Who Benefits From Overdiagnosis? Pharma, Device Makers, Hospitals

October 28, 2011 8:03 am 1 comment

H. Gilbert Welch. Courtesy of Dartmouth College

In recent weeks, we’ve seen the U.S.Preventive Services Task Force recommend that healthy men not have a PSA test, and read a new study suggesting that only about 3 percent to 13 percent of  women whose breast cancer was detected by a mammogram are actually helped by the test. In the case of both prostate cancer and breast cancer, test opponents argue, vastly more people are treated in ways that damage their lives than people who are helped by the tests. One study showed that for every life saved by prostate cancer treatment, 47 men are treated in ways that will probably greatly alter their sex life, not for the better. With breast cancer, a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests  that 1 woman per 1,000 healthy women screened over 10 years falls into the very small sample whose life is saved. Many others a treated in ways that cause pain, anxiety, and depression. The author of that study, H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine and director of the Center for Medicine and the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, recently told BU Today who, in his opinion, benefits from the kind of overdiagnosis that does so much harm: “A lot of people: pharma, device manufacturers, imaging centers, and even your local hospital. The easiest way to make money isn’t to build a better drug or device—it’s to expand the market for existing drugs and devices by expanding the indication to include more patients. Similarly, for hospitals, the easiest way to make money isn’t to deliver better care; it’s to recruit new patients—and screening is a great way to do this.”

Read more in Welch’s book, Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health (Beacon Press, 2011), written with coauthors Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin.

1 Comment

  • Dr. David R. Jones

    I’m a chiropractor and see this everyday. We treat spinal pain and get great results and and keep many from risky surgeries(that have about a 50/50 chance of success).The insurance companies will pay for the all the drugs and very expensive surgeries, but will hardly pay for chiropractic services. Makes no sense, just wished we could work together for the best outcome for the patients.It would seem that the medical profession would get off their high horse and just consider a least invasive to most invasive approach,instead of going straight to surgeries.

Leave a Reply


Recent Posts

  • Fitness Pain Karate Masters Have Faster Brains

    Karate Masters Have Faster Brains

    Researchers have known for a while that the power of a karate blow is not all about strength. Rather, it’s about fine coordination between wrists and shoulders. Now researchers at University College in London have learned where that better coordination comes from: a better brain. A University College news release reports that researchers looked for differences in brain structure between 12 karate practitioners with a black belt rank and an average of 13.8 years’ karate experience, and 12 control subjects […]

    Read more →
  • Fitness Pain Exercise Is Bad For Your Teeth, Maybe

    Exercise Is Bad For Your Teeth, Maybe

    OK, this is surprising. As Gretchen Reynolds points out in the New York Times, exercise may be good for every part of your body but one: your teeth. Reynolds reports that the good health/bad teeth dichotomy came to the attention of many last year when a study was published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, in which dentists who examined 278 athletes at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London reported that a majority displayed “poor oral health,” including high levels […]

    Read more →
  • Pain Sex FDA Wants A Closer Look At Testosterone Risks

    FDA Wants A Closer Look At Testosterone Risks

    Testosterone replacement therapy may make older men feel younger, but according to some studies, it can also push them closer to the grave. The Wall Street Journal reports on a 2013 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that found a 30 percent increased risk of death, heart attack and stroke among men taking testosterone, compared with other men. That study and others like it, plus a 65 percent increase in sales of such products between 2009 […]

    Read more →
  • Eating Well Pain Artificial Sweeteners May Pose Real Threat To Glucose Levels

    Artificial Sweeteners May Pose Real Threat To Glucose Levels

    Artificial sweeteners, used to avoid the health risks of real sugar, turn out to have their own problems. The New York Times reports that the sweeteners have been found to “disrupt the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, causing metabolic changes that can be a precursor to diabetes.” The research, conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, suggests that the sweeteners alter bacteria in the digestive system such that it changes the metabolism of glucose, causing levels to rise higher […]

    Read more →
  • Fitness Pain Q: How Many Viruses Does A Healthy Person Harbor? A: Five

    Q: How Many Viruses Does A Healthy Person Harbor? A: Five

    Congratulations, you’re healthy. Your family thanks you. So do the several viruses that reside happily in your body. After all, for most viruses, healthy bodies make such comfortable homes. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are persuaded that healthy people carry an average of five types of viruses on their body, all without any physical symptoms that might tip off the owner of the body. A Wash U news release reports that when researchers looked for viruses in 102 healthy […]

    Read more →
  • Pain Sex Male Pattern Baldness Linked To Aggressive Prostate Cancer

    Male Pattern Baldness Linked To Aggressive Prostate Cancer

    Before you order up a PSA test, consider this: male pattern baldness affects about 70 percent of men at some point in their lives. And now the possibly disturbing news: in a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, male pattern baldness has been associated with aggressive prostate cancer. So, does that mean men with male pattern baldness face a higher risk of aggressive prostate cancer? Not necessarily. Let’s look at the numbers. Science Daily reports that from 1993 […]

    Read more →
  • Eating Well Pain Watching, Yes Just Watching Football Can Be Bad For Your Health

    Watching, Yes Just Watching Football Can Be Bad For Your Health

    Perhaps the strangest thing about the warning that just watching football can be bad for your health is its origin: the University of Alabama, home of the Crimson Tide, and a place where watching football is basically a required course. But it’s true. The university has issued a news release advising sports fans everywhere that “the excitement of football, and even the activities and feelings of anticipation leading up to games, can be unhealthy in ways many do not realize.” […]

    Read more →
  • Gear Pain Women's Health Polyester Stinks, Especially After Exercise

    Polyester Stinks, Especially After Exercise

    Bacteria were never known for their taste in sportswear, so it’s not surprising that, yes, they much prefer polyester to cotton. A news release from the American Society of Microbiology reports on a recent study at Ghent University that examined clothing from 26 healthy people who had done an intense one-hour spinning session. The researchers incubated the athletes’ shirts for 28 hours, then had them inspected by “a trained odor panel.” OK. They also took a look at the amount […]

    Read more →