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Detecting a Bad Breast Cancer Bill

Who could blame hundreds of Members of Congress for joining with a colleague and breast cancer survivor, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), in co-sponsoring legislation aimed at promoting breast cancer education? The problem, according to leading breast cancer scientists and advocacy groups, is the bill would do more harm than good. Rep. Wasserman Schultz and her colleagues have the best of intentions, but they should defer to the experts on this one.Unfortunately, the best thing about the Breast Cancer Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act is its acronym, the EARLY Act. Sure, detecting breast cancer early is critical, but Wasserman Schultz’s approach does little to further that goal. On the contrary, it represents a wholesale misunderstanding of what we know about breast cancer, especially with regard to younger women — like her — who develop it.The bill proposes a number of misguided initiatives that are not supported by science and will have the unintended consequence of distracting us from pursuing more promising approaches in the fight against breast cancer. EducationThe bill provides grants to educate high school and college students about breast cancer. But breast cancer is exceedingly rare in students. In fact, the National Cancer Institute reports that the chance a 15-year-old girl will develop invasive breast cancer by age 40 is less than one-half of 1 percent. Since the risk factors for breast cancer in young women are not modifiable, there’s very little a young woman can do to diminish her chance of getting cancer. Certainly, a young woman with risk factors should consult her doctor about appropriate screening, but an education campaign aimed at teenagers isn’t the way to go. The bill won’t promote practical education, just needless anxiety among a broad swath of the population.Self-ExamsThe bill also will establish a media campaign to encourage younger women to do breast self-exams. However, self-exams have been shown to give young women nothing more than a false sense of control. According to the National Breast Cancer Coalition, which opposes the bill, “breast self-examinations have been shown to be ineffective and potentially harmful,” because they lead to ambiguous findings that in turn inspire unnecessary breast biopsies. A campaign promoting the importance of early detection “would result in an extraordinary waste of funds and unnecessary exposure to the health risks associated with the additional interventions,” according to the NBCC.Media Campaign

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