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Americans may be overtested and overtreated for cancer

North Carolina readers may be interested to learn about a growing consensus that Americans tend to be overtested, overdiagnosed and overtreated for a variety of conditions, including some cancers. According to the estimates of some experts, unnecessary interventions may account for 10 to 30 percent of U.S. spending on healthcare. This shift in thinking within the medical community is supported by increasing scientific evidence. Such overtreatment may lead to allegations of medical malpractice for physicians.

To understand this phenomenon, it helps to take a look at the history of cancer diagnosis, says the chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. Some of the first biopsies for cancer were performed in the 1950s by a group of German pathologists. They took samples of tumors taken from patients who had clearly died of cancer. From those samples, came the definition of what various cancers look like. The problem is that we are still comparing biopsy samples to the cancer definition created more than 150 years ago.

Current research reveals that approximately 10 percent of localized lung, 60 percent of prostate and 20 to 30 percent of breast cancer tumors will never cause any harm. This means that for some cancers, a "wait and see" approach might make sense. Whenever a population is tested for a disease, there will be some false positives. For example, if a woman is told that she had an abnormal result on a mammogram, the diagnosis might be corrected some days or weeks later. In the meantime, the diagnosis may have caused her unnecessary testing and anxiety.

Anyone who has been overtreated or misdiagnosed may be entitled to compensation for their pain and emotional suffering. A qualified medical malpractice attorney might be able to obtain a fair settlement for an overtreated or misdiagnosed patient.

Source: CNN, "Overtested Americans: When cancer isn't cancer at all", Jacque Wilson and Amanda Enayati, July 31, 2013

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