Cancer screenings offer false promises

“Cancer Screening Has Never Been Shown to Save Lives.”

That’s the title of a new report in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ). And I could not have said it better myself.

But wait.

Actually, I have been saying it myself for years.

Cancer screenings simply don’t live up to their false promise of “saving lives.”

For this new study, Dr. Vinay Prasad and colleagues looked at whether all the emphasis on screening, diagnosis, and treatment for “early stage” cancers actually resulted in any reduction in overall mortality, the real measure of whether or not a treatment works.

Turns out, cancer screenings — which some industry-insiders claim lead to reductions in deaths from one specific disease — don’t actually reduce overall mortality rates. Nor do they lead to an increase in longevity, health, or wellness.

In last month’s Insiders’ Cures newsletter, my lead story examined the problem of so-called “early stage breast cancer” screening. It’s led to an epidemic of over-diagnosis and over-treatment — but not to a reduction of mortality. Ironically, many of the women who suffered through unnecessary diagnosis and treatment remain convinced breast cancer screening “saved” their lives. (I’ve heard this very sentiment from some women who have written to me in response to previous articles I’ve written on mammograms.)

But studies show, in the vast majority of cases, their lives were never in danger.

These women did, however, suffer harm from the psychological and physical results of their screening — caused by a questionable diagnosis, useless treatment, and unnecessary worry. It’s more likely these worried, “wrongly treated women” (wrongly treated in at least two senses of that phrase) actually did have their lives truncated because of stress.

As the researchers in the new BMJ study point out, public health advocates, private industry promoters, and the cancer screening industry itself, typically focus on a single-minded pursuit of a selected “disease,” rather than sensibly looking at overall health or longevity.

But we know reducing the risk of “cancer” in any one location — whether breast, colon, lung, or thyroid — does not translate into a reduction in mortality risk from everything else.

In many cases, increased screening led to HIGHER mortality rates

In the new study, researchers found discrepancies between disease-specific mortality versus overall mortality in seven out of 12 cancer screening clinical trials. In other words, when overall mortality (the real concern of doctors and patients) was considered, it reduced any benefit of screening. And in some cases, screening actually INCREASED mortality.

In a systematic review of meta-analyses of cancer screening trials, only three out of ten showed reductions in disease-specific mortality and zero trials showed reductions in overall mortality.

Furthermore, removing healthy body parts (breasts, for example) to prevent disease-specific mortality is unlikely to reduce the overall risk of dying. Nonetheless, people all over the world applauded Angelina Jolie’s decision to have her breasts and ovaries removed as some kind of “courageous” and scientifically sound preventative measure. And tens of thousands of women followed suit (into the surgical suite).

But it’s probably all for naught, as this study shows.

Patients and doctors alike need more and better information

Tragically, patients and doctors alike often don’t have access to this important information. If they did, it could help them actually reduce their risk of dying — or in a more positive light, extending longevity, which would be a real “anti-aging” outcome.

All the feverish cancer fundraising and education about “saving lives” are just misleading propaganda efforts, which may end up doing more harm than good to your health. They also waste massive amounts of money, time, energy, and good will.

Instead — we continue to suffer through the many ignorant, disease-specific, multi-billion dollar, cause-driven, marketing campaigns to “raise awareness” and promote annual cancer screenings. As I’ve warned before, many of the unethical “non-profit” organizations that run these campaigns are rife with corruption and self-interest. Thankfully, the public is beginning to catch on.


  1. “Why cancer screening has never been shown to “save lives”—and what we can do about it,” British Medical Journal January 2016; 352: h6080