Cancer screening is a big topics, and one in which patients, physicians and researchers should all be interested. For researchers, there is a need to continually expand and refine our knowledge of what and when screening tests are most effective for patients. For physicians, there is a need for clear guidelines about the effectiveness and risks of cancer screening. For patients, cancer screening can allow for early treatment and improved treatment outcomes.

Cancer screening guidelines vary depending on the organization that publishes the guidelines, and screening guidelines can certainly change as well. The American Cancer Society, for instance, regularly monitors scientific and medical literature for new evidence that could support changes in existing guidelines or establishment of new guidelines. The organization updates its guidelines at least every five years. 

Proper application of cancer screening guidelines is an important task for physicians. Indiscriminate screening can expose a patient to unnecessary stress, scarring or exposure, and even unnecessary treatment. Cancer screening isn’t always 100 percent accurate, either. In addition, cancer screening often leads to treatment for conditions that don’t actually need to be treated. Physicians need to consider all these things before recommending cancer screening.

On the other hand, physicians also need to consider the risks of failing to order screening when doing so could help identify a need for cancer treatment. To be sure, physicians are not expected to have superhuman powers of knowledge regarding a patient’s condition and need for screening. They are expected, though, to act reasonably with respect to screening guidelines.

In our next post, we’ll say a bit more about this issue.