Breast cancer awareness is an important part of women’s health, and early detection saves lives. Unfortunately, increased awareness and easily accessible screening processes sometimes lead to unnecessary treatments. Protection from both sides of this ugly disease is aided by arming oneself with solid information on breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Be aware of breast cancer risk, but don't let panic drive treatment decisions. See the difference below...
Breast cancer deaths have been on a steady decline since the early ’90s, thanks to improved diagnostic and treatment options. Mammograms are able to detect many tumors before they have the chance to spread to other parts of the body, which significantly improves prognosis. However, mammograms also flag tumors that aren’t as dangerous as they look.
For every 100,000 breast cancer diagnoses, 132 are overdiagnosed. This usually occurs when a person has a tumor that’s unlikely to ever have a negative impact on their health or when a person has a noninvasive form of cancer, like ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
Most commonly, overdiagnosis happens when a person has DCIS, which is the presence of abnormal cells within a milk duct of a breast. DCIS is considered an early form of breast cancer, but is a noninvasive cancer - that means it hasn’t spread outside the milk duct and, according to the MayoClinic.org, has a low chance of becoming invasive, although it is possible.
But many cases of DCIS are so slow-growing they pose no risk of developing into anything serious. These cases have been commonly treated like actual invasive cancers, with countless patients undergoing unnecessary surgeries, chemotherapies, and radiation treatments. Sadly, many of these patients would have been fine without any treatment at all.
Turning the Tables
Some researchers have taken on this dilemma, and a recent study has uncovered a test that can detect which DCIS cases will become invasive. This will allow the roughly 70% of patients who will not likely develop serious disease to forego toxic, sometimes deadly, chemotherapy treatments.
Some new tests are also helping to predict which cancers will recur, while others look for markers that can help fine tune treatment decisions. Hopefully, these advances will reduce the impact breast cancer has on patients and their families.
No one doubts that breast cancer detection is important to battling the disease, but so is making sure one doesn’t undergo excessive or unnecessary treatments. If anyone is concerned about overtreatment, they should get a second opinion. It’s easy to make treatment decisions based on fear, so being armed with information is a smart choice since it could spare someone a lot of unnecessary worry, pain and costs.