A Canadian study has revived the debate over the necessity of mammograms with the results of their 25-year study, which were published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal. The study claims that the X-rays women undergo do not help prevent deaths associated with breast cancer and that mammograms are often unnecessary.
Mammography machines are used to take X-rays of the breast to give doctors a clear indication of any abnormalities that may be cancerous. The study points out the issue of over diagnosis, however. As many as 22 percent of cancers detected by mammograms are not harmful and would not cause the woman to die prematurely. High false positive have also been an issue.
Though they do recognize that women with high risk for breast cancer should continue regular screenings, mammograms are not as useful as people think. They conducted a follow-up on almost 90,000 women who received mammograms and note that death rates were similar after more than 20 years, whether they received a monogram or not. It shows that the mammograms offered little help. While they may identify the cancer, they do not help women survive it.
The Canadian study has received much criticism for using outdated methods and equipment. The American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging stated that it was “failed” and “misleading” when they presented similar information in the past about mammograms not saving lives.
Dr. Daniel Kopans, a Harvard Medical School radiologist was asked to review the equipment used in the study. He found the mammography machines were outdated and were most likely used in an effort to save money. Changing the recommendation for breast cancer screenings based on a study using decade-old equipment is not logical.
The recommendation for breast cancer screenings depends on the source. The American Cancer Society suggests starting mammograms at the age of 4, with annual checkups thereafter. The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force suggests screenings after the age of 50, with semi-annual checkups thereafter. The British, however, are only recommending breast cancer screenings once every three years.
Each year, 1.4 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer, the leading type of cancer in women. It is also the most deadly cancer for women. Of the 233,340 estimated new cases in 2013, it resulted in death for 39, 620, according to the National Cancer Institute. That is roughly seven percent. Doctors have promoted the idea of early detection for breast cancer prevention and continue to urge patients to get annual mammograms.
The message has been heard, loud and clear, as women put faith in mammograms and their ability to detect breast cancer and increase their odds of surviving it. According to the FDA, nearly 39 million mammograms are done on an annual basis in the U.S.
Women may find the information contradictory. Doctors fear that women may not see mammograms as necessary because of the mixed signals they are receiving. Despite the Canadian study and the claims that mammograms are unnecessary and unhelpful, experts stand by their recommendations for mammograms as part of a plan for early detection of breast cancer. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, among others, are standing firm in their recommendations for annual mammograms.
By Tracy Rose