Health, Zoomer Report

Too Much Imaging

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It’s a heads up for Ontario women who have had early-stage breast cancer. According to research in the Canadian Medical Association Journal most in this cohort are getting unnecessary and potentially risky testing, despite guidelines recommending against the practice.

The study of more than 26,000 patients found that nearly 80 per cent of those with Stage 1 breast cancer and more than 90 per cent of those with Stage 2 had unnecessary tests, according to guidelines set out by Cancer Care Ontario, the American Society of Clinical Oncologists and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, as well as others. Many had had multiple tests.

International and national guidelines recommend against such testing for early-stage breast cancer patients — commonly involving bone scans, CT scans or MRIs — saying it offers little benefit and potential harm to patients.

The researchers say the likelihood of Stage 1 breast cancer spreading is about 0.2 per cent, and for Stage 2 breast cancer that number goes up to 1.2 per cent. And those rates have not changed significantly, despite the widespread use of imaging tests on patients. The study found that about a quarter of patients with Stage 1 and Stage 2 breast cancer who had unnecessary imaging done ended up having additional tests because of false positive findings.
They conclude this harms patients by producing anxiety, stress, and exposure to radiation, as well as causing delays for patients who really need to have the tests.

There’s a monetary coat too: researchers estimate unnecessary tests cost the province’s health system $7 million a year.

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