Cancer Demystified: Mammograms

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Last week a new study was released regarding the use of mammograms. This report looked at 50 years of data from a multitude of international studies. According to the study, women in their 40’s who have regular mammograms, see a 15% reduction in death rates from breast cancer. Women in their 60’s have a 32% decrease. Identified also were risk factors for breast cancer, which include family history, age, genetic risks such as BRCA H2 genes, hormone use, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and later-in-life childbirth.

Another result of the study has raised questions about mammograms. The study found that for a 40-50 year-old woman having annual mammograms, the risk of a false positive over 10 years is at 61%. That means that 61 out of 100 women will receive a positive reading when, in fact, it is negative. This type of error can lead the patient to have additional x-rays, MRI, and even biopsies.

Nevertheless, the American Cancer Society continues to recommend yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health. Because screening is based on life expectancy, screening women over the age of 75 is debated.  However, the fact that Americans are living longer overall should be considered in determining the appropriateness of continuing mammograms after a certain age. That decision should be made by the patient and her doctor.

Mammograms are still the best screening tool today used for breast cancer detection.   Every woman is different. Therefore, care should be personalized, not standardized. Please talk to your doctor and discuss what is best for you.

1 Comment

  • ienl

    This is a misleading sound bite. This study actually found much less benefits, but much more harm, than commonly claimed by the mammogram community. The recent study in the BMJ showed no significant reduction in breast cancer mortality. If you examine mammography from a wide range of evidence (discussed in The Mammogram Myth by Rolf Hefti) it looks bleak that mammograms save many lives, if any, but they surely lead to many needless deaths.

    The real facts are trickling out slowly but the medical establishment keep promoting the test as if it is based on solid evidence…

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