October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month; however, a recent study shows that many women are not aware of the issue of overdiagnosis and overtreatment of breast cancer. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota surveyed a representative sample of 429 women in the United States, all of whom had regular mammograms and were between the ages of 35 to 55. Only 16.5% were aware of the dangers of overdiagnosis, and only 18% were aware that overtreatment of breast cancer is also an issue.
What exactly is overdiagnosis? Is that even possible? Either a patient has breast cancer or they don't, right? Not exactly. Some cancers are so slow growing that there is no chance they could cause a problem during a woman's lifespan. What about overtreatment? It's much the same. Some forms of breast cancer won't ever become an issue, but yet are still treated with radiation, chemotherapy or surgery, placing the patient at a much higher risk of death or complications than their cancer ever would have. Some experts point to routine screenings like mammograms as the reason for over treatment and over diagnosis. Mammograms are so standard and so strongly recommended that it's difficult for patients to believe that the downside could be the risks of unnecessary surgery and treatments that pose more danger than the disease itself.