I must admit that I smiled when I saw the findings from a new study that suggested that 22-27% of breast cancers could actually go away by themselves—without treatment. I have been saying this for a long time, and it was nice to see it substantiated.This is another piece of evidence that “early detection” is not always the way to prevent breast cancer deaths. It depends on the kind of cancer (there are at least six different types) as much as the timing. In this case, it appears that some of the cancers identified on mammography were so good they did not need to be found.

The findings come from an intriguing analysis of breast cancer screening data collected before and after four Norwegian countries started biennial screening mammography programs for women in 1996.

To study the impact this national screening program had on breast cancer incidence, a U.S. research group compared the number of invasive cancers that occurred over two consecutive six-year periods in two groups of women ages 50 to 64. One group of 119,000 women were offered mammography screening three times between 1996 and 2001 as part of the new program. The second group of 110,000 women was followed from 1992-1996, the six years prior to the start of the national screening program. These women were offered mammograms in 1997.

The researchers found that the incidence, or number of breast cancers found, rose substantially when the screening program was implemented. This is what they expected to see, because whenever a screening program is introduced all the cancers that would have been detected over the past few years are suddenly found. But then the incidence starts to level off, giving you a good sense of the actual rate of breast cancer in that population.

The rate seen in this group should have been the same as that seen in the group of women who were not screened. But that wasn’t the case. Much to their surprise, the researchers found that the breast cancer rate was significantly lower in the group of women who had not been part of the screening program. In fact, the unscreened group had 22% fewer invasive cancers than the screened group. This led the researchers to conclude that the women in the unscreened group must have had cancers that had gone away by themselves or “disappeared” without any treatment at all.

This is the kind of study that I love because it challenges accepted truths and makes you really think about what we know about breast cancer. We used to believe that all cancers were the same: they slowly got bigger and then spread. Treatment was the same for everyone, too. Now we know that there are about six different types of breast cancer. One of these types is referred to as “almost normal” breast cancer. Could this be the type that will disappear on its own? Or does the tissue that surrounds the tumor change in a way that makes the cancer go away? Or could it be the immune system that is successfully fighting these cancers? We have no idea! But it gives us so much to think about! If we could figure out how to tell which cancers are the ones that might go away on their own, we could just watch them. And if we figure out what causes them to go away, that could help us to develop new breast cancer treatments. The ideas are swimming in my head!

What does it mean to you? Nothing right now. I will continue to get my mammogram every year—and you should, too—because we don’t know if the finding is true and, even if it is, we have no idea which cancers will regress and which won’t. But I am happy that we now have a new path to explore in our continuous search for the truth!

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12 Responses to Disappearing Breast Cancers?

  1. Deirdre says:

    Well it made me feel like my daughter has a chance of not loosing her breasts! And it should humble some of these doc who KNOW the right way to go.

  2. Mitzie says:

    Now I am wondering if I really needed surgery and radiation to treat my 1.6cm tumor of invasive ductal cancer. Hopefully this study will offer another option becauses slash/burn/poison.

  3. Karen says:

    Does this apply to invasive lobular or just ductal. And would ductal lavage find lobular tumors?

  4. Nan Ottenritter says:

    What are the 6 types of breast cancer mentioned here? Are you referring to ER/PR receptor status. HER2 – nu status? What else? That might help educate some folks as well as myself. Thanks for all of the work you do. Nan

  5. Liz says:

    I am going to believe in this and apply Dr. Lorraine Day’s natural treatment plan for my cure and prevention. Between the radiologists, pathologists and surgeons they have us beliving the worst and fail to give nature a chance.

  6. Martie says:

    Am 2 weeks post-op lumpectomy,invasive ductal. o.7 cm tumor,ER/PR+,HER2-Feeling great. Very confused re: further treatment, docs say radiation/ AI’s, after studying side effects, now am not sure–need more info/sources.

  7. Luana says:

    I am the founder of an organization which gives free resources to breast cancer survivors in the NYC area. Things like information, advocacy, acupuncture, massage, reflexology, and information on all the latest science as it pertains to breast cancer.

  8. Luana says:

    http://www.youcanthrive.org

    One thing we do is to focus on education and natural means, those with the most science behind them to help survivors focus on prevention and risk reduction AFTER surgery.

    Our advocates attend CAM and Mainstream conferences, and we give information on all types of treatment for this disease.

    I’ve worked with hundreds of women who have breast cancer and I believe in the power of God or the Universe, spontaneous remission as well. But please don’t search for a reason to do nothing. There is so much you can do both naturally and non-toxically to help, and please consider all treatment. If GOD did not want you to use the most scientific things to help you then he/she would not have made people smart enough to create and research them.

    Use all tools at your disposal.
    One that NOT do to is NOTHING.

    I was given Dr. Day’s tapes (someone bought them for me when I was first diagnosed), I found it odd that she claimed a cure for cancer and then charges money and in each tape she’s trying to get you to buy the next tape. Isn’t cancer a time sensitive issue? Wouldn’t a woman of God be just aching to save the human race of this dreaded disease rather then keeping it to herself unless you paid (and quite a lot I might add).

    Didn’t ring true to me for one minute.

  9. Lynn says:

    Could this mean that mammograms cause cancer?

  10. Rosanne says:

    AGGH. HELP! Should I change my mind, but FAST?? I am scheduled for a double mastectomy & reconstruction on April 30, 2009. They found a TINY, 2mm DCIS + invasive carcinoma early this month. I’m BRCA2 postive. I cannot shake the belief that I brought this on myself w/ an eating disorder that put 15 pounds on my 56-year-old body over the autumn of 2008. I’ve been macrobiotic–I trust it–I never felt better than when I was eating that clean and simple food, some 15 years ago. Should I give myself time to clean up my act & see if the damned thing goes away in 6 months when I have my next mammo, or should I just let ‘em cut me up??

  11. junemary says:

    I am wondering if there are any vitamins I should be taking besides vitamin D for breast cancer such as one for cells?
    I have had breast cancer and had a mastectomy and radiation. I worry constantly about reappearance and would like to start taking vitamins only if they will be beneficial.

  12. Patricia says:

    I am triple negative and scheduled for a mastectomy next week. I’m interested in options for treatment. I expect that I will undergo chemo treatments but I’m unsure about which regimen has been most effective for my situation.

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