At 25, I’m not in the right age bracket to line up for a mammogram but when my GP asks me if I want a breast exam, I’m all for it. Poke ‘em, prod ‘em, touch away! I don’t care. Because it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?
Researchers are now suggesting that breast screening could be causing more problems than it’s actually solving. They say that women are being ‘over diagnosed’ and subsequently treated for breast cancer unnecessarily.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports:
While Australia’s BreastScreen program is believed to be saving hundreds of lives each year, researchers now estimate about a third of cancers it detects would not make them ill. This means thousands of women are potentially being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer unnecessarily.
Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia this week, epidemiologist Alexandra Barratt and GP Paul Glasziou said Australian women were not at present providing informed consent for mammograms because they were being given inadequate information about the potential for ”overdiagnosis”.
Professor Barratt of the University of Sydney and Professor Glasziou, of Bond University, said that although some researchers were still debating the rate of overdiagnosis, there was enough evidence now to decide if policymakers, experts or the women targeted for screening should judge whether the benefits outweigh the harms.
But how can there even BE such a thing as being overcautious when it comes to your health?
Breast Screen Victoria has weighed in on the debate. According to their website:
Overdiagnosis is a current topic of debate in the media.
The BreastScreen Australia Evaluation Report June 2009 concluded that the program has been successful in reducing mortality from breast cancer at the current participation rate of 56% in the target age group of 50 – 69 years by approximately 21 to 28%. It is acknowledged that this benefit is a result of routine screening combined with significant improvements in surgery and drug treatments.
However, all population screening programs acknowledge that a small percentage of the cancers detected would not have led to death or caused symptoms if left untreated. Overdiagnosis is the term applied to these cancers. Some people debating this issue say that the diagnosis and subsequent treatment of these cancers is harmful. In an effort to reduce their risk of a life threatening cancer in the future, some women receive treatment that might not have been necessary and so for them, the harm could outweigh the benefits.
A few years ago, a Government review of Australia’s breast cancer screening program found that “while the program was saving lives and should continue, it should be closed to women aged 40 to 44 and to those over 75 because of doubts about the balance of benefits and harms for them.”
While there has apparently been little or no action from the Government is response to that review, debate on the issue has not stopped.
We’re keen to know your thoughts.
How often do you have a breast screen? Do you think women should be informed about the risk of ‘over diagnosis’? Should the Government alter the age bracket for who is eligible to have breast screening so that women in low risk age-groups are not being ‘over diagnosed’?