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Making Sense of Cancer Screening Updates
Date:12/20/2011

dergo a yearly mammogram.

These organizations reasoned that mammograms can result in false positives and unnecessary biopsies, harm that in some instances may outweigh the benefits of this type of screening. Soaring health costs may also weigh in the decision-making.

However, the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists still advocate screening starting at age 40.

"I don't see a trend of backing away from endorsement for screening among many organizations," said Robert Smith, senior director of cancer control at the American Cancer Society. "Frankly, I see it in one."

But the medical establishment is backing away from PSA screening for prostate cancer, because the test is far from perfect, resulting in many unnecessary biopsies.

Increased PSA levels can indicate cancer, but they are not a foolproof measure. PSA levels rise naturally as men age, explained Mayer. Levels can also rise if men have had two or three sexual experiences in the prior few days.

"There are an enormous number of false positives," Mayer added. "How does one then say what's good for everybody?"

And not all prostate cancers are created equal, some being highly aggressive and others very slow-growing. Invasive treatment may be more harmful than watching and waiting, some doctors say.

"We know that less than 10 percent of men with prostate cancer ever die of the disease," Mayer said. "That's very different from colon cancer, where 40 to 50 percent die from it, or breast cancer, where 30 to 40 percent die from it."

The bottom line for both breast and prostate cancers: Check with your health care provider on what is the best screening schedule for you.

Cervical cancer screening guidelines have also evolved over the years.

In October, three groups, including the American Cancer Society, jointly created guidelines calling for women to get fewer cervical cancer screenings over their lifeti
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