Misfearing Breast Cancer

“Misfearing Breast Cancer: More evidence that routine mammograms make healthy people sick.” by Christie Aschwanden, Slate.

What’s the No. 1 killer of women? It’s a question that practitioners asked every new patient at a clinic where physician Lisa Rosenbaum once worked, and she hasn’t forgotten the answer given to her by one middle-aged woman with high blood pressure and elevated blood lipids. “I know the right answer is heart disease,” the patient told Rosenbaum, “But I’m still going to say ‘breast cancer.”

Rosenbaum recounts this experience in a perspective published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, which follows on the heels of a long-term study published online this week in BMJ that found no benefit from screening mammography. The two papers make fine companions.

The Rosenbaum commentary explores a phenomenon called “misfearing”—our human nature to fear instinctively, rather than factually. Studies show that simply mentioning the word cancer leads patients to opt for more aggressive treatment.

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