In its latest edition, Consumer Reports has ventured into a new niche by rating different cancer tests. Its findings indicate almost all of the cancer screening tests rated should be avoided.
Consumer Reports, which routinely rates different types of products ranging from baby products to appliances and everything in between, has now ventured into cancer screening tests for the first time ever.
In its new edition, Consumer Reports rated 11 different tests. Its conclusion? Most of the 11 tests rated should be avoided by consumers.
Ovarian, pancreatic, testicular, lung, prostate, bladder, oral, and skin are among those not recommended for the general public by Consumer Reports. The reason being that sometimes the risks associated with the tests outweigh the benefits for the general population. Boston.com notes, the magazine has taken time, money, and risk into consideration.
"We know from our surveys that consumers approach screenings with an 'I have nothing to lose' attitude, which couldn't be further from the truth. Unfortunately some health organizations have promulgated this belief, inflating the benefits of cancer screenings while minimizing the harm they can do," said John Santa, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, said in a press release. "To help clarify when most consumers should use cancer screenings and when they should skip them, we rate each screening and whether it is useful for a specific age group. We also try to identify some high risk factors that may make screening a reasonable choice."
Among the "reasonable" tests, Santa said, are screenings for colon cancer, mammography for women ages 50 to 65 and pap smears for women 21 to 65. These generally align with current recommendations, although, as Mayo Clinic notes, several organizations are not in agreement about mammogram guidelines.
Many people who go for diagnostic tests end up going for a plethora of other tests or treatments. However, technology has progressed significantly and detection of any abnormalities is more probable than ever before.
"We now know that there's early cancers that our own immune systems look like they can take care of, but our tests can now detect, so we end up intervening and we end up exposing people to risks who have cancers that aren't going to change our lives," Santa told CBS News.
The consensus by Consumer Reports experts was too many people were getting tests that were not necessary and others were not getting the tests they should be getting. It was noted that tests for ovarian and pancreatic cancer cannot detect the cancer at a curable stage and lead to excess tests and treatments that create additional risks.
ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser said, "Only get a test when the results are more likely to improve your health than to produce harm. Sometimes, it's not as straightforward as you might think. Just because a doctor orders a lot of tests doesn't mean that doctor is practicing smart medicine."
Consumer Reports said on its website that early detection saves lives when it comes to cancer and is not trying to dissuade from all tests. It was indicated, however, some tests are oversold, noting cancer screening tests have become big business and those providing them may not be entirely altruistic, often leaving out telling consumers the potential risks.
“When it comes to screening, most people see only the positives,” says Otis Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, according to Consumer Reports. “They don’t just underestimate the negatives, they don’t even know they exist.”
The Consumer Reports reviews are based on evidence from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of prevention and evidence-based medicine experts appointed by the HHS. Other factors used in the recommendations are analysis from "leading journals and organizations, consulted with patients and medical experts, and surveyed thousands of their own readers."
"The USPSTF has great evidence-based data, the contents of which was not being translated to patients," said Santa, who runs Consumer Reports' Health Ratings Center. "We saw there was a need to get this information to consumers, so we did."