Why We Shouldn't Trust All Breast Cancer Research

Maressa Brown

breast cancer ribbonTwenty percent of breast cancer patients who receive radiation after they undergo breast-conserving surgery may not have their radiation treatments recorded in a federal database known as the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) registry, according to a new study. This could spell trouble for researchers who hope to examine patterns of cancer treatment from the data. 

In the study, a University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center team compared SEER data with treatment reports from breast cancer patients in Detroit and Los Angeles. Of the 1,292 patients in both cities who said they received radiation therapy, just over 20 percent were not coded that way in the SEER database. 

Researchers found that radiation treatment wasn't correctly coded in the SEER database for 11 percent of people living in Detroit and for one-third of patients in L.A. Eeesh!

Why it matters: Previous studies based on this skewed SEER data have led researchers to conclude that women aren't receiving radiation after breast-conserving surgery, and in turn, the medical community has stepped up the push for radiation treatment in general. But gah! Obviously, research based on inconsistent, false data could result in misleading conclusions.

Although there's not much a breast cancer patient herself can do about these wacky data errors, it boils down to being informed and assertive as a patient. You can't necessarily trust that official patterns and research will reflect/inform your personal experience. 

What do you think about this study?


Image via Mel Rowling/Flickr

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