouth Medical School study, skin biopsies have risen by 250 percent since 1986. However, during the same period, there was no change in the melanoma death rate or the incidence of advanced stage melanoma.
Renowned dermatologist, Dr. A. Bernard Ackerman, emeritus director of the Ackerman Academy of Dermatopathology in New York believes dermatologists have gone too far. “There has been a mania for taking off these moles that are of no consequence,” he said. “We’re talking about billions and billions of dollars, based on hype.”
The over-diagnosis and over-treatment of early stage cancers clearly leads to a huge number of unnecessary procedures. However, it also leads to a false sense progress in the war on cancer.
We are now diagnosing cancer at a much earlier stage. By adding these very early cancers to the data pool, the number of “five year cancer survivors” grows. That makes it appear that cancer patients are living longer. However, it is a delusion to equate longer survival rates after diagnosis to progress. What matters is the number of actual deaths, and most forms of early-detection and treatment have not reduced that number.
The War on Cancer – “A Qualified Failure”
In May of 1986, the New England Journal of Medicine commented on the state of modern cancer treatment, stating, “The main conclusion we draw is that some 35 years of intense effort focused on improving treatment must be judged a qualified failure.” Their report concluded, “We are losing the war against cancer” and argued for an emphasis on prevention.
Of course, that would make sense. According to the International Agency for Research in Cancer, our lifestyle and environment is the cause of up to 90% of human cancer. That clearly means that we can avoid it. Yet, here we are – nearly 25 years later – and there is still no real emphasis on prevention. Less than 10% of the National Cancer Institute budget is set aside to study the environmental causes of cancer. Less than 1% is budgeted for nutrition studies.
Because treating disease is enormously profitable. Preventing it is not. And whether the screening involves cancer, cholesterol, diabetes, or any number of other markers and diseases, the objective is the same. The goal is not to “prevent” disease. The goal of Medical Monopoly is to detect the symptoms earlier so that more “treatments” can be given.
This does not mean that you should not be concerned with cancer, or that you should avoid regular check-ups, as long as they are safe (Digital breast thermography should be favored over the dangerous radiation of mammograms, for example). If anything, cancer screening should be a serious wake up call to change your lifestyle, your environment and your diet. It should be a stark reminder to avoid the causes of illness and disease and do more of the things proven to prevent and successfully treat that disease. We must accept responsibility for our own health.
Thanks for your attention.