Some Cancers May Disappear on Their Own

November 25, 2008

London (ChattahBox) — A recent study conducted by researchers proposed a controversial notion that some tumors detected with mammograms might otherwise naturally disappear on their own if left undisturbed. Researchers tracked cancer rates in Norwegian women and proposed the hypothesis based on their study.

Other cancer specialists and experts raised their doubts about the research and urged women to undergo regular mammograms in order to detect the cancers at an early stage and can treat cancers when they are still treatable.

The study was published Monday in Journal Archives of Internal Medicine. It suggested that cancer screening may be leading to over-diagnosis of cancers when 22 percent of them are likely to disappear automatically if not treated.

The current study gave rise to a debatable issue. It would be unethical to leave the cancer untreated if it is detected. On the other hand, if the study is found to be true then a lot of women undergoing surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy and other treatments would never need those treatments if their cancer had not been detected. “If we are right, then this is a kind of paradigm shift,” said lead author Dr. Per-Henrik Zahl, a senior statistician with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Zahl along with his colleagues studied a national screening program introduced in Norway. They compared breast cancer rates among nearly 120,000 women aged 50-64 who were called for three rounds of mammograms between 1996 and 2001 with rates between 50 and 64 in 1992, before the program began. “If all of these newly-detected cancers were destined to progress and become clinically evident as women age, a fall in incidence among older women should soon follow. The fact that this decrease is not evident raises the question: what is the natural history of these additional screen-detected cancers?” he said.

The incidence of breast cancer has risen in every European country ever since women have started undergoing regular screening.


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