In recommendations published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on July 29, a working group of the National Cancer Institute suggests changing the definition of cancer. The authors argue that early-stage, noninvasive forms of cancer such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a premalignant form of breast cancer, should be reclassified and renamed so patients are less likely to seek aggressive treatment that may be unnecessary.
Larry Norton, Deputy Physician-in-Chief for Breast Cancer Programs at Memorial Sloan Kettering, commented on this topic last night on PBS NewsHour, along with medical oncologist Barnett Kramer of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Norton stated that he is in favor of changing the terminology of some early-stage cancers, but only when the medical community has a better understanding of these diseases and doctors can be absolutely sure which cancers will progress and which will not.
“We’re not quite there yet,” he said. “There’s no definitive test that we can do now to DCIS that is going to tell us with certainty that it is not going to turn into a dangerous disease that could be life threatening.”
“We’re moving in that direction,” Dr. Norton added. “It’s a very, very important area of research. And I would applaud the day when we could actually say these are early changes and they’re never going to cause a problem. That is going to be wonderful.”
Watch the PBS NewsHour segment and read Dr. Norton’s comments in a New York Times article published on July 29.