Research shows that Australians are increasingly being diagnosed with cancers that will do them no harm if left undetected or untreated.
Professor Paul Glasziou, the Director of the Institute of Evidence-Based Healthcare at Bond University, drew on data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to compare how the lifetime risk of five cancers had changed between 1982 and 2012.
Professor Glasziou, in conjunction with co-authors, Professor Alexandra Barratt and Associate Professor Katy Bell of University of Sydney, Associate Professor Mark Jones of Bond University, and Dr Thanya Pathirana of Griffith University, calls for urgent policy changes to address over diagnosis.
In 2012, 24% of cancers of carcinomas in men were over diagnosed. These included 42% of prostate cancers, 42% of renal cancers, 73% of thyroid cancers and 58% of melanomas.
For women, 18% of cancers or carcinomas were over diagnosed, including 22% of breast cancers, 58% of renal cancers, 73% of thyroid cancers and 58% of melanomas.
“Cancer treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy, endocrine and chemotherapy carry risks of physical harms,” the authors reported.
The authors also stated that separate studies show that over diagnosis can be linked to psychological problems.
“For example, men’s risk of suicide appears to increase in the year after receiving a prostate cancer diagnosis.”
Associate Professor Bell concluded with: “People still need to remain vigilant when it comes to early detection of cancers, however, they need to be informed and engaged in shared decision making with their medical professionals about the harms of cancer screening and other associated procedures.”
Declaration: The researchers received funding from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.