Is breast-cancer screening less effective than we thought?

I was browsing through the news today and this article from the New York Times immediately caught my attention. In


I was browsing through the news today and this article from the New York Times immediately caught my attention. In it, the Times reports that the American Cancer Society, which has been a supporter of cancer screening, is now saying that the benefits of screening for some cancers, such as breast and prostate cancers, may have been overemphasized.

They’re rejigging their message about regular screenings like mammograms, partly because a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that while there’s been a 40 percent increase in breast cancer diagnoses, there’s only been a 10 percent decrease in cancers that spread from the breasts to other parts of the body. As the article reports, researchers say that screening technology may be leading doctors to treat cancers that don’t need to be treated, while more serious cancers may develop between screenings. While researchers don’t want the screening process to be abolished, they stress that people should be informed of all the risks and benefits.

All this new evidence that breast self-exams (BSEs) and even mammography may not be as effective as we once believed begs the question: What should we do now? The message has always been to know your breasts by getting regular mammograms, and I think that message has given us a sense of control over what is a terrifying disease. If I act responsibly and get screened regularly, early detection will save my life. However, this new research shows that’s not necessarily true.

But it’s not necessarily untrue either. A biostatistician at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York was interviewed in the article as saying that while public screening isn’t a cure-all, it’s still a useful practice. And some of you have been treated successfully for breast cancer because of early detection. Reader Zubeda Jaffer writes, ‘I was diagnosed with cancer in 1997. I didn’t find the lump by doing BSE; even my doctor didn’t feel it. I went for mammogram and they found it deep down in my left breast.’

Hmmm. Well, this is all clear as mud. Are you sufficiently bamboozled? I’d love to know what you think about this new information. Will you keep up with your regular screening?  Do you plan to discuss this new research with your doctor?

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