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New Research on Mammograms Raises Questions

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The American Cancer Society has for years been a vocal supporter of cancer detection methods such as the mammogram. Now, it may be changing its tune.

Last week, Gina Colata of the New York Times reported that the ACS "is quietly working on a message... to emphasize that screening for breast and prostate cancer and certain other cancers can come with a real risk of overtreating many small cancers while missing cancers that are deadly."

This new message is due in part to new studies, such as the one published Wednesday, that shows a 40 percent increase in breast cancer diagnoses - but only a 10 percent decrease in later stages of cancer. If mammograms were as effective as claimed in helping to detect breast cancer early, then why is there such a small decrease over time in later stages of cancer? There is a gap here that suggests that mammograms may not be catching many deadly cancers.

An article in Alternet refers to other studies conducted by the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark and in the British Medical Journal that suggests an increase in overdiagnosis as a result of stressing mammogram programs. What this means is that many women may be detected with a cancer that shows no symptoms or will lead to death but still end up getting expensive treatments for lesions that go away or never progress. It's a difficult issue being raised here, but one that glares us in the face in light of these results: mammograms aren't necessarily preventing or curing fatal forms of breast cancer and they aren't helping the 40,000 women a year who die of the disease.

Still mammograms have shown to be effective in detecting cancer in the last few decades and it's important not to rule out the procedure entirely. Like all medical related issues, it's important to be fully aware of all the risks and benefits of a mammogram.

Add a Comment3 Comments

HERWriter Guide

Hi Nina - Thanks for the link to the other article, as I hadn't seen it.
Keep up the good work!

October 28, 2009 - 5:09pm

Hi Pat,

I agree that there are other methods, specifically self exams, that are useful in taking care of women's health with regards to breast cancer. It was not mentioned in this post because I recently wrote an article that elaborates on its importance!


This article merely focuses on the studies mentioned, but it's important to contextualize them in the larger conversation on breast cancer prevention.

Thanks for your comment!


October 28, 2009 - 1:04pm
HERWriter Guide

Hi Nina - I was disturbed by your article as it only discusses mammograms as a screening and prevention tool for breast cancer. I'm wondering why there's no mention of additional screening tools such as self-exams, and if there have been studies of the impact of over stressing mammograms as a screening tool without providing adequate information and education on other methods. I find that many general interest articles in women's magazines fail to mention self-exams, or regular physical exams by a physician, and just stress mammograms as if they were the only solution. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

October 26, 2009 - 5:35pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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