Overdiagnosis and overtreatment have become a rising concern for patients, as new research is being released. While it is hard to determine the extent to which overdiagnosis and overtreatment may cause harm, it also varies from one health screening test to another.
It’s alarming for anyone who undergoes testing to receive news that they “might have cancer, but it’s hard to tell”; or they “in fact have cancer, but it’s so small and slow-growing it would never cause a problem”. In most cases like these, patients have biopsies, surgeries, radiation and take drugs to protect their quality of life.
Unfortunately, patients are ill-informed and possibly physicians too.
Many of the next-step procedures patients go through are not 100% effective. They understand the benefits that may result from these procedures, but are uniformed about the potential side effects.
Mammograms and PSA tests have proven to be extremely beneficial in detecting cancer early enough to save lives, but there is also 10 or more cases of overdiagnoses for every life saved according to a study conducted in Berlin.
The same study showed that many patients have an emotional attachment to their regular health screenings. It’s hard for many to comprehend that a routine screening they have always received may not be necessary and/or harmful.
Don’t get me wrong, regular health screenings save lives and I too believe in them. The point I am trying to get across the need for physicians to better educate their patients on the benefits, as well as the risks.
Furthermore, the presence of a primary care physician’s expertise and knowledge about the patient’s medical history is crucial to determining if the “next steps” are appropriate.
There have been many breast cancer awareness stories, both fortunate and unfortunate, buzzing around this month.
One story tells of a woman who noticed redness under her right breast and later found a tumor. She immediately scheduled an appointment with her primary care physician, who confirmed her findings.
Several days later she met with a surgeon, recommended by her physician. After undergoing a bilateral mastectomy, oophorectomy, chemotherapy, more surgery and radiation, she is cancer-free. She states, “I am a survivor because I had competent specialists who treated my cancer along with a primary care physician who was, and still is, an advocate for me…”
To read more about the woman’s breast cancer journey mentioned in this blog post, click here.
Dr. Peter Anderson has practiced Family Medicine for more than thirty years. He developed the Family Team Care® model and has been a long-time champion of primary care medicine. Having retired from active practice, he now provides on-site training and launch assistance on his “inside-the-exam-room” model for primary care physician offices across the country in order to help them successfully prepare for health care reform and the medical home. His office and home are in Yorktown, Virginia.