A third of women with breast cancer have been unnecessarily treated for the condition, a new study finds.
Millions of women have been subjected to aggressive interventions despite tumors that were unlikely to threaten the life of the patient, according to a study by a group of Danish researchers published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Specifically, the study estimates between 14 percent and 38 percent of “screen-detected” tumors were mistakenly diagnosed as life-threatening.
The study sheds light on a sensitive subject in the medical community: When does removing a tumor do more harm than good?
In recent years experts have begun to challenge the efficacy of cancer prevention and treatment strategies that for decades the medical community aggressively promoted, including mammograms and the “when in doubt, cut it out” approach to tumors.
The study received a strong endorsement from Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.
“By treating all the cancers that we see, we are clearly saving some lives,” Brawley tells Kaiser Health News. “But we’re also ‘curing’ some women who don’t need to be cured.”
Fran Visco of the National Breast Cancer Coalition similarly says that unnecessary interventions have killed women who would not have died from the original tumor. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment are far from innocuous and can themselves lead to deadly diseases, including cancer!
However, the American College of Radiology disputes the findings and isn’t backing off its support for widespread cancer screenings. In remarks to Kaiser, Dr. Debra Monticciolo, who heads the group’s breast cancer imagine committee, says that such studies will put public health at risk by confusing women about whether they should seek treatment.
Related: Study: Mammograms don't help
The debate over screenings is not unique to breast cancer. Medical authorities are increasingly questioning the widespread testing of men for prostate cancer. Nevertheless, many doctors continue to order up tests for patients, including elderly patients who are extremely unlikely to benefit from an aggressive intervention.