Consumer Reports investigates oversold cancer screenings - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Consumer Reports investigates oversold cancer screenings

(WMC TV) - Research by the medical staff of Consumer Reports revealed many cancer screening tests have been oversold to the public.

For example, mobile clinics offer free prostate-cancer tests that measure PSA levels
in the blood. But Consumer Reports' medical advisor Dr. John Santa said direct-to-consumer marketing of cancer screenings is contributing to their overuse.

The risks of many cancer screenings, including prostate screenings (PSA), outweigh the benefits for most people, Dr. Santa said. Elevated PSA levels don't necessarily mean cancer is present.

But such levels can scare men into undergoing riskier tests, such as a biopsy.

That's exactly what happened to Dr. Jeffrey Starke, a tuberculosis specialist. When his PSA levels edged up on two different occasions, his doctor urged him to have biopsies. He said an infection after the second one almost killed him -- and no cancer was found in either biopsy.

"I became very, very sick with what is called sepsis, which is a bacterial infection that landed me in the hospital for four days," said Dr. Starke.

Even when prostate cancer is found, it may not become dangerous, said Santa. Treatment
itself can cause serious side effects.

Consumer Reports does not recommend PSA tests for most men. Unless you are at high risk, there are other cancer screenings Consumer Reports does not recommend, including ones for pancreatic, lung, ovarian and skin cancer.

"However, there are three tests we analyzed that are well worth getting, but it does depend on your age," Santa said.

He said colon-cancer screening is very likely to be beneficial for people ages 50 to 75.

He recommended mammograms for women ages 50 to 74 every other year.

He also recommended pap smears for women ages 21 to 65, but only every three years.

Those are the magazine's guidelines for the general population. If you have a family history or medical factors that put you at higher risk, work with your doctor to determine the cancer screenings you need.

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