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Study finds annual mammograms not effective in reducing mortality rates

Woman having a mammogram.
Woman having a mammogram.
National Cancer Institute

Debates regarding when women should begin having mammograms, as well as how often have been going on for years. While some doctors recommend annual screenings for women over 40, others believe that those who are not at risk and/or do not have family histories of breast cancer can wait at least two years before being retested.
Now, a new study, published in the British Medical Journal last week reports that “annual mammograms will not reduce the rate of breast cancer mortality.”
The conclusion was based on research beginning in 1980 involving nearly 90,000 between the ages of 40 and 59 years old, who had not had a mammogram during the previous 12 months. Women who had previously had breast cancer or who were pregnant were excluded from the study.

Participants were then (randomly) separated into two groups. One group was given, mammograms and physical examinations occurred on yearly basis, while the second (or control group) had no annual mammography, but were given physical examinations by their family doctor. Both groups were then tracked for the next 25 years in order to “assess the effectiveness of mammography in reducing breast cancer mortality.”

During the first 5 years of screening “666 invasive cancers were diagnosed in the mammography group, resulting in 180 deaths, while 524 women in the control group ended up with breast cancer, with 171 of them dying.

In the end, the researchers determined that found that, “Annual mammography does not result in a reduction in breast cancer specific mortality for women in the above age range beyond that of physical examination alone or usual care in the community.”

They also concluded mammography in itself, has often been found to be “a flawed tool in diagnosing breast cancers, and that regular mammograms could be leading to ‘over-diagnosis.’” In fact, the researchers stated that that was the case for every 1 out of 424 (22%) women who received mammography screening in the trial.

In the meantime, women are advised to perform regular self-examinations and discuss any concerns regarding breast cancer screening with their own healthcare providers.

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