In October 2011, my doctor said to me:
“Your breast is like spoiled soup… it’s not worth saving.”
When I said I did not want to do anything further, she said,
“Don’t be stupid Donna — at least do 3 weeks of radiation.”
She had also previously said to me, “You don’t want to wait until it’s not treatable.”
10 years later, I can say with absolute certainty:
My breast was NOT “like spoiled soup.”
I was NOT “stupid.”
WAITING was a SMART thing to do.
I did not “NEED” a mastectomy, radiation or tamoxifen (as guidelines recommended.)
I am so HAPPY and GRATEFUL I focused on NUTRITION and LIFESTYLE instead.
10 years later, I can say with absolute certainty:
My breast was “WORTH SAVING.”
I was PERFECTLY HEALTHY (and I still am!)
Breast cancer is scary — but so is OVER-DIAGNOSIS and OVER-TREATMENT
What is Overdiagnosis?
“Overdiagnosis happens when people get a diagnosis they don’t need. It can happen when people without symptoms are diagnosed and then treated for a disease that won’t actually cause them any symptoms, and it can happen for people whose symptoms or life experiences are given a diagnostic label which brings them more harm than good.
One common way overdiagnosis can happen is when healthy people who attend screening programs or receive tests during check-ups are diagnosed and subsequently treated for the early form of a disease which would never in fact have harmed them. With breast cancer screening for example, a systematic review of studies published in the British Medical Journal suggests that up to one in three of the cancers detected via screening may be overdiagnosed.” – Preventing Overdiagnosis
“In the last few decades we’ve learned that the types of breast cancers that do not grow, or grow very slowly and do not spread, are more common than expected.1 So they would never have an impact on a woman in her lifetime. When these types of cancer are detected by breast screening mammography, this is known as ‘overdiagnosis’.” –What is breast cancer overdiagnosis? Wiser Healthcare, Australia
What is Overtreatment?
“Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a prime example of potential overtreatment. DCIS is frequently detected by screening mammography, accounting for one quarter of all breast cancers diagnosed today. DCIS is usually treated similar to invasive breast cancer with surgery, radiation and hormone-blocking medicines. Despite newer research concluding these interventions provide no difference in survival, aggressive ‘cancer’ treatments remain the “standard of care,” and many women world-wide are faced with the life-long emotional, physical and financial consequences of aggressive treatments.” – PRECISION (PREvent ductal Carcinoma In Situ Invasive Overtreatment Now)
The Psychological Harms of Overdiagnosis and Overtreatment
One of the most devastating harm of overdiagnosis is the psychological harm which is impossible to quantify. If researchers spent time in online DCIS patient support groups, they would understand the enormity of the problem. Fear and misinformation are rampant and contagious.
A DCIS diagnosis often blindsides. Most women have no symptoms. Even if it is “stage zero,” the way it is presented by health-care professionals combined with a misperception of risk and lack of understanding of cancer itself creates a perfect storm for confusion, fear, anxiety and overwhelm. Most women want to act fast. Most want to get “it” out. Many women opt for a double mastectomy.
The image of cancer spreading. Memories of loved ones suffering and dying. Rumination. Sleepless nights. Thoughts of leaving young children without their mother. Worst-case scenarios and story after story of recurrences or invasive cancer found after lumpectomy or mastectomy.
No matter how much evidence is presented to the contrary about a large majority of DCIS being “low-risk” and “non-invasive,” the tendency to fixate on the scariest words and images is hard to shake.
The reality is — the majority of women receiving a diagnosis of DCIS are more likely to be overdiagnosed than they are to be in danger of having actual invasive breast cancer in the future.
The main driver of overdiagnosis is mammography screening. If DCIS of any type is detected (even the lowest risk), doctors must follow “standard of care” guidelines, which include treatment protocols that set women up for being over-scared and over-treated.
In hindsight, I wish I had fired the surgeon who fear-mongered me far earlier.
I do feel incredibly grateful and happy I had a strong intuition that my doctor was wrong and I needed to find support elsewhere.
Instead of fearing cancer, I studied nutrition. I created DCIS 411 and made connections with like-minded women. I also set up daily google alerts and searched for information from thought-leaders who were speaking out about overdiagnosis and overtreatment of DCIS. This has always resonated with me and I have never identified with “cancer” or the fear of cancer.
I now have ten years of evidence. My instincts were right.
If you’d like to read more of my story and why I created DCIS 411, please click here.
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