KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Cancer Overtreatment Raises Concern; Physicians Tend To Use New Technology Even Before Solid Evidence Backs It

The Associated Press/Arizona Republic: "It's an unthinkable notion for a generation raised on the message that early cancer detection saves lives, but specialists say more tumors actually are being found too early. That is raising uncomfortable questions about how aggressively to treat early growths -- in some cases, even how aggressively to test -- along with a push for more of the informed-choice programs. … Today's cancer screenings can unearth tumors that scientists say never would have threatened the person's life. The problem is there aren't surefire ways to tell in advance which tumors won't be dangerous. ... Work is under way to better predict that, and even the staunchest supporters of screening call overdiagnosis a problem that needs tackling. ... Nowhere is the disconnect more obvious than with prostate cancer screening. Most men over 50 have had a PSA blood test to check for it even though major medical groups don't recommend routine PSAs, worried they may do more harm than good for the average man" (Neergaard, 6/15).

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that a lack "of solid evidence doesn't seem to hamper doctors' use of new technology, as long as they can get reimbursed for it, researchers said on Monday. They found that after the U.S. Congress had mandated Medicare coverage of a digital tool to help detect breast cancer, health providers were quick to pick it up even though it hadn't showed clear-cut benefits for the women. The technology, known as computer-aided detection, costs more than $100,000 to install, according to the researchers, whose findings are published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. … Based on Medicare data, [Joshua J.] Fenton, of the University of California, Davis, and his colleagues found that in 2001, doctors used computer-aided detection in less than 5 percent of screening mammograms. Two years later, that number had swollen more than five times" (6/14). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.