Cancer is serious business and it’s not something to underestimate. Because of this, millions of women everywhere see their doctors and physicians every year to undergo their annual mammogram, the traditional breast cancer screening procedure (1). Mammograms involve “pressing a woman’s breast between two metal platforms to scope out tumors,” and has been practiced for many years, but what if this common procedure is doing more harm than good? What if it’s not nearly as effective as millions of women trust it to be?
Recently, some surgeons and medical professionals have begun questioning the controversial practice of mammograms, revealing multiple studies that show mammograms to have potentially damaging side effects (1). If this is true, are mammograms worth the risk? Are there safer, equally effective options?
Why Do We Still Get Mammograms?
People are commonly told that the mammogram is the only way to identify breast cancer in its very early stages, but reviews from eight scientific trials investigating the procedure found that mammography is neither safe for the patient nor altogether effective in finding cancerous properties (1).
More than 600,000 women between the ages of 39 and 74 have undergone a monitored procedure on a routine basis. And after reviewing the data gathered, researchers uncovered that a great many of the examined women were actually misdiagnosed in response to a mammography. The research discovered that many women ended up being mistreated with chemotherapy, resulting in new health issues.
New Studies About Mammography
A study completed in Switzerland originating out of Canada (the 2014 Canadian National Breast Screening Study) concluded that mammography screenings do not reduce mortality rates at any better rate than your average physical breast examination (3). This means that women are paying much more to get a fancy mammography when they could simply feel for lumps and bumps and get the same–if not better results.
Dr. Sarah Mybill said, “I believe that if you did have a tumor, the last thing you would want to do is crush that tumor between two plates because that would spread it” (3).
The math calculates it this way: “If we assume that screening reduces breast cancer mortality by 15% and that overdiagnosis and overtreatment is at 30%, it means that for every 2000 women invited for a screening throughout 10 years, one will avoid dying of breast cancer and 10 perfectly healthy, cancer-free women who would not have been diagnosed if there had not been screening, will be treated unnecessarily” (4).
Based on the available evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that mammography screening reduces the risk of breast cancer death but the trade-off between this highly-valued benefit and the harms including false-positives and overdiagnosis is finely balanced. The snapshot of evidence presented on overdiagnosis in this review, however, does not mean that population breast screening is worthless, given that screening reduces breast cancer deaths.
- Houssami N. Overdiagnosis of breast cancer in population screening: does it make breast screening worthless?. Cancer Biol Med. 2017;14(1):1-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5365181/
- Miller AB et al. Twenty five year follow-up for breast cancer incidence and mortality of the Canadian National Breast Screening Study: randomised screening trial. BMJ. 2014;348:g366. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3921437/
- Gøtzsche PC, Jørgensen KJ. Screening for breast cancer with mammography. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jun 4;(6):CD001877. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23737396?dopt=Abstract