In July, Danish researchers published a study in the British Medical Journal that one in three breast cancer diagnoses will not actually cause a problem. After examining breast cancer screening in five countries, they found that some breast cancers ‘may naturally disappear without treatment.’ They call it an ‘overdiagnosis rate of 35 percent.’
Talk about controversial! In my practice, there is a large split surrounding mammograms. Some women are incredibly diligent and go every year. Some go every few years and some absolutely refuse to go at all. There is the fear of radiation, squishing, misdiagnosis, having to get a biopsy and the idea that not knowing is better than knowing.
The problem lies in the diagnosis, of which the researchers readily admit. How does one tell between the lethal and the harmless cancers?
How do you know whether you have been overdiagnosed or properly diagnosed? And more importantly, are you willing to take that risk if you choose the former?
Patients always ask me what I would do and I tell them I believe in mammograms. I also believe in ultrasounds and thermography but at this time, there is no perfect imaging option. If stage I breast cancer is found by mammogram, there is a 95 percent 5-year survival rate. I want to be one of those odds if it were me. And if the mammogram finds something and if I have to endure a biopsy and if it turns out to be negative – then hallelujah!
As with anything, it’s ultimately your choice because they are your breasts. I repeat the paragraph above all the time because it’s my job as a doctor to inform and educate but not to force. There is a risk with anything and I recommend risking it for great odds.