Books & E-Books (VI)

On the risks vs. benefits of cancer screening in healthy (asymptomatic) people

A review of Dr. H. Gilbert Welch’s book “Should I Be Tested for Cancer? Maybe Not and Here's Why”

by Healing Cancer Naturally © 2010, Copyright Notice

In spite of its casual-sounding title, this ground-breaking book is not written by some starry-eyed, unrealistic, out-of-touch dreamer who believes that by closing his eyes, bothersome things such as the issue of cancer will just disappear. Nor is it written by some kind of hippie who believes that as long as something is anti-establishment and opposite to what "normal" straight people do, it must be the right thing to do.

No, this book is the brainchild of a man with excellent credentials, physician Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine at Dartmouth Medical School, researcher and accomplished author of articles published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the New England Journal of Medicine and other respected medical organs. And “Should I Be Tested for Cancer? Maybe Not and Here's Why” is published by the University of California Press (and has even received a favorable review in JAMA).

For decades, the ACS (American Cancer Society) and similar organisations have successfully campaigned for every person (from a certain age onward) to be tested for various forms of cancer via mammography, PSA (prostate specific antigen) test, colonoscopy, PAP smears, fecal occult test, etc. supposedly to allow cancer to be detected early, the rationale being that cancer caught early is not lethal. But apparently, a cancer typically considered lethal is generally not caught early (unless one is ready to be tested every other day). So-called lethal cancers are typically highly aggressive and will have already spread by the time the patient is screened.

What screening as usual is good at is catching cancers* which grow slowly (if at all) and are likely to never kill you.

* with the additional qualification that the very definition of cancer is not without ambiguity, see further down

Enter Dr. Welch. Based upon orthodox (published) medical literature, extensive numerical data and statistical analyses, case histories, and his own practice as a physician, he succinctly yet comprehensively reviews the challenges and risks involved in cancer testing as implemented by current medical technology. His conclusion: cancer screening is not worth doing since it likely will do more harm than good and shows very little benefit (if any at all) in terms of life expectancy or lives saved, the very factors it is supposed to beneficially influence. For instance, in spite of more prostate and breast cancer being detected at early stages, the death rate for prostate cancer has remained unchanged while the rate of late-stage breast cancer has actually increased over a period of 25 years.

Here are more “explosive” details of the revelations you will find in “Should I Be Tested for Cancer? Maybe Not and Here's Why” (some of these are actual chapter headings).

  • If you don't have unusual symptoms for which your doctor recommends a cancer test, it's unlikely that you will benefit from cancer testing.
  • Autopsies of people who died from other causes than cancer have shown them to have cancer in various parts of their body such as the kidneys, lungs, thyroid, etc. In other words, there are likely millions of people who live with cancer without being aware of it and who will die of some other cause, never knowing they "had cancer". [Compare Modern medicine is not a science: autopsies have revealed misdiagnoses in over 50% of patients.]
  • If a screening does find cancer, this does not necessarily mean that it will grow rapidly. Rather, it could reabsorb itself (since our immune system when up to par will eliminate abnormal cells on a daily basis). It could also remain the same for years, never causing any problem, or it could grow at such a slow pace that it causes no health issues, with the person dying of an unrelated cause before it ever does.
  • Different diagnoses (cancer positive or negative) are pronounced for the same tissue samples: As shown by studies done by major institutions, different pathologists give different opinions as to whether a tissue specimen is cancerous or not.
  • Having been screened for cancer, you may receive a "false positive" (the average of all tests yielding a false positive is a whopping 10 percent, and depending upon what test is used, can be up to one third or 33.33 percent) and consequently receive unnecessary treatment, not to mention the enormous stress of a "cancer scare", itself a possible contributing cause of cancer [compare Dr. Hamer’s German New Medicine].
  • Breast cancer and mammography are analysed in detail, thoroughly debunking the conventional wisdom which has been coercing women to undergo mammograms, and showing why avoiding them is a highly reasonable choice. [Compare Ionizing Radiation (Fluoroscopy/ Mammography/Medical X-Rays) Proven Causes of Breast Cancer, On Mammography & Mammograms, Thermograms: superior painless alternative to mammograms for women desirous of having their breasts screened, On Health Effects (Cancer Risk) of Small Doses of Ionizing Radiation.]
  • The reasons why DCIS [ductal carcinoma in situ] is perhaps the most overtreated but fake "disease" in modern medicine. Compare testimonial “My experience with TRAM flap mastectomy & biopsies after DCIS diagnosis” and Rushed into conventional breast cancer diagnostics & therapy.
  • A cancer screening may find illness for which there is no effective (conventional) treatment, or for which the sequelae of treatment are worse than the progression of the disease.
  • Why doctors are pushed to test.
  • Understanding the statistics of cancer (and why the five-year survival rate is the world's most misleading number). 5-year survival rates can rise because of early detection, yet with no change in the cancer plus treatment mortality rate.
  • The true statistics of deaths caused by cancer treatment. Oncological treatment may cut the deaths from a certain type of cancer in half but most current cancer treatment approaches induce non-cancer deaths. Compare On Cancer Statistics and Side effects of conventional cancer treatment.
  • How hard your doctor looks for prostate cancer affects how much s/he detects.
  • Why your doctor won't take a chance with your health (fear of getting sued for malpractice etc.) and may recommend what s/he considers the safest (likely meaning most aggressive) course of action.
  • Exposing the unnecessary biopsies, radiotherapies, surgeries, chemotherapies for slow-growing or non-malignant tumors.
    Compare Rushed into conventional breast cancer diagnostics & therapy.
  • The legitimate treatment option of "watchful waiting"
  • Why a decision to forego cancer treatment can be a reasonable option.
  • Developing a strategy that works for you.

In spite of the complex subject matter, Dr. Welch manages to convey his well-reasoned and documented arguments in a readable style. The numerous enthusiastic reviews of his courageous establishment-challenging book testify to his book hitting an important nerve.

Should I Be Tested for Cancer?Should I Be Tested for Cancer? Maybe Not and Here's Why

by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch

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