Why some cancers are better left undiscovered: High number of illnesses are being ‘overdiagnosed’ causing unnecessary concerns
- A study has revealed the amount of cancers that are considered overdiagnosed
- An overdiagnosis can create health problems when treated with chemotherapy
- More than half of all melanomas are overdiagnosed, according to the study
An increase in the overdiagnosis of cancers are creating pyschosocial and physical concerns for patients who may never have been impacted by the disease, a study has revealed.
A paper in the Medical Journal of Australia highlighted concern over the increase in the overdiagnosis of cancer in Australia between 1982 and 2012.
According to the new research, led by a Bond University team, 22 per cent of breast cancers and 18 per cent of cancers in total were overdiagnosed in women in 2012.
In men, 42 per cent of prostate cancers and 42 per cent of renal cancers and 24 per cent of cancers overall were overdiagnosed.
Overdiagnosis is the discovery of cancers and provision of treatment such as chemotherapy for the disease in people who would never have experienced harm if undetected (stock)
A total of 54 per cent of melanomas were classed as overdiagnosed.
The study looked at breast, renal, prostate, thyroid and melanoma cancers.
Overdiagnosis is the discovery of cancers and provision of treatment such as chemotherapy for the disease in people who would never have experienced harm if undetected.
The paper suggests the increase in diagnoses can create an increased suicide risk in men and treatments such as surgery and radiotherapy cause harm only acceptable when the diagnosis is appropriate.
Professor Paul Glasziou, the Director of the Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare at Bond University, led the study.
Professor Glasziou said the increase in diagnosis rates were due to improvement and more people testing for cancers.
He said the problem is some screenings identify abnormal cells as cancer, but they only look like the disease and don’t act like it.
‘While much of the overdiagnosis is due to screening, many overdiagnosed cancer cases are incidental findings, that is, the patient is being tested for something else when the cancer is detected,’ Professor Glasziou said.
‘Getting the balance right between too little and too much screening and testing will not be easy, but this is an important step.
One medical expert said it is hard to determine what is considered overdiagnosed.
‘There will be cancers diagnosed that will not go on to be life threatening,’ Cancer Council CEO Professor Sanchia Aranda told The Age.
‘But the issue remains that we don’t always know which cancers are overdiagnosed and which cancers pose a real threat.
‘Not diagnosing a cancer and having a woman die would be considered a bigger harm that the damage of getting a cancer diagnosis that was of a cancer that might not have harmed you.’
A paper in the Medical Journal of Australia highlighted concern over the increase in the overdiagnosis of cancer in Australia between 1982 and 2012 (stock)