March 25th, 2016

Podcast 200: Sorting out the results of breast biopsy

Most of the time, pathologists agree with each other about breast biopsy results — especially when the biopsy is negative or indicates invasive cancer. However, the biopsies that fall between those two extremes — that is, atypia and ductal carcinoma in situ — make for tough conversations with patients.

This week’s guest, Alexander Borowsky, has written an editorial (with Laura Esserman) about the problem, and he offers advice to clinicians about conveying diagnostic uncertainty. Their editorial also calls into question the words used to describe breast biopsy results, pointing out that a report of “ductal carcinoma” in situ has a way of making people reach for their scalpels — not always wisely.

The editorial accompanies a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine that examines precision of biopsy diagnoses.

(One aspect of the editorial we never got to discuss in the podcast was its citation of “Car Talk,” on the question how uncertainties feed into each other. That’s worth a link, given below.)

Annals of Internal Medicine editorial (subscription required)

Annals study (free abstract)

Car Talk episode (start listening at the 17 min, 45 sec mark)

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