June 29, 2011

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the United States. In 2007, there were  202,964 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,598 women died from breast cancer. The incidence of breast cancer in women in the United States for 2007 was highest for white women followed in order by black women, Hispanic women, Asian/Pacific Islander women, and American Indian/Alaska Native women (the death rates from breast cancer in women in 2007 were highest for black women followed in order by white women, Hispanic women, American Indian/Alaska  Native women, and Asian/Pacific Islander women).   

The incidence of breast cancer in women in the United States for 2007 was greatest in Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The death rate was highest in Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Virginia.

The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age (3 or 4 out of every 100 women who are presently 60 years old will develop breast cancer by the age of 70).

One of the most common screening methods for breast cancer are mammograms, which are x-rays of the breasts and are the best way of diagnosing breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. Mammograms can help diagnose breast cancer before the cancer is large enough to feel or the cancer causes symptoms.

For a long time, the American Cancer Society has recommended yearly mammograms for women over 40. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force made waves in 2009 when it questioned whether the costs of yearly mammograms and the greater chances for false positives (indicating possible breast cancer when there was no cancer) were too costly when measured by the number of lives saved by regular mammograms — the Task Force therefore recommended that women over 50 have mammograms every other year and stop having mammograms after 75.   The proposed recommendations were controversial — many health care providers continued to recommend yearly mammograms for women over 40.

Mammograms are once again in the news because a new Swedish study published on June 28, 2011 suggests that the findings of past studies were limited by the relatively short time period of the studies (about 7 years). The Swedish study followed 133,065 women for just short of three decades (29 years) and found that one breast cancer death was prevented for every 414 to 519 women who had mammograms. The longer term of the Swedish study is important because some breast cancers are slower growing and less aggressive and can take up to 25 years to result in death; therefore, the shorter term studies tend to focus on breast cancer deaths due to more aggressive cancers and underestimate the real value of yearly mammograms in saving lives from breast cancer (the Swedish study determined that 10 years after the study began, 71 lives had been saved because of the screenings and that 158 lives had been saved 29 years later).

The Swedish study did not make recommendations regarding when mammogram screenings should begin or how often mammograms should be performed. However, the study strongly indicates that regular mammogram screenings save lives (mammograms reduce breast cancer death rates by about 30%: about 15,000 to 20,000 lives saved each year).

Sources: CDC , News

If you, a family member, or a friend were misdiagnosed or late-diagnosed with breast cancer and suffered as a result, the missed diagnosis may be due to medical negligence and there may be a valid medical malpractice claim as a result. Visit our website to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your local area who may be able to represent you with regard to your medical malpractice claim. Our toll free telephone number is 800-295-3959.