An increasing number of women may be getting one or both breasts removed following a certain early stage breast cancer diagnosis without actually decreasing their odds of dying from the disease, the New York Times reports. A study published today comes to the conclusion that many thousands of women are getting "sometimes disfiguring" treatments unnecessarily after being diagnosed with DCIS, long considered a precursor of breast cancer. Advances in mammogram technology have increased diagnoses of DCIS—abnormal cells in the milk duct—from a few hundred a year in 1980 to 60,000 a year today. That increase in early DCIS detection should correspond to a decrease in breast cancer cases, but it hasn't.
Researchers looked at more than 100,000 women with DCIS—almost all of whom had lumpectomies, mastectomies, or double mastectomies following their diagnosis—and concluded they had a 3.3% chance of dying of breast cancer in the next 20 years, the Times reports. That's about the same as any random woman off the street (though young and/or black DCIS patients had a slightly higher mortality rate), according to HealthDay. A doctor behind the study tells the Times it shows the best treatment for DCIS is to do nothing, and the American Cancer Society's chief medical officer says treatment of DCIS has been excessive. "In medicine, we have a tendency to get too enthusiastic," he says. Not everyone agrees. A chief breast cancer surgeon at one cancer center said she doesn't see a reason to change the current system. (Read more breast cancer stories.)