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Is breast cancer overdiagnosed in the U.S.?

A new study has garnered significant attention from the medical community in New Jersey and throughout the country. Taking on the controversial debate over breast cancer and mammograms, the study reportedly found that women are actually being overdiagnosed with breast cancer, with a significant potential for harm from unnecessary chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

The study was completed through an analysis of approximately 40,000 cases of invasive breast cancer, dating back before mammograms were available and before Norway introduced a breast cancer screening program. Of the 40,000 cases studied, nearly 8,000 were detected after routine screening began.

Researchers found that between 1,169 and 1,948 of the women studied were overdiagnosed, and underwent medical treatment that they did not need. It is likely that these rates are higher in the U.S., because American women start undergoing routine mammograms about 10 years earlier than Norwegian women.

Overdiagnosis is a medical term for finding tumors that are essentially noncancerous during routine screenings, and then initiating treatment without the knowledge that it is not necessary. These tumors are often small, and they either grow slowly or do not grow at all, placing the patient at no increased risk of harm or fatality.

The reason overdiagnosis so commonly occurs is that there is no real, reliable way to determine whether a tumor is dangerous or whether it is harmless. So until that tests exists, and because early detection is such a key component of successful breast cancer treatment, most medical professionals advise that women continue to undergo routine mammograms, keeping in mind the risk that they will be overdiagnosed.

If you or a loved one has suffered because of an incorrect or unnecessary breast cancer diagnosis, please contact Breslin & Breslin for a free consultation.

Source: NV Daily, "Study finds some early breast cancer overdiagnosed," Stephanie Nano, April 2, 2012

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