The pros and cons of breast cancer screening

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Pink Breast Cancer RibbonIn her follow-up to last week s column on cancer screening s pros and cons in general, Jane E. Brody takes on screening mammography for breast cancer in today s New York Times Science section: Retesting Breast Cancer Axioms. She addresses the conflict women face as to when to start screening for breast cancer, given the recent studies elucidating the risks vs. the benefits, which seem to show much downside to routine annual screening. And unfortunately, their decisions are often more strongly influenced by fear or a friend s experience than by a thorough understanding of the benefits and risks of mammography.

Brody addresses the biggest con of regular cancer screening a false positive result and the anxiety, inconvenience, expense, and risk of overtreatment that may accompany it. Despite these consequences, Brody writes that the decisions women make related to breast cancer, including screening, are frequently based more on emotion than reasoning.

Citing an expert on the subject, Dr. Lisa Rosenbaum of the New England Journal of Medicine: Defaulting to patient preference in the face of uncertainty has become the moral high ground. But it is as much our job to figure out how to best help our patients lead healthier lives as it is to honor their preferences. To which Brody responds, It is the job of patients at least to consider the risks before deciding to be screened, whether for breast cancer, prostate cancer or colon cancer.

Read Jane Brody s blog entry in its entirety here.