So, a couple of weeks ago I meant to blog about Mammograms in response to this recent study:
Last month, Dr. Otis Brawley, the American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer, told The New York Times that the medical profession had exaggerated the benefits of cancer screening, and that if a woman refused mammography, “I would not think badly of her, but I would like her to get it.”…
But the statement also said mammography can “miss cancers that need
treatment, and in some cases finds disease that does not need
treatment.” In other words, the test may lead to some women being
treated, and being exposed to serious side effects, for cancers that
would not have killed them. Some researchers estimate that as many as
one-third of cancers picked up by screening would not be fatal even if
left untreated. But right now, nobody knows which ones.
Interesting, but the articles is from a few weeks ago and I never did anything. However, now we have news that a federal panel is actual recommending that most women in their 40's no longer have routine mammograms:
Women in their 40s should stop routinely having annual mammograms and
older women should cut back to one scheduled exam every other year, an
influential federal task force has concluded, challenging the use of
one of the most common medical tests.
"We're not saying women shouldn't get screened. Screening does saves
lives," said Diana B. Petitti, vice chairman of the U.S. Preventive
Services Task Force, which released the recommendations Monday in a
paper being published in Tuesday's Annals of Internal Medicine. "But we
are recommending against routine screening. There are important and
serious negatives or harms that need to be considered carefully."
Obviously, for an announcement like this, there's been evidence for years that mammograms are not quite the magic bullet they are often portrayed to be. Clearly, they are important and play a major role in preventing breast cancer, but it seems that this role should be more targeted than current use. Alas, my mom was well aware of these studies questioning the efficacy of mammograms. Unfortunately, she drew the conclusion that all such regular testing, e.g., pap smears, was unnecessary. When she told me she might have uterine cancer and I asked about regular gynecological testing (which she did not have) she specifically mentioned the evidence for the limits of mammograms. Okay, then, I'm not sure what my broad conclusion should be here. I think it is good that doctors realize the limits of their screening tests and apply them more appropriately, but I hope too many people don't take these recommendations too far and ignore needed and effective medical tests.