The researchers also noted that some Norwegian women in the study didn't live near a radiation center, Bernik said, making mastectomy a safer option because follow-up radiation treatments were not otherwise accessible. Breast reconstruction techniques have also improved greatly in the past decade, she added.
"I think it's true, if you screen more you're going to find more cancers. That ultimately should lead to better survival for these patients," she said. "Mastectomy is not as dreadful a choice as it used to be."
Indeed, a recent study by the Mayo Clinic indicated that few breast cancer survivors who opt for a double mastectomy as a precautionary measure regretted their decision decades later. Twenty years after surgery, 92 percent said they would make the same decision, according to preliminary findings presented at the American Society of Breast Surgeons' annual meeting in April.
Bernik cautioned that the take-home message of the Norwegian study isn't that women shouldn't get screened. While mammograms do find some early-stage cancers that may never progress, and those women go on to be treated anyway -- "you can't pick and choose which ones are going to be a problem or not . . . and so there is going to be an element of overtreatment," she said.
"I think we should continue screening and work toward ways of potentially trying to figure out who needs more extensive surgery," Bernik added.
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