Women in general commonly view mammograms as the last measure to prevent breast cancer. Failure to take the typical routine exam is considered irresponsible behavior. But should mammograms really be done or should we question and analyze them?
More and more research shows that using mammograms in female patients who are healthy and have no symptoms is really controversial. There is an ongoing discussion about the benefits and risks of this procedure. Therefore, before you go to have your next (or if it is the first) mammogram, make sure you are informed and do not just agree to go to the medical establishment.
If you've ever had a mammogram, you know it's not exactly nice to do. And it is that, the breasts are compressed inside a mammography unit or machine and low energy x-rays are used to examine the tissues. All this to detect premature breast cancer and other potentially cancerous masses.
In almost all Western countries, women who have the average risk of breast cancer undergo routine mammography exams from the age of 50, and check-ups are performed every two years. Well, now, the American Cancer Society is recommending having mammograms at the age of 40 and annually.
However, it was recently decided to discontinue mammography due to insufficient evidence about the benefits it is supposed to have. Clearly, there has been no consensus on this issue, making the decision-making process even more difficult, and women and doctors are often facing a dilemma on this issue.
A large study doubts the benefits of mammograms
A Canadian study rocked the breast cancer industry in the prominent British Medical Journal. Comparisons were made of breast cancer incidence and mortality over a 25-year period in groups of women aged 40 to 59 who underwent (one group yes and one no) a mammogram examination. The women who did not receive the mammogram had an annual physical examination of the breasts. Almost a total of 90,000 women were included in this study which is considered one of the largest on this subject to date.
At the time the study was done, a total of 3,250 women who were in the group where the mammogram was performed and a total of 3133 women who were in the control group obtained a diagnosis of breast cancer. A number of 500 and 505, respectively, died of breast cancer. This showed that death from breast cancer was very similar between the two groups and the presence of mammography had no influence.
It was concluded that:
The mammogram that is done annually in women between the ages of 40 and 59 does not lower breast cancer mortality more than the physical exam or usual care.
Additionally, 22% of the women in the mammogram group had an overdiagnosis, according to this study. And this resulted in one in 424 women in this group of participants receiving unnecessary cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
5 points about mammography you should consider
Having said all the above, we believe that it is an opportunity to take this method with respect, and before wanting to have a mammogram you should consider the following points:
1. Mammograms may not be as beneficial as you think
Many women have complete confidence in their mammograms. And yes, the procedure might be able to save your life, but the success rate is not really as high as we really would like it to be. At best, mammography provides a risk reduction of about 20 to 25%. This does not seem very significant, but when we look at the absolute numbers of death prevention, the detection itself prevents only one death from breast cancer in 1,000 women.
The studies that found mammograms helpful were mostly done some time ago and did not meet strict scientific rigor. The early detection of breast cancer is not as important today as better treatments are available. According to many experts, it is having access to some medications (such as tamoxifen) that has lowered mortality from breast cancer, and mammography actually pla