The inventors of a new screening process for esophageal cancer are pushing for new standards regarding the frequency of such testing. Dr. Jonathan Aviv and his partners at ENT and Allergy Associates LLP in New York are now saying that people over the age of 50 should be screened for esophageal cancer with the same frequency that they undergo testing regarding colorectal cancer, according to Reuters.
Screening for esophageal cancer has in the past involved any one (or more) of a half dozen different possible procedures. Dr. Aviv’s method is most closely related to an esophagoscopy. As defined by the National Cancer Institute, an esophagoscopy involves inserting a tube through the nose or mouth down into the esophagus. The tube has a lens, or camera, at the end with a light, so that doctors can look at the surrounding tissue. Occasionally, these instruments have a tool or device at the end that can take tissue samples as well.
Some of the more invasive screening procedures can require that a person be sedated. They also may be such that a person must be able to miss a day of work. The method used by Aviv and his partners is an outpatient procedure and does not require a period of recovery.
Given this new, less-invasive method of screening for esophageal cancer, Aviv and his associates are now pushing for new guidelines regarding how often a person should be screened for the disease. The group wants people over the age of 50 to now be screened once a year.
The issue with that recommendation is that Aviv and his partners are basically the only ones making it. The American Cancer Society specifically discourages people who do not have the risk factors for the disease from undergoing unnecessary screenings. Physicians have also long advised against unnecessary testing, citing the risk factors associated with conducting such procedures.
Recently, research has suggested that even those with frequent heartburn, or acid reflux, long believed to be a risk factor for developing esophageal cancer, may not need to be screened due to a lower risk of developing the disease than originally thought. Other risk factors, as listed by the Mayo Clinic, include smoking, drinking alcohol, and obesity, among others.
Part of the issue too is that frequent screenings have not been proven to help reduce deaths related to the disease, and in fact, may actually be leading to a significant number of people undergoing treatment for cancers that did not actually require it. Dr. Michael LeFevre, of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, told Reuters that “looking hard for asymptomatic cancers will always result in overdiagnosis and overtreatment.”
The best approach, as outlined in EveryDay Health, is mostly just simply to be aware of your body and any changes. Know the risk factors for esophageal cancer and find out under what circumstances you should actually be concerned. Your doctor will decide whether or not it is worth the risk and the cost of having you undergo screening.