Mammography does provide benefit, despite recent reports

Radiologist Alexis Nees and surgeon Lisa Newman consult over a mammogram

Radiologist Alexis Nees and surgeon Lisa Newman consult over a mammogram

News outlets this week reported on recently published data from a mammography screening study from Canada that was highly critical of the benefit of screening mammography.

First, it should be noted that this is not a new study. The study was conducted in the early 1980s – three decades ago – and the recent report is merely a re-review of the data.

The results of the so-called Canadian trial, first published 22 years ago, showed no benefit for screened women and as expected, the recent re-review showed the same results. The Canadian trial results are different than other randomized clinical trials, which do show benefit. When nine randomized clinical trials are combined together, including the Canadian trial, screening mammography has been shown to significantly decrease breast cancer mortality for women age 39 and older.

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Clearing the confusion about mammograms

The bottom line: Mammography saves lives. Various organizations may not agree perfectly on screening recommendations, but don’t use that as an excuse to throw up your hands and do nothing.

Pink ribbon

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This year, an estimated 209,060 Americans will be diagnosed with breast cancer; more than 40,000 will die from the disease.

“Mammography is one of the few screening tools that has been proven to save lives. Every woman over 40 should at least begin a discussion about screening with her doctor,” says Mark Helvie, M.D., director of breast imaging at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Here’s what everyone does agrees on:

  • All women 50-74 should receive regular mammograms.
  • Mammography may be the right choice for women in their 40s. While many groups, such as the American Cancer Society and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, continue to recommend routine screening, others advocate a discussion between women and their health care providers.
  • Yearly or every other year? Many groups continue to recommend annual exams. The difference of opinion comes down to a balance between benefit and harm. Annual screening saves more lives but at a cost of more harms. Talk to your doctor about your options.
  • Women at very high risk for breast cancer may benefit from additional screening with MRI. Continue reading