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New study examines how to avoid overtreatment

With breast cancer easier to diagnosis at earliest stages, some doctors worry that treatments aimed at more established cancers may be too aggressive for some patients.

A new study funded by National Cancer Institute will examine how patients make treatment decisions, how doctors make treatment recommendations, and how to improve the process for better outcomes.

"Many women diagnosed with breast cancer have a favorable prognosis, and these women are particularly vulnerable to harm if treatment is too aggressive. We can’t optimally improve women’s health unless we address the challenges of individualizing cancer treatments," said Steven J. Katz, M.D., M.P.H.. Katz is the principal investigator for the study taking place at the University of Michigan's Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"This program is about helping patients and their doctors avoid doing more harm than good on the journey from treatment to recovery from a diagnosis of breast cancer," he added.

The number of women diagnosed with the earliest stages of breast cancer has nearly tripled in the last twenty years. These early diagnoses tend to have good prognoses, with up to 95 percent of women surviving, but many patients still face complicated decisions about how aggressively to treat the disease. Answers can vary based on each patient’s specific tumor, family history or lifestyle.

"What’s important is that treatment decisions are based on an accurate understanding of the options, risks and benefits, and that the choice is consistent with the patient’s underlying values," said Sarah Hawley, Ph.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of internal medicine at U-M.

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