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Scientists issue call to change definition of ‘cancer’

Cancer Cells

In response to increasing incidences of overdiagnosis and overtreatment in cancer patients, The National Cancer Institute has suggested redefining the term ‘cancer,’ Medical Daily reported.

Cancer is currently defined as an overgrowth of cells in any part of the body. Some cancers are life threatening, while others are not, but frightened patients often choose the most aggressive treatment option available – despite the lethality of their condition.

In some cases, this leads to unnecessary procedures that are often detrimental to the emotional and physical health of the patient.

"This is a long way from the thinking 20 years ago when you found a cancer cell and felt you had a tremendous risk of dying," said Dr. Harold Varmus, the Nobel Prize-winning director of the National Cancer Institute.

In a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, members of the National Cancer Institute laid out five guidelines for reshaping how cancer should be defined.

1. Recognize that overdiagnosis is common, particularly with better screening methods
2. Perform fewer unnecessary screenings
3. Diagnose a patient with cancer only when their lesions are lethal and require immediate treatment
4. Create a way to recognize and monitor lesser lesions
5. Expand approaches to cancer treatment, management and prevention

"We need a 21st-century definition of cancer instead of a 19th-century definition of cancer, which is what we've been using," Dr. Otis W. Brawley, the chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, told The New York Times.

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