Can breast cancer ever be diagnosed too early? New study says yes

When it comes to breast cancer, the earlier it's caught, the more effective the treatment...or so we all thought. But now, a new study from Annals of Internal Medicine has concluded that there are cases when breast cancer is diagnosed too early.

According to the study, between 15 and 25 percent of breast cancers discovered after mammograms actually wouldn't have caused a woman any problems. This is called "overdiagnosis," which occurs when doctors choose to treat a tumor that is technically cancer but will not grow or kill. 

 "It is a tumor that can be cured with treatment but does not need to be treated and/or cured," Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer society, explained to CNN.  


The study uses data collected from a screening program in Norway, which took place over the course of a decade. Researchers analyzed around 40,000 breast cancer cases in total, and found that between 1,169 and 1,948 of those women were overdiagnosed and received unnecessary treatments.

Read more ¿Que Mas?: New study finds that breast cancer after pregnancy is safe

But though undergoing unneeded cancer treatment is dangerous, waiting for a later diagnosis is just as unsafe. So what is a woman to do? I think the first crucial step for every female is realizing that mammograms can pick up both fatal and non-fatal cancers and that the diagnosis process can potentially lead to unneccesary treatment. 

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That being said, I also believe that should a woman be unfortunate enough to discover a tumor, then there's no reason to hold off on treatment--  even if it does end up being a case of overdiagnosis. Waiting to see what happens is life threatening when it comes to cancer. So why wait? With treatment, you'll be cured regardless of the type of tumor and you won't have to spend countless worrying or wondering, "What if?" And though it might be scary, until there's another way to determine exactly what kind of cancerous tumor you're dealing with, undergoing treatment is a necessary precaution for you and your family. Better to be safe than sorry!

What do you think of the study? Would you get treatment if you weren't sure if it was necessary?

Image via Alex E. Proimos/flickr

Topics: diseases  latino health  womens health


on Apr 30, 2013 at 11:42 PM

While it's important to understand the risks associated with a mammogram, I'm afraid that this study will deter more women from getting one. Women should seriously weigh their options when it comes to being proactive about breast health.

Latina women in the US are being diagnosed with breast cancer at a later stage with less chance of survival. If overdiagnosis is a great concern, I would suggest getting a second opinion but please do not let this study deter you from getting regular mammograms.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30 with no family history of the disease. Fortunately, I was diagnosed with an early stage IIB triple negative breast cancer.

One other thing I want to point out about this article is an inaccuracy: "With treatment, you'll be cured regardless of the type of tumor." Every breast cancer is not curable. This is particularly important, as Latina women are being diagnosed at a later stage when breast cancer is harder to treat.

Here are some recent articles with more information:

Language barrier puts Latina breast cancer patients at risk:

Poor women who delay breast cancer treatment less likely to survive:

Minorities Less Prone to Think They'll Get Cancer: Study:


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