Millions of women around the globe undergo annual mammogram screening, often following their doctor’s insistence that an annual mammogram is a medical necessity. Many physicians likely claim the annual screening reduces breast cancer rates, particularly once a woman reaches age 40 and beyond.
The results of several studies demonstrate a significant difference between what some physicians tell women and the reality of mammograms. In fact, some surgeons and other experts now claim that mammograms potentially cause more harm than good, often hurting the women dependent on the screening, believing mammograms likely protects them from advancing breast cancer and lowers mortality rates.
Studies Show Little to No Reduction in Breast Cancer Mortality
Researchers from the Nordic Cochrane Centre, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark reported results of a comprehensive review of eligible trials of 600,000 women, ranging from 39 to 74 years old, assessing effects of mammography on mortality and morbidity. The study, reported on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) site, indicates that study authors sought to address the variety of estimates concerning the benefits and harms of mammogram screening for breast cancer.
Study authors pointed out in their conclusion that assuming having a mammogram reduces breast cancer mortality by 15 percent, and that over-diagnosis and over-treatment stands at 30 percent. For every 2000 women screened throughout a 10-year period, just one will likely avoid dying of breast cancer. Another aspect of the study demonstrated, “Very little or no reduction” in the reported incidence of advanced cancers with mammogram screening.
Other researchers point to similar results, with some experts indicating that mammograms potentially harm women. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported results of the Twenty-Five-Year Follow-Up for Breast Cancer Incidence and Mortality of the Canadian National Breast Cancer Screening Studyl. Published in 2014, researchers compared results of breast cancer incidence and mortality for up to twenty-five years in women between the ages of 40 to 59, who did or did not receive regular mammograms.
The original screening took place between 1980 through 1985 at 15 screening centers in six Canadian provinces. Over the five year period, 3250 women in the group receiving annual mammograms received a breast cancer diagnosis, with 3133 women in the control group who did not undergo annual mammography receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. Of those, 500 women in the mammography group and 505 in the control group died of breast cancer.
Researchers reached the conclusion that undergoing an annual mammogram does not reduce mortality from breast cancer in women between 40 and 59 years of age. Results showed that after 15 years, 106 women in the mammography group received a diagnosis of cancer, which was attributed to an over-diagnosis.
Similar to the Denmark study, those researchers found no reduction in breast cancer mortality with regular mammograms.
Mammograms do More Harm than Good
While some sources still urge women to have an annual mammogram screening, even for women 40 and older with no history of breast cancer symptoms or family history, surgeons and other specialists are beginning to report potential harm from routine mammogram screening. There is even some concern about the potential for existing breast cancer to spread due to the very procedures used during a mammogram.
Medical experts involved in a Swiss Study concluded results similar to prior studies and recommended no new mammogram screening programs be introduced and that “a time limit be placed on existing programs.” Two of the Swiss Medical Board experts then reported a backlash from several organizations that called the report “Unethical.”
The experts stood their ground that when considering every breast cancer death prevented in the United States over a 10-year period in women 50 years and older, up to 670 women have a false positive mammogram screening result and up to 100 an unnecessary biopsy.
Compare this with a February 2018 report published by the NIH where researchers called the assumption that the number of asymptomatic cancers detected through mammography would have advanced to symptomatic advanced cancers, “Baseless,” due to the large incidence of over-diagnosis.
They stated, “Over-diagnosis leads to overtreatment, and inflicts considerable physical, psychological and economic harm on many women.”
Making a decision about having a mammogram used to be based on the urging from primary care physicians and agencies. Making a decision whether to have a screening mammogram today is based on growing evidence that there is little to no reduction in breast cancer mortality rates between women who have and do not have mammograms. Many women also likely realize the possibility that mammograms hurt women, potentially causing undue harm.
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