Our feel-good war on breast cancer

This appeared two weeks ago in the NYT Sunday magazine, and it pretty much validated what I thought all along: Too many mammograms and overtreatment of breast cancers that were never a real threat.

Recently, a survey of three decades of screening published in November in The New England Journal of Medicine found that mammography’s impact is decidedly mixed: it does reduce, by a small percentage, the number of women who are told they have late-stage cancer, but it is far more likely to result in overdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment, including surgery, weeks of radiation and potentially toxic drugs. And yet, mammography remains an unquestioned pillar of the pink-ribbon awareness movement. Just about everywhere I go — the supermarket, the dry cleaner, the gym, the gas pump, the movie theater, the airport, the florist, the bank, the mall — I see posters proclaiming that “early detection is the best protection” and “mammograms save lives.” But how many lives, exactly, are being “saved,” under what circumstances and at what cost? Raising the public profile of breast cancer, a disease once spoken of only in whispers, was at one time critically important, as was emphasizing the benefits of screening. But there are unintended consequences to ever-greater “awareness” — and they, too, affect women’s health.

Breast cancer in your breast doesn’t kill you; the disease becomes deadly when it metastasizes, spreading to other organs or the bones. Early detection is based on the theory, dating back to the late 19th century, that the disease progresses consistently, beginning with a single rogue cell, growing sequentially and at some invariable point making a lethal leap. Curing it, then, was assumed to be a matter of finding and cutting out a tumor before that metastasis happens.

It’s a really interesting and informative article, and at some point, it will be relevant to you or someone you love.

Thanks to Thomas Soldan.

2 thoughts on “Our feel-good war on breast cancer

  1. Jolie was positive for one of the genes that put her in the 65% chance group. She IS getting older, middle aged and that is time women with this gene mutation will have breast cancer. She did the right thing for herself, but, unfortunately, other that would rather do as she did can’t afford the same kind of care.
    The new recommendations of breast screening, that came out in 2009, have been very confusing for a lot of women. But, in a nut shell, the recommendations, for women over 40 to the age of 50, were changed to avoid unnecessary radiation from screening, if you have very few factors for developing cancer, the recommendations REDUCE a woman’s unnecessary cancer causing radiation exposure to screening.
    It’s a real interesting topic….

  2. I highly recommend the documentary “Pink Ribbon Inc” on the Breast Cancer industrial complex.

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