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053: Why more testing from Theranos won’t prevent cancer

It’s a compelling promise: take a few drops of blood, and tell the patient what hidden diseases are lurking in his body.  If only we could have an early warning system for cancer, Alzheimer’s, or myriad other diseases, then we could treat them before they took hold.

This is the narrative of Theranos, a company that wants to make medical testing affordable and fast for everyone.  They’ve taken the notion so far that they actually publish a price list for hundreds of tests right on their website.theranos price list

Recently, the company made less favorable headlines when the Wall Street Journal revealed that many of the tests were performed on industry standard equipment, rather than the space-age technology Theranos markets.

The company’s troubles deepened when federal regulators announced plans to revoke the license of one of its lab facilities and to ban CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes from the industry for two years.

But technology and regulations aside, there’s a more fundamental question we should all be asking: is wider access to routine screening a good thing?

The math says no.

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