The earlier cancer is found, the better the patient's chances for survival, the conventional wisdom goes. But oncologists are now saying that early detection may not be all it's cracked up to be, reports the Associated Press' Lauran Neergaard. Some cancers grow slowly enough that catching them at the later stages is still OK for patients, and some cancers are so aggressive that it almost doesn't matter when they are caught, Neergaard says. "Today's treatments are much better for those somewhere in the middle," she adds.
Cancer specialists are trying to find a balance between bringing people at risk for certain cancers in for regular screenings, while not over-promising what early detection can do for a patient. "Least controversial are cervical and colorectal cancer screenings. They can spot pre-cancerous growths that are fairly easy to remove, although even some of those tests can be used too frequently," Neergaard says. "More serious questions surround other cancers — like which men, if any, should get a PSA blood test to check for prostate cancer, and whether women should start mammograms in their 40s or wait until they're 50."
Also, guidelines for doctors on how to handle common cancer screenings often conflict, and don't indicate to doctors that they may have to take a case-by-case approach with their patients.