To do or not to do – the Mammogram

Steven E. North, Esq.
Shari James, Paralegal

Early intervention is the key! That is the mantra of most people seeking to avoid the horrors of metastatic cancer. But a recent study now suggests that there is no advantage to finding breast cancer at its earliest stage.

A study performed on Canadian women claimed that "one in five cancers found with mammography and treated was not a threat... and did not need treatment such as chemotherapy, surgery or radiation." The February 2014 results, published in The British Medical Journal, have been met with mixed reviews. In an April 8, 2014 article in The New York Times, "Looking for Cancer, and Find It", the main concern was the fact that women may be "over-diagnosed" and were receiving unnecessary treatment.

Researchers claim that many breast cancers "grow slowly or not at all and do not require treatment." The difficulty occurs once the cancer is detected since "it is impossible to know if it dangerous" and so physicians treat them all. The question then becomes, is the worry and cost of treatment worth it? The case of overdiagnosis may be worth it to some patients, but the fear still remains that those throwing caution to overdiagnosis may "under-diagnose" or fail to treat when treatment may be necessary.

While the debate continues, countries such as Switzerland have halted regular mammograms. In the United States, physicians have become more cautious of the "one size fits all" screening and many have tailored the testing and treatment based on factors such as family history and age. This will ensure that patients are treated primarily on a case by case basis with treatment being rendered as the physician and the patient both see fit.

Even with the risk of being overly precautious with treatment, physicians should ensure that they render timely and proper care to each patient, as this will reassure patients and possibly protect the doctor against medical malpractice claims involving the failure to diagnose breast cancer.