Date Published: 26 August 2005

Benefits, Risks, and Potential Side Effects of Cancer Screening

Health News from Australia.

Australian Radio Series focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of screening for cancer.

The first of a three part series on cancer screening by Associate Professor Alex Barratt went to air on Monday (23 August) on ABC Radio National Australia's Health Report, hosted by Dr Norman Swan.

During the program Prof. Barratt, who is senior lecturer at Sydney University's Screening and Test Evaluation Program at the School of Public Health, talks to experts in the field of cancer screening and suggests that some screen detected cancers are different from cancers that cause symptoms.

Guests on the program included Dr. Gilbert Welch, Professor of Medicine at Dartmouth Medical School, New Hampshire, USA, who discuss the recent example of pop singer Kylie Minogue who was diagnosed with breast cancer. He said that Ms. Minogue's cancer was probably diagnosed due to a change in her breast. Prof. Barratt points out that there the concerns raised related more to cancer testing in healthy patients.

Dr. Welch goes on to say that testers are finding small abnormalities in patients that would remain dormant if left alone. He says that researchers are increasingly finding more and more cancers, with statistics showing that a third of adults will show some form of thyroid cancer, 40% of women some microscopic evidence of breast cancer, and over half of older men having similar evidence of prostate cancer.

Also appearing was Director of the Centre for Evidence based Medicine at the University of Oxford, Dr. Paul Glashchew. Dr. Glashchew enters the discussion and informs Prof. Barratt that he has made an informed decision not to be screened for a range of cancers and agrees that the benefits of cancer screening may have been over estimated.

Other expert contributions were:

  • Professor John Forbes, Head of the Australian New Zealand Breast Cancer Trials Group John Hunter Hospital Newcastle, New South Wales;
  • Associate Professor Karla Kerlikowske from the Dept. of Medicine, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California, San Francisco; and
  • Sue Lockwood, Chair of the Breast Cancer Action Group, Victoria

Next week Prof. Barratt will be looking at some important and fundamental changes to the way we think about cancer itself and cancer screening, and take a look at some of the benefits of screening.

A full transcript of the program was at: but was not there last time we checked.

Source: University of Sydney (Australia)

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