Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Is Australia's breast screening program leading to overdiagnosis?

Since Australia began offering free breast screening in 1991 under what is now know as the BreastScreen Australia program, there has been a 28% reduction in breast cancer mortality which has been largely credited to the program. However some researchers believe the reduction is a result of improved treatments, and that many women are being over diagnosed, leading to unnecessary and damaging treatments as a result.

While early detection of breast cancer can save lives, screening mammography can also detect breast abnormalities that contain cancer cells but might never grow, or grow so slowly that the patient dies from other causes not related to the cancer.

Professor Robin Bell of the SPHPM says breast abnormalities are treated the same as a malignant breast lump. “They will have the same patterns of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, endocrine therapy and so forth, as someone who has a cancer which would have gone on to threaten their life.”

“If you have a life-threatening disease, weighing up the harms and benefits of these treatments is one thing, but if you do not have a condition which is going to affect you clinically in your lifetime, all of these interventions actually represent harm,” said Professor Bell.

Unfortunately there is no current means to determine who is being over diagnosed.

The full article can be found here.

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