In April, a study in Norway estimated that 15 to 25 percent of breast cancers found by mammograms wouldn’t have caused any problems during a woman’s lifetime, but were being treated anyway. Early tumors, once detected, usually are removed and the patient is treated with chemotherapy or radiation because there’s no way to be certain whether the tumors are dangerous or benign.
“None of these screenings are perfect” Horner has said. “There’s a real problem with over diagnosis, especially in the United States, and in many cases too many people are being put under the knife for no reason.”
The question, however, is whether the outcomes are different for black women who are less likely than white women to get breast cancer, but when they do, they are more likely to die.
According to a study at the University of North Carolina schools of Public Health and Medicine and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, black women under the age of 50 have a 77 percent higher mortality rate from breast cancer than other women of the same age. Further, younger, pre-menopausal black women are more prone to an especially aggressive type of cancer.
Many black medical experts take exception to the suggestion that black women would benefit from fewer mammograms and many African-American health care professionals continue to recommend that black women above age 40 have annual checkups, including mammograms.
“The biggest drawback of screenings,” Horner has said, “is that they are used to find problems, not prevent problems.
“Breast, prostate and colon cancer all have one thing in common: the cancer tumors are similar, which means that the same actions fuel them and the same lifestyle changes prevent them.”