Is Breast Cancer Overtreatment a Problem?

A report in the scientific journal Health Affairs estimates that the U.S. spends $4 billion a year “on unnecessary medical costs due to mammograms that generate false alarms, and on treatment of certain breast tumors unlikely to cause problems,” the AP reports.

The study “breaks the cost down as follows: $2.8 billion resulting from false-positive mammograms and another $1.2 billion attributed to breast cancer overdiagnosis. That’s the treatment of tumors that grow slowly or not at all, and are unlikely to develop into life-threatening disease during a woman’s lifetime.”

“Breast cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer among American women, claiming nearly 41,000 lives a year. Annual mammograms starting at age 40 have long been considered standard for preventive care, because cancer is easier to treat if detected early. But recently there’s been disagreement about regular screening for women in their 40s. It parallels the medical debate about the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening for men.”

However, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation notes that while mammograms “are not perfect tests, BCRF’s scientific leadership… join the large majority of the scientific community in recommending that women of average risk take current screening guidelines—including annual mammograms starting at age 40—seriously.”

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