Medical malpractice: Can certain illnesses be overtreated?

There's No Substitute for Experience

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is often devastating, and understandably so. No matter how successful treatments can be, this is an illness no one wants deal with. As such, physicians might take whatever necessary steps to attempt to put the disease into remission -- sometimes relying on radical measures.

A recently released study about a relatively rare form of cancer raises some concerns and important questions. Namely, what can be considered adequate in terms of cancer treatment? And, the reverse: What level of treatment might be too much, potentially causing unnecessary injury to patients?

Researchers from Dartmouth’s Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice took a look at the diagnosis and treatment rates for thyroid cancer. Between 1975 and 2009, the number of diagnosed cases of this type of cancer jumped significantly. Many might look at this data and begin to think that there is a growing threat of thyroid cancer. However, researchers caution that better diagnostic imaging tools have allowed physicians to discover more cases.

As the number of diagnosed cases of thyroid cancer has increased over the last few decades, treatment generally remains quite radical. The Associated Press reports that 85 percent of thyroid cancer cases are treated by complete removal of the gland. This happens despite the fact that less radical treatment options may be sufficient.

One of the doctors who authored the previously cited study said that general conceptions about whether or not and how cancer is treated may need to be adjusted. Rather than falling under the unfortunate category of failure to diagnose, this type of scenario could be classified as overtreatment.

After receiving a serious diagnosis, like cancer, people rely on the professional experience of their physicians to recommend the best course of action. This requires doctors to take a measured, thoughtful approach, as opposed to reactionary, potentially injurious measures.

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