In our last post, we commented briefly on the variation between clinical guidelines for breast cancer screening and the importance of physicians using discretion in applying these guidelines. We also noted that the application of screening guidelines should take into account research, and can even change on account of research.
Part of the reason there is disagreement about clinical guidelines at all is that there are risks associated with screening. One important risk is that screening will return a false positive result and the patient will end up being treated unnecessarily. This risk was highlighted in a study recently published in the journal, Annals of Internal Medicine.
According to the study, one out of three women who are determined to have breast cancer by a mammogram is treated unnecessarily. The researchers who led the study found that these cases involved tumors with such slow rates of growth that they didn’t require aggressive treatment. The study corroborates other findings that not all forms of similar-looking breast cancer involve the same risk.
Essentially, the study highlighted the problem of overdiagnosis. Most women, though, are not aware that this is a problem. Researchers disagree about how serious the problem of overdiagnosis really is, with some saying the rate is much lower than in the recent study. Again, much of it comes down to physicians and nurse practitioners exercising discretion and using good judgment. Patients, however, should also be informed about the risks of screening.
Of course, women who are harmed by incorrect diagnoses, particularly by failure to diagnose, do have the right to seek compensation in court. Working with an experienced attorney is essential, not only to determine whether it makes sense to pursue litigation, but also to build the strongest possible case and determine the best strategy for a favorable outcome.