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Diagnosing Breast Cancer Too Early Can Lead To Errors

4:29 PM, Jul 20, 2010   |    comments
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NEW YORK, Ny (WUSA/CBS) -- Early detection is key to stopping breast cancer in its tracks, but is there such a thing as catching it too early?

According to a New York Times article that examined breast cancer cases, more than 50,000 women are being diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, or Stage 0 breast cancer. Over 17 percent are diagnosed with the disease are, in all reality, cancer-free.

"Diagnosing the earliest stage of breast cancer can be surprisingly difficult," the newspaper's examination said. "(It's) prone to both outright error and case-by-case disagreement over whether a cluster of cells is benign or malignant."

According to Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a CBS medical correspondent, there are several reasons Stage 0 breast cancer is misdiagnosed.

The first is imaging. "When you're talking about breast cancer, when you're talking about mammography, it's not a perfect imaging modality, particularly in young women," she said. "It can see things there that are not cancer and it can miss cancers that are there."

There are also mistakes made in the biopsy process. "When part of the tissue is removed, a pathologist looks at that slide and has to make the call," Dr Ashton said. "Is this or is this not cancer? And when you're talking about diagnosing a cancer at an early stage, that is fraught with human error."

The last reason is treatment. "There is controversy amongst medical oncologists and breast cancer surgeons about how this cancer should be treated and, in some cases, even if it should be treated," she said. "It doesn't always progress to invasive cancer."

Stage 0 breast cancer is 90 percent curable, but fear often clouds the minds of women diagnosed with the disease. More often than not, they will choose aggressive forms of treatment, even against their doctor's recommendations.

A woman who has been diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer does have options. Dr. Ashton recommends getting a second, or even a third, opinion. "When you're talking about a cancer diagnosis, you might want to have that slide reviewed by another pathologist," she said.

She also cautions against rushing treatment. There is time for a woman to consider all of her options.

Finally, Dr. Ashton advises women to weigh the risks versus the benefits versus the options of any treatment suggested.

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New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/20/health/20cancer.html?_r=1&hp

CBS News article: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/07/20/earlyshow/health/main6694790.shtml?tag=contentBody;cbsCarousel