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What's a screening worth? It depends on your risks and fears

December 28, 2009 | 10:03 am

Prostate The suggestion that women under age 50 might not need regular mammograms outraged many Americans just a few weeks ago. But that was just the tip of the screen-regularly-or-not iceberg. Colon cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer -- a case can be made that we should forgo routine tests for all of them.

In today's Health section, we offer an analysis of the cost of prevention. Among the highlights is a Closer Look at the aforementioned regular screenings. (Here's more information from the National Cancer Institute on how to detect various cancers — lung cancer, bladder, endometrial, stomach, liver. That's not to say everyone should undergo the tests.) 

We also present an analysis of preventive medical care: Healthcare: Prevention efforts can be costly

That story begins: "Preventive healthcare has been touted by politicians as a sure-fire method to slash healthcare costs by saving on future treatment expenses. And it's easy to believe them -- surely, we reason, it's better to treat high cholesterol before it turns into a heart attack or catch cancer early on. Better it may be, but economists present a different picture as far as costs go: Although preventive medicine is certainly desirable, it will not necessarily ease the healthcare budget, they say."

And speaking of preventive medicine, there's this recent notable post from the HealthBeat blog: Prevention: An Apple-a-Day Isn't Gonna Cut It.

It states: "Preventive medicine for the well-heeled and worried well is the type we read about most often in self-help magazine articles. But prevention on a larger scale is something altogether different — it will require tackling the fundamental health disparities that, for example, cause infant mortality rates for black babies to be twice the national average. It will require confronting the fact that twice as many African-Americans will be diagnosed with diabetes this year and that people living in the most deprived neighborhoods have a 22 percent higher risk of dying, regardless of their diet and lifestyle. These kinds of disparities vary by state and by region; with rural areas and urban centers having the most intractable problems. But the fact is that for prevention to be effective, it must move away from concentrating solely on medical factors and consider the larger socio-economic issues facing minority and low-income populations..."

When it comes to screening and prevention, the real discussions are just beginning.

— Tami Dennis

Photo: Tests for prostate cancer include a check of prostate specific antigen in the blood.

Credit: Getty Images