In The News: A Amazing Breast Cancer Discovery

Study suggest some invasive cancers may go away without treatment.

The New York Times (11/25, A19, Kolata) reports that, according to a study published Nov. 24 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, “invasive cancers may sometimes go away without treatment and in larger numbers than anyone ever believed.” For the study, investigators “compared two groups of women ages 50 to 64 in two consecutive six-year periods.” One group consisted “of 109,784 women [who were] followed from 1992 to 1997. … The second group of 119,472 women was followed from 1996 to 2001.” In addition, because “mammography screening in Norway was initiated in 1996,” participants from the first group were offered screenings “in 1996 and 1997…and nearly every woman accepted.” In the second group, “nearly all accepted” offers for screenings as well.

Among those who had “more frequent mammograms,” the researchers discovered “22 percent more breast cancers,” compared to those who were not regularly screened, USA Today (11/25, Szabo) adds. H. Gilbert Welch of the VA Outcomes Group and co-author of the study said that the study’s findings raise “the possibility that mammograms found cancers that eventually went away — and never needed to be treated.” The authors noted, however, that although “it’s possible that breast cancers can regress…their study doesn’t provide a definitive answer.”

WebMD (11/24, Doheny) noted that, according to Robert A. Smith, Ph.D., director of cancer screening for the American Cancer Society, the study’s “conclusion that more than one in five invasive breast cancers is destined to regress without incident if not detected by mammography [the 22 percent figure cited in the study] is nothing more than an overreaching leap in logic.” Smith also stressed the benefits of regular mammography. Still, Robert Kaplan, Ph.D., the Wasserman Distinguished Professor and chair of the department of health services at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Public Health, said that “the findings should not be dismissed,” noting “how little experts know about the natural history of breast cancer.” Bloomberg News (11/25, Cortez) also covered the story.

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