Friday, August 5, 2011

Early Detection is NOT the Same as Prevention

The State of Maryland recently convened a team of researchers, patients and doctors to develop an anti-cancer plan they call the Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan.  Control? Interesting word, but not one I want to hear from government.  However, the plan has some merit.   Ann Taylor, vice president of support services at Atlantic General Hospital, explains that “The state plan is superior to one released in 2004 because it focuses on individual ownership of health with emphasis on nutrition and continued screenings for cancer.”  I like this.  I also liked what Frances Phillips, Deputy Director of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, had to say: “We know now that so much cancer is preventable or survivable with early detection and good treatment. There are also chapters on pain management and support for families burdened with cancer. It’s important we keep in mind that cancer is a disease that affects virtually every Maryland family.”

 However, what I didn’t like is that they confuse readers by suggesting that prevention is the same thing as detection. “Prevention methods include blood tests for colon cancer and mammograms to check for breast cancer. Other methods for cancer screening include PET scans, MRI scans and CT scans, which can be expensive since they use advanced equipment.”  Sorry, Mr. Phillips, but while screening is great, it does not prevent most cancers (the exception being colonoscopy [before polyps become cancerous]and paps and maybe a few others).  Screening does not prevent breast cancer.  One could argue that screening sometimes discovers the pre-cancerous LCIS, but for all the women whose screening did not detect anything less than cancer, one needs to be careful.  One does not have to have LCIS to develop cancer, and is involved in very few cases.

 I have heard so many women say, “But how could this have happened, I get a mammogram every year!”  Too many women are led to believe that screening is preventive.  Not true; screening allows for early detection.  The jury is still out whether or not early detection saves lives, but for sure it saves quality of life (i.e. less horrific and toxic treatment).    Ms Taylor goes on to say “Our focus is to prevent recurrence in patients who have had cancer. We work with programs to fit patients into breast and cervical, colonoscopy screening.”  Screening does not prevent recurrence, it detects it so it can be treated or managed.

So, my feeling is that while I applaud the State of Maryland for taking action, they need to understand the facts and not delude people into thinking that by undergoing screening, they will reduce risk.  They need to beef up efforts to educate people on real preventive measures such as maintaining a healthy weight, moderate exercise, a healthy diet, giving up smoking, reducing inflammation, avoiding environmental toxins and reducing stress.

Elyn Jacobs

Elyn Jacobs is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, Inc. and a breast cancer survivor.  She empowers women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and she educates about how to prevent recurrence and new cancers.  She is passionate about helping others get past their cancer and into a cancer-free life.


  1. Great post, Elyn. I agree completely. Prevention and detection are not the same thing. There does seem to be a lot of confusion surrounding these word choices and other various labels.

  2. I have to say Nancy, that I thought of you immediately when I read in Cancer Prevention the article about Dr Patrick Kelly and his dream for the prevention of brain tumors. While I applaud all that he has done, he too is confusing prevention with early detection.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


If this blog was helpful to you, please let me know, thanks!