A new Canadian study reveals that yearly mammograms for women ages 40-59 do not lower their risk of dying from breast cancer. Does this mean you should feel free to skip your yearly mammogram?
Yet another mammography study has been released, and it concurs with other recent studies: mammograms don’t save lives. “Vast Study Casts Doubt on Value of Mammograms,” trumpets the New York Times. Chimes in the L.A. Times, “Mammogram screenings don't reduce cancer death rates, study finds.”
We’ve heard this before, right? It’s old news. The Canadian study is simply adding to the existing body of research that indicates administering a yearly mammogram to millions of women beginning at age 40 doesn’t reduce the number of women who die from breast cancer – statistically speaking.
Actually, in the Canadian study, a few more women in the control group (no mammogram) died than in the group that received regular screening. The number was small enough to be considered statistically insignificant – though to the women whose lives were saved by a mammogram (and to their families), I’d imagine the fact of their non-death wasn’t insignificant.
Study author Dr. Anthony Miller, quoted in the L.A. Times, says, “We found absolutely no benefit in terms of reduction of deaths from the use of mammography.”
He’s exactly right – with one caveat: “in terms of reduction of death” doesn’t tell the whole story.
There’s more to breast cancer than whether or not you die. Your life (or death) while battling cancer can be a miserable, harrowing experience, or a relative piece of cake – depending on how early your cancer is detected.
Mammograms may not save lives; but in detecting cancer early, they reduce the level and amount of treatment needed to fight it. And there’s value to not having your breast chopped off, suffering through a chemo regimen that nearly kills you, and then living the rest of your life with lasting effects from radiation, drugs, and aggressive surgery.
As any cancer vet will tell you, the worst part of the disease is its treatment; and if cancer is detected earlier, when very treatable – rather than later, when the only treatment is still the classic “slash, poison, and burn” – your life ever afterward will be immeasurably easier.
Mammograms offer women one very important benefit - choice. When cancer is tiny, you can choose breast conservation surgery, rather than a mastectomy. You can decide whether or not to have chemo, rather than your oncologist telling you it’s your only hope. You can avoid a lot of physical pain, much of it permanent.
So, will this new study make me think twice about my yearly mammogram? Not on your life.
And not on mine.
Miller, A. (2014, February 11). Twenty five year follow-up for breast cancer incidence and mortality of the Canadian national breast screening study: randomised screening trial. Retrieved from http://www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.g366
Morin, M. (2014, February 12). Mammogram screenings don't reduce cancer death rates, study finds http://www.latimes.com/science/la-sci-breast-cancer-mammography-20140212,0,6053567.story
Published On: February 13, 2014