The American Cancer Society, biomedical giant Genentech and the governors of states including Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida have all declared December 4 through 8, 2017 “Cancer Screen Week.” This initiative has noble intentions: to catch cancer at its earliest stages and prevent unnecessary death. Who could have a problem with such a goal?
The problem is that while some individuals will have their lives saved by early cancer detection, if every person were to undergo screening, there would likely be no lives saved overall. It’s counterintuitive — but it’s what the evidence says.
You wouldn’t know this from the Cancer Screen Week promotions. The Cancer Screen Week website does not mention the risks and limitations of screening — only benefits. It declares simply, “Get screened now.” It asks patients to sign a “screening pledge card” as if this were a public television fundraiser and not an intimate medical decision that could result in life-altering surgery, chemotherapy or even death.