Women are getting needless mammograms, study indicates

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Courtesy kristiewells/ Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/kristiewells/3195280950/sizes/o/It seems like neither women nor their docs are getting the message about mammograms, which have been proven to do more harm than good in younger women. Mammogram rates actually increased slightly from 2008 to 2011, going from 51.9 percent to 53.6 percent, according to researchers from Brigham and Women s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2009 recommended that women younger than 50 didn t need annual mammograms and that those aged 50 to 74 should only get screened every two years. The prior recommendation was that women 40 and older get a mammogram every year or two.

There have been no significant changes in the rate of screening mammograms among any age group, but in particular among women under age 50, study leader Dr. Lydia Pace of Brigham and Women s told HealthDay News.

For the study, published in Cancer, Dr. Pace and her colleagues analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey, a nationwide in-person survey. Nearly 28,000 women responded to the 2005, 2008, and 2011 surveys and answered questions about their mammography rates.

Given how widespread the publicity was about these recommendations, I think most providers were certainly aware of them, and we would have expected to see some changes we didn t see, Dr. Pace told Reuters Health.

The downsides to excessive mammograms have been well-documented in the last several years. The screenings lead to overdiagnosis, anxiety and needless surgery, and actually save very few lives.

Dr. Michael LeFevre, co-vice chairman of the task force that made the recommendation, says he s not surprised that the mammograms rates hadn t dropped.

It would be optimistic to think the lack of change reflects the decision by many women in their 40s to go ahead and proceed with mammography with a clear understanding of the benefits as well as the risks, he told Reuters Health.

I think it is a bit more likely that physicians continue to recommend mammography without necessarily discussing the specifics of what the science tells us, LeFevre said. It s always easier to do than to discuss.

ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan added, Numerous studies, including the overall evaluation only two years ago by the USPSTF, came to the same conclusion: younger women need not, and should not, undergo routine screening, and those between 50 and 75 should discuss screening with their doctors before routinely having annual mammograms. I guess it will take more than a few years to influence practice and beliefs in this highly emotional issue.