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Consumer Reports Advises to Avoid 8 Unnecessary Cancer Screenings

Consumer Reports recently released an article evaluating 11 different preventative cancer screenings and found that some people may not benefit from 8 of the tests.  For these tests, the benefit of early detection may not outweigh the potential harm of the screening procedure itself.  The Consumer Reports recommendations for patients to avoid certain preventative cancer screenings are for those who are not at high risk of developing cancer and who do not have signs and symptoms of cancer. 


According to their report, the most effective and highest rated cancer screenings include:


·         Cervical cancer screening (Pap smear)

o    Benefits are very likely to outweigh the harms for women ages 21 to 65 years.

o    Women ages 21 to 30 years benefit from receiving preventative screening every 3 years.

o    Women ages 30 to 65 years benefit from receiving preventative screening every 5 years if they have been tested for human papilloma virus (HPV).

o    Women at high risk may need to be screened more frequently.

o    Women 65 years of age and older do not need screenings as long as they had regular screenings when they were younger.


·         Breast cancer screening (mammogram)

o    Benefits are likely to outweigh the risks for women ages 50 to 74 years. Screenings should be done every 2 years.

o    Women in their forties or older than 75 years should discuss breast cancer screening with their healthcare provider and may need screening based on their risk factors.

o    Breast cancer is uncommon in women younger than 40 years of age and screening should be discussed with their health care provider if they are at high risk of developing breast cancer.


·         Colon cancer screening

o    Screening includes a colonoscopy every 5 years and stool test every 1 to 3 years.

o    Benefits are very likely to outweigh harm for men and women ages 50 to 75 years.

o    Colon cancer is rare among people less than 50 years of age and screenings should only be considered and if these individuals are at high risk.

o    Patients older than 75 years of age should discuss the potential benefits or harms of preventative screening with their healthcare providers and screening should be based on their health status and risk factors.


According to Consumer Reports, the majority of patients should avoid the following screenings: bladder cancer, lung cancer, oral cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, skin cancer, and testicular cancer.  Lung cancer screenings should be performed in older patients with a long history of smoking.  Routine visual exams of the mouth should be done as a part of a patient’s normal routine oral care.  Ovarian cancer screenings are not very effective and only high risk women should be screened.  Prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer screenings should be performed in patients at high risk.  Skin cancer screenings should be part of a routine check-up done by the patient’s physician.  The majority of testicular cancers reported without screening are curable and only high risk men should receive screenings.


Screening for cancer is controversial and numerous screening guidelines exist from healthcare organizations.  Patients should educate themselves about the available screening tests and discuss their cancer risk factors and potential need for screening with their healthcare providers.


For more information, please see the following summary of the Consumer Reports article:


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