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J Natl Cancer Inst. 2012 Oct 17;104(20):1542-7. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djs394. Epub 2012 Sep 17.

Benefits and harms of detecting clinically occult breast cancer.

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  • 1Division of Medical Oncology and Hematology, Princess Margaret Hospital, 610 University Ave 5-124, Toronto, ON M5G 2M9, Canada.


Over the last few decades there has been an increase in the use of strategies to detect clinically occult breast cancer with the aim of achieving diagnosis at an earlier stage when prognosis may be improved. Such strategies include screening mammography in healthy women, diagnostic imaging and axillary staging in those diagnosed with breast cancer, and the use of follow-up imaging for the early detection of recurrent or metastatic disease. Some of these strategies are established, whereas for others there are inconsistent supportive data. Although the potential benefit of early detection of clinically occult breast cancer seems intuitive, use of such strategies can also be associated with harm. In this commentary, we provide an extended discussion on the potential benefits and harms of the routine and frequent use of screening interventions to detect clinically occult breast cancer and question whether we may be causing more harm than good.

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