cancer screening

  1. Do women really need less of this life saving test?

    If there's any cancer screening that actually works -- one that saves lives without ruining any in the process -- it's the Pap smears used to detect cervical cancer in women.

    Yet the mainstream is starting to back away from them -- and now, the latest recommendations say women can get smeared much less frequently. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says most women can get Pap smears every three years between the ages of 21 and 65.

    Under 21 and older than 65 can skip the test altogether, and women between the ages of 30 and 65 can get theirs every five years if they get an HPV test at the same time as their Pap smear.

    That's a test that checks for the presence of the sexually transmitted HPV virus that causes the cancer.

    The Task Force says it just wants to cut back on screenings to lower the risk of overtreatment, since many cervical lesions will go away on their own -- and that's all true enough.

    But the Pap smear doesn't have the same issues as some of the other cancer screenings, like the radioactive mammograms that can actually cause the very breast cancers they're supposed to detect -- so the risks here are minimal.

    Dr. Mark Stengler put it best when I asked him about the new recommendations.

    "I have no problem with yearly screenings with a procedure that is nontoxic," he told me.

    On the other hand, he said some women can indeed safely go three to five years between screenings: women who are not sexually active and have no history that would suggest they're at risk for cervical cancer.

    But a Pap smear is really just a small piece of the picture here, because the best way to beat this cancer is to avoid getting in the first place.

    Dr. Stengler says one of the simplest ways to avoid the cervical dysplasia that can turn into cancer -- and even help beat the HPV infection that causes it -- is with a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, especially those rich in vitamin E.

    In his book "Prescription for Natural Cures," Dr. Stengler also offers seven natural remedies for cervical dysplasia, including indole-3-carbinol (I3C) and diindolylmethane (DIM).

    The names don't exactly roll off the tongue, but all you really need to know is that they're extracts from the cruciferous vegetables -- like broccoli -- that you should be eating anyway.

    I'm not done with women's health yet. Keep reading for the latest natural solution for hot flashes.

  2. PSA tests don't save lives

    Another new study exposes the failed promise of the PSA test. Researchers have found that while these screenings may detect some cancers, they won't actually make a difference when it comes to survival.

    And that's a failure by any definition.

    Researchers analyzed data from six studies involving more than 387,000 patients who had been randomly assigned to either PSA tests or no screenings at all.

    They found that while the PSA tests detected about 20 cancer cases for every 1,000 men screened, they didn't make even the tiniest bit of difference when it came to predicting who would live and who would not, according to the study in BMJ.

    "Therefore, the 20 patients (in 1,000) would be considered 'overdiagnosed,'" lead researchers Dr. Philipp Dahm told the Reuters news agency.

    I couldn't have said it better myself.

    That's because these screenings often detect cancers that never would have harmed the patient, much less killed him. Some studies have even found that men with untreated low- grade tumors can live at least 20 years with them, and ultimately die of something else altogether.

    But while these tests won't increase your odds of survival... they will increase your odds of treatment, because men who flunk their PSAs are still routinely lined up for surgery and radiation--despite the fact that there's no evidence these will increase survival rates, either.

    And those treatments can do far more damage than that quiet little tumor ever would have, putting you at risk for permanent incontinence and erectile dysfunction.

    But while even the mainstream comes around and starts to recognize the complete failure of the PSA test, some are still working to salvage it: Another new study finds that a single PSA test at the age of 60 might be able to predict your cancer risk.

    Researchers tested for PSA levels in blood samples donated by 1,200 60-year-old Swedish men in 1982, then matched the results against the long-term medical records.

    They found that those with the highest levels at 60 years old had the highest risk of death from prostate cancer by the age of 85... and those with the lowest levels had virtually no death risk.

    But don't sign up for that one-time test just yet, because even the men in this study with the highest levels of PSA still had a low death risk--less than 17 percent ultimately died of the disease, according to the study in BMJ.

    And there's still no evidence that treating even those men would have increased the survival rate.

    So stop chanting the "early detection" mantra--stop worrying about cancers that won't hurt you--and start enjoying life instead.

  3. Cancer screening gets a smack

    The American Cancer Society is revising its position on screenings, admitting that recommending them for everyone has led to over-treatment. It's about time.
  4. Cancer screening gets a smack

    The American Cancer Society is revising its position on screenings, admitting that recommending them for everyone has led to over-treatment.

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