Study finds unnecessary breast cancer treatment

Posted at 7:39 AM, Jan 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-11 08:39:44-05

It's hard to imagine getting chemotherapy or radiation without really needing it. But a new study says that may be more common than we think. It found a third of breast cancer patients are treated unnecessarily.

Myra Robinson didn't know what to think when doctors told her she had DCIS.

"Complete devastation," she says she recalls feeling.

It has some but not all the characteristics of cancer, and  it's non-life threatening. Still doctors consider it to be the earliest stage of breast cancer and many begin treating it as they would early invasive cancers.

"I could get a lumpectomy, she says. "They were going to do an MRI to make sure there weren't any more places impacted."

Now, a study is raising concerns about how women are treated after breast cancer screenings. It found one in three women with breast cancer detected by a mammogram is treated unnecessarily, because tests found tumors that are so slow-growing that they are essentially harmless.

Researchers in Denmark looked at breast cancer patients over 30 years and found breast tumors detected in screenings are over diagnosed 14.7 percent to 38.6 percent of the time.

However, another study from Denmark estimates over diagnosis rates at only about 2.3 percent.

Still, some organizations believe treatment like radiation can damage the heart or even cause new cancers. 

Robinson decided to get a mastectomy, but says it's a personal decision made harder because there's so much information and potential confusion out there.

"I chose it because of what was right for me at the time and I'm glad I did it," Robinson says. "But definitely understand that there's women out there that do nothing and just let it sit there and that's fine. I didn't feel that way."

She says listen to the research but get a second maybe even third opinion. And always be your own advocate.

Although mammograms don't find all tumors the Department of Health and Human Services says they reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer by up to 31 percent for women ages 40 to 69.