Many cancer tests have been oversold to the general population, and the risks of some outweigh the benefits, according to Consumer Reports.
Dr. Jeffrey Starke, a tuberculosis specialist, became a patient himself when his PSA levels, a marker for prostrate cancer, edged up slightly on two different occasions. Each time, his doctor urged a biopsy.
"Elevated PSA levels don't necessarily mean cancer is present," said Consumer Reports' medical adviser Dr. John Santa. "But such levels can scare men into undergoing riskier tests."
Starke took the risk, but said the second biopsy almost killed him.
"I became very, very sick with what is called sepsis, which is a bacterial infection that landed me in the hospital for four days," Starke said.
No cancer was found in either biopsy.
"Even when prostrate cancer is found, it may not become dangerous," Santos said. "And the fact is, treatment itself can cause serious side effects."
Consumer Reports does not recommend PSA tests for most men as the latest evidence s hows this test does not signifcantly reduce deaths.
And, unless you are at high risk there are other cancer screenings Consumer Reports does not recommend, including ones for pancreatic, lung, ovarian or skin cancer, among others.
"However there are three tests we analyzed that are well worth getting, but it does depend on your age," Santos said.
Colon cancer screening is very likely to be beneficial for people ages 50 to 75, according to Consumer Reports.
They also recommend mammograms for women ages 50 to 74 every other year and Pap smears for women ages 21 to 65, but only every three years.
"These are guidelines for the general population," Santos said. "If you have a family history or other medical factors that put you at higher risk, work with your doctor to determine the cancer screenings you need and when to have them."