With 44 million Medicare beneficiaries and an annual test that costs about $1,000 a year, plus expensive scans and biopsies for those whose tests come back positive, the price tag could be significant.
He and other critics warn that the risks of unleashing the tests are significant. Paradoxical as it may sound, finding cancer earlier can mean just as many deaths, with the same timing as without early diagnosis. That’s because — at least with current treatments — cancers that are destined to kill aren’t necessarily cured if they’re caught early.
And there are other risks. For example, some will have a positive test, but doctors will not be able to locate the cancer. Others will be treated aggressively with surgery or chemotherapy for cancers that, if left alone, would not have grown and metastasized and may even have disappeared.
dr. Beer acknowledges that a blood test for cancer “doesn’t come without risks or costs, and won’t detect every cancer.”
But, he said, “I think there’s promise for a real impact.”
Other experts are concerned.
dr. Barnett Kramer, a member of the Lisa Schwartz Foundation for Truth in Medicine and former director of the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Prevention, fears the tests will be widely used without ever showing any benefit. Once that happens, he said, “it’s hard to ring the bell.”
“I hope we’re not halfway through a nightmare,” said Dr. Kramer.
The Damocles Syndrome
When Susan Iorio Bell, 73, a nurse living in Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, saw a Facebook ad recruiting women her age to study for a blood test for cancer, she immediately applied. It matched her advocacy of preventive medicine and her belief in clinical trials.