It’s the end of October, so by now you’ve seen swaths of pink products by the checkouts of every major supermarket chain in the country. The pink, of course, is a symbol of breast cancer awareness that shows support and strength for breast cancer victims, survivors, patients, and their family and friends. While most people are familiar with the disease, many aren’t aware of the overtreatment of early-stage breast cancer.
More than 60 percent of all women over 40 in the U.S. have had a mammogram in the past two years. Of these women, 20 percent have had their mammograms detect ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS - also known as Stage 0 breast cancer . More than 60,000 cases of DCIS are diagnosed every year, but these diagnoses don’t necessarily mean breast cancer – for example, the lumps found may not be cancerous and can instead be removed via a lumpectomy .
Yet these cases are often treated as exactly that: breast cancer. These false positives and over-diagnoses put women at risk for further medical procedures, not to mention psychological distress, resulting in needless upset, anxiety, worry, and fear for women as well as their families and friends. And in addition to the human cost is the very high financial cost of overtreatment, to the tune of $4 billion each year .
It’s important to note that breast cancer screening has the potential to save lives; however, both the emotional and the economic impacts of false-positive mammography results and breast cancer over-diagnoses needs to be considered .
Recently, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) addressed this by changing its mammography guidelines for the first time since 2009, and suggesting that screening is most beneficial for women between the ages of 50 to 75 years of age, and that these women should be screened on a biannual basis . The new guidelines, which have also been adopted by the American Cancer Society, reaffirm USPSTF’s 2009 guidance that women between the ages of 40-49 should consult with their healthcare provider to weigh the benefits and risks associated with screening . For women older than 75, the USPSTF has found that evidence is insufficient in assessing the benefits and harms of mammography for this demographic .
A breast cancer diagnosis is not one-size-fits-all. Should you find yourself facing a breast cancer diagnosis – false or otherwise - talk to your healthcare provider about the different treatment options available and which one may be the best fit for you.
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The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR ®) is a national non-profit based in Washington D.C. that is widely recognized as the thought-leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease and is dedicated to transforming women’s health through science, advocacy, and education.