BCNA CEO defends routine screens

11 October 2012

Speaking with Neil Mitchell, breast cancer survivor and Breast Cancer Network CEO Maxine Morand said breast cancer screening was ‘still really important’, pointing to her own experience with breast cancer.

"If you do have a cancer diagnosis that's when you should start questioning what are my treatment options," she said.

"It shouldn't stop you from actually having the screening to find out if you've got a cancer.

"My cancer was picked up on a routine mammogram. You couldn't feel it. I was examined by a surgeon (and) before I had my biopsy, he said I don't think there's anything there but you should have a biopsy just to be sure.

"There was invasive cancer and I had surgery and radiotherapy and (am) now doing very well. So it wouldn't have been picked up in my case, and that's the case for around 45 per cent of women."

After a British study comparing the outcomes for screen and unscreened women found that while screening reduced the chance of mortality as a result of breast cancer by over 20 per cent, approximately 19 per cent of cancers detected in mammography were “overdiagnoses” which would never have become clinically apparent in a woman’s life.

The deputy director of the Women's Health Research Program at Monash University, Robin Bell, told The Age more recent Australian research suggested the “overdiagnoses” figure was in the 30 to 40 per cent range.

''Given what we know, that this is not a clear-cut scenario where there are only benefits, I think you could make an argument for making screening available to people, but not necessarily continuing the invitation to screen,'' she said.

However Ms Morand pointed to the amount of women who die as result of breast cancer as a reason to encourage women to undergo mammograms.

"We know about 45 per cent of all breast cancer is picked up by breast screen, and we still have 2,500 women dying of breast cancer in Australia ever year so it's very important to get early diagnosis and early treatment,” she said.

”The term overdiagnosis makes it sound like you haven't actually got cancer. You have had a cancer picked up, and it's at that point a decision should be made about what sort of treatment you should then have.”

Listen to the interview on 3AW's blog.

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