Summary of The Do-Nothing Dilemma

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Journalist Charlotte Huff makes a good case for “watchful waiting” in low-risk cancers and precancerous conditions. Highly sensitive scans pick up on changes so early today that it can be unclear what they will become: There can be false positives, and some cancers are extremely slow-growing. Unexpectedly, Huff makes it equally clear why some patients’ medical decision-making process means they are better off having surgery and peace of mind than living with uncertainty. While never giving medical advice, getAbstract recommends these thoughtful insights to readers interested in the risks, benefits and emotional implications of watchful waiting.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How technology is contributing to early detection of cancerous changes,
  • Why it is sometimes best to watch and wait, and
  • Why some patients find “watchful waiting” easier than others.

About the Author

Charlotte Huff is a Texas-based journalist, political science major and Fulbright journalism scholar. Her features have appeared in American Way, Genome, Medical Economics, Slate and Women’s Health.



Thanks to advances in scans and other medical testing technology, doctors can detect “suspicious” cellular changes earlier than ever before. It’s not always clear whether these changes will become harmful in the patient’s lifetime. Medical experts are learning that it’s better not to treat slow-moving conditions – such as low-risk prostate cancer – with immediate surgery and to simply monitor their progress over time. It may be a mistake to look so hard for problems. For 20% to 50% of former smokers, CT scans for lung cancer will produce false positives, ...

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