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Some breast cancer cases may be diagnosed too hastily

Jan 17, 2017 | Failure to Diagnose

Mammograms are an important screening tool for breast cancer. They often allow women to receive treatment sooner and improve the chances of beating a cancerous growth. However, New York residents might be interested to learn about a recent study that suggests that mammograms could also lead to "overdiagnosis."

A Danish study published on Jan. 9 in the Annals of Internal Medicine discovered that one in three women who had breast cancer detected by mammograms were treated unnecessarily. While the women did have breast cancer, the tumors found in these cases were growing at slow rates. These slow-growing tumors were harmless enough that the radiation, surgery and chemotherapy used in these cases were not actually needed.

While there is not a dispute that some women are unnecessarily diagnosed, the rate of overdiagnosis is under question. A separate Denmark study suggests that the rate is actually only at 2.3 percent. Regardless, medical professionals and groups may have different opinions about the usefulness of mammograms because of overdiagnosis. Mammograms can save lives, but those who are treated unnecessarily also face health risks from treatments involving radiation.

Studies show that mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 25 to 31 percent for women between the ages of 40 and 69. If breast cancer is detected, physicians typically recommend full treatment as it is not always possible to determine if a tumor is benign early on.

When mammograms detect a tumor in its early stages, patients generally have more options and a higher chance of survival. The amount of options a patient has could be limited when cancer is found later or diagnosed incorrectly. Those who suffer because of a delayed diagnosis could seek compensation for negligent medical treatment.