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Apr 21, 2017

A third of breast cancer patients treated unnecessarily

An estimated 253,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in women this year, attributing to over 41,000 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

Mammograms can effectively detect breast cancer in the early stages, however, the early detection message may have created an urgency in some cases that isn’t really there.

There have been medical malpractice cases filed around the country where a physician inaccurately diagnoses a patient with a condition or illness that he or she doesn’t have, such as breast cancer. This misdiagnosis can result in patients suffering from harm in the form of anxiety, emotion distress, physical and mental medical issues, along with expenses due to unnecessary treatment.

Breast cancer screening research

Recent research shows that one in three women with breast cancer detected by a mammogram is treated unnecessarily; the screening tests uncovered tumors which are so slow-growing, they’re effectively harmless. That’s the finding of a recent Danish study published in Annals of Internal Medicine, which has rekindled the discussion on the value of early detection and breast cancer testing.

Karsten Juhl Jørgensen at the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen and his colleagues analyzed the incidence of breast cancer and the death rates in Denmark, where screening was introduced in the 1990s. The researchers looked at the rate of overdiagnosis by comparing the number of early-stage and advanced breast tumors prior to and subsequent to Denmark initiating mammograms. If mammogram screenings work as they are intended, the number of small, curable breast tumors should increase—while decreasing the number of large cancers by about the same amount.

The study concluded that breast cancer screening wasn’t associated with a reduction in the incidence of advanced cancer. The research showed that 1 in every 3 invasive tumors and cases of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) diagnosed in women offered screening represented a possible overdiagnosis. According to the American Cancer Society, DCIS is the earliest stage of breast cancer.

Patients with DCIS typically are given the same treatment as women with early invasive cancers. Although DCIS isn’t life-threatening, most physicians treat it to prevent it from becoming invasive.

Harm caused by cancer screenings

Jørgensen’s study raises the notion that some women who feel their lives were saved by mammograms were in fact harmed by cancer screenings that led to surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy that wasn’t required or necessary.

Dr. Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, responded to the study by noting, “By treating all the cancers that we see, we are clearly saving some lives,” he said in an interview. “But we’re also ‘curing’ some women who don’t need to be cured.”

Treating women for cancer unnecessarily can endanger their health, as radiation can damage the heart or even result in new cancers.

“Women should understand these risks,” said Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, an advocacy group. “Instead, women often hear only about mammograms’ benefits.”

There are positives and negatives that go with breast cancer mammogram testing and subsequent treatment. Overdiagnosis can cause serious harm to women and should be addressed to recover damages for this mistake by doctors.

Speak to an experienced medical malpractice attorney if you or a loved one has suffered from a breast cancer misdiagnosis.


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