Are Mammography Risks Underestimated?

Women dread the words “breast cancer, yet always looking for someway to prevent it or catch it early. The question here is: are there any benefits or drawbacks in mammography usage? Below are excerpts of recent findings. You can read the full article by clicking here.

Mammograms are in the news again. Former “Good Morning America” host Joan Lunden recently announced she was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer – two weeks after a mammogram gave her a clean bill of health.1The diagnosis was made via ultrasound, which revealed a lump the mammogram had missed.

Two studies about the effectiveness of mammogram screening, released just weeks apart, also cast further doubt on the wisdom of subjecting yourself to the risk of routine mammography.

The first study, featured in the above news report, relates to an extensive review of research conducted by Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital and published in the April 2014 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association.

The analysis covered more than five decades of data and examined mortality benefits and harms of mammography screening, with results that were far from glowing.

The study found that while mammograms decreased a woman’s risk of dying from breast cancer by an average of 19 percent, the same amount—19 percent—of the cancers found and treated are actually not life-threatening and do not need to be treated.

The second new study involved 1.8 million Norwegian women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1987 and 2010, and was published in the March 2014 issue of The European Journal of Public Health.  Researchers found that among women 50 to 69 years of age, breast cancer screening is associated with a significantly higher incidence of early stage, lower lethality cancer (221 percent) and HIGHER rates of late-stage, more advanced breast cancer (35 percent) when compared with women who did not receive mammogram screenings. This is exactly the opposite of what you would expect to see if mammograms were actually catching malignant tumors earlier—late stage cancers would be lower and not higher. 

Summary of article

  • Two new studies cast further doubt about the effectiveness and safety of routine screening mammograms for preventing lethal breast cancer.
  • One study finds mammogram screening has significantly increased rates of breast cancer, both early-stage (lower lethality) and later-stage (higher lethality).
  • The decline in breast cancer mortality has resulted from more effective treatments, not earlier detection.
  • Using mammography as a screening tool has failed miserably, increasing “overdiagnosis harm” from unnecessary treatments, surgeries and emotional stress.
  • Even the National Cancer Institute has suggested narrowing the definition of “cancer” due to the inherent risks associated with overtreatment.

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