October is widely associated not only with the orange of Halloween, but also the pink of National Breast Cancer Awareness. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was first founded in 1985 by the international pharmaceutical company AstraZenica, the manufacturer of breast cancer drugs Arimidex and Tamoxifen, to promote mammography as the most effective weapon in the fight against breast cancer. Over the past 25 years the breast cancer awareness movement has gained support from such influential groups as the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in promoting annual mammograms for all women over the age of 40.
A new analysis, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is sure to bolster the critics of this shotgun screening for all approach marketed through National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In the analysis, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Texas, San Antonio found that after 20 years of breast and prostate cancer screening, there has been a 40% increase in diagnoses of these cancers, but only a 10% reduction in the effective treatment of the late-stage cancers of the breast and prostate that are most often fatal. The researchers point out that if the screenings were being effective, there should be a corresponding decrease in the percentage of deaths, but that’s not what their finding show.
The analysis points to the fact that the increase in the number of diagnosed cases of breast and prostate cancers are tumors that would never had spread or caused significant health risks if left untreated. The ensuing attention on these inocuous tumors, researchers say, siphons off attention and resources needed to treat the faster growing and deadly tumors that are not being impacted by our current thinking in breast and prostate cancer treatment.
The publishing of these findings, according to the New York Times, is causing the American Cancer Society to rethink its position and recommendations about breast cancer screening. In the October 20, 2009 Times article, Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the cancer society says, “I’m admitting that American medicine has overpromised when it comes to screening. The advantages to screening have been exaggerated.”
Yet, until this new position on breast cancer screening is published – sometime early next year – the current literature and promotion on the ACS website still advocates for annual mammograms for all women over the age of 40.
In regards to prostate cancer screening, both the American Cancer Society and the Prostate Cancer Foundation have dropped their recommendation for screening of all men for some time now. The Prostate Cancer Foundation says on its website: “Because a decision of whether to be screened for prostate cancer is a personal decision, it’s important that each man talk with his doctor about whether prostate cancer screening is right for him.”
In light of this new report, this advice now seems appropriate for the ladies as well.
– Paul Kulpinski, LMT