Some Thoughts about Mammograms Amid Latest Reported Study

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • About a week ago, I had coffee with my friend, Sue. She’s in her 70s and has devoted herself to healthy living. Some of that devotion has been triggered during the past few years when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I asked her if the diagnosis was found following a mammogram. She said it wasn’t; in fact, she found the nodule during self-examination.  When she went back to the doctors, they couldn’t spot the cancer on the mammograms she had previously.


    Now, news sources around the world are trumpeting a story that adds to the controversy of whether women who have reached middle age or older need to have regular mammograms. Or can we avoid this uncomfortable procedure?

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    First, let’s look at the new study. The Canadian National Breast Screening Study followed 89,835 women who were between the ages of 40 and 59 years of age at the study’s start over the course of 25 years. During this time period, the researchers divided the participants by age – one group included women between the ages of 40-49 while the other group included the participants who were between the ages of 50-59. Each group was then randomly divided into subgroups that either had annual mammography screenings or no mammograms.  Three of the subgroups received annual physical breast examinations while the group of women between the ages of 40-49 who were not receiving mammograms received a single physical breast examination followed by usual care.


    The researchers then compared the number of participants who were either diagnosed with breast cancer or died from this condition. The researchers found that over the course of the study, breast cancer rates and deaths caused by this disease were about the same among the groups that received mammograms and the ones that did not have this type of screening. Furthermore, the study found that 22 percent of screen-detected breast cancers were over-diagnosed and did not need treatment.


    Many experts denounced the study for multiple reasons. These reasons include the use of outdated equipment as well as questionable research methods that suggest that mammograms may not save lives.


    So with more questions being raised about the efficacy of mammograms, what should you do? I’m not a medical doctor, but I think the most important step that every older woman should do is to work with a trusted doctor to come up with a screening plan including the use of mammograms based on individual family history and health history. Also, make sure you perform regular self-examinations such as what Sue did so you can detect lumps.The other suggestion I’d make is to make lifestyle choices that lower your risk of breast cancer. These choices include:

    • Get regular physical exercise. Try to schedule the activity on your calendar so you make sure to do it.
    • Limit your caloric intake to avoid gaining weight.
    • Eat a healthy diet. You should opt to eat a lot of produce (fruits and vegetables), fish and low-fat dairy products. While the research isn’t conclusive, eating a quality diet can help you health-wise in lots of ways over the long run.
    • Watch your consumption of alcohol. Researchers have found that drinking alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society pointed out that even limited amounts of alcohol have been linked to an increased risk of this type of cancer in some studies.
    • Avoid hormone replacement therapy after menopause.
    • Avoid products and containers that have estrogen-like properties.


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  • American Cancer Society. (2014). Can breast cancer be prevented?

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    Houston Chronicle. (2014). Study disputes value of routine mammograms.


    Miller, A. B., et al. (2014). Twenty five year follow-up for breast cancer incidence and mortality of the Canadian National Breast Screening Study: randomized screening trial. BMJ.

Published On: February 13, 2014