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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Does Mammography Result in Overtreatment?


"Breast cancer is clearly an illness, and ductal carcinoma in situ is a lesion that directly precedes invasive breast cancer," says Blackwood, who is an assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center in Philadelphia. "If we can eradicate ductal carcinoma in situ, the potential for an invasive breast cancer to develop from that lesion doesn't exist."

Woloshin's survey also found that the vast majority of women are aware that mammography can sometimes indicate an abnormality that isn't actually there, commonly referred to as a false-positive result. False-positive results can cause unnecessary anxiety, testing, and occasionally treatment, but most women surveyed said they felt such results are an acceptable part of the screening process.

The women also were asked about the safety of mammography and the perceived benefit. Overall, 92% of women thought mammography was safe, and 94% believed that women whose cancer was diagnosed by mammography benefited from being screened. Most women also believed mammography reduced the chance of dying from breast cancer, although none thought mammography reduced the risk to zero.

The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms for all women 40 years of age and older. Along with having mammograms, women should also perform monthly breast self-exams, and those 40 years of age and older should receive an exam of the breast and underarm by a health care professional each year. Any unusual nipple discharge, mass, tenderness, or dimpling of the skin should be reported to a physician immediately.

Vital Information:

  • Women may understand the importance of receiving regular mammograms, but they may not know about common abnormalities that may be detected.
  • One such abnormality is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which is a precancerous lesion that may or may not progress to breast cancer, but there isn't a consensus on how this should be managed.
  • Another common occurrence is when mammography picks up an abnormality that isn't really there, known as a false-positive.
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