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Kaiser: Experts question 'troubling' CT scan marketing

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | August 16, 2011

Hospitals defend the discounted scans, saying they serve the public's interests by helping catch cancers before they become too advanced to cure.

"The vast majority of my patients show up with stage 3 or 4 which is treatable, but rarely curable," Dr. William Burfeind, a surgeon at St. Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem, Penn., which offers screenings, told Kaiser. "Once we learned the results of the national study, we felt compelled to offer this to our patients."

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Nonetheless, skeptics worry the programs are more about profit than patients. And they fear the risks of the exams aren't fully addressed - according to the Washington Post, more than a dozen patients died in the lung cancer screening study from complications from follow-up procedures, including some who did not have cancer.

"You have to ask the question whose interests are being served here," Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a Dartmouth researcher who studies cancer screening, told Kaiser. "Screening tests are a great way to recruit new patients that produce revenues with follow up biopsies and procedures."

Dr. Peter Bach, a lung cancer specialist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, also shared concerns that the tests might not be appropriate for a broader population. "It is troubling behavior," he told Kaiser.

But in a comment on the debate, Ronald Bailey, a writer with Reason, a libertarian magazine, said in the end, it should be up to consumers to weigh the risks and decide for themselves.

"Individuals worried about their risks should certainly be allowed to pay for the scans out-of-pocket," he wrote.

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