In the News

Are doctors over-treating breast cancer?

by | June 13th, 2010

Experts debate merits of breast cancer screening, mammograms.

At a breast cancer conference March 2010 in Barcelona, experts discussed how to implement mammogram screening programs across Europe, balancing fighting cancer with the goal of targeting only those women who need to be screened.

The conferences findings on mammograms ignited a fierce debate in the United States when an influential panel recommended scaling back screening programs to begin at age 50 instead of 40 — guidelines very close to those already in Europe.

For years, officials have promoted breast cancer screening as the best way to spot the disease and save lives. Yet mammograms are far from perfect and come with an unwelcome side effect: Up to a third of women treated for breast cancer after being identified by the test don’t actually need the biopsies and drugs. Studies have shown breast cancer screening programs in countries including Britain, Canada, Denmark and Sweden routinely treat women unnecessarily. In those countries, and in much of Europe, women aged 50 to 70 get a mammogram every two years.

In the U.S. recommendations for women from age 40 to get a mammogram every year. But new proposals suggested women over 50 get a scan every two years — advice that was rejected by the American Cancer Society and other experts.

The panel spokes person, Karsten Jorgensen of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen, had this to say, “Screening has become more of a political issue than a medical one. Officials have spent so many years convincing women to get mammograms that it will be difficult to now change policies, especially with a very vocal and powerful breast cancer lobby. There is a lot of over-treatment happening, and it is time to re-evaluate whether the benefits really outweigh the harms. The over-diagnosis problem has been downplayed because people really want to believe screening works.” She went on to say, “Most women who participate overestimate the chances they will benefit,” Jorgensen said. “If we were basing this decision on rationality alone, we would probably come to a different conclusion.”

Opponents of the panel’s recommendations point out that numerous studies show the earlier a breast cancer is caught, the more possibility you have that with good treatment, you won’t die from this disease.

Dr Mathews continues to recommend the American Cancer Society guidelines of a screening mammogram at age 35 with yearly screening starting at age 40.

J. Kyle Mathews, MD

Plano OB Gyn Associates

Plano Urogynecology Associates

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Category: Gynecology, Menopause, News & Education |


Dr. J. Kyle Mathews is an expert in the field of Urogynecology, minimally invasive laparoscopic and robotic surgery, and reconstructive gynecologic surgery. Dr. Mathews is board certified and a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology as well as the American College of Surgeons. With over two decades of experience, Dr. Mathews is one of the most experienced surgeons in north Texas.

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