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The Do-Nothing Dilemma

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The Do-Nothing Dilemma


5 min read
5 take-aways
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What's inside?

Not all the cancers that scans can detect need immediate treatment, but would you want to wait and see?

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


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.


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, ...

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.

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