Mammograms May Lead to Unnecessary Treatment


Several women underwent unnecessary treatment after a mammogram

A Danish study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that one in three women with breast cancer detected by a mammogram is most probably undergoing unnecessary treatment. Screening tests usually find tumors that are growing incredibly slow and are basically harmless. This study rekindled the debate over the importance of early detection.

Dr. Otis Brawley, member of the American Cancer Society, declared that some women were rather harmed than saved by mammograms that led to surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy that was not actually compulsory. He agrees with the researchers that believe not all breast cancer tumors represent a life threat. Some early tumors may stop growing or even shrink.

Although the experts have held many debates on overdiagnosis, women who actually undergo cancer screenings don’t know that some of the tumors may not be so dangerous. The American College of Radiology admits that some mammograms may lead to unnecessary treatment, but these cases happen quite seldom. Studies found the overdiagnosis rates to be of 2.3 percent.

Dr. Debra Monticciolo, member of the American College of Radiology, argues against these studies. Since the chances of overdiagnosis are small, what the studies only do is leave women confused about how breast cancer should be treated. The sooner the tumor is discovered, the easier it is for it to be treated and cured. But the consequences of unnecessary treatment are quite grave.

Radiation is dangerous for the health of those undergoing it and even for the ones working in the field. It can damage the heart or even cause new tumors. Carolina Hinestrosa developed soft-tissue sarcoma, a tumor caused by radiation of an early breast cancer tumor, and died at the age of 50.

Opinions on mammograms are of all sorts and kinds. Women have always been informed that early detection diminishes the risk of an early death. Mammograms do not discover all tumors, but they caused the death risk to drop with 25 or even 31 percent among women of ages between 40 and 69. However, women with benign tumors ended up undergoing biopsies and different treatments that were not necessary.

The debates on the subject of mammograms are fiery. The problem has two sides. On one hand, there is the unnecessary hurry to treat a benign tumor without a more profound study. On the other hand, there is the high number of cancers cured like that and the decreasing rates on early death. Maybe a progress in medical technology will make possible the prevention of unnecessary treatments and save only the lives that need saving.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons