Infant Screening Program for Neuroblastoma Raises Controversy in Germany

BERLIN (Reuters Health) Mar 20 – The early publication of details of a pilot screening programme for neuroblastoma has caused a row in Germany after initial drafts condemned it as having done more harm than good.
The newspaper 'Sueddeutsche Zeitung' carried a report on the test programme, which involved 3.5 million babies around 12 months of age, more than a million of whom were tested for early signs of neuroblastoma by urine testing.

The report, compiled from several abstracts due to be presented at a cancer conference in Berlin but which have not been published, concluded that all fatalities in the test group were connected with therapy rather than cancer.

Analysis of the urine tests, which were conducted between 1995 and 2000, showed that there was much over-diagnosis of tumours. Of the positive urine tests, around two-thirds, representing 100 infants, were cases where the cancerous cells would have disappeared without treatment.

"While these children and their parents would have lived a carefree life without the early diagnosis, they were labelled with this verdict of 'cancer,' with all the psychological consequences it brings," read the article published on March 19.

"Apart from that, the children often had to undergo operations and chemotherapy which they would have been spared without the early diagnosis. For some children, the therapy was more dangerous than the tumour itself."

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