July 15, 2014 – Overtreatment


Anchor lead:  Will a new imaging technique to screen for breast cancer produce even more overtreatment? Elizabeth Tracey reports

Overtreatment is a term most often referring to cancer treatment, where tumors that would never have been life-threatening are treated, costing a lot to do so and often resulting in undesirable side effects.  The debate now rages over whether a new technique called ‘tomosynthesis’ for breast cancer screening will worsen the problem.  Susan Harvey, director of breast imaging at Johns Hopkins, responds.

Harvey: There is a body of literature saying that we are overtreating breast cancer. And like prostate cancer, we may not be saving lives. That may very well be true.  The problem today is we don’t know which those are.  So one would have to say to Ms. Jones, you have a breast cancer and we’re going to treat it, and Ms. Smith, you have a breast cancer and we’ve decided not to treat it.  We can’t run that kind of experiment for women.  So until we understand this better we need to continue what we’re doing clinically both in diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.   :32

At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.