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Many Women May Be Undergoing Unnecessary Procedure

January 2, 2009, 5:00 PM by Kelli Grant

Many Women May Be Undergoing Unnecessary Procedure
Millions of women may be undergoing an unnecessary procedure to determine whether they have breast cancer.
Every year up to two million women are told their mammogram is abnormal. The next step is biopsy. And now a new report from the College of Surgeons warns that many women are undergoing a much more extensive biopsy - than is necessary. 

More than a third of women with abnormal mammogram results may be undergoing surgery they don't need. 

Dr. Michael Leitman, Study Author at Beth Israel Medical Center says, “Roughly 600,000 patients per year are having unnecessary open breast biopsy.” 

That's according to a new study which found the surgery is still widely performed even though the College of Surgeons urged doctors to change to needle biopsy years ago. It's done under local anesthetic, is far less invasive, cheaper and causes less discomfort. 

Fifteen percent of abnormalities found in mammograms turn out to be cancer
And studies show needle biopsies are as effective as surgical biopsies in discovering the disease. 

Dr. Leitman says, “The needle biopsy allows for the surgery to be done quicker, as opposed to waiting for a patient to heal from one surgery and having to do another one.” 

Experts say patients may need to speak up.
Leitman says, “A lot of patients aren’t comfortable asking, is there another option aside from surgery. Can I have a needle biopsy, instead of an open biopsy?” 

Doctors say the rate of needle biopsies should be closer to 95 percent -- which would benefit both patients and an overcrowded healthcare system. 

A needle biopsy puts a thin needle through the skin, into the lump, and removes cells to look at. An open biopsy makes a cut in the skin and removes a sample of the lump or the entire lump. Once the tissue is removed it's then looked at under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

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