Value of Mammography
Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware that there is a great deal of discussion and controversy about the value of screening mammograms. Important note: None of this debate applies to us; our annual mammograms are called "diagnostic" and carefully read for any signs of more trouble. All of the conversation about screening is directed at the general female population, women who have not had breast cancer.
Many women who have had breast cancer are baffled by the uncertainties. The data has been quite clear that, for each breast cancer found early and (perhaps) a life saved, three or four women are "over-diagnosed". That means that three or four women undergo unnecessary anxiety and stress and biopsies--hard on them and, honestly, a drain on the medical system's resources. However, from our perspective, most women state that they would much rather have an unnecessary biopsy (which, of course, can only be so described after the fact) than miss a cancer.
BreastCancer.org has released this very helpful summary of this issue. Per usual, I give you the start and then a link to read more:
Another Look at Data Finds Mammography Benefits More Consistent Than Reported
Several large studies, including a review by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2009 and a study on the
causes of death in the United Kingdom in 2013, have questioned the value of screening mammograms.
Doctors who question the value of mammograms say that while mammograms do save lives, for each breast cancer death prevented, three to four women are overdiagnosed. Overdiagnosis means either:
a screening mammogram finds a suspicious area that would have been eventually diagnosed as cancer by other means, without any effect on prognosis a screening mammogram finds a suspicious area that never would have affected a woman’s health if it hadn’t been found or treated
False positive results from screening mammograms also have helped fuel the debate about the value of breast cancer screening. When a mammogram shows an abnormal area that looks like a cancer but turns out to be normal, it’s called a false positive. Ultimately the news is good: no breast cancer. But the suspicious area usually requires follow-up with more than one doctor, extra tests, and extra procedures, including a possible biopsy. There are psychological, physical, and economic costs that come with a false positive.