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A panel of experts commissioned by the U.S. National Cancer Institute says that the word “cancer” may need to be redefined to prevent overdiagnosis and overtreatment of conditions that are often not lethal.
Writing in the July 29 online edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the experts say that widespread cancer screening programs turn up too many growths that would not progress to a lethal stage and are considered “indolent.”
Most patients do not understand that distinction, however, and “the word “cancer” often invokes the specter of an inexorably lethal process,” wrote Dr. Laura Esserman of the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Ian Thompson Jr. of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and Dr. Brian Reid of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Seattle.
Cancer can take “multiple pathways,” the three say, “not all of which progress to metastases and death, and include indolent disease that causes no harm during the patient’s lifetime.”…