Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Analysis

Why cancer screening has never been shown to “save lives”—and what we can do about it

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6080 (Published 06 January 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:h6080

Including all mortality
Click here to see an infographic, explaining why reporting all causes of mortality in cancer screening trials is so important.

Rapid Response:

Cancer screening and mortality

The present article has brought out the controversy of the benefits of cancer screening programmes in reducing mortality. While the authors have brought out the fact that cancer screening does not save lives, the benefits of screening for certain cancers such as cervical cancer cannot be overruled. The concept of early detection by pap smear often helps in reducing the chances of mortality due to cervical cancer. Detection at a late stage does not, however, reduce the mortality. This is true even for breast cancer.

The problem with the presently available methods of early detection of cancers is that they are not very sensitive and specific and often lead to false positive results which may adversely affect the quality of life of the affected persons, including causing psychological problems. We need to develop skills to detect cancers at an early stage so that mortality can be reduced and lives saved. There is also a need to understand the natural history at the bio-molecular level so that we can better understand the stages of carcinogenesis and hence early detection could be done.

Competing interests: No competing interests

11 January 2016
Mongjam Meghachandra Singh
Professor, co-author: Assistant Professor
Reeta Devi
Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi; co-author: School of Health Sciences, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi
Department of Community Medicine, Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi; co-author: School of Health Sciences, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi