Mammograms May Not Be as Helpful as Once Thought

Mammograms Effective, But Not As Much As We Assumed

Mammograms were meant to be a groundbreaking feature in medicine, finding breast cancer in women who weren’t currently showing symptoms. An older study suggested that they led to a 20 to 25 percent reduction in deaths caused by breast cancer. They were to take a silent killer and expose it, leading to faster treatment and fewer deaths due to a terrible disease. And mammograms have absolutely done that for a number of eternally grateful people. But that immediate finding, diagnosis, and subsequent successful treatment… is that the norm? A new study in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that the positive effects haven’t been as immense and widespread as we may have assumed. In fact, there may even be significant downsides to the amount of mammograms being given.

Not Causing A Change in Mortality Rate

The study in JAMA focused on 16 million women in 547 American counties, all aged 40 or over, and 53,207 of which were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. For ten years, these women were examined. During this time period, it had been recommended that women 40 or older get mammograms ever one to two years. What they found during this time was that despite what people have been told in the past, mammograms haven’t done all that much to affect the death rate of those suffering with breast cancer. People had been told 20-25% for years; in actuality, according to the researchers, mammograms have resulted in a percentage that’s much closer to 10%. Surprisingly, the study also showed no significant increase in the detection of large tumors that were more dangerous. This is a particularly confusing statistic. If mammograms aren’t doing that much to decrease the breast cancer mortality rate or increase large tumor detection, what are they doing?

Overdiagnosis is Occurring

It seems that the strength of mammograms is their ability to detect smaller tumors. This is not the positive it might seem like. The problem is that many of these small tumors being found results in sever overdiagnosis. If a small tumor wasn’t doing anything but was spotted by a mammogram, women thinking they have a far worse condition may opt for expensive, unnecessary, and painful treatment even though the tumor was not actually doing any damage and could be benign. By going through this as opposed to getting a treatment more appropriate for the size and damage of the tumor, unnecessary stress, anxiety, and pain occur. This is worse in some areas – for example, in Norway, a study revealed that five women are over-diagnosed for every one who was saved.


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