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Breast cancer treatment queried

ONE in three breast cancer patients identified in public screening programs may be treated unnecessarily, according to a new study.

Karsten Jorgensen and Peter Gotzsche of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen analyzed breast cancer trends at least seven years before and after government-run screening programs for breast cancer started in parts of Australia, Britain, Canada, Norway and Sweden. The research was published in the BMJ, once known as the British Medical Journal.

Once screening programs began, more cases of breast cancer were inevitably picked up, the study showed.

If a screening program was working, there should also be a drop in the number of advanced cases detected in older women, since their cancers should theoretically had been caught earlier when they were screened.

But Jorgensen and Gotzsche found the national breast cancer screening systems, which usually test women aged between 50 and 69, simply reported thousands more cases than previously identified.

Overall, Jorgensen and Gotzsche found that a third of the women identified as having breast cancer did not actually need to be treated.

Some cancers never cause symptoms or death. As it is impossible to distinguish between these and deadly growths, any identified cancer is treated. But the treatments can have harmful side effects.

"This information needs to get to women so they can make an informed choice," Jorgensen said. "There is a significant harm in making women cancer patients without good reason."


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