To screen or not to screen?
That is the question - and a controversial one. It is currently exercising the minds of many members of the medical fraternity.
From before birth to well after retirement TV ads, GP surgeries and even church pulpits urge us to screen for sickness even in the midst of health.
The message is clear: it's the wise thing to do.
Or is it?
Many medics feel screening can often be a slippery slope to potentially damaging and invasive treatments for something that might never actually develop.
That's certainly the case for prostate cancer screening in men, according to researchers in Canada who last week recommended scrapping PSA (prostate-specific antigen) testing, even for those considered high risk.
Their study tracked 1,500 men aged 50-69 years over two decades. It found between 11 and 19 percent of those diagnosed with prostate cancer didn't actually have it, while another 40 to 56 percent ended up being "over diagnosed". That means they were told they had the disease, yet were not destined to experience any of its symptoms nor suffer an early death from it.
Nevertheless, they could still end up having surgery they didn't need as well as risking complications.
But what if a diagnosis actually is accurate? Evidence is emerging that it doesn't need to be the final word on our future.
This is a conclusion that could be fairly drawn from the work of cancer researcher Kelly Turner, for instance. As a Masters student she says she was shocked to discover how many "spontaneous remissions" had been noted in medical records, yet without any effort made to determine how these recoveries had occurred. This included a comprehensive study done by the Institute of Noetic Sciences which documented over a thousand cases of such remissions from malignant cancer.
This compelled her to take up the issue as a PhD study, in which she found that most of these remissions were not "spontaneous" at all. That is, they were not "without a cause" but actually involved radical life changes people had worked hard to make - most of which addressed emotional and spiritual factors. She interviewed many such "survivors" with an open mind.
"I just wanted to hear whatever they had to say, so to hear so much come up regarding psycho-emotional-spiritual stuff was very surprising to me," she recently told a colleague of mine.
One of the nine "treatments" she took away from those conversations was "experiencing a deeper spirituality" - an approach one man chose when he found himself with the symptoms of prostate cancer. At the time he was holding down two jobs and also dealing with unresolved resentment and disappointment. But after several months of praying, with the help of a Christian Science practitioner, he finally found himself free of fear.
"I understood a little better the eternal fact that God's unlimited love and goodness are an infallible support, which is constantly with each of us," he said. As this process unfolded, spiritual ideas gradually "crystallized" for him until the fear of the pain left and every cancer symptom vanished.
"There was no more disappointment, no more resentment, no more fear or pain--just peace, joy, love, and intense gratitude to God for His ubiquitous, unchanging truth," he wrote.
So, to screen or not to screen?
It is, of course, a deeply personal choice that has to be made wisely by each individual, on a case by case basis.
Yet beyond addressing that "should I" or "shouldn't I" question there's also the wisdom that remains open to a "third option, whatever that might be" - as someone once described to me her own defence against seeing only polarised possibilities.
One of those "whatevers" is to remember we can always screen our thinking. That doesn't mean scouring our consciousness for mental flaws and blaming ourselves for our ills, but quieting our fears and listening within for "the still, small voice" - as the Bible says. Its message always assures each of us how inherently good we are as the "image and likeness" of the Divine.
By digging deeper in this way many, including me, have found we are not as beholden as we seem either to stubborn character traits or to ailments. Instead, we are empowered to challenge physical and mental diagnoses as mistaken views of our true identity as the sons and daughters of God.
That spiritual status - child of God - is the unwavering divine view of who we each truly are. And as I have often experienced, sometimes just a glimpse of that deeper idea of ourselves can lead to health gratefully restored.Suggest a correction