Breast Cancer Advocates At Odds Over Treatment Of Early-Stage Cancer

Widespread use of screening mammograms has dramatically increased diagnoses of a breast abnormality known as ductal carcinoma in situ, prompting debate over how aggressively to treat the condition, Long Island Newsday reports.

DCIS — a “stage zero cancer” — is confined to the milk duct and might never progress to invasive breast cancer. However, because doctors have no way of knowing which cases will progress and which ones will never pose a threat, all patients are offered surgery and radiation, according to Newsday.

This practice has spurred a “flurry” of policy research calling DCIS over-diagnosed and over-treated, Newsday reports. Some advocates recommend that DCIS be downgraded from stage zero cancer status to pre-cancer status, which calls for monitoring rather than automatic treatment.

Other cancer specialists are calling for more research into the issue before standards are changed. They say that until more is known about DCIS, patients’ lives could be compromised by bypassing mammograms or early treatment.

Susan Brown, a registered nurse and manager of health education for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, said, “We know that 20% to 30% of women with low-grade DCIS will progress to invasive breast cancer” (Ricks, Long Island Newsday, 10/26).

National Partnership for Women & Families

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