Cancer Diagnoses May Become More Conservative, Scientists Say

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Scientists at the National Cancer Instititute are claiming that definitions of cancer are outdated — which, they claim, is leading to overdiagnosis and overtreatment of some cancers.

Other health professionals, however, are arguing overdiagnosis and aggressive treatment are results of the facts that with current healthcare technology, it's not always possible to determine which lesions will turn into cancer, and how quickly. The result? Patients might undergo serious treatment — even surgery — to combat lesions that may not have ever turned into cancer.

Now, scientists at NCI are calling for reclassification of some diagnoses, citing examples such as a recent reclassification of a PAP smear abnormality entitled “cervical intraepithelial neoplasia” as a low-grade lesion rather than a malignancy. When women were told that the diagnosis was less serious, they were more likely to choose to closely monitor their condition, rather than choose aggressive treatment.

While these changes in cancer diagnosis and treatment might take years to be put into practice, scientists at NCI are investigating new ways of determining how quickly and aggressively a cancer will develop. Hopefully, their findings will help healthcare professionals determine exactly how to address cancer-related concerns — and prevent patients from experiencing unnecessary traumatic or disfiguring treatment. (New York Times)
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