X-Ray mammography has been the go-to method for breast cancer detection for more than two decades. Even with all of the Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns, isn’t it ironic that very little progress has been made to make the public aware of the crucial differences between invasive and non-invasive cancers? As a result, all forms of breast pathology are looked at the same, making it a monolithic entity – breast cancer. So basically in the medical world, either a woman has breast cancer or she doesn’t.
Are All Breast Cancers the Same?
Some breast cancers are invasive, which need to be addressed immediately. Other breast cancers are non-invasive that can stay dormant in the breast without spreading. DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) is one of the most commonly diagnosed and unfortunately unnecessarily treated forms of “breast cancer”. What women don’t know, largely because their physicians don’t bother to inform them, is the fact that they have a choice when diagnosed with DCIS. They can opt for harsh treatments that involve surgery, radiation and chemo drugs, which in some cases can make things even worse, or they can choose to wait and see.
DCIS: A Non-Cancerous Condition?
Around 30 to 50% of all new cases of breast cancers diagnosed through x-ray mammography are classified as DCIS. Many experts argue DCIS should be re-classified as a noncancerous condition. That’s because it is almost invariably asymptomatic and has no palpable lesions. The United States has one of the highest x-ray mammography rates, no wonder it also has the highest level of DCIS in the world.
Scores of studies have emerged that suggest that when DCIS is left undiagnosed and untreated, it rarely becomes malignant. Unfortunately, a woman diagnosed with DCIS is almost never given an option to decline treatment. Since the majority of DCIS cases won’t progress to invasive cancer, it is impossible to determine which individuals are over-diagnosed as almost everyone gets treated as if they have invasive cancer.
This is sad because over-diagnosis effectively turns a healthy person into a diseased person. Moreover, DCIS over-diagnosis makes it appear as if conventional breast cancer screening and treatments are more successful and less harmful than they are helpful. Commonly, oncologists recommend lumpectomies followed by radiation and hormone suppressive therapies, such as Arimidex and Tamoxifen. Although the standard care for DCIS is the same as treating invasive cancer, only very few women are told about the available options to help them make an informed decision. Why aren’t more women diagnosed with DCIS provided a choice? Is it because the medical industry wants to make more profits from diagnosing all cancers as the same, whether it be invasive or non-invasive?
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