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Female breast cancer is a very emotional issue with a large amount of misinformation surrounding it.

In 2013, the estimated new cases of breast cancer is 230,000, claiming about 40,000 lives.  After lung cancer, it is the second deadliest cancer among women. 

It takes many years, sometimes even decades to develop and spread throughout the body, breast cancer survival statistics, particularly 5-year survival data, do not accurately portray the impact of the disease, or progress, or lack of progress over time.

Only mortality rates can provide an accurate picture of the impact of the disease, since it can measure death rate in the population over a lifetime. It is often repeated that 98% of women with early stage breast cancer are alive 5 years after diagnosis. However, an estimated 20-30% of women will have a recurrence of the disease and may die of cancer, but are included as survivors of these 5-year survival statistics.

In addition, survival statistics are skewed by screening programs. The more screening there is, the more breast cancers are found. But it does not follow that more lives are saved. That’s because breast cancer can be slow growing. Finding breast cancer through screening (mammography) often increases the time that women know they have the disease; but this may not have any impact on the final outcomes. Again, following trends in breast cancer mortality rates, rather than survival at 5 years after diagnosis, is the only way to get an accurate picture of the toll of breast cancer and progress made.

The increase in the incidence of early stage breast cancer as a result of mammography has resulted in over treatment for many women with not much decrease in late stage cancer diagnosis.

According to 2010 study, annual screening using digital or screen-filled mammography on women age 40-80 years is associated with an increased cancer incidence. And fatal breast cancer rate of 20-25 cases per 100,000. This actually means that the test, in and of itself, was causing cancer instead of preventing it.

To reiterate: that’s 20-25 cases of fatal cancer for every 100,000 going through mammography!

Photo by Clement Valderrama on Unsplash.