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Breast Cancer Mammography and Litigation

By Margot Heffernan, MLS

Many disturbing facts about breast cancer have become familiar and mundane threads of information woven into the collective health consciousness. News coverage is replete with statistics about a woman’s alarming 1 in 8 lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. And although lung cancer claims more women’s lives, most harbor an immediate, visceral fear of a breast cancer diagnosis. Furthermore, health news statistics frequently report that breast cancer death rates approach 40,000 per year. Chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and hormonal therapy are widely recognized weapons in the treatment arsenal against this disease; discussions and articles about their use and efficacy are pervasive in the public sphere. Breast cancer is, perhaps, one of the most widely feared diseases among women.

However, the public is also continuously reminded by the media and public health authorities that breast cancer deaths can be prevented by routine mammogram screenings. Statistics do bear this out, as breast cancer death rates have been steadily declining in the U.S. over the past 25 years.

Mammography, the workhorse of diagnostic radiology, came of age in the 1970’s, and has undoubtedly contributed to the declining trend in breast cancer deaths. In fact, a joint statement issued by the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast  Imaging in 2009 argues that mammography has proven effectiveness in reducing the U.S. breast cancer death rate by 30% since 1990. This relatively simple, noninvasive procedure can visualize breast cancers at an earlier, more treatable stage of tumor development.

Although the public is well aware of the diagnostic value of mammography, many are uninformed about the fact that it is not a foolproof method for detecting every cancerous breast lesion. While surveys have shown that the public attributes 100% sensitivity to mammography, much of the openly disseminated information about this diagnostic tool fails to include the fact that its accuracy is approximately 79%. Therefore, a certain number of breast cancers will go undetected by routine mammography screening. It is this discrepancy between the perceived efficacy of mammography and reality that causes concern within the medical community, as delayed breast cancer diagnosis and treatment based on false negative mammograms is a major reason for malpractice litigation.

For more information on breast cancer and breast cancer litigation please contact Heffernan Research..