Mammography debate gets more confusing

Related articles

Just a week after a Norwegian study cast doubt on the extent of the benefits of mammography, a Swedish study has found they’re more beneficial than previously thought. The Swedish research, published in Cancer, compared areas of the country where women in their 40s were invited to get a mammography compared to regions where they weren’t. The 7.3 million women in their 40s who received mammograms had a 26 percent less chance of dying from breast cancer than the 8.8 million women who didn’t get mammograms.

The study found that to save a single life, 1,252 women would have to be screened, a lower figure than cited in previous studies.

“It’s like a Scandinavian war going on,” says Dr. Ross of the competing studies. But he notes that the Swedish study didn’t take into account the problems associated with overdiagnosis.

“Of course you’re going to have a lower breast cancer death rate. You could start screening at age 20, and you’ll have an even lower breast cancer death rate. But what about all the women who will have abnormalities found in the screening that turn out to be benign lesions that will require biopsies and surgeries and repeat mammograms? Or even indolent cancer — and we know that breast cancer can also be indolent — that would never have bothered them? That’s something that’s lost in this study.”

Dr. Ross says the age at which women should start undergoing mammograms is a deeply emotional issue best left for women to decide individually, in consultation with their doctors.

In other breast cancer news, stay tuned tomorrow for the release of a new ACSH publication timed to coincide with the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.