With 44 million Medicare beneficiaries and an annual test costing about $1,000 a 12 months plus expensive scans and biopsies for those whose tests are positive, the worth tag may very well be substantial.
He and other critics warn that the risks of unleashing the tests are substantial. Paradoxical as it could sound, finding cancers earlier could mean just as many deaths, with the identical timing as without early diagnosis. That’s because — no less than with current treatments — cancers destined to kill usually are not necessarily cured if found early.
And there are other risks. For instance, some may have a positive test, but doctors can be unable to locate the cancer. Others can be treated aggressively with surgery or chemotherapy for cancers that, if left alone, wouldn’t have grown and spread and will even have gone away.
Dr. Beer acknowledges that a cancer blood test “doesn’t come without risks or costs, and it shouldn’t be going to detect every cancer.”
But, he said, “I believe there’s promise for an actual impact.”
Others experts are frightened.
Dr. Barnett Kramer, a member of the Lisa Schwartz Foundation for Truth in Medicine and former director of the Division of Cancer Prevention on the National Cancer Institute, fears that the tests will come into widespread use without ever showing they’re helpful. Once that happens, he said, “it’s difficult to unring the bell.”
“I hope we usually are not halfway through a nightmare,” Dr. Kramer said.
The Damocles Syndrome
When Susan Iorio Bell, 73, a nurse who lives in Forty Fort, Pa., saw an ad on Facebook recruiting women her age for a study of a cancer blood test, she immediately signed up. It fit along with her advocacy for preventive medicine and her belief in clinical trials.