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Not all cancer needs to be treated

Massachusetts residents might be interested to hear that sometimes cancer, as we know it, isn't really cancer at all. The term "cancer" oftentimes invokes feelings of a fatal disease. However, according to a working group for the National Cancer Institute, cancers are heterogeneous and can follow different paths, not all of which lead to death.

For example, the chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society informed one of his patients that he had prostate cancer and that they were just going to monitor it. The patient reportedly became very upset that the doctor was recommending no treatment. Science suggests that more of these types of scenarios might occur as we learn more about cancer. Perhaps we will stop labeling all of these malignant tumors as cancer. According to the chief medical officer, some of the reason for cancer misdiagnosis is because the samples of what doctors believe to be cancer are being compared to the definition of cancer that was created more than 150 years ago.

In the 1850s, a group of German pathologists reportedly did some of the first biopsies of people who had died of cancer. They took samples of the tumors to determine what various types of cancer looked like. The chief medical officer stated that sometimes someone is diagnosed with cancer because they have something that resembles what the Germans described cancer to be all those years ago. According to the doctor, we all have abnormalities, and overtesting can lead to unnecessary interventions.

People who are misdiagnosed may be able to file medical malpractice lawsuits against the doctors or institutions who tested them. If won, such lawsuits could compensate them for any unnecessary interventions that they underwent.

Source: CNN, "Overtested Americans: When cancer isn't cancer at all", Jacque Wilson and Amanda Enayati, July 31, 2013

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