NPR has a great blog on their website called “Shots” about current events in health care. Last week Scott Hensley, the main blogger there, posted about a recent article on treatment of prostate cancer from the Archives of Internal Medicine.
If you look at the article, you may notice a very small subheading above the article’s title. It reads “Less is More.”
The thrust of the article and the subsequent blog post is that men diagnosed with prostate cancer that have PSA values of less than 4.0 nanograms per milliliter of blood (“ng/mL”, the standard measurement) usually opt for treatment of their cancer, even though their cancer may not necessarily harm them.
What’s that, you say? How can cancer not harm someone?
This is an extremely vexing issue in the world of medicine, so it bears exploring.
Most importantly, it’s important to understand that “Cancer” is not one disease. This is perhaps the most commonly repeated media misconception, as when talking heads go to commercial break and say, “Coming up next: Scientists at Yada Yada U. claim that they have the cure for cancer. Is it true? Stay tuned to find out.”