Mammograms Save LivesLast updated: Dec 03, 2012
Despite a recent study to the contrary, practitioners and other studies suggest mammograms are still useful for saving lives.
Researchers who examined trends in the 30-year Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) survey suggest that mammograms have “only marginally reduced the rate at which women present with advanced cancer.” Researchers of the study, which was published in the November New England Journal of Medicine, believe that improved treatment, rather than screening, accounts for the decreasing death rates in breast cancer. In addition, they concluded that in 2008, breast cancer was over diagnosed and did not require treatment in as many as 70,000 US women (31 percent of all diagnosed breast cancer cases).1
With other studies strongly supporting mammograms
as an effective way to detect deadly breast cancers,
what should you believe?
Summit Medical Group breast surgeon John D. Cunningham, MD, says, "Although data from SEER suggest an increased incidence of breast cancer associated with screening, the researchers do not present data that conclude screening mammography does little to affect breast cancer mortality.” Dr. Cunningham adds, “Data from other studies show that mammograms help decrease breast cancer deaths by as much as 30 percent — a figure that strongly supports screening.”2
“Mammography is not a perfect tool for breast cancer screening,” notes Dr. Cunningham, “but it is still the best way for us to find deadly breast cancers. Until we have technology that can more accurately predict which early cancers will become deadly, we must rely on mammography, ultrasound, and biopsies as a way to save lives.”
To help find and treat breast cancer in its early stages, Summit Medical Group recommends that women:
Age 20 years and older
Perform monthly self-breast examinations, with attention to how the breasts feel, look, and change
Age 40 years and older
Have yearly mammograms and continue having them yearly as long as the patient is in good health
Age 20 to 30 years
Have clinical breast examinations every 3 years
Age 40 years and older
Have yearly clinical breast examinations
With a family history, genetic history, or other risks
Be screened with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in addition to having mammograms
Dr. Cunningham emphasizes that 1 study is not enough to prompt changes in current mammogram guidelines. He also urges women to talk with their doctors about additional tests or being screened at an earlier age. He says, “Your doctor will guide you to appropriate screening with careful consideration for your medical and family history.”
1. Blyer A, Welch HG. Effect of three decades of screening mammography on breast-cancer incidence. N Eng J Med. 2012;367:1998-2005.
2. Tabár L, Vitak B, Cohen A, et al. Swedish two-county trial: Impact of mammographic screening on breast cancer mortality during 3 decades. Radiol. 2011;260:658-63.