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Study Suggests Breast Cancers May Go Away On Their Own

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Tuesday, November 25, 2008 1:31 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: FDA and Prescription Drugs, Breast Cancer, Women's Health, Mammography, Cancer, Neuroblastoma

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IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto/ Woman w. breast cancer bracelets/ author: JBryson

Is it possible for breast cancer tumors to regress without medical intervention? A controversial new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that in some cases the answer may be yes.

Neuroblastoma, a rare childhood breast cancer tumor, sometimes goes away on its own, and researchers were examining whether invasive breast cancers might also regress.

For several years cancer researchers have known in rare cases it was possible for some cancers to go away on their own. There were occasional instances of kidney cancers and melanomas vanishing.

But several experts are not convinced.

“Their simplification of a complex issue is not only alarming, but overreaching,” said Robert A. Smith, director of breast cancer screening at the American Cancer Society.

While others are persuaded by the findings and find them encouraging, said Dr. Robert M. Kaplan, chairman of the department of health services at the School of Public Health at the University of California.

If the findings are replicated, it could be possible for some women to choose “watchful waiting,” monitoring a breast tumor to see if it grows. “Never before have has breast cancer been considered in this way,” he added.

“If the findings are found conclusive, it should lead to a major re-evaluation in the approach of breast cancer research and treatment,” said Dr. Kaplan and his colleague, Dr. Franz Porzsolt, an oncologist at the University of Ulm.

The study compared (2) groups of women between the ages of 50 to 64 in two consecutive six-year periods.

One group followed more than 109,000 women from 1992 to 1997. Mammography screening was first initiated in Norway in 1996. In 1996-97, all participants were offered a mammogram and most of them accepted.

More than 119,000 women were followed in the second group from 1996-2001. All of them were offered regular mammograms and most accepted.

Researchers report the women who opted for regular screening had 22 percent more cancers. For every 100,000 regularly screened women, 1,909 were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer over the six years, compared with 1,564 who chose against regular screenings.

While there may be other explanations, researchers say they are less likely than the conclusion that the tumors disappeared.

“The most plausible reasoning, said Dr. Welch, is that “some women had cancer at some point and later didn’t have cancer.”

The findings do not suggest mammograms caused the cancer. Mammograms save many lives. Although, they come with a downside – most notably the risk that a woman might undergo an unnecessary biopsy to check an abnormality that turns out to be cancer-free – “the balance of benefit versus harm still weighs in favor of screening for breast cancer.”

One alternate explanation for the study findings is that the women having regular scans were using hormone therapy for menopause. But researchers say hormone use would only account for 3 percent of the effect.

Another possible explanation is mammography could have been more sensitive in group two and test was able to detect more tumors.

Or, the screened women may have had a higher risk of cancer at the start. But, researchers say, both groups were remarkably a like in terms of risk factors.

Donald A. Berry, chairman of the department of biostatistics at M.D. Anderson Center in Houston, said the findings have increased his concerns about early detection screenings. There needs to be some sort of understanding of the natural history of cancers – which cancers are most harmful and those that are not – the results can easily be more treatment of cancers that, if left treated would cause no harm, he said.

“While very early detection may be beneficial, huge costs may be attached and not monetary costs,” Dr. Berry said. “It’s possible that all of us host cancerous cells that grow some before the body disposes of them. What then, would be the consequence? Prophylactic removal of organs in the masses, that’s a startling thought.”

“I see a real chance to determine why some cancers go away,” says Dr. Laura Esserman, professor of surgery and radiology at University of California. #


1 Comment

Anonymous User
Posted by Judy Fox
Friday, November 28, 2008 11:29 PM EST

I have just went through breast cancer. I was told mine was from taking the premarin, or it was estrogen fed.
I have postive receptors, and I heard that was from the horomone replacement therphy. I took premarin for 13 years.
Do I have a case?

Thanks

Comments for this article are closed.

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