One out of three women with cancers found on mammogram may be overtreated!
This headline is calculated to make you sit up and take notice. And undoubtedly many of you did. Iâ€™d venture to guess that there are also many survivors are now worried that they did not need that chemotherapy that they so heroically underwent.
The facts: The headline belies the data.
The study that is being widely reported is similar to the study published six months ago which suggested that 25-30% of cancers found on mammography would go away by themselves if they were not treated.
The concept is that not all cancers are the same.Â There are â€œbadâ€ ones and there are very good ones. And some of the lesions we currently call cancer may not really be cancer at all, at least in the way we currently define it. And I think thatâ€™s the real problemâ€”the definition of cancer.Â
Current thinking suggests that a cancer cell alone is not threatening.Â Rather, a cancer cell needs to be in a local environment that will promote its growth.Â As anyone who has gardened knows, planting a seed will not guarantee a plant; the seed must have the right conditions to grow, it may even need some fertilizer. This leads to the concept of â€œcancer without diseaseâ€ â€” cancer cells that are dormant and will actually only wake up and grow if and when the right conditions occur. Do you treat these cells the same way you might treat a cancer that is aggressively invading outside of its territory? Probably not.
Interesting, but what does it mean to you?Â Right now, nothing, I am afraid. Since we are currently Â unable to tell which cancer cells are which or which conditions are necessary, we have to treat every breast tumor as life threatening.Â But this study should be a wake up call to scientists to get to work to figure it out.Â The current treatments for breast cancer are not without significant life-long side effects, and it would be great if we could save one in three women from experiencing them.Â