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WebMD's Top Health Stories of 2011

The 5 Most Significant Health Stories of the Year

Confusion Over Prostate, Breast, and Cervical Cancer Screening continued...

The biggest brouhaha came when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against screening men for prostate cancer via routine PSA blood tests. The tests have become so common that doctors have often ordered the test without discussing it with patients.

The USPSTF recommendation still is drawing heat from the American Urological Association -- and by prostate cancer advocacy groups -- that feel the PSA test's benefits outweigh its harms. But the American Cancer Society says men should only get the test after a serious discussion of the benefits (curing early prostate cancer) and the risks (impotence and/or incontinence from treatment that may not be necessary).

It's the job of the USPSTF to set out screening guidelines based on a cold, hard look at the best available data. Or, as Otis Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society tells WebMD, the job is not to ration screening but to promote rational screening.

Late in 2010, the USPSTF said women at low risk of breast cancer should put off getting regular mammograms until age 50. That totally confused most U.S. women, who have been told over and over again to start at age 40.

The controversy continued in 2011 when the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) said women in their 40s should have a mammogram every year, just like older women.

In another confusing change, the USPSTF this year said women under age 21 do not need cervical cancer screening, and that all women need less frequent screening than previously recommended.

This obviously is a category that will continue to be as important in 2012 as in 2011.

Vaccine/Autism Study a Fraud

In 1998, a scientific study seemed to confirm a horrible theory. It found evidence that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine could cause autism in perfectly healthy children.

The study didn't prove anything, but it fueled an anti-vaccine movement that kept many children from receiving the vaccine. As recently as last year, measles and mumps outbreaks in the U.S. and in Europe could be traced to parents afraid to vaccinate their children.

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