Are we finding too much breast cancer?

Breast cancer screening has lead to an over-diagnosis of breast cancer.

Ramona Bates talks about a recent study in the BMJ, showing that there was a “52% over diagnosis of breast cancer in a populations of women who are offered organized mammography screening,” amounting to, “one in three breast cancers being over diagnosed.”

When it comes to cancer screening, it’s hard to accept the consequences of over-diagnosis. But that risk is real. As I recently wrote, “Mammograms detect a number of slow-growing tumors that will never be harmful. But because doctors cannot be sure of which cancers are dangerous, every woman with a suspicious finding is subjected to a biopsy or breast surgery. For every life saved from breast cancer, 10 more lives will be affected by the ensuing procedures.”

Dr. Bates further comments, “Each ‘unnecessary’ surgery for one of the over-diagnosed cancers puts the patient at risk for complications. Not to mention the increased cost to the healthcare system of each country.”

The answer is that we need better screening tests. Something more specific than mammography. And also, an understanding by patients that there are consequences to consider when undergoing cancer screening.

Update:
Orac over at Respectful Insolence also provides his typically thorough take on the issue.

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