Is it Time to Rethink Mammograms?


Screenshot of VOA News coverage of the issue.

Meghan Koerick, Staff News Repackager

Breast cancer is a leading killer of U.S. women and every year many are diagnosed, even some men. The American Cancer Society says that every woman should get annual mammograms from age 45 to 50 and every other year after that, but places like the American College of Radiology recommends annual testings starting at age 40.

A new study, made by the American Cancer Society’s top doctor, shows that many breast cancer screenings lead to false-positive results. Mammograms are a test that finds changes in the breast tissue but now it is said that regular mammograms can lead to radiation, chemotherapy and surgery that isn’t necessary.

The test began with a study of Danish women on those who were screened and a control group who were not. Based on the study advanced tumors should be less common in screened women than in women who aren’t screened. But the study found no difference in the rate of advanced tumors between the two groups of women. The conclusion was that one out of every three breast cancers diagnosed in the screened women probably represented overdiagnosis that likely would never have caused any symptoms if left alone.

Dr. Otis Brawley says that doctors can’t tell (solely from mammograms) which are harmful tumors and which are not–the difference can be shown with more detailed and better tests. This means that many women are probably being treated that don’t need the treatments.

“It is likely that one in every three invasive tumors and cases of DCIS diagnosed in screened women represent overdiagnosis.” said Dr. Karsten Juhl Jørgensen of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen according to NBC news. DCIS, ductal carcinoma in-situ, is a condition that most cancer experts say shouldn’t even be called cancer, although it is a well-known risk factor for breast cancer.

However according to Doctor Ermelinda Bonaccio who is the Chief of Breast Imaging at Roswell Cancer Institute there are way less women falsely diagnosed than what this study shows. According to WGRZ News she says “I don’t believe it’s going to change guidelines. I think women should…be aware of it — but they should not have this affect their decision to have a screening mammogram.”

Many doctors have different ideas and opinions on when (what age) women should get screened and if they should at all. They are trying to improve the detection and make the breast cancer rates go down.

Several members of the IR community (staff, teachers, and parents) have battled breast cancer in various forms, and high-profile celebrities like Angelina Jolie have shown that cancer doesn’t discriminate.