Think cancer screening tests are confusing? So does your doctor

According to an internet survey conducted by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin among over 400 US primary care physicians, cancer screening tests, and the statistics involved in their outcomes, are not being properly interpreted by doctors, and those doctors are making the wrong recommendations.

The survey presented two hypothetical scenarios and the respondent was required to make one of two recommendations:

-- A cancer screening test based on 5-year survival and earlier detection
-- A cancer screening test that was based on reduced mortality in a randomized trial

Over three-quarters of the respondents made the first recommendation. That is the incorrect one, in part because of the biases to which 5-year survival and earlier detection are subject to, including overdiagnosis.

Only one quarter correctly made the second recommendation, which according to the National Cancer Institute is the only metric that can reliably be considered proof that a certain screening test indeed saves lives.

The authors of the study, which appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine, noted, "Misunderstanding of statistics ... matters, because it may influence how physicians discuss screening with their patients or how they teach trainees."

Source: MedPage Today

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