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Some cancers shouldn’t be treated


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Big Think
  • In the war on cancer, we're detecting and aggressively treating more malignant tumors than ever before. But at the same time, we're also over-treating more cancers then ever.
    Cancer exists on a spectrum. Some have less than a 5% chance of progressing over two decades while others have more than a 75% chance of progressing over one to two years.
    For low-risk cancers, patients and their doctors should consider "active surveillance" of their tumor rather than opting for immediate treatment in the form of surgery or chemotherapy.
  • The collective effort to improve the treatment of cancer is often described as a “war“, as if malignant tumors are a scourge to be ruthlessly rooted out and destroyed the second they are detected. But oncologists are now increasingly calling for a truce in the case of many cancers. The fight might have gone too far.

    As cancer screening has grown more powerful in scope and increasingly widespread, we’re detecting more cancers than ever before, and catching them earlier. A CDC study published last year found that between 2009 and 2018, the number of people diagnosed with cancer climbed from 1,292,222 to 1,708,921. For aggressive cancers of the lung, colon, and pancreas, this advanced detection can be a lifesaver. But for low-risk cancers including, for example, prostate, urethral, thyroid, certain non-Hodgkin lymphomas, and some areas of the breast, a positive test can lead to emotional stress and unneeded, physically-taxing treatment.


    Some cancers shouldn’t be treated

    Cancer, what many people instinctively view as a death sentence, actually exists on a wide spectrum, ranging from ultra low risk, with less than a 5% chance of progressing over two decades, to extremely high risk, more than a 75% chance of progressing over one to two years. Since cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and surgery, can be costly and life-altering, the goal should be to wield these weapons in the cases they are called for, and keep them sheathed when they are not.:snip:

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