Childhood cancer screening does more harm than good

Screening for neuroblastoma, a common childhood cancer, does more harm than good, suggest two new studies.

Screening children who are under a year old detects early tumours that would probably resolve without treatment. One study found that three children died from complications after treatment following early detection.

Another study, using the screening records of 1.5 million children in Germany, found no differences in the number of deaths between screened and unscreened children. More early cases of cancer were detected in the screened group, who received unnecessary treatment that in some cases was harmful. The high rate of overdiagnosis suggests that these tumours are likely to spontaneously regress after the first nine months.

Similar findings were made in a Canadian study that looked at the progress of 450,000 children in Quebec who were screened between the ages of three weeks and six months. Again, the death rate in Quebec was no different from that in the rest of Canada, where children were not screened for the cancer (N Engl J Med, 2002; 346: 1041-6, 1047-53).

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Written by What Doctors Don't Tell You

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