The Secret is Out. Breast Cancer Problem Not Solved with Early Detection

A vigorous debate over cancer screening, and mammography in particular, has erupted in the media and across the blogosphere this week.  Two things prompted the firestorm.  The first, was a commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Rethinking Screening for Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer.”  The gist of the article is that after two decades of screening, more cancers are being found “early” but there hasn’t been the expected drop in later stage cancers.  Screening for these cancers hasn’t worked, like it has for colon cancer or cervical cancer.  Not only is mammography not finding the lethal breast cancers, but it’s leading to substantial overdiagnosis and overtreatment for non-threatening cancers.

What catapulted this article into the news, which isn’t saying anything really new or unknown by scientists, is that the Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society was asked about the article by the NYTimes and gave a stunning response.  Dr. Otis Brawley said, “I’m admitting that American medicine has overpromised when it comes to screening. The advantages to screening have been exaggerated.”

Now the ACS and others are rushing to get out statements to reassure women that nothing has changed and they do still need to get those mammograms!  It’s like the cat got out of the bag and now they are trying their darndest to stuff it back in!  But I hope the public heard the message – they deserve to know what the scientists have known for years.  Screening mammography is just not doing a good job.  And it certainly isn’t the “cure” or answer to our problems with breast cancer.  What we really need is research on how to distinguish between the non-threatening cancers and the threatening ones, which often aren’t even picked up by mammography.

For more information on the real evidence read the statement on mammography released today by the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

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