Sunday, July 12, 2009

Breast cancer patients are overtreated

LONDON - One in three breast cancer patients identified in public screening programs may be treated unnecessarily, a new study says.

After the screening programs began, there are more cases of breast cancer picked up, the study showed. If a screening program is working, there should also be a drop in the number of advanced cancer cases detected in older women, since their cancers should theoretically have been caught earlier when they were screened.

However, Jorgensen and Gotzsche found the national breast cancer screening systems, which usually test women aged between 50 and 69, simply reported thousands more cases than previously identified.

Overall, Jorgensen and Gotzsche found that one third of the women identified as having breast cancer didn't actually need to be treated.

Harmful consequences to screening
Some cancers never cause symptoms or death, and can grow too slowly to ever affect patients. As it is impossible to distinguish between those and deadly cancers, any identified cancer is treated. But the treatments can have harmful side effects and be psychologically scarring.

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