Blog — The Snow Report

If you’re a healthcare PR or marketing professional, please note: Over-diagnosis and overtreatment resulting from cancer screenings has led an expert panel to suggest that the word “cancer” should not be applied to conditions that are not lethal. The U.S. National Cancer Institute commissioned a panel to study the problem created by too many growths found through screening that are clinically insignificant and indolent in nature. Writing in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the panel reported:

“Screening always results in identifying more indolent disease. Although no physician has the intention to overtreat or overdiagnose cancer, screening and patient awareness have increased the chance of identifying a spectrum of cancers, some of which are not life threatening. Policies that prevent or reduce the chance of overdiagnosis and avoid overtreatment are needed, while maintaining those gains by which early detection is a major contributor to decreasing mortality and locally advanced disease.”

The authors note that while mortality from certain cancers – e.g., breast and prostate – declined between 1975 and 2010, the incidence has increased significantly because the screenings found large numbers of insignificant cancers. In contrast, they note, screening for colon and cervical cancer decreased incidence as well as late-stage disease through detection and removal of precursor lesions.

The panel’s advice? Reclassify  non-lethal lesions as “IDLE” – indolent lesions of epithelial origin. What’s the implication for healthcare PR and marketing professionals? Use caution when promoting screening programs or technologies. Be aware that overtreatment and over diagnosis is a significant problem, and communications about screening or screening technology should reflect this. For example, testing for PSA (prostate specific antigen) should include “informed consent” between patient and doctor, in which the pros and cons of PSA testing are discussed. Healthcare PR professionals should consider including some cautionary statement in their promotions for screening programs and screening technologies. Cancer screening has saved many lives, but patients should be aware of the risks.

With the rise of patient engagement, candor and full disclosure are the new standard.

Comments are closed.