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Study: Many breast cancer follow-up tests questionable, problematic

Old habits die hard.

That adage is particularly true, many medical researchers say, when it comes to doctors who are resolutely spurred by years of training to order every conceivable diagnostic test available that might detect any spread of breast cancer in a patient who has been newly diagnosed.

That proactivity routinely extends to even women with Stage 1 or Stage II breast cancer that show no symptoms of advanced cancer.

From a cost-benefit analysis, the knee-jerk reaction of many doctors to simply practice defensive medicine by ordering up more tests is costly on a number of fronts.

New findings presented recently at a medical conference, which analyzed information from eight studies involving about 1,700 women with breast cancer, indicate a "lack of utility of almost any X-ray in low-risk patients," says a study spokesperson.

Additionally, the same can be said of other and more advanced tests, including bone scans, PET, CT and MRI imaging. The cumulative cost of such tests annually across the country, including for New Jersey patients, is almost incalculable.

Moreover, the quick tendency to resort to such diagnostic tools, say study researchers, results in "unnecessary invasive procedures, overtreatment, unnecessary radiation exposure, and misdiagnosis."

In other words, there is a lot of medical malpractice going on.

Proof that aggressive testing in women with otherwise asymptomatic newly diagnosed breast cancer often confers negligible benefits at best (and again, can result in false positives and subsequently unnecessary and harmful treatment) is in the numbers.

Data analyzed on diagnostic testing undergone by nearly 1,500 women in the study revealed that cancer spread was detected only 0.82 percent of the time when a liver ultrasound was done. When a chest X-ray was taken, that number dropped to 0.51 percent.

The conclusion of the study team is firm and succinctly stated by one researcher: "Women with early-stage cancer may not need any of these tests."

If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of a missed breast cancer diagnosis or treatment that was ill-advised and unnecessary, please contact Breslin & Breslin for a free consultation.

Source: WebMD, "After breast cancer diagnosis, tests overdone?" Charlene Laino, Sept. 12, 2012

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