Fishing for Cancer

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By Richard P. Holm, MD

Screening for cancer is sometimes like fishing for walleye. If you have the money, you can buy a good fish-finder to see where the fish might be. The finder may advise that there are fish down below your boat or your ice-house, but you don’t know if they might be carp, northern, or weeds . . . and not walleye. If, then, you decide to drop your hook, sometimes you only catch small ones that aren’t keepers and they all go back. Sometimes you catch nothing. Sometimes, however, you catch the big one.

Okay, this is not the perfect metaphor, but screening for cancer often requires advanced and expensive technology that are not always accurate. Once there is an indication that there might be cancer, the next step usually requires the commitment of a significant, sometimes invasive, effort that doesn’t always result in the best good for the patient. Sometimes, however, you catch a dangerous cancer about which you and your doctor can do something to provide a cure or, at least, add significant days of quality time to your life.

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