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New study shows mammograms don't reduce breast cancer deaths

According to Health Day News on Wednesday, Yearly mammograms in middle-age women do not reduce breast cancer deaths. These tests are essentially as good as physical examination alone, according to a new 25-year study from Canada.

The study, which tracked close to 90,000 women, found that annual mammograms often do more harm than good because they pick up a lot of small, harmless cancers that will never cause symptoms or death in a patient's lifetime.

In fact, the study found many of the breast cancers picked up by mammograms were “over-diagnosed,” meaning they were the small, harmless cancer forms.

Study author Dr. Cornelia J. Baines, of the Dalla Lana Faculty of Public Health at the University of Toronto, says it’s beginning to appear that mammograms are not reducing death rates.

“The whole underlying rationale for screening is to reduce deaths due to breast cancer. But if screening does not reduce deaths from breast cancer, what is the point of screening?” she wondered to CTV News.

Over-diagnosis is defined as the detection of harmless cancers that will not cause symptoms or problems during a patient's lifetime.

This latest study began in 1980, when Toronto researchers began tracking 89,000 women between the ages of 40 and 59. Some of the women were randomly chosen to undergo five mammograms once a year over five years, while the rest were not screened at all.

Over the next 25 years, researchers tracked how many of the women were diagnosed with breast cancer as well as how many died of the disease. They found there was not much difference between the groups. A total of 3,250 women who had regular mammograms were diagnosed with breast cancer, compared with 3,133 among the group that wasn’t screened (and who instead detected the cancers through physical exams).

Still, it is important for women who are suspicious about something in the breast, a possible lump or distortion, to consult with a doctor. "That is the time when mammography could indeed be very informative as a diagnostic tool," said Dr. Anthony Miller, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto.

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Emily Sutherlin is also the Pregnancy Examiner.

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