Confusion over mammograms

MASON CITY, Iowa – Local health specialists are hoping to put to rest some confusion over mammograms.

A yearly mammogram for women age 40 and above has been considered the standard of care for years, but reports continue to surface including one from the British Medical Journal claiming the rules may not cut mortality risks.

However, according to one area specialist, the study was flawed to begin with and could do more harm by keeping those at risk from making regularly scheduled visits.

“Mammography is not a popular study, women do not like mammograms, they’re uncomfortable and we understand that. However, it’s important to note that mammography is the only modality which has been proven to cut death from breast cancer,” said Dr. Gary Swenson, Director of Breast Imaging Services at Mercy North Iowa.

For the British Medical Journal study, Canadian researchers looked at data from the Canadian National Breast Screening Study, which recruited 89,835 women who were 40-59 at the beginning of the study, gave each of them a clinical breast exam, then assigned each participant to one of two groups: a group that would receive annual mammograms and clinical breast exams for the next four years, or a group that would receive only annual clinical breast exams for the next four years (or, in the case of the women 40-49, would just stay under the care of their regular doctors). Researchers then continued to follow-up with the participants until 25 years after their original recruitment.

During the first screening period, a total of 1,190 breast cancers were diagnosed (666 in the mammogram group, and 524 in the control group).

The tumors detected by mammograms were slightly smaller and were a little less likely to be node positive (meaning they had cancerous cells in them). But the mortality rate didn’t differ much between the two groups: During the 25-year follow-up period, 180 women in the mammogram group died, compared to 171 women in the control group.

“Only 25% of our breast cancers involves high-risk women. So if women are saying, “well I don’t have anybody in my family with breast cancer so maybe I won’t get screened,” she’s really selling herself short because she is in that group of people who is most likely to get breast-cancer,” said Swenson.

Swenson goes on to say that this study is not supported by credible sources such as the American Cancer Society who use more scientific methods to decide the effectiveness of the studies.

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