Mammography Saves Lives--Or Not
You may have seen the ads: usually a bright pink (naturally) banner with the words: "Mammography Saves Lives." You may also remember the uproar when the US Preventative Services Task Force recommended against regular screening mammograms for women under 50 ( http://tinyurl.com/2drs6ju).
It is especially hard for us, women who have had breast cancer, to appreciate the position that mammograms may bring more risks than benefits to some populations. Understanding that recommendations of health care policy are intended to apply to large groups, we still are guided by our own experiences--and many of us had breast cancers that were discovered by an annual mammogram. Those Task Force guidelines said clearly that individual decisions were best made by a woman and her doctor, but that important caveat got lost in the response.
Anyway, here is a thoughtful commentary from MedScape about this new advertising campaign. Once again, think aboutthe larger picture as you read this. First, an excerpt and then the link:
"Mammography Saves Lives" Slogan Doesn't Tell
Harms are underreported, if mentioned at all
November 18, 2010 — The current Mammography Saves Lives campaign in the United States and previous campaigns
promoting screening for breast cancer are not providing balanced information, because they underreport, or don't
mention at all, potential harms from the procedure, say critics.
This campaign slogan is 1-sided, several critics told Medscape Medical News, and it oversells the benefits of
When asked for a more accurate headline, H. Gilbert Welch MD, MPH, from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy
and Clinical Practice, Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, New Hampshire, had the following tongue-in-cheek
suggestions: "Mammography could save your life, but it's a long shot" and "Chances are it won't, but mammography
could save your life."
Dr. Welch recently wrote an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine (2010;363:1276-1277) discussing the
benefits and harms of screening mammography, in which he reviews new data from Norway that — he says — confirm
that "the decision about whether to undergo screening mammography is, in fact, a close call."