Mammograms detect benign cancers which distress women research finds
Feb.18, Australia: Although mammography screening can reduce woman’s risk of dying from breast cancer, it also detects cancers that would never have presented clinically, or caused woman harm, during her lifetime, a research done by the University of Sydney found said.
Women in Australia might be less likely to undergo breast cancer screening if they knew it carried a risk of them being diagnosed and treated for harmless disease, the research said.
An author of the research and public health professor, Kirsten McCaffery, said that receiving treatments for these benign cancers could harm women physically and emotionally. He said that with radiotherapy increasing risk of heart disease and the diagnosis causing psychological distress.
“If you have a potentially lethal cancer, the harms of treatment are worth it,” McCaffery said.
But if it’s a cancer that will never cause harm, you’re taking unnecessary risks. We know that for every woman diagnosed with breast cancer, three will be over diagnosed and over treated, whether through surgery, radiation or hormone replacement therapy. Women ought to be given the opportunity to make an informed choice, the research said.
Researchers identified 817 women in NSW aged between 48 and 50 who were due to receive information from Breast Screen Australia to prepare them for their first mammogram, and who did not have a family history of breast cancer.
Of those, 409 women received a resource from the researchers with information about the outcomes of breast cancer screening over the past two decades compared with no screening, breast cancer reduction, over-detection, and false positives.
The remaining 408 women received the same resource, but with all references to over-detection removed.
Researchers found 74 percent of women who received the information about over-detection said they intended to get a breast cancer screen, compared with 87 percent of the women who were not informed about over-detection.
The study published in the prestigious international medical journal the Lancet on Wednesday said, “Our resources were designed to support women to make informed choices, not push them towards or away from screening.”
“The results underscore the importance of striving to meet the ethical responsibility to adequately inform women and help them make screening decisions according to their informed preferences.”
Those women who received the most information were also less worried about breast cancer, the study found.
McCaffery said, in this day and age women deserve to receive full health information about any intervention that affects them.”
But Breast Cancer Network Australia’s policy manager Kathy Wells said that the benefits of breast screening “far outweighed” the negatives.
The research did not change her opinion that all women should receive regular mammograms. Breast Screen Australia recommends women aged between 50 and 74 be screened every two years.
The Oslo Times