Doctors Say Better Genetic Tests Could Save More Lives Than Routine Mammograms

Top doctor at the American Cancer Society says it's time to admit that mammograms are not perfect, and that doctors are treating women who don't need treatment for breast cancer. Brought to light after a new study found one third of women in Denmark being diagnosed with breast cancer through mammograms, the overdiagnosis is putting into question the use of better genetic testing for detection.

The overdiagnosis showed tumors as non-malignant cancers, or as ones that were slow-growing and not desperate for immediate treatment, NBC News reports.

"Some of those pea-sized lesions are not going to kill. Some of those pea-sized lesions are going to regress over time," Dr. Otis Brawley, medical officer at the American Cancer Society told NBC News. "We are curing people that don't need curing."

He argued that assuming every breast tumor is a killer is the equivalent of racial profiling.

"It is only by learning the limitations of mammography screening that we can learn how to apply it and save lives. That is not an argument against mammography screening," Dr. Brawley said.

A leading killer in the U.S., 200,000 women and few men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, resulting in about 40,000 fatalities. With routine mammograms helping to diagnose early detection and save millions of lives, doctors are now questioning if there are better genetic tests that could differentiate between dangerous tumors and non-dangerous growths.

"It is likely that one in every three invasive tumors and cases of DCIS diagnosed in screened women represent overdiagnosis," Dr. Karten Juhl Jørgensen of the Nordic Cachrane Centre in Copenhagen and colleagues wrote.

DCIS (ductal carcinoma in-situ) is sometimes referred to as breast cancer in stage 0. Many cancer experts argue DCIS shouldn't even be called a cancer, but identified as a risk instead.

Now the question remains if mammograms are helping to identify and reduce the risk of death from breast cancer, or are just incorrectly overdiagnosing those who don't need curing.

Dr. Brawley still urges women to attend their routine annual mammogram for screening until there are better alternatives.

"My nightmare is a woman will hear this today and say, 'Maybe I shouldn't get treated.' The answer is that by treating everybody, we clearly save some lives even if we cure some people who do not need to be cured," Dr. Brawley said.

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