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Mammogram study sparks renewed debate

Published On: Nov 29 2012 08:10:57 PM CST

NewsChannel 21's Kim Tobin spoke with a Bend doctor who is the co-author of a mammogram study, suggesting many women have been over diagnosed for breast cancer and he has new suggestions for his patients.

BEND, Ore. -

It's something that's been ingrained in women's minds: Get a mammogram every year after age 40. Bend Dr. Archie Bleyer said Thursday his research suggests women should do otherwise, but his new advice for patients is far from universally accepted.

Bleyer, an oncologist, is co-author of a study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine. He says his research, which took more than three years to complete, shows more than 1 million women have been over diagnosed with breast cancer.

"We didn't realize the extent of over-diagnosis," Bleyer said. "I'll repeat that, because it's a term that's not easily understood. Over-diagnosis was occurring because of screening mammography."

Bleyer's study suggests nearly one out of three women diagnosed with breast cancer has a tumor so small it would never create problems.

"So surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, for some, chemotherapy, and you know, how we react to all that," Bleyer said. "And it wasn't necessary? So therein lies the first major problem."

Bleyer also points out the financial cost and emotional toll for the woman and her family. He came to the conclusion that a woman should get a mammogram every other year, starting at age 50 -- not every year.

But not every doctor is ready to make that the norm. The clinical director of St. Charles Cancer Center, Dr. Linyee Chang, says more research has to be done.

"I think right now, we're still waiting for things to evolve," Chang said. "I think it's a very interesting discussion to have."

Chang says she has a mammogram every year -- and for now, that's what she'll continue to recommend for her patients.

"I see it all the time, -- women who miss a screening mammogram a couple years in a row, and then they find that their breast cancer is in an advanced stage," said Chang.

In a culture of pink ribbons and "walks for the cure," it will be up to each woman to talk with her doctor and make the choice themselves: once a year or every other year.

The American Cancer Society sticks with the national guidelines that woman should get a mammogram every year.

Dr. Bleyer said he's hopeful that his research can be proven wrong, but more studies will need to be done.

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