Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Laurie's news article about early breast cancer detection

Laurie, at Not Just About Cancer, found a story in which some researchers found that using MRI's can lead to overdiagnosis of breast cancers and then to treatments that women don't need. Here is the link to Laurie's blog entry on the subject.

Laurie said, and I agree, that the study results made her feel uneasy and she wasn't sure why until she found a rebuttal by a doctor. This other doctor's point was that with the results of the MRI screening and with mammograms, doctors will not be able to tell which women will have cancers that resolve on their own and which will die because of their cancer. You just don't know. So, it's better to err on the side of caution, I think.

It got me thinking about what would've happened to me had I not been vigilant about my annual mammogram screenings post-breast cancer diagnosis six years ago and had I not insisted that the doctor check into this rash that wouldn't go away. Here's what I said in a comment to Laurie's blog:

I'm so glad that you found that rebuttal to the study because the findings of that study bothered me, too, but I couldn't articulate why.

I'm all for early screening. About five years after my first diagnosis of breast cancer, my annual mammogram found calcifications. The biopsy found a small (3mm) tumor. After the bilateral mastectomy last year, it was discovered that there was cancer throughout the whole breast - not a tumor, per se, but "tendrils" of cancer through the lymph channels and ducts. Then, about 6-8 weeks after surgery, I had a rash in that right breast area of skin that wouldn't go away. A biopsy found that there was breast cancer cells in the skin. A CT scan found small, bb-sized tumors in my bone marrow in my spine, ribs, iliac, sacrum, etc. That's when I started oral chemotherapy. I asked my onc how long those little bb-sized tumors had been there and his reply was "months".

IF I hadn't had the mammogram that showed calcifications and IF the biopsy hadn't found the little 3mm tumor, and IF I hadn't been vigilant about the skin rash, the cancer would've grown and spread to other organs. I think that I'm doing really well, with low tumor markers and stable disease, precisely because of early screening. The cancer hasn't had a chance to get into my bones - it's only in my bone marrow. We caught it fairly early, in other words, and it was aggressive. I think I've been spared really more aggressive treatments with worse side effects because of early detection.

A year later, I'm doing well - I'm happy, back at work, and starting to prepare myself for reconstruction surgery in February.

I agree - that study is meaningless, for now, and will be until they can say which cancers will go away and which will kill someone.

I say "bah humbug" to that study. Well, I could use stronger words . . . but you get the picture, right?

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