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Diagnosing Cancer Requires Sound Medical Judgment

It is common knowledge in our society that failure to diagnose cancer is a major, life-threatening problem. If a proper diagnosis is missed, cancer can go untreated for too long - with fatal consequences.

Yet even with these potentially deadly consequences, failure to diagnose cancer is a common form of medical malpractice in New York and across the country.

But this doesn't mean that all tests are good. Far from it. For example, a major federal research study recently found that looking for lung cancer by using an annual chest X-ray doesn't save lives.

The study's findings have just been published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The pool of participants was over 154,000 people between the ages of 55 and 74. One group got yearly chest X-rays for four years. The other got regular medical care, but not a chest X-ray to specifically screen for lung cancer.

After 13 years, there was no statistical difference in lung cancer deaths among the two groups.

These findings suggest that doctors need to use their professional judgment in detecting cancer, not merely rely on one test.

It also shouldn't be forgotten that the radiation from X-rays can create the risk of causing cancer in a patient who was healthy before the X-ray.

To be sure, tests have their place. One thing doctors could do, however, is be more targeted in the tests they administer. Rather than just defaulting to a standard X-ray, doctors should first ask appropriate questions.

For example, does the patient have a history of smoking? Has the patient checked their home for radon (another common cause of cancer)?

Source: "Looking for Lung Cancer With A Yearly X-Ray Doesn't Reduce Deaths," NPR, 10-26-11

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