Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

9-part series on over-diagnosis (short reads from a health care journalist)

3nxtbh93-1347162429

Over-diagnosis happens when people are diagnosed with diseases or conditions that won’t actually harm them. 

www.shutterstock.com

 

From the 3 October 2012 blog article by Gary Schwitzer at HealthNewsReview.org

Ray Moynihan, a terrific health care journalist who is now pursuing his PhD on overdiagnosis and working as a Senior Research Fellow at Bond University in Australia, kicks off the first of a nine-part series, “Over-diagnosis Epidemic” on TheConversation.edu.au website.

The first part is an introduction, “Preventing over-diagnosis:  how to stop harming the healthy.”

“To put it simply, over-diagnosis happens when people are diagnosed with diseases or conditions that won’t actually harm them. It happens because some screening programs can detect “cancers” that will never kill, because sophisticated diagnostic technologies pick up “abnormalities” that will remain benign, and because we are routinely widening the definitions of disease to include people with milder symptoms, and those at very low risk.”

Other colleagues author the subsequent parts in the series:

Part two: Over-diagnosis and breast cancer screening: a case study

“…But what we found was that the greatest relative reduction in breast cancer mortality (44%) occurred in the youngest age group. These women (aged 40 to 49 years) are not invited for screening. In contrast, women aged 60 to 69 years, who areinvited to screen, had the smallest relative reduction in mortality (19%).

Given that three times as many women aged 60 to 69 (about 60%) participated in Breastscreen (compared to 20% of women aged 40 to 49 years), our finding is not consistent with screening having a major impact on the reduction in breast cancer mortality since 1991.”…

Part three: The perils of pre-diseases: forgetfulness, mild cognitive impairment and pre-dementia

“…Most studies show that only one in ten cases of mild cognitive impairment progress to dementia each year, and many improve. One study that followed outcomes for ten years concluded – “The majority of subjects with MCI do not progress to dementia at the long term.”…

Part four: How genetic testing is swelling the ranks of the ‘worried well’

“..A major concern with such tests is that they’re the beginning of a path toward over-diagnosis, where the potential to develop a disease or being at risk for the disease is strong enough to constitute a label of sickness.

Over-diagnosing includes, but is not limited to, widening disease definitions, early detections of abnormalities that may or may not cause symptoms or death and the use of increasingly sensitive technologies that detect “abnormalities,” the causes and consequences of which are unknown at this time…”

Part five: PSA screening and prostate cancer over-diagnosis

Part six: Over-diagnosis: the view from inside primary care

“..The most common reason general practitioners are sued is because of missed diagnoses. Missed diagnoses also invoke a strong sense of professional failure. So how can general practitioners manage in this sea of uncertainty?

One way is to perform more tests. This is also popular with patients, who perceive that tests ensure nothing serious is missed. What is not well understood by patients (and sometimes also by clinicians) is the potential harm from testing.

The most obvious harm is the cost and resources required; we would quickly overwhelm the health system if we performed an MRI on every patient with back pain. A strong system of primary care results in a health-care system that’s both more efficient and less costly because primary-care physicians are skilled at filtering those with severe disease needing further tests, from those with self-limiting illnesses…

The greatest harm from the increased use of testing, however, is not costs, resources or false positives. Rather, it’s the problem of over-diagnosis.

Clinicians and patients both believe that finding a disease earlier in its process means it will be more successfully treated. But there’s increasing evidence that finding disease early or at a milder stage has paradoxical harmful effects, even reducing survival and quality of life.

Wider availability of more sophisticated tests results in “incidentalomas”, incidental findings that would not have otherwise been diagnosed. The detection of thyroid cancers, for instance, has more than doubled in the past 30 years. But most of these diagnoses are incidental findings from imaging…”

Part seven: Moving the diagnostic goalposts: medicalising ADHD

Part eight: The ethics of over-diagnosis: risk and responsibility in medicine

Part nine: Ending over-diagnosis: how to help without harming

 

 

 

October 13, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: