Shop Smart: 8 cancer screenings to avoid

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Consumer Reports recently shone a light on oversold cancer screenings that might confuse rather than clarify. The report, available online at, evaluates 11 cancer screenings, finding that eight should be avoided for people who are not at high risk and without signs or symptoms of cancer.

Screening tests for cervical, colon and breast cancers are the most effective tests available, according to Consumer Reports' first ratings of cancer-screening tests. But most people shouldn't waste their time on screenings for bladder, lung, oral, ovarian, prostate, pancreatic, skin and testicular cancers. The ratings are based mainly on evidence-based reviews from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group supported by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Consumer Reports recommends three screenings. The highlights below represent a brief synopsis of the contents of the report.

The screening for cervical cancer gets Consumer Reports' highest score, and is recommended for women ages 21 to 65. Women under 21 should skip the screening, a Pap smear, because the cancer is uncommon before then and the tests are not accurate for this age group.

The screenings for colon cancer gets Consumer Reports' top score for people ages 50 to 75. However, screening is less valuable for people 76 to 85. Colon cancer screening receives a low score for people 86 and older and the lowest possible score for people 49 and younger. Younger people should consider testing only if they are at high risk because the cancer is uncommon before age 50.

The screening for breast cancer gets Consumer Reports' second-highest score for women 50 to 74. But women in their 40s or those 75 and older should talk with their doctor to see whether the benefits outweigh the harm based on their risk factors.

Consumer Reports highlighted eight cancer screenings that people at low risk should avoid, including the following three screenings which received Consumer Reports' lowest rating.

The screening for ovarian cancer gets Consumer Reports' lowest rating for women of all ages, because the screening tests are not very effective. Women don't need to be tested unless they are at high risk. There are two tests: a transvaginal ultrasound or the CA-125 blood test, which measures a protein possibly associated with ovarian cancer.

The screening for pancreatic cancer gets Consumer Reports' lowest Rating for adults of all ages. People don't need the test (genetic tests or imaging tests of the abdomen) unless they are at high risk, because no test is likely to detect the disease at a curable stage.

The screening for testicular cancer gets Consumer Reports' lowest Rating for men of all ages. Most men don't need the screening, a physical exam, unless they are at high risk, because most cancers found without screening are curable.

Consumer Reports' recommends that patients ask their doctors a series of questions before undergoing any cancer screening.

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