Are Mammograms Worthwhile?

2 Oct

No, this isn’t a trick question, though it may sound like one, given how ubiquitous the screenings are. But the conventional wisdom has been seriously challenged as of a year ago, when a study of six countries in the British Medical Journal found that mammograms did not decrease deaths from breast cancer. “Our study adds further population data to the evidence…that mammography screening by itself has little detectable impact on mortality due to breast cancer,” the researchers concluded.
The study touched off a firestorm of controversy in the United States, where the American College of Radiology wasted no time in rebutting the conclusion, stating that “there is a large body of evidence that mammography screening saves lives.” But the exchange settled nothing, instead opening a floodgate of different opinions.
Every woman in America is still caught in the middle, wondering what to do.
The possibility that a breast cancer tumor might be missed when it’s early enough to save a life alarms most women. But the ground first started to shift under the question of mammogram frequency in 2009, when the general government guidelines changed from screenings every 1 to 2 years for women over 40 to screenings every 2 years beginning at age 50. (Women in their 40s were advised to decide individually, with their doctors.) Medical and advocacy groups lined up on both sides of the 40-to-50 age gap, and the debate continues to this day.
“If you want to confuse people, just publish a table of the various medical organizations and what their mammography guidelines are,” says Barbara Monsees, MD, chairwoman of the American College of Radiology Commission on Breast Imaging. “Among the major groups–the American College Of Physicians, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Cancer Society–no one agrees.”
Source: Prevention magazine October 2012

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