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There is a great deal of misinformation about breast cancer screening that has been published in the medical literature and, unfortunately, been passed on to the public. I have created this “Blog” to provide women and their physicians with facts about breast cancer screening that they have probably not read before. In this day and age where you can find all kinds of misinformation, you have to ask yourself why would I trust Dr. Kopans? I can only tell you that I am one of the World’s leading experts in breast cancer detection and diagnosis with over 40 years of experience in clinical care, research, and teaching. I provide references for everything that I write so that it can be checked, and I will try to explain my comments in detail so that you can judge their veracity. At the end of this post I have provided a short biography.
A FEW FACTS
You might not realize it, but breast cancer screening is one of the major advances in women’s health over the last 50 years. The death rate from breast cancer had been unchanged prior to the start of screening in the mid 1980’s. Soon after, in 1990, the death rate began to fall for the first time in 50 years (1) so that each year there are now over 40% fewer women dying from breast cancer. It has been estimated that more than 600,000 lives have been saved since 1990 (2). Therapy has improved, but as will be explained in future “blogs”, therapy saves lives when breast cancers are treated earlier.
WHO IS DR. KOPANS?
The following is a short summary of my credentials and forty years of experience. I have never promoted my “beliefs” but have always argued from “science” and “evidence”. I intend to provide only “science” and “evidence based” information and arguments in these posts. My goal, as it has always been, is to continue to drive down deaths from breast cancer. I have no conflicts of interest and no longer receive a salary. I receive a small royalty for the use of my name on the guidewire that I invented, and I consult on several research and development projects with no remuneration.
While we await a universal cure (unlikely and not on the horizon) early detection is the best way to reduce deaths from breast cancer. Therapy has improved, but therapy saves lives when breast cancers are treated earlier. Based on the scientific evidence, annual screening starting at the age of 40 is the best way to reduce deaths. My hope is that while we await cures, efforts continue to develop even better ways to detect cancers at a time when cure is likely.
Dr. Kopans, a Professor of Radiology at the Harvard Medical School, is an internationally recognized expert in breast cancer detection and diagnosis.
Having graduated with honors from Harvard College in 1969, he received his M.D. degree from the Harvard Medical School as a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha honor society. Completing his radiology residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital he joined the MGH staff in 1977 and became Head of the Xeroradiography Division in 1978. Recognizing that breast evaluation was encompassing more than mammography, he changed Xeroradiography and created the first “Breast Imaging” Division in 1978. Dr. Kopans was an early leader in developing this new subspecialty that is largely responsible for dramatically reducing the death rate from breast cancer over the last 39 years.
Dr. Kopans has made numerous contributions to the field of breast cancer detection and diagnosis conducting research in all aspects of the field. He has written and published over 250 peer reviewed articles and the leading textbook on “Breast Imaging”. In addition to numerous other awards and honors, he has been awarded the gold medal from the Society of Breast Imaging, its highest honor, and the Pathfinder award from the American Society of Breast Disease.
Dr. Kopans was co-chairman of the original Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System (BIRADS) committee of the American College of Radiology that standardized Breast Imaging reports and required an action-oriented and outcomes monitoring system that was based on the system that he had devised at the MGH.
He invented a wire guide that could be very accurately placed to permit the safe surgical removal of clinically occult lesions detected by imaging. This greatly facilitated the diagnosis of small, curable cancers.
Dr. Kopans invented and led the team that developed Digital Breast Tomosynthesis which is replacing standard two-dimensional mammography and increasing our ability to detect more early cancers while at the same time, reducing the recall (“false positive”) rate.
Clinician, researcher, teacher, educator, and inventor Dr. Kopans is one of the World’s leading experts in the field of Breast Imaging. He has developed the scientific support that has preserved access to screening, particularly for women ages 40-49.