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Mammograms: Limited Usefulness, Maximum Fear

February 10, 2013

Two recent studies should remind us of the limited usefulness of routine screening mammograms.

The first study looked at 30+ years of breast cancer outcomes in the U.S. before and after routine mammography became common practice. It found that the rate of breast cancers that had not spread beyond the breast skyrocketed, but the rate of cancers that had already spread beyond the breast had barely lowered.

Let me be clear about the interpretation of these findings. They do not mean mammograms are great because so many more cancers were localized (“detected early”) at first discovery. If this were true, the rate of cancers spread beyond the breast would have lowered by an equal amount, but they didn’t.

These findings mean that mammograms have found many more lesions that are technically cancer, but in fact would not have affected the women’s lives one iota. It is recognized that many of these in-situ cancers never grow very large (or spread), and some of them probably go away on their own.

The next study used similar national data to estimate how much the U.S. spends each year on breast cancer in the Medicare population — $1.08 billion for screening, $1.36 billion for treatment. They also found that the use of digital mammography vs. standard mammography nearly doubled the rate of detection of breast cancers, but the rate of initial diagnosis of widely-spread cancer was not lowered.

Of course, GIMeC tells all women to get yearly mammograms, preferably with digital technology, which is newer and therefore more expensive. This recent evidence shows that all that aggressive digital mammography does is create more fearful women (who become breast cancer victims/survivors), increases costs, and doesn’t affect breast cancer death rates.

I guess there is one more positive for the people concerned about breast cancer. Susan G Komen gets more women wearing pink and going for walks.

One Response to Mammograms: Limited Usefulness, Maximum Fear

  1. Tracie Updike on February 10, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    What about the millions and billions of money put into breast cancer research? We have only seen more cancer and more women living with a history of breast cancer. What is wrong with this picture? And it is hard to convince a woman not to do a mammogram every year.

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