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Is a low risk cancer a cancer?

Thursday January 24th, 2019

Some low risk cancers might be better described as benign tumours, experts say today.

One cancer specialist wants the name of cancer to be removed from many low-risk cancers, warning of the anxiety caused when patients are told they have cancer.

Another suggests making more use of the word “benign” whilst explaining to patients that benign tumours carry low risk.

Taking part in the discussion in The BMJ, Dr Murali Varma, of the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, warns of confusion that can be caused by trying to introduce completely new names for these diseases.

He also warns it is hard to be sure of the natural course of low-risk tumours as they are routinely removed by surgery and this alters the “natural course” of the disease.

He writes: “If the public were educated that benign signifies very low risk rather than no risk at all, then anxiety inducing labels could be avoided.”

The proposal to rename indolent cancers comes from Professor Laura Esserman of the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center, San Francisco, California.

She says the name of cancer spans diseases that have a 5% or less of progressing over 20 years – and others with a 75% chance of progression within a year.

Screening has led to the increased detection of low-risk forms of thyroid, prostate, breast and other cancers, she says.

As many as 35% of breast cancers detected by screening may be ultra-low risk, she says.

Renaming low risk diseases might enable patients to be offered active surveillance, she says.

She writes: “The refinement of the nomenclature for cancer is one of the most important steps we can take to improve the outcomes and quality of life of patients with cancer.”

Should we rename low risk cancers? BMJ 24 January 2019

Tags: Cancer | North America | UK News

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