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Redefining Cancer to curb over diagnosis and over treatment

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

We've heard it now for years.

Early detection and quick intervention, that's how we save ourselves from cancer.

But now the National Cancer Institute is seeing a huge downside to all the public awareness.

Over diagnosis and over treatment.

"We clearly over treat for a lot of things because we don't have the crystal ball of whose going to get cancer that's going to kill them and who doesn't," said Dr. Jennifer Litton, a medical oncologist who specializes in breast cancer at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

New technology is causing huge increases in cancers like thyroid, melanoma, breast and prostate.

But here's the problem.

Many patients who are diagnosed with those cancers undergo aggressive treatment when they don't need to.

Why?

Because the cancer is growing so slow it would probably never cause them a problem.

"And there are side effects to the treatments," Litton said. "There are some definite side effects to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy that can be long term and in very rare cases fatal."

Doctors are the first to admit about 10 percent of localized lung cancer tumors and 20 to 30 percent of localized breast cancer tumors detected through screening would never grow, spread or cause any harm whatsoever.

That rate for prostate cancer is a whopping 60 percent.

The National Cancer Institute is looking at changing the terminology doctors use when talking to patients about cancer.

The "C" word, the institute believes should only be used to describe lesions that when left untreated have a reasonable likelihood of lethal progression.

"My concern is that people will think oh they redefined cancer so they found these things and I have no worries that is not at all what this is saying," Litton said.

So what do you really need to know from this?

"C" word or no "C" word if there's something abnormal going on have a risk assessment with your doctor.

What really matters the most is your family history and genetic predisposition.

"What's your chance your personal chance of getting breast cancer," Litton said. "That's where we are heading to we're not there yet we do the best we can with what we have right now but that's really what we're working towards."

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