We've Overestimated the Life Saving Value of Mammograms, Study Says
Have you had your yearly mammogram? The question conjures up fear or relief depending upon whether the respondent's answer is "yes" and they are in the "all clear" or "no." And since men have been known to have breast cancer, this could apply to them as well, though the likelihood is much greater for women. However, the medical profession and adherents/patients of traditional medicine have placed a great value on the mammograms' usefulness as a diagnostic tool to save life. But according to a recent study, this is an overextended exaggeration.
What are the chances that mammograms actually help save women's lives? According to a new analysis published in The Archives of Internal Medicine on Monday, the likelihood is less than 50%. Actually it is around 13% which means that for 87% of the women who had a mammogram, the diagnostic did not help them.
In a telephone interview, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, in Hanover, N.H., study leader, Dr. Gilbert Welch discussed the above issue with a Reuters correspondent.
Those percentages are "important when we keep hearing these stories from breast cancer survivors." (Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters)
In the study, Welch calculated that the average 50-year-old woman’s risk of having breast cancer (picked up on an annual mammogram) over the next 10 years to be about 2 percent. Her risk of dying from that cancer was about 1 percent. And if she didn't have a mammogram? She would have had about a 1.2 percent chance of dying from breast cancer. (Kotz, Boston Globe) Currently, the government-backed U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women under 40 do not get a mammogram and that women 50 and older get one every other year.
Since women share their cancer survivor stories with each other and women who do not "yet" have cancer, the component they often emphasize is the necessity of the mammogram in detecting their cancer and "saving their lives." Dr. Welch told Reuters that this inevitable persuasion legitimizes and overextends the mammogram's perceived effectiveness. Indeed, only about 1 in 8 women whose breast cancer was identified during a routine mammogram actually owe their lives to the screening. (Anne Harding, Time/ Healthland) And as mammogram technology has improved, the chances are even greater that doctors will find something suspicious when it is actually a false positive reading. And this can lead to unnecessary additional screenings and biopsies which in the majority of instances means more radiation, fear, anxiety and tissue scarring than is needed.
The assumption has been that early detection is a great benefit when dealing with cancer. However, what if a cancer is slow growing? Welch and colleagues suggest that there is little benefit if this is the case.Continued on the next page