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Mammograms Linked To Overdiagnosis: One Third Of Breast Cancer Patients Treated Unnecessarily

Update Date: Jan 11, 2017 09:30 AM EST
mammogram
Widespread breast cancer screening may detect more small, slow-growing tumors that are unlikely to be fatal, a new study says. (Photo : Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

For years, mammograms have been widely used to detect breast cancer, the test is linked to over diagnosis, exposing many women to treatment options they do not really need.

However, in a new study by researchers at the Nordic Cochrane Center and Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark, widespread breast cancer screening may detect more small, slow-growing tumors that are unlikely to be fatal. Hence, the study highlights how routing screening may lead to over diagnosis of non-aggressive tumors.

The researchers followed thousands of women in Denmark over more than a decade and found that about one-third of the abnormalities detected by mammograms may never cause health problems such as breast cancer. This may lead to exposing women to treatment options that are not necessary.

"Overdiagnosis means that healthy women get unnecessary breast cancer diagnoses," Dr. Karsten Juhl Jorgensen, lead author of the study, said as reported by Fox News.

"A breast cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event for the woman and her family, with substantial implications for their quality of life," Jorgensen added by email. "It also leads to overtreatment with surgery, radiotherapy and sometimes chemotherapy - we know these treatments have serious, sometimes lethal, consequences," she added.

Published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the study involved comparing the frequency of advanced breast tumors in Danish women ages 50 to 69 years old, who were screened and who weren't screened.

The researchers concluded that one out of every three breast cancer diagnosis in the screened women group possibly represented over diagnosis, which is defined as the detection of a tumor that would likely never cause any symptom if left alone.

However, over diagnosis often lead to treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, which could harm the women without giving any benefit.

"I think breast screening in its current form is no longer a good way to spend resources," coauthor Dr. Karsten Juhl Jørgensen, deputy director of the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen, told Forbes.

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