Is "Harmless Cancer" an Oxymoron?
The articles appearing now about over diagnosis from mammography are missing some significant points. Yes, some small cancers will not harm you, but others will metastasize and turn deadly. We still can’t determine which cancers are harmless without removing them. The price of Watching and Waiting can be catastrophic – wait too long and the deadly cancer will spread. Until we know how to recognize harmless cancer, all malignant tumors should be treated as potentially deadly – more harm is done by leaving a possibly dangerous cancer alone than removing one that may not cause trouble.
Now we are back to the best way to find these cancers before they spread. A three year study by the American College of Radiology Imaging Network (ACRIN) found that adding Ultrasound to mammography detected 34% more invasive breast cancers than mammography alone. There were additional false positives and negative biopsies. But I think it’s worth the additional effort and, yes, anxiety to be sure of getting the invasive cancer. Also, an invasive cancer removed earlier means less treatment. The patient can be saved from additional surgery and chemotherapy. What do you think – wouldn’t you rather have a negative biopsy than take the chance of having a cancer metastasize when it could have been removed?