7 AUGUST 2004, Page 25

Value of cancer checks

From Dr Robert Huddart

Sir: Brendan O'Neill in his article 'What a load of b4,114

While testicular cancer has a high cure rate, this has not always been the case. As a physician caring for such men, I regard each and every death as an individual tragedy and doubly so if it was avoidable by earlier detection.

Advanced disease also requires more intensive treatment, which causes more side effects. So why wait until cancer spreads when a cure is less certain and the potential for side effects greater?

We are not trying to scare men, make them anxious or obsessive about their genitalia. We want them to know their bodies and to encourage them to go to their GP if they find something out of the ordinary, so that they can benefit from successful therapies before it is too late. Surely we can all agree that this is a reasonable objective.

Robert Huddart

Everyman, The Institute of Cancer Research, London SW7

From David Crosby Sir: Brendan O'Neill is quite right. The actual value of mass screening for testicular cancer by self-examination is very iffy, to say the least, and may well be doing much more harm than good. There is certainly no sound objective evidence of its value.

The same could well be said of most other forms of medical screening and 'check-up examinations', many of which have become industries on which thousands depend for their livelihoods, and are therefore passionately defended by their providers.

1 have heard it said that to a dedicated screener a healthy person is one who simply hasn't been screened carefully enough. Personally, I only consult my doctor when I have reason to believe that there might be something wrong.

David Crosby (retired sutgeon)